Eating runner beans

Ode to runner beans

In our household, runner beans are the vegetable equivalent of sockeye salmon, another abundant species that fills up Alaska freezers every year.

I started growing cold-hardy runner beans after learning that pole beans need a lot of summer heat and wouldn’t produce well in our garden. Bush beans would do well, but I wanted a climbing variety to train on a rustic, homemade trellis.

I learned about runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) from a Master Gardener friend who grows them ornamentally. Looking at the varieties in the Territorial Seed catalog, I was impressed by their vigorous growth (8-10 feet tall!) and colorful blossoms. They even tolerate a light frost!

Runner beans
St. George runner beans twine up a trellis with dill and sugar snap peas.

Runner beans are an annual feature in our garden. They give us massive floral displays all summer and copious amounts of homegrown beans to harvest for winter meals.

Many gardeners who grow runner beans spurn eating them because the texture is coarser than a typical snap bean. I think runners have great bean flavor and the sturdy pods hold up better in the freezer. I harvest them after the pods grow nice and long but before they toughen up.

For beauty’s sake, my favorites are the St. George and Sunset varieties but I’m always looking for unusual ones that I haven’t tried yet!

Growing and harvesting tips

Alaska companies Foundroot and Best Cool Seeds sell Scarlet runner bean seeds with solid red blossoms and lush green foliage. You’ll have to look elsewhere for additional varieties.

I clipped this excellent 2009 article on growing runner beans from Vegetable Gardener magazine and re-read it almost every year. It has interesting factoids and detailed instructions for growing them. One important point is that you need bees in your garden to pollinate the bean flowers. I notice that our runner beans don’t get adequately pollinated until the raspberry canes nearby are blooming.

The article above points out that you can eat runner beans in three stages – snap, shell, and dried. Due to our short season and rainy fall, we almost always eat runners as snap beans. One year I hit the jackpot and harvested shell beans. We enjoyed the large, mottled purple beans simmered in a pot with fresh sage, water, and a glug of oil. I’m still waiting for that to happen again!

I grow bush beans for fresh eating and runner beans for freezing. Unlike other vegetables, I notice no difference if I don’t blanch runners before freezing them. I just wash, cut, and divvy them up in meal-size portions. They preserve well in vacuum-sealed freezer bags. I typically add the frozen beans to stews and pasta dishes near the end of cooking.

Gardening for the senses

Why do I garden? How can I help other gardeners? Meditating on these questions is what Transcendental Gardening is all about.

Like many others, I garden for the senses. Mostly to bask in the natural beauty, interesting smells, and fresh flavors bursting from the garden and share these pleasures with family and friends.

But I also garden for practical uses. Most of my plants are edible or useful in some other way. On this website you’ll see plenty of flowers but no actual flower beds.

Tarragon and poppies
Tarragon and Shirley double poppies catch afternoon light in the herb garden.

Lastly, I garden to satisfy my inner geek. I enjoy reading up on plant science and discussing plant problems with the experts.

At the end of 2018 I completed the Alaska Master Gardener Course and committed at least 40 hours of community service to assist other aspiring gardeners. Starting this website is one way I hope to provide community service as a new Master Gardener.

This website and blog are designed to assist other gardeners through the appreciation of plants rather than instruction. That said I’ve shared links to organizations, books, and websites that helped me on the Resources page.

Many gardening-related organizations and business owners in Alaska have websites, offer classes, and write regular columns. I don’t plan to offer these services but I’m happy to connect new gardeners in northern regions with organizations and entrepreneurs that offer instruction.

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