Growing broad beans can test your patience. Follow these tips to successfully grow this cool season legume.
Traditionally sown on St Patrick’s Day which falls on March 17, Broad Beans (Vicia faba) also known as fava beans are a legume and a cool season crop that take a significantly long time to mature.
Much like the life cycle of loofahs, growing broad beans is an exercise in patience. Sow them in early autumn, nurse them throughout winter, fight off aphids on the tips then wait months before they flower towards the end of winter and early spring. By the time you can harvest the pods, you’re anxious to rip them out and plant your corn and tomatoes in their place.
How to Grow Broad Beans
Start by soaking the seeds overnight in water but that’s not essential. I have tried both methods with little to no difference. Sow the seeds direct in compost rich soil in a sunny position. They can be grown in full sun or part shade. Plant 30cm deep and 15cm apart with the eye of the bean facing down. Water well then let them be until they sprout and you see the first embryonic leaves emerge. As they grow, they will need support so it’s best to stake them right away to avoid root disturbance later.
I grow variety called Broad Beans Coles Dwarf which is better suited for a small sace and windy location. As I’m limited in my growing space, this variety grows up to 90cm tall which is ideal for my raised garden beds, planted in the ground or even in a large pot with a tomato cage for support. Other varieties include Aquadulce with long pods and Crimson Flowering. The latter produces vibrant crimson coloured flowers which turn into green pods. Unfortunately, in my experience, they were all show with a low yield.
Broad Beans Plant Care
Broad beans thrive in moist soil so make sure it doesn’t dry out in between watering. Keep an eye out on the weather forecast, water daily if your soil needs it and avoid watering on rainy days. Growth is very slow during the cold winter months so be patient. Once they start to flower, make sure the soil is kept moist at all times.
Broad beans are notorious for attracting aphids and other pests. Black aphids and green aphids gather in masses along the tips and can be stubborn to white oil spray or a strong blast of water from the hose. You can pinch the tops to help deter them and encourage the plant to grow side shoots. Thrips, caterpillars love them as well and when the plants are young, they attract snails and slugs. The leaves are susceptible to chocolate spot fungal disease and rust which can be treated with wettable sulphur. In my garden, I’ve left it up to nature and the brown colouring and spots on the underside haven’t affected the vigour of the plants.
Harvesting & Seed Saving
Broad beans are ready to be harvested in 80 days, that’s approximately 2 ½ months which takes you right into spring. It may even take longer depending on your climate. Leaving some of the larger pods to dry on the plant can ensure that you can have seeds to save for the following year.
Tips for Growing Broad Beans
- Choose your location carefully. Broad beans sown in March usually start to flower in mid to end of August. Pods take their time to develop and grow and you’ll still be harvesting them in October/November when you need the space for summer crops like tomatoes and corn.
- When sowing broad beans, put a stake in the soil near the seed. The plants tend to get heavy with flowers and pods and will need support. By staking early, you’ll avoid disturbing the roots.
- Overwatering broad beans can delay germination so go easy after planting.
- Broad beans have nodules on their roots which serve to add nitrogen to the soil so they’re ideal to plant after a heavy feeding crop such as tomatoes.
- Pinch out the tips of the plant so that it channels its energy on pod production not the flowers.
- Keep your plants well-watered, particularly as the flowers begin to set.
- Harvest the pods regularly to encourage growth.
- If you harvest the pods while young, they are fully edible.
- After the crop is finished for the season, cut up the leaves and roots and dig them back into the soil. Water well and leave for a few weeks to give the soil a nitrogen boost.
EAT IT: Culinary Uses of Broad Beans
If you’re willing to sacrifice a few pods, broad bean flowers are edible. They taste like young pods and can be used in salads or as garnish.
Broad beans can be eaten whole when the pods are small and fresh. Once they’re mature, they are best shelled, added to salads, or cooked in dishes like risotto. The beans can be frozen or dried to be used later in soups and stews.
I like to eat them shelled, peeled and raw in salads. You can also try them in one of my favourite dips. Bissara is a North African dip that’s a relative of hummus. The cooked beans are put through a food processor with garlic, cumin, olive oil, tahini and garnished with coriander.
If this is your first time growing broad beans, my advice is no matter how long it takes, don’t give up and rip them out. You may have sworn off growing them before, as I have, but once you’ve tasted home grown broad beans, there’s no going back.