Broad beans are an easy crop to grow, are suited to Newstead’s cold winters – don’t mind a frost or two – and a spring eating delight. A valuable legume, they add nitrogen to the soil and can make a good green manure crop if not left to produce and pod. ‘Dwarf’ and ‘longpod’ types are available, but the dwarf still grow 1 to 1.5m tall, except that they are bushier and more compact; less liable to wind damage. Longpods grow to 2m with 20-25cm pods, true to their name.
Broadbeans like a sunny, well drained site and a well prepared seedbed – dig well, apply lots of compost, some dynamic lifter and rockdust (not too much though, or plants will grow leafyness as the expense of fruit).
Autumn – Sow in autumn as seed, mid to late autumn is best because they will flower as the weather warms in spring – if it is too cold in early spring, the flowers will drop off. Sow seeds 5cm deep and 10-15cm apart (I like to slow closer together so the plants support each other as they grow and they like the company!) and grow in single or double rows with 40-60cm between. Water in well and don’t irrigate again till the seeds germinate, as long as the soil is kept uniformly damp over this time. Weed and water as needed.
Winter – Weed and water if needed. As the plants grow they will need some support, especially the longpods, try staking with a twine ‘fence’ to support them, or more sturdier means.
Spring – Keep up the weeding, mulch and water, especially as they start to flower and if spring is warm and dry. Harvest. Pick the beans at various sizes – you can eat them pod and all when small, 5 – 7cm long and still rounded and downy, or wait until the pods are plump and well filled and just go for the beans inside. Cut with scissors to avoid damaging plant, or pinch out the pod with a downward twist. Pick and eat – they will tend towards starchiness if not eaten immediately.
Summer – Once they have finished producing, chop or shred the plants and dig back into the soil or compost.
Generally – Not much to growing broadies. They can be prone to disease, especially later in the season, with chocolate spot and rust, so try a seaweed or milk spray (10:1) and perhaps pull out a few plants to allow more airflow through the crop, water in the early morning, deeply to the roots and not as an overhead spray. Some growers pinch out the growing points once enough pods have been set, to concentrate growth into those – I never have the heart to.
Eating – Eat them whole when young, or just the shelled beans later. Towards the end of the season, or if the beans are very large, you can double peel them and eat the inner bright green flesh – tastes as lovely as asparagus! Shell, then blanch the beans and run under a cold tap and then take off the thicker, light colored covering to reveal the shiny green bean inside. Steam or lightly boil. Lovely mashed, with ricotta and pepper, salt and a squeeze of lemon juice on sourdough toast. Or with dill and lemon butter.