Originally from Central and South West Asia, the Broad Bean was one of the first wild food crops to be domesticated. They are highly nutritious being a good source of protein. Beans “fix” atmospheric nitrogen in the form of nodules on their roots, increasing the fertility of the soil. These nodules look like small granules of “Growmore” and are perfectly natural and not as some people think, a disease!!
Health Benefits. Recent research shows that 1 helping of pulses(peas, beans, lentils etc.,) a day, cuts bad cholesterol by about 5%, thus reducing the risk of heart disease. Pulses contain “sticky” or soluble fibre which attracts the LDL (bad) cholesterol and helps the system to get rid of it.
Pulses can cause flatulence at first, but this problem reduces over time. If soaking dried pulses, throw away the first and second soaking waters and do not use them for cooking.
Although apparently Winter Hardy in the warmer, drier areas of the UK, for the earliest crops in the North of the UK, it is probably easier to start them off in February in trays or pots in a greenhouse or cold frame, and then plant them out in their final positions.
The dried seeds can be presoaked overnight to hasten germination, before being placed in trays or pots.
To over winter Broad Beans, sow them in early September to allow them to get established before the onset of Winter. For the best chance of them surviving a cold, wet Winter, choose a well drained bed with a sunny aspect, and provide cloche protection.
When sowing directly into the soil, make a shallow trench with a spade some 5 cm deep. Sow the beans in a double row about 20 cm apart and refill the trench.
Protect them from slug and mice attacks (mice will eat through plastic netting)! Mice can smell the germinating seeds and know that they are a valuable source of food, especially in the Springtime and the Autumn. A traditional method of disguising the smell and put the mice off the scent is to dip the seeds in paraffin before sowing. The photo at the LHS shows the characteristic rows of holes where the mice have dug up and eaten the germinating broad bean seeds.
If sowing the seeds In pots in the greenhouse, you can use a large plastic fish box covered by rigid plastic sheet. If sowing directly into the ground outdoors, you can use a small mesh wire cage to stop the mice.
After planting out or sowing directly in March or April, provide support with horizontal twine or pea netting, between posts, to stop wind damage and keep the pods off the ground.The height of the supports will depend on the eventual height of the variety of beans that you are growing. You can make successive sowings outside until the end of June and get a good crop before Winter.
When the pods are very small and still quite immature, say 6 cm long, the whole pod can be eaten after steaming. This is useful for an early taste. Later on, you will need to strip the beans from the pod before cooking. The beans should be eaten soon after the pods are picked and while they are still not fully matured, for the best taste. Later they can become tough and floury.
If you are saving seed for a rare variety, such as the red-flowered broad bean, you need to make sure that your parent plants that you are using to gather the seed from, are a good distance from other broad bean plants on your ground or your neighbours’ ground. This is because they will be open pollinated by the busy little bees, and you do not want the pollen being transferred from these different varieties to the variety that you are growing for seed. You can sometimes spot this problem if you see the flowers, or the seed pods are not of the correct type or colour for the variety that you are collecting.
It is difficult to quote a separation distance, but I would suggest a minimum of about 20 m, but more would be better.
If saving seed from peas and broad beans, do not leave the pods on the plants for too long or the mice and squirrels will eat the lot. Harvest the pods and let the pods dry naturally in a safe place. Once the pods are fully dry, you can then shell the pods and save the peas or beans.
Diseases are not usually a problem for me, but in some areas black aphids colonise the tops of the bean plants. If this happens, just take out and destroy the part affected by the aphids.
Aquadulce Claudia. A good choice for an over wintering or early season broad bean.
Witkiem Manita. Another good choice for an over wintering or early season broad bean.
Red flowered Broad Bean. A heritage variety, quite attractive in flower and will even look good in a flower border. It also produces a useful crop of smaller beans and pods. Will grow to about 1.5 m in height.
Short term Storage. Definitely best used fresh but they will store for several days in the fridge crispator.
For long term storage, freezing the beans gives acceptable results.