Although I’ve been singing the praises of taking an early winter break from allotmenteering, I have allowed myself a few forays down the plot, and one of these little excursions involved sowing some broad bean seeds for overwintering.
Overwintering can be inconsistent and in the past, I’ve often shrugged at the thought of my little seedlings out over the colder months and thought, why bother?
Many fellow plotholders ask the same question. ‘It’s cold, dark and wet,’ they say. ‘Save yourself the money and worry, and sow the seeds in Spring’. I used to take just this attitude, leaving my beds home to my Winter crops only, like kale and leeks.
The Advantages of Overwintering Broad Beans
Then one season a few years ago, I had a few spare seeds. Bored listening to Norwich lose again on a Saturday afternoon, I ventured outside and sowed the seeds. That May I got a lovely, productive, and early crop, and since then, I’ve always tried overwintering my beans.
Overwintering is said to be good for warding off blackfly too because the plants are older and tougher by the following Spring. I can definitely vouch for that, as my Spring sown broadies always succumb to blackfly, without fail.
And of course, it gives us something to do when the clocks change (and we’re fed up with the football). Sowing seeds at this time of the year is a nice and welcome lift as we settle in for winter.
When to Sow
Broad beans can be sown for overwintering during September, October, or November, but I tend to wait until November as I find earlier sowings can grow quite big and then get battered by severe winter weather.
Sowing in November gives just enough time for the seedlings to get their roots established but stay fairly small and sheltered before Winter really gets going. Seeds sown directly in November can take up to a month to germinate, depending on where you are in the country but come Spring, the plants lap up the longer days and warmer temperatures and grow on very happily.
Overwintering in the Greenhouse
Another method I like is one I picked up from the excellent Sow and So, which involves sowing broadies in pots in the greenhouse and leaving them be until the new season.
I’ve tried this method too, and it worked well. It’s important to remember to harden off though before planting out.
Problems and Varieties
Frost and snow can damage Autumn sown plants so if the weather gets really bad it is worth protecting them with a cloche or horticultural fleece.
Try to sow your seeds in well-draining soil, as heavy Winter rain and waterlogged beds can easily rot your seeds.
Aquadulce Claudia is my favourite broad bean variety and has a good reputation for being the best for overwintering outside.