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Growing Broad Beans

Posted on 17th March 2016

There are many different types of beans to choose from that have different habits, harvesting seasons and flavours. Now is the time to start sowing beans for eating fresh in their pods, freshly shelled or dried for winter use.

The earliest beans that you can sow and harvest are the broad beans. These are generally fairly stocky plants that do not have a climbing habit and therefore do not need to be planted at the base of a wigwam but will benefit from being grown in a block rather than in single rows with a supporting outer fence made from canes placed in each of the corners and string tied horizontally around the structure at 2-3 different heights to prevent the beans from flopping at the sides.

Broad beans are perfectly hardy and can be sown in the autumn, they will germinate early and get a head start on spring sown crops, generally giving you an earlier harvest, however if your soil is heavy and has a tendency for water logging then it may be best to wait for early spring. You can plant broad beans directly into the soil rather than in pots and this helps to keep them tough and prevents them from getting leggy.

The flowers are also edible and make an attractive garnish to a salad but don’t eat too many of them as you will need them to set the pods of tasty beans. You should pinch the top of the plant out (about 10-15cm down from the top) when the first bean pods begin to swell at the base of the plant, this promotes the pods to set well and also removes blackfly which go for the soft growing point of the plant. (if there are no blackfly present then these soft shoots can also be eaten lightly steamed or sautĂ©ed)

Pick the young pods when the beans  inside are about 1 cm long. These tiny fresh beans are superb steamed for just a few minutes and eaten with some baby new potatoes also steamed and served in a little melted butter.

Towards the end of the harvesting season the beans swell and their outer skin gets tough, they need boiling for 10-15 minutes and the best way to eat them at this stage is to let them cool a little, pop them out of their skins and make broad bean houmous out of the insides. You can also freeze them at either stage for use out of season.