The Scarlet Runner Bean: New World Bean & Old World Favorite
We had heard that a perfect bean to grow in the cooler summers of the San Francisco Bay region was the Scarlet Runner Bean. Probably one of the oldest cultivated New World beans--Aztecs had been growing it before Cortez arrived--Phaseolus coccineus, has never really caught on in American vegetable gardens. The English and French have been growing them for years as a food item, but in America they are most popular as a flower. That has been slowly changing. This productive climber is a perennial, with edible bean pods and foliage. Some have even taking to eating its starchy root (but we've heard that this might not be advisable).
At 7th Street, we have a small corner of our lot which gets a good deal of morning and afternoon sunshine--but mostly against a fence. A perfect place for the perfect bean--now all we needed was a trellis. Let the bean climb up into the sun!
Following the lead of our church friend, Brother Leo, we grabbed an old box-spring (the modern kind without the spring) someone had indecorously left amongst a pile of refuse in front of a local apartment building. Stripping off the material covering exposed a skeleton of wood perfect for a trellis. We added some tomato wire, to give the bean tendrils something to easily hold on to, and we were good to go.
We sowed our beans back in March when the weather was still quite cool, and by the end of April we had vines almost 4 feet high on our trellis. Not long after, our plants began to put forth stems clustered with myriads of vermillion pea-like flowers, which at first were rather short lived. In late May, however, we started seeing signs of bean growth.
If left to themselves, these beans can grow pods in excess of a foot long, but they are best eaten when they are between 1/2 and 5/8 of an inch wide. In form, they are rather flat, and reminiscient of an Italian green bean. Crunchy and sweet when eaten raw, they also have a delightful bean flavor when lightly stir fried, Chinese style, or sautéed in olive oil--with garlic? Of course!!!
If all goes well, we should be eating fresh green beans until the first frost (November?), and we might even get some dried beans for baking. Stay tuned...
Below Left: Our Box-Spring Trellis; Below Right: What happens when you let a Scarlet Runner Bean stay on the vine too long.