A S Green and Co - Runner & Broad Beans
Andrew Green’s life is full of beans. In fact, each year he produces around 200 tonnes of runner beans, grown at the foot of the Malvern Hills in rows that would stretch in a straight line for 45 miles.
The amazing facts and figures don’t stop there. Every April, as the runner bean shoots reach towards the sky, Andrew and his team push 400,000 bamboo canes in to support the young plants, all tied by hand. Then once the beans grow the stems have to be twisted, by hand around the canes and secured.
“Yes, beans are a pretty labour intensive crop and they demand a lot of tender loving care,” admits Andrew, “but there is no other way of raising them. The young shoots are fragile and the beans ripen on the plant at different times, so they have to be hand-picked. It must be one of the few jobs around today that can not be done by machine.”
Green’s beans - both runner and broad beans - have been grown at Rook Row Farm in Mathon for over 50 years. Andrew grew up in the half-timbered Elizabethan farmhouse he now shares with his wife, Caroline, when his father ran the business before him. In fact Andrew’s family have been growing runner beans since the early part of the 20th century.
The cycle of life in the fields remain the same, with a few modern exceptions. Today Andrew lays down a plastic mulch to smother weeds before planting begins in late March or early April, when the soil has started to warm up. This reduces the need for chemical spraying to almost none. He also starts off about a third of his runner beans under protective polythene tents, allowing him to get the first pickings into the shops by the beginning of July – about three weeks earlier than beans raised in the open. The tops are then released when the beans are ready to grow through.
The medium to heavy red Herefordshire loam suits runner beans – which like a damp root-run - because it retains moisture. As the first flush of red and white flowers appear in early summer Andrew starts watering with an irrigation system linked to the farm’s own borehole-fed lake.
A few months later, when all the beans have been picked, its time to pull up the canes – all 400,000 of them - clear the ground and recycle the plastic before ploughing and fertilising for the following season.