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The Kitchen Garden: Growing Broad Beans

As a child I really did not like broad beans however once I started to grow them myself they have become one of my favourite beans. Versatile in the kitchen especially when they are fresh picked. They can be picked early when they are quite small when they have hint of sweetness or they can be allowed to mature. When they are mature they are much denser and can be to some bitter to the taste. They can range in flavour from variety to variety including nutty flavours.
Personally I can happily pick, pod and eat them uncooked. The pods may also be eaten when young and the tips of the foliage are useable as greens.

Perfect for salads, snacks, soups and sauces and many vegetable dishes which are cooked.

A Little About The Broad Bean:

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Latin Name: Vicia fabaVicia
Common Name: Broad Bean, also known as the Fava Bean
Nutrient Content:  Broad beans are rich in protein, low fat and high in riboflavin and vitamin C. Fibre rich, folate, Potassium, calcium, manganese, and phosphorus.

Broad beans are thought to originate in the Middle East and are a crop of ancient origin. Evidence has been found of their cultivation since at least 4500 BC.

Growing Broad Beans
Where & When:

An easy crop to grow especially for the beginner. They also make the end of the winter and the beginning of harvest time of a new season for outdoor crops.

Choose a southerly aspect ideally. Sheltered from harsh winds if possible otherwise you may need to stake tall varieties. Do check on the varieties you choose to grow and what will be suitable for your location. Tall varieties are robust yet can get blown around by the wind and are available to 150cm. Then at the other end of spectrum is 60cm high and dwarf which can be as low as 40cm.   

Rich free draining soil is best for broad beans however most soils will do. They are robust plants and certainly thrive in my very sandy soil. I have also had great success in clay soils as long as it does not get waterlogged. Heavy wet soils with winter and cool season sowings can lead to the seed rotting in the soil so ensure you do add organic matter into the growing areas.

Added organic matter, homemade compost or nursery bought compost is advised prior to sowing seed. 
Seeds can be sow directly into the ground where they are to grow to maturity. Alternatively you can sow in pots to transplant as small plants.

Harvesting can occur throughout the summer with staging the sowing time. This year I have sown a late sowing to experiment with extending the season.

*Broad beans can be sown in October and November if you use a winter hardy variety such as 'Aquadulce'. An autumn sowing means an earlier crop the following year however in cold area you may need to provide some winter protection.

*A sowing in pots in February can also be made for planting out in March.

*Direct sowing can be made into the ground in March, April and as late as May.

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How To:

*Once the aspect and site is chosen prepare the soil by digging and incorporating organic matter thoroughly.

*Sow the seeds 5-7.5cm (2-3in) deep and 15-23cm (6-9in) apart. This will be dependent on the cultivar so check each variety.

*One can sow in single rows 45cm (18in) apart alternatively in double rows 23cm (9in) apart with 60cm (2ft) between each double row. Choose how your rows will be sown before you start sowing to ensure easy harvesting and weeding.

*Raised beds can be used however one may like to choose smaller growing varieties depending how high the raised beds are. Where space is not needed to walk between rows for picking, all rows can be spaced 23cm (9in) apart.

*Sow a few extra seeds at the end of rows in case any do not germinate to provide extra infill plants.

*Howe regularly to prevent weed competition.

*Stake tall varieties.

*If there is no heavy rain fall water the plants regularly once they start to flower.

*To prevent blackfly infestations once the lowest truss of blossom has formed small pods, pinch out the tips of the beans to promote the fruit set and reduce any infestation. These tips can be eaten, raw in salads, steamed or stir-fried depending upon your cooking tastes.

*When the beans have begun to visibly swell inside they are ready. Plants can be harvested in stages, starting with the lowest pod first. The small beans will be sweeter and tender, the large ones will be more solid in texture and a nutty possibly hints of bitterness. Pods can also be picked when they are immature to be eaten raw, cooked and eaten whole.

Pests & Disease:

*Blackfly, which is an aphid, is a serious pest of broad beans in late spring and early summer. Follow advice to remove the tip.

*Mice can pinch the seed before they germinate.

*Pea and bean weevil causes notches on leaves. Small plants may need to be fleeced to allow them to outgrow this pest whilst the larger plants can withstand damage. I generally leave the plants unfleeced.

*Snow and frost can damage seed, young leaf in the winter when sown early or in the autumn.

*Wet weather and water logged soil can cause the seed to rot.

*Poor fruit setting can be caused by lack of water and vigour and also a lack of pollinating insects. Ensure adequate watering and planting flowers in your vegetable garden to encourage pollinators.

*Broad bean seed weevil. Can be a problem and may be affected by climatic conditions and location. I have never experienced this and we seem not to be affected in our area.

*Manure, compost contamination does occur when bought in. This can contamination with hormone based weed killer chemicals. Ensure all imported materials are from a reputable source.

All this said Broad beans are an easy to grow crop and well worth including in your vegetable garden.

Enjoy this new season & all to be harvested. 

Laara.CSB

Laara Copley-Smith is a professional Garden Designer based in the UK with a passion for Kitchen Gardens and growing organically. Laara has been a vegan for over ten years, is a raw foodist and is a keen photographer. Laara offers an extensive range of bespoke design services and creative consultancy and can be contacted here.

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