Home-grown broad beans

Broad beans – Grow Guide

Discover how to sow, grow and harvest your own crop of broad beans, in this simple guide.

Overview

Home-grown broad beans 
bear little resemblance to the ones you buy. They’re tasty, with no hint of bitterness, and wonderfully tender, not 
at all like shoe leather! Freshly picked 
and eaten young, they're a revelation.
J F M A M J J A S O N D
Sow
Sow
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Plant
Plant
Yes
Yes
Harvest
Harvest
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes

Spacing: 20cm apart 20cm between rows

Depth: 5cm

Avg yield: 3kg per 3m row

Growing broad beans from seed

Growing broad beans from seed

Certain hardy varieties can be sown in the autumn and will be ready for harvesting in about 25 weeks. Spring-sown plants develop more quickly and will crop within about 15 weeks. Spring sowing is generally more reliable, especially in heavy clay soil, when you’ll 
get fewer losses than with autumn sowings.

Before sowing, fork plenty of compost or manure into the planting area, then rake the surface to a fine, crumbly texture. Mark out 5cm deep drills, with about 20cm between each, or sow as double rows 15cm apart. The seeds are large, so they're very easy to sow. Simply sow them about 20cm apart along the length of the drill. Cover the seeds with soil, firm it down and water well.

If you live in a cold area, have heavy or waterlogged soil, or have a problem with mice (which love the seeds), then it's a good idea to sow broad beans in deep pots or modules. Place in a cool, frost-free place, such as a cold frame or unheated greenhouse, and they'll germinate within three weeks. Plant out after six weeks, when the roots have filled their pot.

Tending your broad bean crop

Cover the newly sown area with netting to protect the seeds from hungry birds and squirrels. Seedlings should appear in a few weeks, depending on the weather and soil conditions. Keep the plants well watered and free of weeds.

Harvesting broad beans

If you want to eat broad 
beans in their pods, harvest them really young (when they’re about 6cm long) before they have the chance to become tough or bitter. 
To eat them shelled, wait 
a little longer, until you can clearly see that the pods 
are bulging with beans.

After harvesting, leave the plants in the ground for as long as possible. Like other legumes, broad beans have nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the nodules on their root system, which boost nitrogen levels in the soil. The crops you grow in this area in the following year will reap the benefits.

Storing broad beans

Cook broad beans fresh, or prepare them for freezing by blanching in boiling water for three minutes then plunging into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process.

Preparation and uses

The fresh pods can be eaten whole like mangetouts when young, or the beans can be left to mature inside the pods.

Troubleshooting

Watch out for blackfly, which multiply into dense colonies on the soft, young shoot tips. To prevent this, pinch out the tender shoot tips once the first flowers appear.

Do broad beans need support?

To avoid having to support broad bean plants with canes, grow them fairly close together or in double rows. With a gap of just 20cm between them, even taller varieties provide mutual support to do the job themselves.
Broad bean 'Aquadulce Claudia'
Broad bean 'Aquadulce Claudia'

Varieties to try

  • 'Aquadulce Claudia' – very hardy, so great for autumn sowing
  • 'Bunyards Exhibition' – sweet and subtly flavoured, with a delicate texture
  • 'Masterpiece Green Longpod' – sweet, nutty flavour and high yield
  • 'Stereo' – beans have tender skins and are good as a mangetout-type crop if picked young
  • 'The Sutton' – dwarf variety, so a good option if you're short on space
  • 'Witkiem Manita' – an early cropper, producing large, well-filled pods

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