Broad bean growing - Broad beans how to grow, tips, varieties, cooking.

Broad beans, one of the earliest garden beans to harvest, are a must for all vegetable gardeners. Not only do they produce crops of great benefit to the kitchen, they also add fragrance to the garden through their white-and-black coloured flowers. A staple food of the Roman legionnaire, the powerful Roman army marched on with a belly full of these beans. Maybe you should too.

Young broad bean plants, photo / pic / image.

Young broad bean plants, click to enlarge, photo / pic / image.

Common names:
Fava bean, faba Bean, horsebean, field bean, bell bean, tic bean, Scotch bean, or Windsor bean

Botanical name:
Vicia faba

Area of origin:
Central Asia.

Brief description:
Broad bean plants comprise square sectioned hollow stems with leaves divided into 2-7 leaflets. These leaves are bluish-grey or green in colour. The plants usually stand 3 to 4ft (90-120cm) tall.

Leathery bean pods are produced once the white-and-black coloured flowers are spent. The six to eight inch long pods can be expected to contain upwards of four slightly kidney-shaped beans, light green in colour.

Are they easy or hard to grow?:
Easy. Main crop varieties are very forgiving of most soil types.

Varieties suitable to grow in Ireland:

Bunyard’s Exhibition (Old reliable variety, heavy cropping, sweet beans even after cooking, freezes well.

Aquadulce (can be sown in autumn for a very early crop, good flavour, freezes well.)

Imperial Green Longpod (Tall variety with long pods, huge yields, good flavour, freezes well.)

Masterpiece Longpod (good early cropper, fine flavour, freezes well.)

Red Epicure (Striking reddish brown coloured beans, retain redness if lightly steamed or turn yellow when cooked otherwise, strong flavoured.)

The Sutton (Dwarf variety, 12-16 inch high plant, ideal for smaller spaces and tolerant of windy locations)

Irish stock.

UK stock.

When to grow:
Normally March to the end of May. Sowing at monthly intervals will provide you with a bean harvest at intervals throughout the summer.

If you have free-draining soil in a sheltered site you can attempt sowing in November for a harvest in early June. If sowing at this time it also helps if your plot is not in the midlands. Coastal areas should be warmer thus allowing better chances of seed survival. Aquadulce or The Sutton are probably the best for November sowing.

You can even sow in early February provided it is under cloches or frames.

Where to grow, and soil conditions required:
Broad beans grow best in a sunny spot.
Shelter is also beneficial. Avoid soil that waterlogs or conversely dries out rapidly

Broad beans don’t grow very well in a strongly acid soil preferring instead neutral to slightly alkaline soils (6.0 - 7.5 approx). If the pH (relative acidity or alkalinity) of your soil is not suited to the vegetable, then soil nutrients such as Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, iron, boron, copper, manganese and zinc start to become unavailable, leading to poor crops.

You can use a home soil test available in most garden centres to determine your soils ph. By taking account of the test results you can then decide how much if any amendments are required to bring the to pH of your vegetable garden soil in line.

The application of ground lime will be helpful in countering the acidity. As a rough rule of thumb an application of 250g of ground lime per metre squared the autumn before planting/sowing will commonly increase your ph by about one point. However as lime is available in different formulations, I advise also consulting the rates set out on the pack.

Food reserves required:
For long term feeding of your crop, every 10m2 of growing area should have one wheelbarrow load of well-rotted homemade compost or farmyard animal manure spread over its surface sometime during the autumn/early winter before planting/sowing. Dig this in to a spades depth all over the proposed growing area to enrich it for your crop. Whilst digging, remove any stones and other obstacles that might obstruct roots.

As a rule of thumb, well-rotted manure/compost will be over six months old, and tend to be dark brown will little if any smell. You should not be able to distinguish individual pieces of straw, hay, vegetable peelings, grass etc., as it will all be rotted down.

A week or two before planting/sowing you should also lightly rake into your growing area a well-balanced fertilizer. Growmore or fish blood and bone (organic option) are both suitable for this purpose. Apply according to the rates on the pack.

How to plant or sow:
In your weed-free and lightly raked growing area you must create a double row of 2 inch (5cm) deep drill/trenches with the tip of your trowel. There should be 8 inches (20cm) between the drills of the double row. Every 8 inches (20cm) along the drills place one seed. Close the drill with soil, then water well and label.

Create as many double rows as you like at 24in (60cm) intervals. If you haven’t much space you can always sow single rows if you like. A helpful tip is to sow a few extra bean seeds at the end of some rows to be used as transplants if gaps appear.

Another tip to prevent gaps is to discard all seeds which display small, round holes, as these seldom germinate of if they do they produce weak plants. The small, round holes are created by seed beetle grubs

The expected seed germination time approx is 7-14 days. Any seed not required for sowing that year should be kept dry as it has a life expectancy of 2 years.

Caring for your crop:
Keep the soil around the broad bean plant weed-free. Take care when weeding because the roots are easily damaged.

During a prolonged spell without rain (week or more) you should water gently but deeply once a week. As a rough rule of thumb apply approx 10 litres per metre squared of soil area. Carry out this watering in the morning and try to avoid splashing the leaves, watering the soil instead. Water reserves must be adequate once the bean pods start to form, or else they may end up empty.

At about the sixth or seventh week after seed germination and while plants are growing strongly you can apply a second application of a well balanced fertiliser. Although not essential, a further scattering of Growmore or fish blood and bone can increase the vegetables vigour and make the less susceptible to plant ills. Once scattered the fertiliser should be lightly scratched into the soils surface followed by gentle but deep watering of the soil.

Unless you have opted for a dwarf bean such as “The Sutton” you will have to provide support as the plants get taller. Although stout, the brittle stalks of your broad bean plants are easily broken by breezes and heavy rains, so I urge you to stake.

Drive a wooden stake at either end of your individual rows, with further stakes driven every 120cm (4ft) along the rows. So, with double rows this forms a narrow box of stakes.

Wind lengths of string round and through the lower halves of the stakes, with further lengths added higher up as the beans grow taller. The plants now have something they can lean against when harmful winds blow across your veg patch.

On occasion the bean plants can send out side shoots from their base, which divert vital energy away from bean pod production. For a better crop I suggest you cut these off when you notice them.

Green broad bean aphid, click to enlarge, photo / pic / image.

Green broad bean aphid, click to enlarge, photo / pic / image.

Pests and Diseases:
Black bean aphids and green aphids are the main pests of broad beans. They are mainly attracted to the soft and succulent tips of the shoots, but will eventually roam all over the plant sucking sap and stunting growth.

To discourage them simply pinch off the growing tip of each plant by one inch as soon as flowering starts. Reducing this attractiveness reduces the number of green and black bean aphids that show up. Any stragglers remaining can be sprayed with the following soapy water solution….

8ml of plain washing up liquid mixed into 1 litre of water.
Do not use detergent or any soap containing detergent as it will burn the plants and possibly leave a residue in the soil.
Apply liberally to the pest using a plant mister or spray bottle.
It is best to use a fresh soapy mix of this each time you spray.

The main disease of broad beans is chocolate spot. This exhibits itself as small brown spots across the plants leaves as if they have been dusted with chocolate powder. In severe infections the leaves may become totally brown, as may the stems, and your harvest may be greatly reduced. Chocolate spot disease is encouraged by damp wet weather and stagnant air.

You should not encounter major problems with this fungal disease though if you follow the soil preparation, plant spacing, feeding and pH rules mentioned earlier. With any cases of this disease, when you are watering you should try to avoid splashing the leaves which can spread the fungal spores. Its worth noting that the beans from plants affected by chocolate spot are still edible.

Other troubles of broad beans include…
Seed Beetle
Bean Seed Fly
Bean Weevil
Fusarium Wilt

On the Issue of birds, they tend to pull up young seedlings. Bird protection in the form of netting should be used. Fine nettingdraped across a few twigs will provide protection against these birds. This protection measure is especially important if pigeons are a problem in your area.

Harvesting, when and how:
Time from spring planting to harvest is from 10 to 12 weeks. Pods are ready for picking once they have reached about 15-20cm (6-8in) in length. You can let them grow longer but realise the larger the pod the less palatable the swelled beans inside will be. Once the shape of the beans starts to show through the pod then you can harvest.

To harvest the pods, give them a sharp twist in a downward direction away from the plant. Check back and harvest every couple of days, as regular picking will force your plants to keep up production for about 6 weeks.

For short-term storage (one week), place unshelled beans in the salad crisper compartment of your refrigerator.

Longer-term, the beans themselves will keep for twelve months in your deep freeze.
To freeze you must boil the beans for three minutes, remove and place under cold water, then freeze in plastic bags or plastic containers.

Broad beans are good steamed or boiled. To boil drop them into lightly salted boiling water for approx 10 minutes, or to steam you should cook for approx 25 minutes.

Serve with fried bacon and a little melted butter or cheese sauce. Steamed broad beans also go well with sautéed onion, garlic, and parsley.

Don’t forget to add your broad beans to your garden vegetable soup, whole or as a puree. You can even team them in a casserole with garden onions and tomatoes……yummy.

Remember those inch long growing tips that you removed to prevent black bean aphid attack? Well you can even eat these greens if you stir-fry them lightly. Just inspect them for aphids and wash well before cooking. Enjoy.

More debate about this topic on our forum,
click The Irish gardeners forum.

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