How to grow Broad Beans or Fava Beans, an underrated bean, which once tried young and tender can offer a versatile vegetable that is easy to grow, high in fibre and a good source of protein.
Unfortunately many people tend to over mature broad beans and they develop a tough skin which if left on can be unpleasant when cooked.
This skin can be easily removed if you blanch the bean and squeeze the tender bean out of its skin. This skin is probably the cause of the reputation of broad bean. Some people dislike eating beans because of the intestinal gas.
How To Grow Broad Beans:
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Because broad beans are legumes they provide their own nitrates which they obtain from the atmosphere and store in nodules in their roots, so soil preparation is not critical for broad beans,
They do prefer a well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter so we tend to plant broad beans in a part of the vegetable garden that was heavily manured for a vegetable in the previous year, namely potatoes. Add about a kilo of wood ash per square meter (scoop out a coffee can full and sprinkle it) as they do benefit from the extra potash.
Sowing times for broad beans varies, they can either be sown in autumn or during spring. Autumn sowing in October and November can do well during a mild winter, and provide you with a feed of delicious beans as early as May, but if the winter is harsh you will have many casualties and have to re-sow in spring to replace your loses.
Sow broad beans in 8cm pots under glass in the beginning of February, and as soon as the ground starts to warm in April plant the young plants out.
Put plants into a staggered double row 20cm apart, spacing each plant 20cm from each other. Add another double row leaving a gap of half a meter or so to allow a walking space between.
You could also sow seeds directly, but if you do, sow some seeds in pots to put in the gaps where either seeds failed or where mice pinched your seeds.
You may also need to provide some support to your beans, particularly if your vegetable garden is exposed, just some stakes in the ground around your double rows every 2 meters or so tied together with string will help keep the rows upright.
The main pest of broad bean is the black-fly, and in a bad year the growing tips can be completely covered in these aphids. Fortunately they are easy to get rid off, simply snap of the top few inches of the plant and dispose of the growing tip and its black-fly visitors.
Broad beans can also be eaten by bean weevils, but this is not a serious problem.
Chocolate Spot and Rust are fungal diseases that affect broad beans, Chocolate Spot is recognizable by small reddish brown spots on the leaves of the plant, appearing after cool dry periods usually in late spring, Rust looks like small dusty brown spots often with a yellowish border.
Sometimes these spots can grow and spread, and in the worse cases either cause the collapse of the plant stem, or the plant to loose leaves.
There is no control for these diseases, but they rarely do enough damage to cause much worry. Simply pick beans when young and avoid using the beans as seeds from an affected plant. Proper spacing may help the spread of each fungus, and it is good practice to destroy any affected plants at the end of the season.
The beans will start to form at the bottom of the plant and these will be the first beans to harvest.
The beans are better harvested when young, as they are have a better texture and flavor. Simply pull of the bean pod when ready and shell the beans from the pod.
In a good year, early sown plants can start to produce beans as early as May, and if you sow early in a greenhouse or poly tunnel you can almost guarantee this early crop. But spring sown plants will usually start to crop from June onwards.
If you have the room you could even sow broad beans as late as May so that you can be picking beans as late as October.
Broad beans freeze well, simply blanch in boiling water for 30 seconds to a minute, plunge in cold water, drain and dry, freeze on trays. These beans can also be dried and stored in an airtight jar.
To cook beans simply boil until al dente, but these beans are far more than a vegetable side dish. They make a fantastic hummus or dip and make a lovely addition to salads and soups, crushed with lamb with mint or rosemary works well, and there is nothing as good as a broad bean with broccoli or chorizo risotto.
Masterpiece is one of the all time best varieties to try.
Once the plants have had all their pods removed, cut the stem at the base leaving the roots in the ground. If your crop was early they could re-grow to give you another crop, if not the roots will rot in the ground releasing their valuable nitrates for the next seasons plants.