Runner Beans Not Setting Pods

Posted on Aug 29, 2013 in Blog, Other | 9 comments

The Bees aren’t doing their job properly this year

I’ve had a real problem with my runner beans not setting pods this year. I can see the neighbors over the fence and they are just as bad, spoke to a couple of locals and they have the same problem. There are loads of flowers, but the pods just aren’t

runner beans not setting pods

the sorry state of this years runner beans

forming, the flowers just fall off and leave no beans, well, when I say no beans, there are a few, but nothing like the volume there should be.

I’ve just been down to pick a few (because that’s all there is!) and the plants are covered in bees, have been watered well and the ground was prepared at the start of the year, so although some years are always better than others, I should be eating runner beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner by now.

So as always when I see bees somewhere, I stopped for a look just to watch them working. That’s when I realised what was happening, the bees seem to be biting through the base of the flowers instead of entering through the open flower itself, so they are not pollinating the flower in the process, therefore no beans!

I can’t say for sure which bees are doing it, but well over 90% of the bees on there

honey bee robbing nectar

not the typical robbing behaviour a beekeeper expects from their bees

are honey bees, although they all seem to be feeding in the same way, bumbles, a few solitary bees and several types of honey bee. Obviously it’s not mine causing the problem (Ahem), but they are certainly all getting in there for a free feed once the hole has been chewed through the base of the flower. I’ve not noticed it on anything else either now or earlier in the year, it seems odd that they just want to access this way on the runners.

The worrying thing is why this is happening, it can’t be the type of runner which is being grown because several of us have the same problem. It can only be something to do with the bees themselves, possibly the strain, or even some kind of environmental factor which is making them behave this way, either way, the result is a very poor crop of runner beans.

honey bee on runner beans

bee feeding on runner beans without pollinating them

These pictures clearly show what’s going on. Sorry about the poor quality photographs but I took them with my phone, which doesn’t take a bad picture usually, except for close up!

The thing which I find most confusing is that in the pictures, they appear to be biting through the stalk type covering (yes I know it probably has a proper name) over the base of the flower, so I would

have thought that just entering the way that nature intended, i.e.

bee on runners

honey bee on runner beans

through the flowers opening itself would be a lot easier anyway. Obviously once the hole is there, it’s probably even easier to just keep using it, but why do it in the first place?

So if you have the same problem, with runner beans not setting pods or producing many beans this year, that could be your answer. You can watch them working fairly safely without getting stung, but be a bit sensible about it! I put my hand close with the camera, not my face, you’ll be able to see if they are going in the flower or round the back while they are working.

I’d be very interested to know if anyone else has had the same problems?  Please leave a comment if you have…

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  1. Bees hate being walloped on the back by that spring loaded stamen in legumes – it makes them bad-tempered. So it seems only natural that if one variety is smart enough (or adapted) to drilling holes to avoid the beating, the rest will take advantage of it.

    Have you set out a thermometer to check night time temperatures? That has a big effect on whether runner beans will set fruit.

    The cold start to the summer knocked my bean crop for a 6, but it has recovered quite well from early August onward.


    • Hi D.

      I don’t think it’s temperature, of course it didn’t help, but 3 villages all along the river, 2 have the same problem, one doesn’t. it’s something more localised, I can only think there are different bees in village 3, they are claiming to have the best runners for years!

  2. I’m so glad I found your bee website, my Runner Beans are appalling this year and they are usually very good, too many to keep up with. But this year mine are flowering profusely but then the beans never set, I’m going to see what the bees are doing.

    Keep up the good work and observations!


    • Hi Mary,

      Glad you found the site useful, let us know if you have the same problem and where you are, it will be interesting to see if this is more localised or happening all over the country.

  3. Hello again. I’m near Birmingham in a little village which nobody has heard of. I checked what the bees were doing and yes, they are drilling little holes at the flowers bases and, I can only assume not being an expert in these things, accessing the nectar through the holes.

    The problem doesn’t seem to be as bad as it was a couple of weeks ago, there certainly seem to bee more runners getting started than when I first noticed it.

    I must say, it’s really nice to watch the bees working though, they were perfectly friendly and completely ignored me getting a bit closer than I initially thought I would, I just wish they wouldn’t make holes.

    Thank you.


    • Hi Mary,

      Yes mine are doing a bit better now too. I have been (reasonably) reliably told that it’s Bumbles which make the holes, because they’re too big to actually get in the flowers, but the honey bees just take advantage once the holes are there. It would make sense as there seem to be a lot of Bumbles around this year.

  4. Hello beekeepers. I’m not really sure how I came upon this website, but this is a fascinating story. I had the exact same problem during the last two bean harvests, yet it had never been a problem before. Or at least, not to the extent that I would notice it. I suppose I shouldn’t really be surprised that I found the answer from a beekeeping website though. Bees are somewhat associated with the activities of us gardeners after all. Bri

  5. Yes, very disappointing runner beans this year. The Honey Bees are definitely eating their way through the ‘back door’ of the flowers which fall off, and then no beans are produced. Very worrying for the future if this behaviour continues!

    • Hi Kathy,

      If it’s any consolation, I posted this last year and it was only the first half of the bean crop which was affected, for some reason. The second half of the crop was better than normal. Possibly because the beans hadn’t used all their energy on the earlier ones, so get ready for a glut of runners!