Broad beans are easy to grow and utterly delicious, heralding the end of the hungry gap between late autumn and the beginning of bountiful summer harvests.
The techniques and methods described here are suitable for all types of broad beans.
When to grow broad beans
In sheltered, southern gardens with well-drained soils, broad beans can be sown directly into the soil in early November or February for harvests as early as May. Sown in November, seeds will germinate within two to four weeks and young plants should overwinter and recommence growth as soon as conditions are favourable in spring. In cold areas, or when winters are severe, plants will need fleece or cloche protection.
Elsewhere, sow beans in pots under cover in February for planting out in spring or direct into the ground in March, April and even early May, for harvests throughout the summer. Pot-raised plants are especially useful where soils are wet or rich in clay (as these soils can lead to seeds rotting in the ground).
How to grow broad beans
Growing broad beans is fairly straightforward if you follow the steps below.
- Choose a well-drained site that has been thoroughly dug and, ideally, improved with garden compost or well-rotted manure
- Sow seeds 5-7.5cm (2-3in) deep and 15-23cm (6-9in) apart, depending on the cultivar. In open ground, sow in single rows 45cm (18in) apart or double rows 23cm (9in) apart with 60cm (2ft) between each double row. In raised beds 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 the rows to produce plants which can be lifted and moved to fill in any gaps created by seeds that fail to germinate
- Hoe regularly to remove weeds as soon as they appear
- Tall cultivars may need staking. Use strings attached to sturdy stakes inserted at 1.2m (4ft) intervals. Smaller cultivars usually support each other, especially when they are planted in double rows
- Unless rainfall has been high, soak plants well at the start of flowering and again two weeks later. Further irrigation may also be needed on light soils
- When the lowest truss of blossom has formed small pods, pinch out the tips of the beans to promote fruit set and reduce problems with blackfly (an aphid). These tips can be steamed or stir-fried and eaten
- Harvest pods once beans have begun to visibly swell inside. Harvest plants in stages, starting with the lowest pod first; small beans are sweeter and more tender that large ones. Pods can also be picked when they are immature to be cooked and eaten whole
Despite the wide range of pests, diseases and disorders that broad beans can be affected by, they are rarely severely damaged.
- Blackfly, an aphid, is a serious pest of broad beans in late spring and early summer
- Foliar fungal diseases such as Chocolate spot and broad bean rust can be a problem
- Wet weather can cause beans and seedlings to rot
- Frost and snow damage to young, autumn-sown plants can cause plant tissues to become soft and transparent, with plants toppling over and not recovering. Protect plants with fleece in cold snaps
- Mice can steal seeds before or soon after they have germinated. If necessary, use traps
- Pea and bean weevil causes notches on leaves. Small plants may need to be fleeced to allow them to outgrow this pest; larger plants can withstand damage
- Poor fruit set – sufficient watering is important and a sheltered site will encourage pollinating insects
- Broad bean seed beetle can be a problem
- Manure contaminated with hormone-based weedkiller has caused distortion in some broad bean crops in recent years. Controls are now in place to try to ensure this does not reoccur
A large, very hardy longpod cultivar for autumn or early spring sowing‘Masterpiece Green Longpod’:
A reliable, slender-podded cultivar ideal for freezing‘Medes’:
A popular, high-yielding, uniform variety‘Scorpio’:
A commercial cultivar bred for the frozen vegetable industry with white flowers and small, mild-flavoured beans‘The Sutton’:
A dwarf favourite producing small, tender beans ideal for containers‘Witkiem Manita’:
An early-maturing cultivar with heavy yields