How to grow broad beans
All you need to know about sowing and growing broad beans, in our Grow Guide.
Jobs to do each month:
- March or April: sow seeds indoors or outdoors
- May: plant out plants sown indoors
- May to August: harvest pods
- October and November: sow hardy varieties suitable for autumn sowing
Home-grown broad beans (Vicia faba) are delicious and wonderfully tender, and one of the first crops of the year. They're easy to grow from seed, yielding green pods of green or white beans that can be used in salads, stews and soups. They don't take up too much space and can be grown in the ground, in raised beds and in large pots. You can also buy young plants in early spring.
How to grow broad beans
Sow broad beans outside in spring or autumn, 20cm apart, in rows 60cm apart. If you live in a cold area, have heavy soil or a problem with mice, sow seeds under cover first, and plant the young plants out six weeks later. Pinch out the tips of plants to prevent blackfly, and stake taller varieties to stop them collapsing under the weight of the beans. Harvest when the pods are just 6cm long, for the most tender beans.
More on growing broad beans:
Growing broad beans: jump links
- Sowing broad beans
- Planting broad beans
- Caring for broad beans
- Harvesting broad beans
- Growing broad beans: problem-solving
- Buying broad beans
- Best broad beans to grow
How to sow broad bean seeds
Broad bean seeds are large, so they're very easy to sow. Hardy varieties, such as 'Aquadulce Claudia', can be sown in autumn (October or November) for an early crop the following May. Spring sowing is generally more reliable, especially in heavy clay soil, which can lead to the seed rotting before germinating. Sow in March or April for harvesting in summer.
How to sow broad beans outdoors
- 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 60cm apart
- Sow the seeds, 5cm deep
- Cover the seeds with soil, firm it down and water in well
- In case of cold weather, cover with horticultural fleece or cloches
Sowing broad beans indoors
If you live in a cold area, have heavy or waterlogged soil, or have a problem with mice (which eat the seeds), then it's a good idea to sow broad beans in deep pots or modules indoors.
- Fill small pots or modules with peat-free multipurpose compost
- Place one seed in each pot or module, 5cm deep
- Place in a cool, frost-free place, such as a cold frame or unheated greenhouse, and they should germinate within three weeks
- Plant out after six weeks, when the roots have filled their pot
In this programme clip from Gardeners' World, Monty Don sows broad bean variety 'Crimson Flowered' in pots, to plant out later:
How to plant out broad bean plants
If you started off your broad beans in pots, they will be ready to plant out once the roots have filled their pots. Plant around 20cm apart and water in well.
How to care for broad bean plants
Cover the newly sown area with netting to protect the seeds from birds and squirrels. Seedlings should appear in a few weeks, depending on the weather and soil conditions.
Water regularly once you see flowers appear, and hoe between the rows to keep weeds down.
Pinching out the growing tips as soon as the flowers appear will help to prevent attacks of blackfly.
Taller varieties of broad bean need supporting with canes and string – place strong supports at the end of each row, and then wrap rows of string around them, 30cm apart, to support the plants. Be sure to put in the supports in while the plants are still small.
How to harvest 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.
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How to store 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.
Preparing and using broad beans
The fresh pods can be eaten whole like mangetouts when young, or the beans can be left to mature inside the pods.
Growing broad beans: problem solving
Blackfly / black bean aphid
Blackfly multiply into dense colonies on the soft, young shoot tips in spring, and can stunt growth. Pinch out the tender shoot tips once the first flowers appear – this should reduce the problem considerably.
Pea and bean weevil
Pea and bean weevils are a nuisance but rarely a major problem on the veg patch. The larvae live in the soil and feed on the root nodules. Then when the adults emerge in June and July, they climb up the plants and eat the edges of the leaves. Thankfully, these 4mm-long, brown, snout-nosed beetles rarely cause severe damage. The plants easily survive, unless they are small and seriously infested. Pick off any beetles that you see.
Broad bean chocolate spot
This fungal disease causes reddish-brown spots all over the plant. It is particularly common on plants sown in autumn, in damp, humid weather, or in plants that are crowded close together. It can cause loss of flowers (and therefore beans) and can cause the whole plant to collapse. There is no chemical control available so try to maximise air flow around plants, remove any weeds, and bin or burn any infected material – do not add to the compost heap. Do not save or store seed from infected plants.
Advice on buying broad beans
- Broad bean seeds are widely available in garden centres and online
- If you want to sow in autumn, check that you are buying a variety that is suitable for autumn sowing
- Also check the height and spread – some dwarf varieties are suitable for growing in pots
- You may find young broad bean plants on sale at the garden centre or online in early spring
Where to buy broad bean seeds
Broad bean varieties to grow
Broad bean 'Aquadulce Claudia' – very hardy, so the best variety for autumn sowing. Long, slender pods and white beans
Height x Spread: 1m x 45cm
Broad bean 'Crimson Flowered' – a heritage variety with very attractive crimson flowers, followed by short, upright pods. Can be grown in the ground or in a container
H x S: 90cm x 45cm
Broad bean 'Bunyard's Exhibition' – sweet and subtly flavoured, with a delicate texture
H x S: 1.2m x 45cm
Broad bean 'Masterpiece Green Longpod' – sweet, nutty flavour and high yield
H x S: 90cm x 45cm
- Buy broad bean 'Masterpiece Green Longpod' from Van Meuwen
- Broad bean 'Stereo' – beans have tender skins and are good as a mangetout-type crop if picked young
H x S: 1.2m x 45cm
Broad bean 'The Sutton' – dwarf variety, so a good option if you're short on space or growing in pots
H x S: 30cm x 30cm
Broad bean 'Witkiem Manita' – an early cropper, producing large, well-filled pods
H x S: 1m x 45cm