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Clever idea that boosts bean crop

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: September 04, 2013

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INNOVATION. Improvisation. Inspiration. It's a triple package of long words that has helped Brian Norman grow a succession of long runner beans for nine years on the bounce.

Not for him the luxury of an allotment or a roomy back garden for regular success with his succulent pods.

Brian, 77, cultivates his favourite vegetable in his modest rear-of-house space near the centre of Braunton in eight plastic troughs.

But that's only half the story. Back in 2004 he went to his local recycling centre and helped himself to lengths of timber thrown into the wood skip.

These he knocked together and made eight small platforms suitable to frame six 3ft long troughs and two of 2ft in length. He drilled holes at a slight angle into which he slotted his ranks of 6ft bamboo canes.

And in another astute act of improvisation, he used one half of several clothes pegs to hold each cane rigid in its aperture.

Brian says: "It's my engineering mind working. It's really quite simple."

Quite essential, too, for the thousands of homes which don't have much space outside and that certainly includes those with insufficient elbow room to grow rows of runners like military ranks and which are a common sight on our allotments.

Brian, former chief engineer with Barnstaple sand dredgers Woolaways, mixes Grows Bag compost with farmyard manure to fill the troughs. Once the beans start racing up the canes he feeds with water dosed with chicken pellets and blood, fish and bone. It's evidently a potent and productive cocktail, for Brian was happy to boast that he's picked more pods from his troughs in some years than a friend did from his conventionally-grown plants.

His choice of variety this year were the stringless Lady Di and the British-bred St George with attractive red and white flowers.

July's heatwave proved a tough time for veg growers and beans were no exception. As well as disciplined watering every evening, Brian rigged up an old sheet as a shade to prevent the young pods from shrivelling or burning.

Yet he started picking from the third week in July, despite recording two days when the mercury soared to a stifling 115degF or 45degC.

Brian, never one to fall victim to complacency, planted three pots of reserve runners in case of failures among his premier crop.

He also sowed a whole packet of beans in trays in late July in the hope of an autumn harvest.

At my last contact these were running up the canes as eagerly as the early stalwarts.

"It would be nice to be picking in October," said Brian. "If we get an Indian summer I'm hopeful of doing just that. Beans aren't cheap any more, yet they are still a popular veg. I love them, but it's a full-time job looking after them.

"Some years I've had a massive crop but it is all down to the weather."

Brian hails his inspirational DIY creations as cheap to produce, simple to assemble, easy to store, long-lasting provided the wood is treated, and portable if fitted with casters.

"And they can be multi-used for veg or flowers," he added.

Brian is anxious to share his carpentry construction know-how with anyone who is interested.

He is quick to remind would-be takers that all they need are hammer, nails, saw and wood. Chat to him on 01271 816733.

Did you know? Runner beans, Physaeolus coccineus, are more popular per head of population in the UK than anywhere else in the world. Most are grown to scramble up canes or stakes, but a few varieties in the Hammond range and the modern Hestia are dwarfs, reaching around 18in.

Tried and trusted climbing varieties include Achievement, Enorma, Streamline, Kelvedon Marvel, Sunset, Scarlet Emperor, Red Rum and a newcomer called Prizewinner with pods claimed to be up to a foot long.

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