Broad bean - Vicia faba

The broad bean is one of the oldest cultivated vegetables. They are also one of the easiest vegetables to grow. Also known as fava bean, faba bean, Windsor bean and field bean, they are rich in vitamin C and high in protein.

There are two types of broad bean, the longpod which has 8 to 10 beans and the Windsor, which have 4 to 7 beans. The Windsor types take longer to mature, but taste better. Broad beans are also white or green, the white bean have a better flavour as the green bean is more acidic.

For an early harvest, sow a hardy variety outside from October through to January, they’ll be ready a month before spring sow varieties. Like all legumes they love organic matter that retains moisture. Dig a 15cm (6”) deep trench, line the bottom with compost, add a thin layer of soil, put the seeds on top of this 8” apart, plant 3 seeds in each position and cover with soil, water well. Thin out to one plant when they have germinated). Alternatively, once you’ve dug over your veg plot, rake the soil to a fine tilth and plant seed 23cm (9”) apart and 5cm (2”) deep, if planting in a double row, leave 30-45cm (12-18”) between rows. Begin harvesting after 10 weeks; sow another crop 3 weeks after the first to extend the length of the harvest.

For spring sown beans, from the beginning of March up to the end of April, sow in root trainers or 8cm (3”) pots, store them in a cool room indoors or in a cold frame or the greenhouse, harden off outside after the last frost, typically in April/May when they have got to 30cm (12”).

Slugs can't resist the small, young plants, so use copper barriers, cut down drink/milk bottle/margarine tubs or slug pubs to prevent damage. Once they are off and growing (above a 102cm/couple of feet) the slugs shouldn't touch them.

Pick and eat the beans on the same day, otherwise freeze them (blanch before freezing, but they freeze well), else they will go tough and lose their sweet flavour.

Pinch out the growing tip after the plant has produced 8 sets of pods. When you can see the beans swelling or when you think they are approaching ripeness, pick a pod off the bottom of the plant and open it, if the material connecting the bean to the pod looks nice and fresh, they are ready, if it looks a bit old, then the beans are likely to be hard and lack flavour.

If you don't continue to pick them, they will tend to stop producing further beans.

After harvesting all the beans, cut the plants off at ground level, the root nodules contain nitrogen fixing bacteria, when they rot down they fix nitrogen into the soil. They like a soil that has low nitrogen content soil, so should follow potatoes in crop rotation, also don't feed with a nitrogen fertilizer use high potash like bone meal.

They can be susceptible to blackfly and chocolate spot (the leaves look like they have been dusted with cocoa powder).

Suggested sowing time:

(Key: sow indoors,   sow outside,   sow outside under cover.)

Culinary use:

Unless they have been freshly picked whilst still young, the beans need to be removed from their pods. Boil them in a small amount of water with salt and chopped parsley. They will store well if the beans are left to dry before being put into an air tight jar. Soak well before using in cooking.

Cultivars and varieties:

Vicia faba 'Aquadulce Claudia' - A heritage cultivar and one of the best varieties to plant. Hardy and early to mature, autumn sowing broad bean, sow in Oct, Nov and Dec outside or under cover in exposed locations. Plants grow to 90cm (3ft). Tender white beans in long pods.

Vicia faba 'De monica'

Vicia faba 'Express' - Good for freezing.

Vicia faba 'Imperial Green Longpod' [AGM] - Heavy cropping, hardy variety with a white bean.

Vicia faba 'Jubilee Hysor' - Windsor type, white bean.

Vicia faba 'Meteor Vroma'

Vicia faba 'Optica' - Smaller more compact variety, ideal for raised beds or restricted areas.

Vicia faba 'The Sutton' - A good cropping, dwarf variety, ideal for growing in windy sites. They grow to 45cm (18”) and shouldn’t need any support. Sow Oct - Dec under cover.

Seeds to sow now:

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