How to grow broad beans
Jumping beans, magic beans, happy beans - the nutrient-packed broad (or fava) bean can be all of these things (although the magic claim may be a little dubious). As a bonus broad beans are relatively easy to grow at home and once harvested can be frozen to enjoy all year round. Here is our guide on how to grow your own broad beans.
When to grow broad beans (Vicia faba)
Broad beans are one of the first, and one of the last, vegetables that can be planted in the growing year. February and November are the ideal months and if you plant in both periods, you can expect to harvest from May all the way through to September.
Spring planting: sow February - April, harvest June - September
Autumn planting: sow October - November, harvest May - September
When planting in late Autumn or early Spring, make a note to protect the plants with cloches or fleeces when frost is about.
Types of broad bean
Whilst you can buy young broad bean plants to cultivate, you can easily grow broad beans from seed. There are three types to choose from:
Arguably the Windors produce the most flavourful beans, and like all good things they take a little longer to develop. Windsors are not particularly hardy and so this type is not recommended for Autumn sowing. Windsor crops are not as bountiful as the Longpods as each pod only carries 4 or 5 beans.
Dwarf beans tend to be bushy with short pods and are ideal for small plots of land or for growing in containers. Dwarf broad bean varieties are also ideal for growing in exposed sites and with the use of cloches. Dwarf plants reach a height of about 30cm and have a yield of 4 or 5 beans in each pod.
The Longpod is the most common variety of broad bean and has long, slender pods (hence the name). This type of broad bean is usually heavy cropping with each pod containing around 10 beans. Longpod is the largest type and the plants can reach heights of over 2 metres and so need supporting.
Growing from seed
Growing broad beans from seed is relatively straight forward and they can be sown directly into the ground. If sowing in February it may be an idea to help warm the ground with a cloche until germination has occurred.
To give your broad bean seeds the best start you might want to sow them indoors in a propagator. Alternatively and as broad beans produce long roots, you could try germinating them in used toilet rolls!
Fill the cardboard roll with plenty of damp (but not wet) compost, making it quite compact, pop the seed into the top and cover with a layer of compost and place somewhere warmish. Take care not to water too much otherwise, the cardboard will go soggy and collapse before the seeds have germinated. The seeds should germinate in a few days. You will need to harden off the seedlings before planting out, leaving about 20cm between each seedling.
Broad bean seeds can be sown directly into the ground, or containers outside and are very straightforward. Choose a well-drained, sheltered and sunny site. Dig the ground well before sowing any seeds and improve the soil by either add some manure or some leaf mould. Sow in staggered rows with one bean seed placed about 5cm deep and 20-25cm apart. Water remember to protect the ground if frost is still about.
Growing broad beans
To help your growing broad bean plants hoe regularly to maximise the airflow around the plants and reduce the risk of fungal infections. You generally won't need to water unless there is a period of dry weather.
Once the blossom has started to give way to pods around the base of the plant it is time to pinch out and remove the top two leaves. This will encourage bushier growth and greater fruiting. Pinching out also helps to minimise the risk of blackfly. This is also the time to give the plants a good soaking.
The taller Longpod and Windsor varieties will need a support structure in place to grow well, and to avoid becoming a mass of tangled stems. Use a combination of bamboo canes and string and remember that some varieties can grow up to 2 metres, the support is needed for the whole plant not just the base.
As soon as the pods swell it is time to harvest. Start at the bottom of the plant and work your way up. Leave pods that don't feel as swollen as the others and go back a day or two later.
Once the pods are shelled, the beans inside can be cooked straight away or frozen for later use. The younger beans are sweeter and more flavourful than more mature ones. If left to ripen too much the skin on the broad beans can become tough and bitter tasting.
After fruiting has finished cut back the plants and dig over the roots to allow the soil to benefit from the nitrogen.