How to Grow Broad Beans
Broad beans are always part of my autumn roster out in the veggie garden. They are simple to grow, delicious to eat and planting them naturally enriches the soil. For me, the humble broad bean is also a personal lucky charm.
My grandparents came from Sicily, where the broad bean has long been associated with luck. Keep a bean in your pocket and you’ll never be out of money; keep one in your pantry and you’ll never be out of food, so the old saying goes!
The idea of luck comes from a time of famine in Italy when many other crops failed while the broad bean thrived (because it grows just about anywhere) and became a source of sustenance for the family table.
It’s no coincidence then that my name is Fab. Fabian, meaning “grower of beans”. With this reputation to live up to, I’m hoping I’m half decent at it … and can share the fundamentals so that you have a vibrant crop in your backyard come spring.
When to sow
Broad beans grow during the cool seasons, so start planting anytime from March to June. They are a perfect replacement crop for your summer tomatoes because they will thrive in the same sunny position while replenishing the soil with nitrogen which the tomatoes have used up.
Start from seed
Broad beans are best planted as seeds directly where you want them to grow.
You can pre-soak the seeds overnight in water (although it’s not an essential step). The seeds will hold onto some of this moisture, giving them a boost ahead of germination.
When sowing, push each seed down to a depth of two centimetres in the soil. I tend to leave a space of between 30-45 cm between each seed depending on the variety I’m planting.
Broad bean ‘Aquadulce’ is a popular white and black flowering variety which you can space at 30 cm intervals. Aquadulce grows to 1.5 metres in height and produces tender green pods from early spring. Crimson and chocolate flowering varieties are also available to add stunning colour and diversity to your winter patch.
Give the newly planted seeds a good watering and then leave them until the fresh green leaf tips push through the soil. Over-watering can actually discourage germination for broad beans.
Through the growing season, I always avoid watering on days when rain is likely. Crop success can be reduced due to waterlogging, so make sure your soil is well-drained and pay friendly attention to the weather forecast.
With broad beans, I like to place a stake in the ground and plant the seeds around the outside. This provides a simple support for tying up the plants as they get taller. Broad beans have a real tendency to fall over as they grow and become laden with flowers and pods.
Fresh broad beans are one of the pleasures of early spring. I suggest picking the pods young as they tend to be sweeter and tastier. This approach also encourages more growth and a higher, continuous yield … which means more broad bean dishes in the kitchen!
When it comes to eating, you can either enjoy broad beans fresh or cooked in a variety of ways. I love mine podded, peeled and cooked with artichokes, which come into season at around the same time. You can also freeze or dry the beans to be used in soups and pasta dishes later in the year.
Broad bean basics:
Common name: Broad bean
Botanical name: Vicia faba
Planting season: Cooler months (autumn to winter)
Expert tip: Broad beans are great nitrogen fixers for soils, making them ideal to plant before heavy feeding crops like tomatoes.