Prepare the site by digging in home-made compost, well-rotted farmyard manure or a proprietary organic compost, followed by a dressing of hydrated lime or calcified seaweed. Prior to sowing give the site 4oz (112g) per square yard/metre of a balanced fertiliser, such as fish blood and bone or Growmore.
In areas with a favourable winter climate a sowing can be made in late autumn of a variety such as Aquadulce Claudia, Loretta or The Sutton. The plants are hardy enough to withstand a few degrees of frost. Alternatively, sow the seed singly in peat pots in a cold greenhouse or cold frame in late winter or sow direct into the soil 2in (5cm) deep in early spring.
Where space is at a premium The Sutton or T&M's Bean Mixture are ideal. Blackfly can be a problem, so when you see the first small beans have formed, pinch out the growing tip of each plant and cook them like spinach, If blackfly does get a hold, spray in the evening with pyrethrum or liquid derris.
One of the most popular of the summer vegetables and will happily grow up a garden fence, poles or wigwam of canes to give a plentiful supply of tender, succulent beans from early summer through to the first frosts of the late autumn.
For best results prepare the site over the winter, digging in compost or farmyard manure, followed in early spring by a dressing of lime or calcified seaweed. In spring give a dressing of a balanced fertiliser at the rate of 4oz (112g) to the square yard/metre.
Delay sowing until all danger of frost has passed and never when the soil is cold and wet. Self-sufficiency for a family of four is achieved with two 15ft (4.5m) rows to produce about 100 to 150lb of fresh beans. The seed is sown 2in (5cm) deep and 9in (23cm) apart.
You can extend the runner bean season by sowing T&M's mixture of four separately packed and labelled varieties.
For self-sufficiency allow three or four rows 15ft (4.5m) long and about 10in (25cm) apart. Delay sowing until the soil temperature has reached a minimum of 50F (10C), because cold, wet soil will rot the seed. Sow when the last frost has gone, placing the seed about 2in (5cm) deep and about 9in (23cm) apart in the rows. Alternatively, sow the seed in trays or singly in pots in a frost-free greenhouse for transplanting in late spring.
It is important to keep the crop picked while the pods are young, tender and stringless. Freeze any surplus as you go along.
This crop repays careful preparation of the site as early in the year as possible. Choose an open, sunny position with deep soil organically manured and well drained. Just prior to sowing top dress with a balanced fertiliser.
Sow the early varieties in early spring with the maincrop following about four or five weeks later. Make a flat-bottomed drill about 6in (15cm) wide and 3in (7.5cm) deep. The space between each row should be approximately the height of the crop. Sow the seeds in three rows in the drill 2in (5cm) apart each way and cover with 2in (5cm) of soil.
Cover the rows with pea guards or stretch black cotton along the rows to protect the seedlings from birds. When the seedlings are about 4in (10cm) tall give support with twiggy sticks or netting supported by stakes.
The pea moth is the major pest and can be controlled by spraying a week after the first flowers open with soft soap or quassia and repeat for successive sowings.
Water regularly as the pods set and don't allow the pods to become overripe as this shortens the harvesting period. Any surplus peas can be frozen very successfully.