If you haven’t overwintered your broad beans, the chances are you are thinking about sowing some seeds pretty soon. The days are gradually getting longer, and broad beans are one of the earliest seeds that can be sown on the allotment.
Sowing now will yield harvests from May, which will be very welcome during the sparse hungry gap period.
Here are 6 top tips I’ve picked up for growing successful broad bean crops.
Early Sowings Under Cover
Early sowings are best made under cover. I often sow broad beans in pots on a warm, sunny windowsill inside in the first week of February, before transferring to the greenhouse once germination has taken place. Cover the pots with bubble wrap or horticultural fleece if the temperature is forecast to be really cold.
Greenhouse sowings are best left until the middle of the month, but if you’ve not got a greenhouse, try sowing under cloches. You can make cloches from squash bottles cut in half and stuck into the ground over the seed. This raises the temperature and provides protection for the seedling.
Sow in Blocks and Stake Up
Most broad bean varieties require support, so plant out or sow with a gap of the same between the next plant. Plant another row about 9 inches away to create a block. Put stakes in the corners and middle of the block, and tie a string around the perimeter so they don’t fall outwards.
Alternatively, sow in a single row and use a cane to support each plant. Gently tie the plant to the cane with string, and keep tieing as the plant grows bigger.
My favourite variety is Bunyard’s Exhibition, a long-standing, heavily cropping cultivar. Other varieties I’ve had success with are the hardy Aquadulce Claudia, which are good for overwintering and early sowings. If you’re tight on room,
Sutton is a neat, compact broadie variety, perfect for small spaces. The plants only grow to about 30cm high, and if planted in grids will support themselves.
Watch out for Blackfly
Broadies are particularly susceptible to attacks from blackfly, so make sure you keep a keen eye on the plants during spring. Once the horrible little things take hold, they can destroy plants within days. They spread to nearby crops like wildfire too.
The key to saving the broad beans is spotting infestations quickly. As soon as you see any blackfly, spray them with hot, soapy water and rub the pests off. Continue to do this until the blackfly is completely gone. Prepare yourself though, it’s a squidgy business!
Pinch Out the Tips
Pinching out the tips of each plant strengthens the setting pods and helps deter blackflies. The time to do this is after the first of the flowers have set – these are normally at the bottom of the plant.
Harvest When the Pods Bulge
When picking pods for shelling, wait until the shape of the beans can be seen through the pod. This is easy to see, but try to get them before the pods get too big. Don’t worry if you miss a few though – parboiled the beans and mash with feta, mint, salt, garlic, and olive oil for a delicious sarnie spread.
Broadies also freeze really well, so throw any gluts into the freezer for winter.