Healthy Broad Beans
Most seasoned veggie growers agree that broad beans are one of the easiest of the winter crops to grow, so go ahead and plant a few rows. The fresh beans have a delicious earthy flavour that fits in so well with winter cooking. Broad beans are a good vegetable for cold areas (even the Free State) as the cold seems to encourage the plant to set seed, whereas in subtropical areas the plants produce more leaves at the expense of beans. Unlike the bush and runner beans planted in summer, broad beans are sturdy, upright-growing plants that grow to about 1m high. They are rarely bothered by pests or diseases. If you sow the seed in May, you should be able to start harvesting from the end of July or early August, and then through to late September or October.
Broad beans are particularly heavy feeders so good soil preparation with added compost is essential. If the soil is poor also add 2:3:2 or 3:1:5. The beans will grow in most kinds of soil but prefer heavier soil. The bed needs to get full winter sun and should be sheltered from the wind.
Beans should be ready for harvesting within 12-16 weeks. The pods are ready for picking when they have filled out and before they burst open. Picking regularly as the pods mature gives the younger pods time to mature before the plant loses its vigour. If the pods are left too long on the bush the beans will be bitter.
Caring for the Plants
Broad beans need moist soil – a lack of water when the plants are flowering and setting fruit will affect the yield (they quickly indicate when there is not enough water by wilting). Conversely, you also need to be careful of overwatering, especially in areas that receive frost. Watch the weather report and if a cold front is predicted then ease up on the watering.
For healthy growth and a good yield use a liquid fertiliser to feed the plants every two weeks. An alternative is to use 3:1:5 for fruit and flowers.
The plants can get top-heavy once the fruit starts forming. To support them you can build a ‘kraal’ around them. This takes the form of a pole at each corner with horizontal poles on either side attached to the main stakes. The number of horizontal poles depends on the amount of staking needed. This works better than providing a single stake for each plant.
Other than the chance of aphids, pests should not be a problem. To reduce the chance of this, experts recommend removing the growing points of each plant when it has set a good number of pods. Fungal diseases can occur if you overwater and in the winter-rainfall areas.
Fun, quick salad using broad beans
Colourful and tasty, this salad has a base of butter lettuce that is combined with roasted beetroot (peeled and cut into chunks), cooked prawns, fresh broad beans and crumbled feta cheese. A simple mayonnaise and lemon dressing brings all the flavours together.