|Broad beans are easy to grow and delicious to eat
Image: Broad Bean 'The Sutton' from Thompson & Morgan
Broad beans are a superb vegetable for modest-sized plots, producing high yields from a comparatively small area of your garden. Best eaten freshly picked, home-grown crops have a far superior flavour to those found in supermarkets.
Broad beans are cheap and easy to grow from seeds. Or, you can purchase broad bean plants if you prefer. The perfect vegetable for beginners or children to grow, they're happy in the ground, raised beds or pots. Find our top tips on when and how to grow broad beans at home.
|Broad bean 'Crimson Flowered' features stunning blooms and a delicious crop
Image: Peter Turner Photography/Shutterstok
There are many broad bean varieties from which to choose, including some that hold an RHS Award of Garden Merit. Here are a few of our favourites that you might like to try:
Grow your broad beans in full sun on rich, fertile, well-manured soil. Choose a sheltered spot, and position away from strong winds.
If your soil is very wet or clay-based, start your broad bean plants off in pots to prevent the seeds from rotting in the ground.
|This long, tunnel cloche is ideal for rows of broad bean plants
Image: Mini Greenhouse Cloche from Thompson & Morgan
Broad beans are normally sown in the spring, from February to April. However some varieties are particularly hardy and can be sown in autumn from October to November (provided that the soil is still reasonably warm). November sowings usually germinate within 2-3 weeks. They overwinter during the coldest months but start growing quickly again in spring, giving you a head start and an early harvest. In severe winters you may need to use fleece or a cloche to protect your crop.
When sowing broad beans directly into the ground in early spring or late autumn, put your cloches out in advance to warm the soil. This aids germination and helps the plants to get established early.
|A typical planting scheme
Image: Thompson & Morgan
Sow your broad bean seeds in double rows, 23cm (9") apart. Stagger the seeds along each set of double rows to make the most of the space.
Broad bean seeds should be planted at a depth of 5cm (2") deep and a distance of 23cm (9") apart within each row. Water well once planted. Germination usually takes around 10 days.
Lay out as many sets of double rows as you need, but remember to allow at least 60cm (24") between each set to make it easier to access and harvest your crops.
|Broad bean plants started off in the greenhouse
Image: Victoria M Gardner/Shutterstock
If you prefer to start your broad bean plants in the greenhouse, they can be sown into module trays or small pots. Germination tends to be more reliable under greenhouse conditions and it's easier to control pests such as mice, slugs and snails.
If the soil is frozen outdoors then sowing in the greenhouse is a far better option. Your broad beans can be planted out once the soil is warmer and the plants have developed a good root system. Don't forget to 'harden them off' and acclimatise them to outdoor conditions prior to planting.
|Support your broad beans with string
Image: Peter Turner Photography/Shutterstock
Broad beans can easily be grown in containers. Dwarf varieties such as Broad Bean 'The Sutton' are ideal for growing on the patio. They have deep root systems so choose a tall container to accommodate them, and be sure to keep them well watered throughout the growing season.
|Check the scar on the bean to find out whether it's ripe to eat
Broad beans can be harvested and cooked as entire pods while they're still immature, at around 7.5cm (3") long. However, they're more usually harvested a little later, when the pods are well filled and the seed still soft. The pods should be “shelled” and the individual beans removed and eaten.
The scar on the edge of each bean should be green or white in colour. If it's black, the beans have passed their best and will be tough and chewy when eaten.
Bumper crop? Broad beans are ideal for freezing. Simply pick, shell and pop them into a plastic bag in the freezer until you're ready to use them.
|A black bean aphid infestation
Mice - Mice are particularly partial to bean seeds and will often dig them up before they have a chance to germinate. Where mice are a particular problem, try starting your plants off in the greenhouse. Traps will help to control the problem. Direct sown crops can be covered with fleece during germination to prevent mice getting to them.
Blackfly - Aphids, particularly Blackfly, are a common problem when growing broad beans. They often attack the young growing tips. These can be pinched out and the plants sprayed with a suitable insecticide. Companion planting the strong smelling herb, summer savory, can also help repel black bean aphids.
Chocolate Spot - This disease is very distinctive and particularly prevalent during wet summers. Dark reddish or chocolate brown spots appear on the foliage and stems - in severe cases causing plants to die. Infected plants should be removed and destroyed.
Plants and gardens have always been a big part of my life. I can remember helping my Dad to prick out seedlings, even before I could see over the top of the potting bench. As an adult, I trained at Writtle College where I received my degree, BSc. (Hons) Horticulture. After working in a specialist plantsman's nursery, and later, as a consulting arboriculturalist, I joined Thompson & Morgan in 2008. Initially looking after the grounds and coordinating the plant trials, I now support the web team offering horticultural advice online.
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