So last year I planted out my runner beans, the variety chosen specifically to try and keep them alive through the winter. And this year, to my delight, when I peeled back the straw mulch I'd wrapped them up in last autumn, they were still alive!
They grew a little later in the year than I'd expected, having heard that they come up early if grown year after year. First sighting was probably around may-june time. And then they grew and grew and grew. Each plant threw up several stems, meaning we got a really good crop.
I've collected seeds from this batch, which I'll sow next year so that I can set up a second runner bean patch to cross pollinate with this first patch. Not all of my original plants made it through the winter, so these seeds are saved from the strongest of the lot. I'll do the same with the next sowing next year - save seeds from the strongest plants, to give me a third generation of hardy runner bean seeds. The plan from there is to simply save seed each year from the plant survivors and to grow new plants from these seeds each year to replace any that die out. I'm hoping to generate some really hardy runner bean seeds that consistently grow strongly after being left in the ground over winter.
From a permaculture point of view, I'm mainly using Principle 10 here - 'use and value diversity'. What I'm doing means I get my favourite beans without having to dig up the soil, disturbing the delicate and diverse soil food webs that naturally provide my plants with the nutrients they need. It also means I can establish a long term polyculture of perennial vegetables and self seeded annuals around those runner beans - this year I've been growing kailaan (a short lived perennial stem broccoli), red orache, calendula and siberian purslane. This diversity of crops means I get a higher yield of produce from my runner bean bed than I would using traditional techniques.
And it's all a lot less work!
Just got to persuade the kids that runner beans are as tasty to them as they are to me.