Gardening Tip: Planting Broad Beans
The hardiest Broad Bean seeds will germinate if planted straight into the ground during the winter months providing the soil is frost free.
Broad beans are an annual vegetable crop so new seeds need to be sown every year. They are also sometimes called fava beans. There are many different cultivars to choose from, some of the dwarf cultivars grow about 30cm tall whilst the tallest cultivars can grow up to 1.5 metres tall.
Depending on the cultivar, broad beans mature and are available for cropping at different times throughout the year. When mature the beans are extracted from the pods and cooked, they also freeze well.
Most broad bean plants prefer to grow in cool temperatures, below 15°C is ideal. However new cultivars have been bred to crop in warmer temperatures and are now widely available. Unusual amongst vegetable crops, many broad bean cultivars are also very hardy, some can survive -10°C.
Where you plant your broad bean seeds depends on the time of year, sow spring and summer beans in an open site. If you plan to overwinter the crop, try and provide a more sheltered site. For an early crop, sow in the autumn of the previous year and place cloches over the young plants during the winter months. If you want to, you can get an even earlier crop by germinating the seeds indoors and planting the young plants out in early spring.
Always refer to the seed packet for the optimum sowing time, planting depths and spacings and when the crop should be ready to harvest, because it wll always vary from one cultivar to the next. Broad beans should always be harvested before the pods become tough and leathery. Taller cultivars in particular will need some support as they grow so tie them to canes.
As the broad bean plants develop flowers up the stem, pinch out the growing tips of each plant, this focuses the plants energies into developing beans. It also removes the youngest, softest plant material which is most susceptible to aphid attack.
After you have harvested your crop of broad beans, don't dig up the roots, just cut the plants down to ground level. This is because broad beans are an excellent green manure crop. As they grow they extract Nitrogen from the air and fix it on their roots. If left in the ground this Nitrogen then becomes available for use by the following crop, which if you practise good housekeeping on your vegetable plot won't be broad beans because you will be rotating your crops every year.