Broad beans are easy to grow and low maintenance, providing crops from May onwards. Picked fresh, young beans taste sensational – sweet, tender and succulent. If you’re short on space, there are even dwarf varieties that can be grown in containers.
Jobs to do now
- Prepare soil by digging over and weeding
- Sow indoors
Month by month
Broad beans can be sown in pots under cover from February onwards, for planting out in spring. This method is especially useful where soils are wet or rich in clay (which can lead to seeds rotting in the ground), or if mice are a problem in your garden, as they tend to eat direct-sown seeds.
Sow the large seeds individually into small pots or modular trays filled with seed compost, inserting them 5cm (2in) deep. Water well and keep in good light.
Broad beans are easy to sow direct into the ground in March, April and even early May, for harvests throughout the summer. Sowing in November or February is also possible in milder parts of the UK or very sheltered sites, especially those with well-drained soil. Use a hardy variety and protect young plants with fleece or cloches during cold spells.
Choose a sunny, sheltered growing site with well-drained soil. Weed thoroughly, then fork in plenty of garden compost or well-rotted manure, and water well.
Sow seeds 5–7.5cm (2–3in) deep and 15–23cm (6–9in) apart, depending on the cultivar. In open ground, sow in single rows 45cm (18in) apart or double rows 23cm (9in) apart with 60cm (2ft) between each double row. In raised beds, where space is not needed to walk between rows for picking, all rows can be spaced 23cm (9in) apart.
It is also worth sowing a few extra seeds at the end of the rows to produce extra plants that can be lifted and moved to fill any gaps left by seeds that fail to germinate.
Dwarf varieties can also be sown in large containers filled with multi-purpose or loam-based compost and positioned in a sunny, sheltered spot.
Unless rainfall has been high, soak plants well at the start of flowering and again two weeks later. Regular watering may be needed on light, free-draining soil.
Dwarf plants in containers require regular watering throughout the growing season, as they dry out more quickly than plants in the ground.
Tall cultivars may need staking – insert sturdy stakes at each corner of the rows and every 1.2m (4ft) along the rows. Run string around the stakes at 30cm (1ft) intervals from the ground. Smaller cultivars usually support each other, especially when planted in double rows.
Pinching out shoot tips
When the lowest truss of flowers has formed small pods, pinch out the plant’s shoot tips to encourage fruiting and reduce problems with blackfly (see Common problems, below). These tips are delicious steamed or stir-fried.
Hoe regularly to remove weeds as soon as they appear.
Broad beans can be ready to pick from late spring to mid-summer, depending on the sowing time and variety.
You can pick young immature pods when they are 7.5cm (3in) long and cook them whole.
When picking pods to shell, wait until the beans are visible through the pod. But don’t leave them too long – the scar on the bean should still be white or green, not black, as the beans will become tough at this stage. Small beans are sweeter and more tender that large ones. Regular picking encourages further pods to form.
Check plants regularly, as pods can ripen fast. Pods lower down the plant will mature first.
These rodents will eat the seeds where planted
Trapping can be effective for mice in a garden situation, although voles can be harder to control. Break-back traps of the type used against house mice can be effective when set in places where damage is occurring. Pieces of carrot or dessert apple are effective baits for voles, and peanut butter for mice. When using traps or baits out of doors, they must be placed under covers to reduce the risk of other animals interfering with them. Birds are particularly vulnerable to accidental trapping.
Black bean aphid
Sap-sucking aphids will disfigure plants and cause stunting to leaves and stems.
In the case of broad beans, pinch out infested tips. On other beans, catch populations when small and squash.
Common on overwintering plants or in damp, humid weather, this fungal disease causes brown spots on leaves and brown streaks on stems and pods.
Ensure there is good air flow around plants by spacing them correctly and keeping the ground weed free.
Pea and bean weevil
This tiny insect bites tiny U-shaped holes from around the outside of the leaf, resulting in a distinctive scalloped appearance.
Although unsightly, damage is unlikely to have an impact on the harvest. Covering with fleece will boost growth and exclude the weevils.
Nigel Slater uses young broad beans to make a delicious light lunch of broad beans in their pods with dill and yoghurt.
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