I promised to go outside for this next post, and so here we are in the demo garden… um, last summer, since the scarlet runner beans are not blooming yet, or even growing much. But we have something to look forward to, even on a cold drizzly spring day!
Scarlet runner beans are Phaseolus coccineus, and therefore related to but not identical with the common bean, Phaseolus vulgaris, which includes most of the beans we think of as green beans (sometimes yellow or purple or mottled) and those we cook from dried (but that are not Vicia or Vigna or one of the other Old World beans). But runner beans are edible as well, even if gardeners in this country often grow them simply for their beautiful flowers. They can be eaten either in the pod stage or as shelly beans, but should be cooked before eating (sorry, demo gardeners who snacked on them last year – I just learned this!) because they contain a poisonous lectin (as do some common beans, particularly kidney beans).
Here’s how you can tell runner beans from common beans in the seedling stage, in case you plant both and forget the labels. You may have to enlarge this picture to see, but runner beans keep their seed leaves or cotyledons in the ground when sprouting:
Other differences: runner beans are perennial, though marginally so in this area, and the roots are also edible. And runner beans twine clockwise while most other climbing beans twine counter-clockwise.
Runner beans grow fine direct-seeded, by the way, and the seedlings would have appreciated warmer temperatures than we have this week, but they should survive. I just couldn’t wait to get started!
The other cattle panel arch will display – you guessed it – mouse melons. More on that later.