I plant runner beans each year. They always make a giant pile of red flowers (“Scarlet Runners”) and some white (“elephant bean” and others). Usually I get a fair number of pods too. A quart of beans from one year sits in the freezer…
This year, though, something is different. Giant mound of greens (bunny loves that ;-) and loads of flowers (bees love that – 4 kinds now! California Golden Carpenter, some unknown all black smaller bumble bee, the regular honey bees, and a new one, a bumble bee with gold fuzzy patches on the back and legs. I suppose it could just be way overloaded with pollen, but I don’t think so…). Oh, and the hummers just love to tank up on those flowers too. (They nest in the nearby tree sometimes).
But this year, I’ve had maybe 4 or 5 pods all told. Perhaps a dozen beans? At most two dozen. Given that I planted about 10, that’s a dismal ratio. The simple question is: Why?
Here’s a couple of low res pictures (so as not to bomb folks on slow links). IF anyone really really just must have the full res 14 MPixel version, I can provide it, but I can’t imagine a reason to need it.
This is looking up a tree from standing height. The top is about 20 feet up,, and there are red flowers up there. LOADS of leaves in between. This ‘square’ was taken over by this tree while I was in Florida, so I thought I’d put it to good use. The beans are happy to grow up it. There are some hard to see white flowers in the center to right to bottom where I’d planted some Greek Elephant Beans. They, too, are largely not making beans.
Well watered. Lots of pollinators. Growing well. Good size and leaves and flowers. Not too hot ( in prior hot August times they would have a pause as temps went over 95 F, not happening this year as it is much cooler). Do runners have some lower bound of cool at night (like tomatoes that don’t set fruit if it drops under 50 F at night) or what?
There is a second square diagonally placed (forward / right) from this one that also has beans in it. The two of these have conspired to almost cover up the cabbage plants (that cabbage kale hybrid of mine) in the square just in front of this picture (out of frame down). I’ll need to thin it out before they are smothered… here bunny bunny bunny ;-) This next picture is looking at that forward / right bean square. The neighbors have some kind of bush that laid a limb down on my side, and the beans are growing over it toward their side. You can also see them flowing out of frame to the left leaping the 2 foot walkway stones onto the cabbage / kale square…
Again, from full standing height (about 5.5 foot at eye level). This shows two squares ( 4 x 4 foot each) grown together to make an arbor of sorts. ( I put string from the right most square to the limb of the bush over the left most square. The bunny likes to sit under the mountain of beans in the ‘arch’ and nibble any so foolish as to grow downward…)
Under the corn leaves, the darker green leaves are Christmas Limas that have done a dandy job of making beans. Finally figured out that they LOVE water. In prior years, watering like a west coast plant, they sulked. Water them like it is Florida and rains every afternoon in summer and they thrive. These merge in with the background square just outside the corn leaf arc. There you can see the carpet of flowers. It has been like that since about late May or early June. But no beans. Limas make beans. “Snap beans” (Kentucky Wonder cross) make beans. Everything else makes beans. Runners make flowers.
I’ve tried extra water. I’ve tried less water. I’ve tried Miracle Grow (and got a lot more greens) on some. Just not happening.
Sidebar on cages: You can, in the lower foreground, see the Dog Run cages around each square. They are about 3 foot tall. The skinny tall thing mid image is a square foldable ‘tomato cage’ that some Purple Pod beans are going to inhabit shortly. I just replanted that square having taken out some finished yellow straight neck squash. The Purple Pods beans are more cold tolerant and if I’m lucky will produce into about early November.
All Ideas Welcome!
Weather here has been a touch cool, but not extreme. And Runners grow very well in England, much cooler than here. It hasn’t been a hot August, and besides, they have made no beans to speak of from the start. Just one or two stray pods about one a month.
With the evident growth, I can’t imagine it is lack of fertilizer. Being as they are nitrogen fixers, excess nitrogen is unlikely ( I used a more phosphorus rich mix in my attempt to get them to set seeds, and only did that on the ones under the tree). I’ve run water up and nothing happened, and let them dry more and nothing happened but a few browned leaves. Each time with about a month of one state before shifting, so doubt it was “change” causing them confusion.
Then, with two types of runner, I find it unlikely that they are ‘inbred’ and having inbred depression (besides, beans ‘self’ all the time without issues).
‘Tiz a puzzlement…
Here’s a weather graph from Wonderground. It is likely a little cooler here, as the airport is tarmac and full sun / dry. But not more than a degree or three.
Temperature well bounded inside the ‘normal’ lines.
Update: Added Humidity Map
I’m in that yellow dry band south of San Francisco on the edge of Orange.
Come to think of it, the central valley pump hasn’t been running much lately. (Central Valley gets to 100 ish F and heat rises, sucking in a cool moist blanket every few days). So things are more ‘steady dry’…
has lots of questions and answers. A quick perusal made me think your situation could be related to coolness and too much nitrogen. In one answer, bone meal was recommended.
Wait…that link was not right… it should be this one:
Hard to tell from this point. I have no beans this year as I was too busy to plant. Things do seem to be a bit late and slow this year :-( not all my fault. Also bean blooms are sensitive to DRY air conditions not necessarily hot conditions. They know what they are doing to make their next years offspring. Farming is like that, always something to mystify and amaze you.
Sitting in the shade with a friendly critter, enjoy a libation and speculate on these things is a good solution for your soul. Somethings just can’t be fixed.
Wisdom is in accepting the things you can not change…pg
Doubt that it is too much nitrogen as one square was completely non-fertilized with anything, and the identical square just next to it is making lima beans and snap beans just dandy. Both soils identical. Both treatments the same.
The wind is mentioned in your link and it has been windy compared to prior years. Don’t know how that would change things, but then again, I’m not a bean… (Bees are visiting regularly, so it isn’t wind keeping pollinators away.)
Bone meal, eh? Well, the added phosphorus on one square and “nothing” implies not the phosphorus in bones needed… but maybe a soil pH thing? Hmmmm…. I might try a side dressing of bone / shells on part of one square and see what happens. Still a few months to convince them to set pods. (And until then the bees and hummmers are REALLY happy that the things just keep pumping out the flowers like crazy… steady stream of them tanking up at the Bean Flower Fuel Pumps ;-)
@P.G.: Air has been quite dry. As a working thesis, that’s likely the best one. Maybe I’ll try misting them a couple of times a day for a couple of weeks and see if anything sets pods…
And “Scientist” (or “tinkerer” – that’s me often…) are glad to “accept what I can not change, but dink with it anyway…for fun and curiosity” ;-)
Sitting in the hammock, beverage and bean leaf supply to hand, Assistant Bunny supervising with thoughtful chewing, with an added hose with misting nozzle… and the “duty” to mist ever few hours during the hotter dryer part of the day? Hmmmm… sounds like a good “experiment” ;-)
I’ve added a humidity graph. This link:
has the usual average as between 60% and 80% in August for San Jose. Now not so much… Numbers are average morning and afternoon.
June 84% 59%
July 86% 60%
August 87% 61%
Looking at other yellow edge of orange areas (well away from the 54 in damp SF on the map) look like closer to 40 or even 30. So as a working thesis, drought dry low humidity looks plausible.
But that is at the airport just a short ways from the air that comes in off the bay. It WILL be much dryer here.
So I’d put mine as about 1/2 way between those two. Call it 35%.
I can see that as an issue… OK, time to find the mister.
I think we may have the answer… In retrospect, the few pods were after the rare damp days.
I used to grow runner beans for many years, however I have moved and now have nowhere to grow them. But one thing I learned is that if it ain’t critters or insects eating them, more often than not failure to set seed was variable soil moisture causing problems. Beans will fail to set seed if it is too dry or watering is erratic, especially during flowering time. Also concurrent with the moisture is not to have too much nitrogen as this will often cause the pods not to set properly but you will get good green growth and flowers. As you have rather lush growth I would suspect this.
Is you soil acid? Acid soil will cause weak growth with poor seed setting, but so too will an over alkaline soil, as this will lock-out trace minerals from the plant. Beans need some trace minerals for proper growth — magnesium, manganese, and “Zinc deficiency is more likely in soils with high pH than low. Crops most sensitive are tomatoes, onions and beans.”
UK farm assured statement on growing runner beans (with lots of chemicals) but also useful general info.
Also see Annette McFarlane gardening pages on runner bean growing.
Hope this is helpful, good luck with the rest of the crop.
Thanks! All ideas welcome. The current hot idea is humidity low. The link above is from the UK, and if misting is needed there some dry days, it is likely essential here, now, as thing are basically a windy dry desert now.
Soil deficiencies are unlikely as it was fertile from turning under lots of plant stuff a couple of years back, then fallow 2 years. Excess nitrogen unlikely as other plants show no excess symptoms and I’ve not added any.
As to the size and lush, about the same as all other years. I have selected for tree climber sized over the years :-) Prior years they climbed up the flowering pear in the background (the bare twigs at the top… it is dying after about 60 years. Looks like fireblight to me.)
I tend to never remove nutrients from the garden. They just cycle through the compost, so I usually don’t need to add any either. A couple of decades back, it needed Miracle Grow to get the phosphorus and trace up, but now it just cycles. All trimmings and slash recycle along with one bunny worth of poo per year that goes on corn, grasses and starter pots, not beans that make there own nitrogen. Though eventually with cycling it travels through the compost…
The other beans are also doing fine, and the limas are water hogs, so water has been high enough.
Which is why I’m going with the humidity idea first. It is the thing I have ignored or been ignorant about. But if that does’t work, I’ll be back to work down the list…
Maybe damper weather by weekend. At least higher humidity for you. .. maybe rain for us. pg
Hope you solve the problem for the future. South of you I had a Juliet tomato that grew gangbusters last year and all through the winter, giving us beacoup large cherries. Still going in spring, but very high, spindly, and top heavy. Planted a new one — only a few tomatoes. the seedlings of last year’s Juliet, just a few tomatoes. Why? Why? Tried a bunch of things, but failure this year. The fruit trees except for apples and figs were much less than usual, too. I tend to think drought. The limited watering, plus what I can carry out from household use, just cannot compensate.
Plants tend to be smarter the us. They fruit heaver on years that are followed by years that are favorable to them. During extended poor years they tend to save their energy and fruit less. Many plants that we think of as annuals are really tender perennials such as tomatoes, potatoes and peppers even cabbage. My tomatoes are just now producing ripe fruit. Over a month late and smaller sizes and numbers. Last year even worse. Two years ago a bumper crop! Farming is like that. Sometimes nothing seems to work right, Other years any dummy can succeed. Good farmers just make fewer mistakes on a poor year and does not let a very good year go to his head. Stuff happens! generally bad but at times you win with the right guesses at the right time.
If you are a real professional, you make your mistakes look as if they are part of the plan. ;-) pg
Unlikely to be major nutrients. Lush growth = plenty of nitrogen & phosphorus, & lots of flowers indicate no shortage of potassium. Nor would the photo & your recycling indicate minor element deficiency.
Variable humidity posible but if you’re watering lima beans nearby then that seems to preclude that.
Out of left field…how long since you planted the beans, surely you don’t plant runner beans every year? The old british name 7 year beans indicates a loss of fertility after some years.
If all else fails, blame the Government.
My first thought was humidity causing a failure to set, or not enough moisture at roots (though they normally don’t grow well in that case). The other possibility is bird damage. In the past, I’ve had sparrows pecking out the flowers and even the very early set beans.
Some years ago I was growing spring onions from seed. I’d get home from work and all of the newly showing shoots would be laid out along the row. Just like someone had been along and neatly weeded them out. This went on for the rest of the week. At the weekend I sat and waited and eventually saw a couple of sparrows working along the row, hopping up to a shoot, pulling it out and leaving to one side and moving on to the next shoot. Never found out why they were doing it…
Fascinating story. My guess is they were looking for bugs in the hole.
FWIW I have an interesting bird strategy. I feed them… I have a bird feeding station on a ledge just outside the living room picture window. We get a nice show and the birds are too full to think about the garden ;-)
That takes care of the seed eaters. There’s a couple of insectivores that work over the garden, but I think of that as free labor paying for their freeloading cousins ;-) No bug problems, though ;-)
There’s also a decent crop of mud-dauber wasps that work over the garden too, so it isn’t all just the birds. The wasps do a great job of checking every nook and corner of every single plant every day. I make sure a part of the more clay rich dirt is damp / wet at least every few days so they can pick up loads of mud to make their nests.
It really can be a bit surreal to be pushing my way under some thick patch of Runner Beans (like the bit from the tree square grown out to the Cabbage / Kale square where I must bend down under it) and have 3 or 4 bees and a similar number of wasps working over the plants all around and above me; and they just sort of keep about their business as I go past. Not a hint of aggression toward me, even at the 6 inches near range… I’ve now gotten to where I don’t worry about them at all. If one is working a flower and I want to pick from just next to it, I pause while it finishes up and moves over a couple of inches, then pick. A very cooperative operation…
Had one big bee come over to check out the hose nozzle as I was misting. Got to about an inch off the surface before deciding it wasn’t a flower. I just stopped moving for a half minute until her curiosity was satisfied and she went back to shopping in the flowers…
Doves nest under the patio cover eves. (I put a nest platform up there after one year they built on a 4 inch wide metal flange that looked risky to me. They have rewarded me with cooing for about a decade now ;-) As the ‘little ones’ grow up watching me come and go through the back door, they have a ‘wary but not afraid’ aspect. Now, them large enough to be at the feeding station, when I round the corner and startle them, they will look at me and sometimes flush, but if the ‘startle’ is less (from me ritually coughing as I approach the corner) they will just look at me with a “What, you want past?” look and walk over to the water dish on the other side of the yard. It’s sort of gratifying in a “now that’s strange” way to watch 2 or 3 doves walking slowly away from you…
The thing that amazes me the most is that all these critters, regardless of brain size, seem to understand the notion of ‘being polite’. They know who is, and who isn’t; and it doesn’t matter if it is the Greedy Meany squirrel (who doesn’t like other squirrels getting a turn at the bird food) or the predator birds, or a mean person: They get it. Over a longer time, they can come to understand some people or polite too. And will ‘share the space’ more. Still out of ‘attack range’, but no longer in a panic to run away.
Except the Humming Birds. They will come up about 2 feet off my nose and look at me sometimes. Can be a bit, er, “close”… Damn fast little guys, though, so as soon as I move, or even just move the eyes to look right at them, they tend to be 10 feet away all of a sudden ;-) Once, looking over the beans, I had a loud hummmmmm just off my left ear. I didn’t turn to look (what’s the point, it would be gone by the time the eyes lined up) but it was a hummer tanking up on a bean a foot or two away. As the sound started to drop, I did look, and saw tail feathers disappearing up the tree.
So the only bird damage I’ve seen this year was some sparrow like thing that had a taste for sunflower leaves. It would sit on the stem and make a salad out of small bites from between the veins of the leaves. Slowly making lace of the 3 or 4 inches it could reach. The sunflower didn’t seem to mind (kept growing) and I enjoyed the show. Them, being small, couldn’t eat all that much anyway ;-) I now have a very large sunflower head drying on the table. (Volunteer anyway… from some oil seed sunflower seeds put out for the birds in the first place. I’m going to see if I can grow more of them from that brave soul…)
While I had a patch of multi-year runners, while I was in Florida a family member decided to “clean up” the garden… and they went on the compost heap along with the cabbage / kale cross that was multi-year and for seeds… So this year the runners are from saved seeds in the freezer (same generation as the ones removed that did produce) as are the cabbage / kale cross ( a couple of generations back, so I need to re-select the seed for the exact mix of traits… not too bad, I guess. These have a bit more purple in them, and less green glaze surface, but I’d wanted a bit more color… even if the glaze ones were more aphid resistant. At any rate, a couple of generations from now I’ll have a glaze with color and size and it will be even better than the ones that got “cleaned up”…)
The limas are watered with a ‘bubbler’ soaker down low, so nearly no impact on humidity above a couple of inches up. We’ve also had more wind than in prior years, so any humidity will be rapidly blown to the next yard (wind away from runners). The wind is a drying wind.
I’m pretty sure it is the combination of generally dryer air, and that it moves more so humidity can’t build up from the leaves. I’m going to try misting early morning (still air) and late afternoon (sometimes still) and see if that helps.
Here in my part of England we’ve had very dry weather until a few days ago. I’ve had similar yield problems despite watering generously – never any sign of plant distress. Then we had some downpours and within a couple of days the beans were cropping like crazy (and yes, they had been flowering impressively way before that). Not proof but pretty suggestive to me that unrecognised (lack of) water has been by far the most likely cause.
So the difference this year is that the runner beans were stored in the freezer. Shouldn’t think that is the cause. Misting might help, if they grow in the UK then extra humidity won’t damage them. And if the problem is bees not visiting the flowers because lower humidity stops the plants emitting some (chemical) signal, then that also. ( I am thinking maybe nectar drying out so bees miss their ‘reward’).
Not as accomplished a gardener as you, EM, but I’ve long observed plants. The amount of fruit production is sometimes hard to explain.
My healthy, 50′ wild black cherry starts w/thousands of cherries, but almost always aborts 90-95% of them halfway thru development. But a little, dinky b. cherry suffering in the shade & root zone of a giant sycamore puts out a good crop every year. My burr oak produced some viable and tasty acorns only a few yrs after planting, but now at 25′ tall, it’s been aborting almost all its acorns about halfway thru maturity. My guess is, if growing conditions are good, the oak’s continuing stem/leaf growth takes energy away from the acorns & they are aborted (perhaps the same scenario w/my big, healthy cherry).
Maybe this is an issue w/your crops, but hard to imagine such a long-cultivated garden-plant acting like a wild one — they’re selected to produce consistent fruit-crops.
EM, hummingbirds are pretty easy to “train”. I can take my little feeder off its hook & place in my lap on a chair. Slowly, they will examine me and if I keep still enough, cautiously start feeding. Soon most of them are feeding right off my lap, but keeping a keen eye on me. One or two might start examining me — hovering right in front of my eyes or even poking gently into my hair. Hard to keep from breaking out laughing when that happens.
No, the freezer storage is not a change. ALL my seeds get stored in the freezer. It is the best preservation method possible. (Some are later taken out of the freezer to the fridge, but pretty much everything eventually cycles through it other than some lower value seeds that may have to put up with only the refrigerator if the freezer is full.)
Oh, and 100% of beans get the freezer treatment even if eventually relegated to the fridge. It kills off any bean weevil eggs…
This particular jar has been my source of Runner Bean seeds for a few years now.
I’ve also got lots of bees regularly working them over. The Carpenter Bees especially seem to like them as the flowers are bigger…
Any time my fruit trees have dropped part way through it has been a water shortage. (I’ve been known to use this to ‘thin’ the fruit the lazy man’s way ;-)
That thing with the hummers sounds like fun!
Maybe they are checking out the hair for nesting materials? Bunnies tend to ‘groom’ and leave little hair buttons on the ground. I’ve seen a hummer nest or two neatly lined with bunny bits… Looks very warm and comfy for the little ones. I really like the hummers… but I don’t know if I could manage to sit that still and not chuckle… ;-)
EM, once outside a low window, I saw a hummer “picking” among shrub branches, opening/closing its beak (never seen that before). WTF? Then I saw it — it was collecting strands of spider-webs! Inspected a hummer nest once (tiny!) & the inside was lined w/soft spider-webbing.
Also seen a female hummer viciously attacking another, much larger bird that got too close to its nest.
Marvelous little creatures… Never thought of collecting spider web before, but it makes sense… even has it’s own ‘glue’ to help hold the nest together. “Spider silk” in a way…
Looked inside a nest or two when they had been vacated. Amazingly small, cozy, and softly lined. In retrospect, some of that might have been webbing. It looked like very fine (super fine?) cotton but with a bit of sheen to it.
I think I have the answer.
Today I saw a few new pods. A couple of weeks ago I found some medium pods. The medium pods were ONLY deep under the greenery where humidity was kept up and near the Green Beans where they would have gotten water from both sides. (Backside when watering runners and front side as blow-by of the green beans).
I’ve been misting some, but mostly just added what I think of as “outrageous” amounts of water at root level.
So what do I conclude?
I’d been in Florida for 2 summers of a 4 year drought. The garden was not watered during the prior fall / winter either, nor the fall and winter following the Florida time. So it was NOT having the usual summer garden water inventory delivered. Nor even the ‘typical’ winter rain.
When planted, I watered more or less as usual. A very deep watering to recover soil moisture in the top 1/2 foot or so, then ‘modest’ and ‘as usual’ from then on out.
Things were NOT usual. Soil water inventory was near nil. Most likely, below about 6 inches, it stayed dry. Roots do not grow into dry soil. In retrospect, I had turned over a couple of new “squares” and it was dry as deep as I dug (about 2+ feet). Those I soak watered to fullness. The “established” squares I didn’t since “Normally I don’t need to”… But we’ve already established this isn’t normal…
So my beans grew, but only made modestly shallow roots. Top growth was great as they were more than fertile enough in that layer of great soil (and my added shot of micro-nutrients and phosphate likely helped).
Now I end up with great leaf growth, ALL demanding LOTS of water, and modest-at-best roots from first year beans in shallow watered soil… You can see where this is going…
So I started the misting and watering, and spent less time on some of the other plants. Which promptly started showing dry leaves (green beans and squash) or similar symptoms. That was my clue. Shallow roots need frequent water (which if light as in a mandated drought low water use regimen) leads to more shallow roots.
The intense low humidity is desiccating the leaves, that suck up more than “normal” water to stay cool and hydrated; but in the process drain the water from the low-water-inventory soil in a shallower than “normal” root zone.
So that’s my thesis. It’s partly humidity (and the runners are way more sensitive to low humidity) and partly just desiccated soil with low water inventory leading to shallow root zone development.
Unfortunately, with the low water allotment available, I can’t put 3 years of water into a square to dampen it down 3 feet… So I will likely just start feeding the “greens” to Madam Bunny (who will, I’m sure, take on the duty with her usual care and understanding) and concentrate the water on one square at the expense of the other.
FWIW, I think there is an evolutionary angle to this, too.
Green beans are annuals. In a dry year, if they don’t make seeds, that’s all she wrote. So marginal water has them respond with some leaf wilting and drop. Runners are multi-year, so in a dry year “shooting it all” on a few seeds (that might not make it) isn’t as important as “field position”, so they drop blossoms and put out the vines “for next year”. When next year comes, they are all set to crank out the leaves and blossoms early and get on with seed making during the wet. Thus my green beans when “a bit dry” giving me some browning leaves along with some beans while the Runners just dropped the blossoms and kept climbing the tree. (Now about 20+ fee up).
With that, I’ve left the water running on them and need to go out and move it to the next plants. Technically a violation of some rule or other… ( I am supposed to only water 2 days a week, but things die then… I do have an “automatic water cut off device” on the hose which sort of gives me a ‘pass’… except the little wire bale holding the handle down is likely not approved ;-)
OTOH, with The Redhead Gene, standing for a couple of hours in the sun holding a hose is likely to put me in the skin cancer ward… which is also unapproved by The Government… so when they decide which of their rules to relax so I can do reasonable things… then I’ll comply. ( I don’t “do stupid” well, so “complying with stupid” also doesn’t work so well…)
With that, I need to go do some more garden stuff before I’m back in for posting things.
I have to agree. These last 2 years, it has been very difficult to put on enough water to last more then 2 days. Usually a watering lasts for a week.
Oh yes, you have neighboring Trees! The trees tend to dry out the soil for several feet down as well as several feet beyond the “drip line” of the outer boughs.
Out in the desert we start irrigation in the early spring while there is no need, as well as continue into the late fall, to build up the moisture in the soil profile. In the heat and dry of summer you just can not put enough water to totally supply the plants needs…pg