Growing beans and harvesting plums

Planting dwarf and climbing beans
  • In warmer climates beans can be sown continuously right through to the beginning of February.
  • It’s a good idea not to leave a bed empty for too long in the summertime as the soil can become compacted and baked. Any rain we get has difficulty being absorbed and with the lack of oxygen and water, fungi and bacteria struggle to survive.
  • Beans don’t require a lot of nutrients in the soil so are a good crop to follow one that’s just finished. And all members of the legume family are nitrogen-fixing which benefits the soil. See text here for an explanation.
  • Rake your garden bed into one or two mounded rows. Beans like good drainage which the mounds provide. They also like friable soil.
  • If you don’t have any support structures, plant dwarf beans. Rob’s favourite variety is Borlotti. Other good varieties are Slenderette, Yellow Butter and Top Crop.
  • Pop your seeds in the fridge about two weeks before you plant them. When you bring them out the warmth informs the seeds to germinate.
  • Beans like an alkaline soil, somewhere between 5.5 to 7.5 pH level. See here for how to test your soil’s pH level in ‘Preparing garden beds for planting’.
  • Plant seeds about the depth of half your thumb, in other words not too deeply, and about 10 cms apart. Plant in a zigzag pattern so they can support each other as they grow.
  • Rob expects near to 100% germination strike rate. Bean seeds will rot if the soil is wet and cold, but that won’t happen in mid-summer.
  • Next, water the soil well, then add a layer of mulch. Any mulch will do. Rob uses well-composted wood chips. Water again. Adding mulch means the moisture is held in the soil, and you shouldn’t need to water the bed again until the seeds germinate.
  • Beans are either dwarf or climbing in habit. Most beans are the common bean variety or Phaseolus vulgaris (dwarf and climbing) and are annuals. Runner beans (like Scarlet Runner) are Phaseolus coccineus (climbing mainly, but can also be dwarf) and are perennial.
  • If you save your own seeds, make sure you don’t plant more than one variety of runner bean in one garden as they will cross with each other. You can plant different varieties of other climbing beans and they don’t cross. And you can plant runner and other climbing beans together and they don’t cross. If you’re in any doubt about the variety of climbing bean you’ve planted, check out which direction the tendrils are growing. Runner beans’ tendrils grow anti-clockwise, other climbing beans’ tendrils grow clockwise.
  • Rob has created poles with wire support between them for climbing beans to grow up, and put in a dripper system. Teepees work just as well. See here for how to make a teepee.
  • As climbing beans will be in for longer, we suggest you dress the seeds with some volcanic rock dust.
  • Give the seeds a good water, then apply mulch. Rob uses chopped up lucerne chaff, but any mulch is good. Water it all in again.
  • If you end up with stringy beans it’s usually because of lack of water during the growing period. Mulching and deep watering will help.
Picking plums
  • The plums that are ready for picking now at Rob’s place are Tamaki Special. Small, red fleshed, not particularly acidic and meaty.
  • Make sure you don’t pull off the fruiting spur when you pick your plums. Fruiting spurs can produce plums for up to 20 years, so you want to take care to leave them on the tree.


Camera: Jarod Murray
Editor: Thomas Asche
Production equipment and post-production services provided by The Black Forest Breathes