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If you're looking for an easy crop to grow that copes well with our temperamental British weather, try broad beans. Growing your own fruit and veg is becoming more and more popular, and you certainly don't need a field to get a decent amount of broad beans for your kitchen - I grow mine in some tyres which I got for free from a garage.
Broad beans are related to peas as they are in the same family, legumes. Unlike most legumes though, they don't mind a bit of cold weather, so they can be planted straight outside at the beginning of the growing season. I still start mine off indoors though, we still get quite hard frosts in my part of Lancashire well into April and sometimes May. You may have heard of them being called fava beans, and the Americans sometimes call them field beans.
Growing your own
Plant the seeds in march straight into the ground (so long as the ground is not frozen solid - use your own judgement and if needs be, you can warm the ground a little bit for a few days beforehand with some plastic sheeting or a cloche). Plant them a couple of inches down and cover over. They are quite strong sprouters, so you don't need to finely sieve the compost before hand as they should pop up no problem. Mine sprout within a week usually, and it never fails to amaze me how quickly they grow - within a few short weeks you'll have a thick stemmed bushy plant, and after about 10 weeks they should start to get flowers on them. It is from these flowers that the bean carrying pods emerge. One thing to know about legumes is that they have nitrogen fixing nodules on the roots - in English this means that you don't have to provide a high nitrogen soil or feed for them as they can create their own from the air. If you were to add nitrogen, the plants would produce loads of leaves but not much in the way of bean bearing pods / flowers.
When my plants start producing flowers, I pinch out the top tips of each plant - this stops the plant growing any taller and therefore can concentrate its energy on producing more beans instead. Also, pinching out the growing tips helps prevent an attraction to black fly - unfortunately these little monsters love to eat the leaves as much as we love to eat the beans, and if left unchecked can kill the plant before it has the chance to give a decent crop of beans.
These are quite big plants and will need some support - I plant mine about two feet apart and with a big stick to tie each plant to. There are plenty of varieties to chose from, each with slightly different qualities. For example, there is Bunyard's Exhibition, a heritage variety which can produce up to nine beans per pod, and there are more common types like Red Epicure (the beans are red) and Optica which is small plant, suitable for those who don't have much space.
You can get seed packets really cheaply if you shop around - Ive found that Wilkinson's own brand are just as reliable as more expensive types for a fraction of the cost. Also, you'll get more seeds in that packet than the average sized garden could contain, so you get good value for money when growing broad beans. All the usual seed companies sell broad bean seeds, like Mr Fothergills, Suttons etc and I've also spotted them in supermarkets as an "own brand", so shop around.
Diseases / Pests
If you plant the seeds straight out into your garden to germinate in situ, then be aware that mice will probably eat the seeds before they have the chance to grow. How you proof against or control the mice is up to you. Also, as I mentioned above, the new tips that grow at the top of the plant are very attractive for black fly, a very small aphid but are easy to spot due to their colour. I don't spray my plants with pesticides for these, I simply use soapy water in a spray bottle - it covers them and they will fall off easily when wiped with a sponge. If the conditions of your soil and garden are too moist, it could encourage the growth of broad bean rust, a fungal infection. Reduce the humidity around your plants and this should be seen off.
Using Broad Beans
Very young pods can be eaten after being lightly boiled or steamed, when the pods start to get bigger they are difficult to eat and then it is just the beans inside which are eaten. It is not advised to eat too many broad beans raw as they contain some alkaloids which can be harmful for people with certain medical conditions, but these alkaloids are rendered harmless when cooked. They are popular in Mediterranean dishes such as feta, spinach and broad bean salad, as a topping on bruschetta, mixed in with pasta etc. They store very well in the freezer, I blanch them, allow to quickly cool in iced water then pop into freezer bags. They should keep in the freezer for up to a year. They can also be dried out and will keep for a year in an airtight container - these can be rehydrated by cooking in water or planted in the garden as your next year's crop. We sometimes add dried broad beans to soups and stews.
We take out a bag of broad beans when making a Sunday lunch and have them as one of the two vegetables as part of a classic "meat and two veg" meal.
We're in the right time of year to be planting broad beans, so if you've got the space then I can well recommend trying growing your own. They're a very satisfying plant to grow as they grow quickly and give lots and lots of useful beans. As they can become quite big and might overpower some smaller gardens, I award them four out of five stars. Thanks for reading.
Broad beans are an excellent source of antioxidants, protein, iron, copper, vitamin B6 and manganese and fibre. Young, fresh broad beans are delicious in my opinion, a valuable addition to a vegetarian diet and relatively easy to grow.
Broad beans can be sown in November or February depending where you live in the country and the severity of winter weather. Even though I live in Wales I can sow during November as I grow the beans in a polytunnel. If growing outdoors a cloche or fleece covering could be used to protect early sown plants from harsh frosts and wind. An Autumn sowing will produce a harvest for Spring and a February sowing, a harvest for early Summer.
Broad bean plants like a rich soil so I prepare the plot by digging in a good amount of well rotted manure (leaf mould or compost would be equally as good) and add a few handfuls of potash as this is recommended to help protect plants against a fungal infection called chocolate spot. Spacing for sowing depends slightly on the variety of seed chosen but I usually sow 5cm deep and 20cm apart in rows at a distance of 45 cm. It is important not to plant too closely so there will be adequate airflow between the plants as this helps prevent disease. I have so far always found germination rate very successful and within a couple of weeks little seedlings appear, it is then a matter of regular watering and occasional weeding of the plot.
When the young plants reach approximately 10cm in height I place stakes at the corners of each plot, quite closely to the plants, these I then use to secure a string support around the plants when they become taller during March. Individual stakes could be placed near each plant at this point but leaving this until the plants are fully grown could result in root damage.
In April my broad bean plants are covered with flowers and these produce a surprisingly wonderful fragrance. I would be tempted to grow broad beans just for the benefit of this lovely scent (similar to sweet peas) whilst weeding and tending plants in my polytunnel at this time of year. As recommended in gardening books I pinch off the tops of the plants at this stage to encourage the pods to form. As the little pods grow extra watering is often required as well as a careful watch for aphids or black fly. If these pests are found I spray immediately with organic insecticide or water with a little washing up liquid and this quickly solves the problem.
When the beans in the pods are clearly visible they can be ready to harvest. I like to pick whilst still young for tender sweet tasting beans. I pick from the base of the plants upwards and will then harvest regularly. It can be quite time consuming to remove beans from the pods but well worth the effort in my view. Cooked lightly and served with a little butter they are truly delicious. I find freshly picked broad beans can store in the fridge for up to 5 days and they also maintain flavour well when blanched and frozen. As an added bonus the plants after use are a good addition to the compost heap as they are high in nitrogen.
Broad beans seed packets are available from most garden centres and specialists, they can be priced anywhere from £0.95 for 60 seeds to £ 3.20 for 45 seeds depending on variety and retailer.
All in all, I highly recommend growing broad beans if you are considering to do so and have the space.
Thanks for reading this review :)
© Lunaria 2012
Organic Broad Beans
Home grown organic broad beans have it all. They arrive early in the season, they are delicious, far better than staler store bought broad beans, and they are easy to grow. If you like them then be sure to allow lots of space so you can enjoy plenty of this welcome crop in the late spring and early summer!
+++ How to Grow Organic Broad Beans +++
Sow: Directly in the ground between November and March. Avoid sowing in the colder months if your climate is harsh. Wait until a first planting is well established before a second planting for an extended harvest.
Harvest: From May to August. For the best flavour, pick when the beans can be felt through the pod, but before they get too large.
Broad Beans appreciate a well drained, sheltered site. When the pods first appear, pinch out the growing tip of the plant to reduce the risk of a black bean aphid attack. Black bean aphids can seriously damage broad bean plants.
I have to admit that I am one of the BBC Gardeners world website fans ! The Other Half will frequently log on to the site in search of trustworthy advice.
We have planted broad beans for a few years now and have had varying degrees of success with them. This year we decided rather than pay that expensive visit to the garden centre and buy the young fleshy broad bean plants to transplant straight into the soil that we would experiment and plant the beans directly into the soil as someone on the website had suggested.
Maybe many of you have already trialled this method and have had success but we were hedging our bets on the outcome.
So, a while ago the beans went straight into the soil, which had been well prepared and lo and behold the beans have now surfaced and we have two rows of healthy young broad bean plants.
The plants welcome some sun but they don't enjoy being in a windy spot, the plants are also very susceptible to blackfly and rust. We net them to keep our feathered friends from devouring them before they mature and we keep everything crossed that the slugs don't suddenly choose to add them to their ever expanding menu! Each evening the young plants are given a good drink of fresh water to help promote good growth.
Broad beans are one of the first of the bean family to mature and crop but they are most definitely not everyone's cup of tea.
As the plants start to grow they will need to be inspected daily for fly or rust problems and in the not too distant future they will start to flower. If the plants need support then this can easily be provided with a bamboo cane. Last year the variety of broad bean that we chose grew no taller than three feet.
The broad bean flower is white and delicately attractive and as the flower starts to die back the tiniest of pods will start to appear. As long as they are well looked after the pods will flourish and before you know it there will be a picking ready.
The whole make-up of the broad bean is fascinating, when they crop the plants start to produce huge almost ugly pods. The pods are often blemished but usually the beans inside have been well protected. To pod the broad bean you start at the tip of the pod and make a split, then run your thumb down the length of the pod until the fresh beans are revealed.
You will more than likely notice that the tip of your thumb has turned black after a `podding` session. Inside of the green pod there is a white furry layer which protects the beans, it has an unusual if not slightly unpleasant smell and this furry layer is ultimately responsible for your blackened thumb, the discolouration will clear with a good scrub.
Unfortunately you do need to pod quite a few beans to get enough for a meal and this does all take time and effort but the reward is well worth it.
The broad bean itself has a strong `jacket`, when the young beans are cooked in some salted boiling water the tough outer skins soften slightly and the inner part of the bean has a soft and sludgy texture. If they are cooked when they are young, then taken out of the boiling water and buttered and peppered they are quite a delicacy.
When they reach the supermarket shelves the hefty price tag that is put on them is way past most purse strings.
Broad beans are a marvellous source of carbohydrate and protein, they are rich in vitamins A, B1 and B2.
They also contain a chemical called Levodopa which is a chemical that is used in drugs to treat Parkinson's disease
If you have an influx of broad beans they will freeze or you can keep them in the fridge for a few days without any worries.
Broad beans have been a food source for many hundreds of years and it is thought that they were intially grown in Mediterranean countries. Today the beans are enjoyed all over the world. The Egyptians use them in their national dish, Ful Medames and also in falafels.
In America the beans are known fava beans and in some areas of Spain they fry or roast the bean and serve them as a bar snack.
Vicia faba is a species of bean native to north Africa and southwest Asia. The pods and green or white coloured beans, delicious fresh or frozen, and the young shoot tips are also useful as an alternative to spinach.