Growing Broad Beans

At the beginning of 2019 there was wide agreement amongst trend-spotters that 2019 was the Year of the Vegan. This meant a greater demand for plant-based proteins, like legumes, and ‘meaty-tasting’ vegetables like mushrooms and brinjals. The good news is that May is the month for growing broad beans, which provide high quality plant protein.

Unlike animal protein, it does not contain undesirable saturated fat and is less acid forming than meat, making it a suitable source of protein for people worried about osteoporosis or suffering from arthritis. The next bit of good news is that broad beans don’t mind heavy soil, nor are they bothered by pests or diseases, provided they are spaced well apart and receive full winter sun. Plants do not bear as prolifically as summer green beans, though, and you’ll need to plant at least 10 plants for a continual supply for a family of four.

How to plant broad beans

Prepare the soil, adding fertility with additional compost, well-rotted manure and organic fertiliser like Vita-Grow (2:3:2). Sow seed directly into the soil where the plants are to mature. Plant seeds 30cm apart and two seeds per hole (5cm deep). If both germinate, cut off the weaker plant but don’t leave the two plants to compete. Keep the soil moist during germination.

Growing broad beans

Water regularly and don’t let the soil dry out. Broad beans need moist soil, and wilting affects their yield. If very cold weather or frost is predicted, reduce watering so that the soil is slightly dry. Feed young plants with a liquid fertiliser every two weeks. Older plants can be fertilised with an organic fertiliser like Vita Fruit and Flowers (3:1:5), which is a slow release, long-lasting fertiliser. Stake the beans when the fruit starts forming. An effective staking method is to push in four poles to form a square around the plant. Attach horizontal poles to the stakes, forming a sort of cage. If a fungal disease affects plants it is likely caused by over-watering, or excessive rainfall in winter-rainfall areas.

Harvesting broad beans

Pods should be ready for harvesting within 12 – 16 weeks of planting out. Regular picking encourages the plant to keep on producing. For fresh beans pick as soon as the pods have filled out. Leaving pods too long on the bush results in bitter beans. For dry beans, let the last flush of beans dry out on the bush. They have a good shelf-life.

Preparing broad beans

Broad beans are not a popular crop because many gardeners don’t know how to prepare them, but it is simple. De-pod the beans, cook them in boiling water for two minutes, then drain and cool. Peel off the tough skin and they are ready for eating. Use in stews and soups instead of dried beans, or mash or toss in a dressing of olive oil and lemon juice.

The Gardener