Broad beans pretty much look after themselves once you have your seedling plants established. As well as offering a bumper crop of nutty, tangy beans they can help stabilise your garden soil through the wetter months, preventing erosion and adding useful nutrients for summer plantings once they have done their ‘thing’ and you have moved them on.
Companions sweet corn, cabbage, kale, broccoli.
Quantity 10 plants per person.
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I love this recipe because it reminds me of the back street tapas bars around the centre of Barcelona where I first tasted it.
Superaguadulce heirloom variety, plants get to head height and taller, prolific crop of tasty green beans that are good for freezing. Best in large beds.
Dwarf Early Gem heirloom variety, suitable for large and smaller gardens – grows to just below waist height. Beans are a pale greenish lilac colour.
April through to October depending on local conditions.
Broad beans like as much sun as possible and shelter from prevailing winds. They can grow to between knee and waist height which means they may cast shade over shorter crops planted on their southern side – so bear this in mind before you decide where to put them. The back of a bed is often a good place for them.
Broad beans like rich soil and good drainage. If you can, plant them in a bed that was heavily composted for a previous crop - this means there should still be plenty of nutrients around but not too much nitrogen. Excessive nitrogen can cause plants to grow very leafy and in the case of broad beans this makes them even more prone to flopping all over the place than they already are.
Alternatively, prepare a bed right now by adding rich, well-rotted compost to your soil. We also add ash from our wood burning stove when preparing a bed for planting beans as this gives them a good dose of potash which helps produce healthy leaves and fruit.
My youngest son loves planting beans and broad beans do have something of the ‘Jack and the beanstalk’ about them. They are a good size, not too fiddly, and its fun pushing them about twice their own size beneath the soil.
Broad beans can be sowed straight into garden beds when local conditions are not too cold and wet – beans can rot off if they sit in soil or compost that is too wet during germination. If you are keen to plant when conditions are more challenging then it can be worth sowing seeds in punnets and planting them out into beds when they have grown into seedlings with two or more pairs of large leaves. Seedlings with roots and leaves are more able to deal with damp soil.
Before sowing your beans in beds or punnets, soak them overnight in a bowl of water and then drain. Any that don’t appear to have swollen much will in all likelihood be no good so discard – you can leave the beans to sit post draining for a further day to be sure. You may even see some starting to offer a tiny shoot at one end – these will go off like rockets.
Push beans twice their own length beneath soil or compost. In case some beans don’t germinate properly, so it pays to sow two seeds per punnet or planting position in your bed - the weaker of the two can be pinched out later. Water once and do not water again until the bean has formed its first pair of leaves.
Broad beans should be spaced about a hand’s length apart in the ground. To ensure even growth and a good crop from all your plants it is useful if you can run your rows from north to south. Rows should be spaced about a forearm’s length apart to allow good airflow and prevent fungus taking hold.
Spread plantings over a series of weeks so that all your beans don’t come at once. You can plant them in blocks say 5 plants by 5 plants (with spacings as above) but start at the southern end of the bed and make additional plantings – say every three weeks – moving northwards towards the sun. This way, growing plants won’t shade younger ones.
Mulch as seedlings start to stand strong and have developed two or more layers of leaves. Keep weeds at bay and tie-in bunches of plants as they start to put on height. I put a cane at each corner of a bunch of plants and tie a few layers of garden twine around them for extra support. Alternatively you can be creative with a bunch of bamboo canes or something similar and stick loads of them amongst your beans which can then simply lean against them. Don’t worry too much about this though, mine have previously been blown here, there and everywhere before picking themselves up during calmer weather and getting themselves back into shape again.
When the first beans appear at the base of your plants its time to pinch out the juicy tips. This is done to reduce the chance of black bean aphid attack and to stimulate strong growth with plenty of pods. Simply pinch the stem below the top two leaves so that it breaks neatly off. These tips can be eaten raw in salads or steamed like spinach.
The size your beans are when you pick them is really a matter of taste. To eat the pod and beans inside pick at around finger size. Let the pods get a little bit bigger and then pop the pod to eat juicy young beans. If you are going to cook your beans for dips, salads etc. - where the beans are blanched and the skins removed -then you’ll probably need to wait until your pods are thicker than your thumb with beany shapes along their length. Best not to let your pods get too large or the juicy sweetness of the beans will be replaced by a flat starchy flavour.
When I was a boy my dad always grew broad beans and mum would cook them for him with a parsley sauce. He’d eat a bowl of them with nothing else. This is how I still like them but, needless to say, there are a stack of fancy ways you can prepare them these days from dips and bruschettas to pilafs and risottos.
When your broad beans have ‘bean and gone’ and you are left with empty stems, cut these down and dig them, along with the roots, back into the soil where they will act as a handy dose of mulching compost for the next occupants of your bed. Broad beans put a lot back into the soil – adding nitrogen to the benefit subsequent crops – follow them with nitrogen hungry plants like cabbages, broccoli, kale and cauliflowers.