Newest Review: ... bean rust, a fungal infection. Reduce the humidity around your plants and this should be seen off. Using Broad Beans Very young po... more
Broad beans - big croppers
Member Name: Stewwydablue
Advantages: Heavy croppers, easy to grow
Disadvantages: Can take up quite a bit of space
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.
Summary: Try growing some, they are very rewarding