Homeschool Garden Club – Broad Beans
Down here in the south where we garden we can sow broad beans directly into the soil in early November or February for harvests as early as May. Sown in November, seeds will germinate within two to four weeks and young plants should overwinter and recommence growth as soon as conditions are favourable in spring. In more northern colder areas, or when winters are severe, broad bean plants will need fleece or cloche protection.
Otherwise you can sow broad beans in pots, under cover in February for planting out in spring or direct into the ground in March, April and even early May, for harvests throughout the summer. Pot-raised plants are especially useful where soils are wet or rich in clay (as these soils can lead to seeds rotting in the ground).
Suggested Varieties of Broad Beans to Try
There are two main types of broad beans – long pods and short pod also known as Windsors. Long pods are hardier, so well suited to autumn and very early spring sowings, and their seeds are kidney-shaped. Windsor types produce rounder beans in shorter, broad pods. Several of the cultivars we still grow today have a long history. For example, the variety called Green Windsor was introduced in 1809.
‘Aquadulce Claudia’: A large, very hardy longpod cultivar for autumn or early spring sowing ‘Masterpiece Green Longpod’: A reliable, slender-podded cultivar ideal for freezing ‘Medes’: A popular, high-yielding, uniform variety ‘Scorpio’: A commercial cultivar bred for the frozen vegetable industry with white flowers and small, mild-flavoured beans ‘The Sutton’: A dwarf favourite producing small, tender beans ideal for containers ‘Witkiem Manita’: An early-maturing cultivar with heavy yields
How to Grow Broad Beans
Growing broad beans is fairly straightforward if you follow the steps below.
Choose a well-drained site that has been thoroughly dug and, ideally, improved with garden compost or well-rotted manure.
Sow seeds 5-7.5cm (2-3in) deep and 15-23cm (6-9in) apart, depending on the variety. 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.
Sow a few extra seeds at the end of the rows to produce plants which can be lifted and moved to fill in any gaps created by seeds that fail to germinate.
Hoe regularly to remove weeds as soon as they appear.
Tall plants may need staking. Use strings attached to sturdy stakes inserted at 1.2m (4ft) intervals. Smaller plants usually support each other, especially when they are planted in double rows.
Unless rainfall has been high, soak plants well at the start of flowering and again two weeks later. Further irrigation may also be needed on light soils.
When the lowest truss of blossom has formed small pods, pinch out the tips of the beans to promote fruit set and reduce problems with blackfly (an aphid). These tips can be steamed or stir-fried and eaten.
Harvest pods once beans have begun to visibly swell inside. Harvest plants in stages, starting with the lowest pod first; small beans are sweeter and more tender that large ones. Pods can also be picked when they are immature to be cooked and eaten whole.
Despite the wide range of pests, diseases and disorders that broad beans can be affected by, they are rarely severely damaged.
Mice can steal seeds before or soon after they have germinated. Pea and bean weevil causes notches on leaves. Blackfly and aphids are a serious pest of broad beans in late spring and early summer. Broad bean seed beetles can also be a problem.
Foliar fungal diseases such as chocolate spot and broad bean rust can be a problem.
Wet weather can cause beans and seedlings to rot. Frost and snow damage to young, autumn-sown plants can cause plant tissues to become soft and transparent, with plants toppling over and not recovering. Protect plants with fleece in cold snaps.
Poor fruit set – sufficient watering is important and a sheltered site will encourage pollinating insects.