Broad beans are an easy crop to grow and, should you get a surplus, they freeze well. It’s possible to start them off under cold glass in February once you feel the worst of the weather is over. Or you can wait until early spring and sow them straight into the ground.
Use modular trays with 24 sections (6 x 4) and place them inside a large seed tray and then fill with seed-sowing compost.
Press one seed into each module and then water the whole tray well. Cover with wire if you have a mouse problem - these large seeds are a lure!
Once the young beans reach two inches in height harden them of outside for a week by placing them somewhere sheltered.
Then plant them out, before the long radical root gets tangled up in the hole at the bottom of each module!
Space them out, one plant every 9 inches (22 cm) with one foot ( 30 cm) between a double row. Put a series of canes round them and add some supporting string to avoid them flopping over other crops. Always top your canes with a cap or a small flower pot to protect your eyes from damage when you pick.
Use two seeds per hole to a depth of almost two inches (5 cm). Place one seed every 9 inches ( 22 cm) with one foot ( 30 cm) between a double row. Then plant a dozen extra seeds at each end of the rows for gapping up.
Cover with chicken wire if mice are a problem and then add canes.
Broad beans are self-fertile, but the yield is much higher when bumble bees pollinate them. Wet or inclement weather can make your crop suffer.
Once the pods are set well up the stem, pick out the tips so that they concentrate all their energies on filling each pod. You should expect two pounds of beans per foot of double row.
Pick them regularly so that they keep producing flower.
Pick carefully as broad bean stems tend to be brittle. Use small scissors to snip off the pods if needed.
Blackfly on broad beans
Mice and rats can devastate a row within an hour, even burrowing under snow. Keep them away by covering the seeds and plants with chicken wire.
What to do about blackfly
Broad beans often attract blackfly because they leave their woody winter host (the spindle or euonymus) to look for soft bean foliage. Pinch out the tender-leaved tops if you see blackfly. Don’t spray, because you’ll also kill ladybirds and parasitic wasps.
Your ladybirds, birds and parasitic wasps will soon find our blackfly and these important predators need your early pests to survive.
What broad beans to grow in spring
You need to sow a spring-sown variety, but be aware that there are large pale-seeded beans (with a traditional broad bean flavour) and smaller green-seeded beans - generally not as strongly flavoured.
Jubilee Hysor’ AGM
Prolific cropper and highly reliable broad bean with six to eight lime-green beans in each pod. Windsor bean flavour.
‘Masterpiece Green Longpod’ AGM
Slender pods filled with small green beans, good for freezing but smaller yield than ‘Imperial Green Longpod’. Not such a strong flavour.
‘Imperial Green Longpod’ AGM
Good green colour to the beans, so ideal for freezing. Popular and reliable with 9 beans per pod.
Quick to crop, hence the name, with quality pods containing flavourful beans spread over different nodes well above the ground. High tolerance to Broad Bean Mosaic Virus.
‘Monica’ AGM ( also sold as ‘De Monica’)
A vigorous white seeded variety, the plants are probably the earliest to crop from a spring sowing and produce reliable, high yields of broad 'hangdown' pods each containing 5-6 large, great tasting and succulent beans.
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What broad beans to plant in late-autumn
‘Aquadulce Claudia’ AGM
A shorter bean traditionally sown near Bonfire night. It only crops three weeks before spring-sown beans, so not a huge time difference. However wetter warmer winters often spoil autumn-sown beans. They are also prone to rodent damage. Only worth doing if you have lots of ground.
Did you know...?
Botanists have never found a broad bean in the wild and possibly the wild ancestor is now extinct. Yet we know from archaeological evidence that they (along with chick peas, peas and lentils) have been an important part of the Mediterranean and North African diet for six thousand years. They are still widely grown in Egypt, Iran, Greece and Ethiopia.
Seeds were deposited with the dead in ancient Egypt, but they were considered food for the slaves not the Pharaohs. Herodotus, the Greek Historian, even claimed that Egyptian priests would not even look at beans, let alone eat them. Early Roman Christians cooked broad beans with sage on the Day of the Dead, 2 November, a tradition which developed into making bean-shaped, almond biscuits known in Italy as fave dei morti or 'beans of the dead'.
The Celtic peoples are thought to have eaten beans only at funeral feasts, perhaps the origin of the word beanfeasts or beanos. The propensity for broad beans to make the eater flatulent seems to be have crudely associated with spiritual rebirth.
Early broad beans were black- seeded, but pale-seeded forms were with us by Roman times and beans were used in Roman elections. A black seed meant no, a pale one yes. Pliny noted their nitrogen-fixing properties and recorded that were ploughed in as they were about to flower to enhance the ground in the same way a more-usual green manure crop would be used today. This seems a shame as bean flowers are highly fragrant.
Broad beans were taken to America by the Settlers and became known as faba beans - after their Latin name. They didn’t catch on in North America and were subsequently grown more in South America. Today Brazil is a leading exporter.
The Huguenots, French Protestant immigrants, arrived in Britain in the late 17th century and bought broad bans with them. These became known as ‘Windsor’ and ‘Sandwich’ - after the places where they successfully grew in fields. Three ‘foreign’ varieties arrived shortly afterwards - ‘Spanish’ and ‘Lisbon’ and they were followed by ‘Magazan’ a variety from Morocco (1755). ‘Windsor’ varieties date from 1729 and they are still grown today. ‘Aquadulce’ is another heritage variety from the 1850s and it came from Spain.
The pretty Crimson Flowered Broad Bean is even earlier, dating from the end of the 18th century. It may have been lost forever, but one old lady had been saving the seeds every year and she donated some to Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library in 1978. Her father had grown it as a boy and he always kept it going.
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