Learning, Tutoring and Sowing Broad Beans
It’s a pleasure to be back teaching an organic outdoor vegetable crop production course at the School of Food in Thomastown, Co Kilkenny thanks to funding from Kilkenny ETB. It makes a change from my studies at Kildalton College for the Advanced Level 6 in Horticulture, though I can’t believe there’s only a few weeks left before we finish at the college, the months have flown since I wrote the article about following my curiosity and returning to education once more. I’m loving every second there. The workload has been a juggle with assignments coming in thick and fast, as well as plant ID tests and written exams, but my knowledge of trees, shrubs and ecology has risen exponentially and I’m full of ideas for Greenside Up thanks to a fantastic Entrepreneurship tutor Nicola Kent. It’s great to be studying at one of the best agriculture and horticulture colleges in the country too.
But back to the School of Food, we’ve a hardworking, enthusiastic group of 14 adults eager to learn the basics and after several weeks discussing soil preparation and the importance of organic matter, we’re finally sowing seeds and planting.
Last week we managed to get some peas and broad beans (Vicia Faba) also known as Fava Beans into the soil. It’s rare to see broad beans in the supermarkets and as a result, home-grown pods are the first many of us will try, but they’re an easy to crop to grow, making them great for children or beginners. For busy gardeners they pretty much look after themselves so they’re a handy crop to grow all round.
How to cook broad beans
Shell larger beans before cooking and tuck into them hot or cold; they’re great in salads. Big mature beans need to be shelled after they’ve boiled, the tough outer skin removed and the small beanlet inside can be mashed with butter (you’d need the patience of a saint to do that very often!). We usually dish them up with dinner and remove the beanlets ourselves.
More information can be found on harvesting and cooking broad beans in this archive article and Nigel Slater shares a Broad Bean humus recipe here that’s top of my ‘to try’ list when we harvest ours this year.
We’ve always grow Broad Beans in our garden as three of us love to eat them cooked (I usually steam them) and our girls like to eat them raw.
How to Grow Broad Beans
Broad beans are a hardy crop and will survive a frost. Most varieties can be sown outside from October/November or February to April; keep an eye out for Aquadulce for overwintering.
They germinate at much lower temperatures than most other vegetables and we tend to sow them high up on our hill in or around February, depending upon conditions, making them our first legume crop (pea/bean) of the year.
We usually plant the seeds straight into the soil about 2.5 cm (1″) deep but they can be started off in modules in December, ready to plant out in February. In general peas and beans prefer not to have their roots disturbed so planting the seeds in compost in toilet roll liners and popping the whole thing into the soil when the beans are about 10 cm (4″) or more is a good way to get them growing.
Staking broad beans – this crop doesn’t need to clamber up, they’re happy enough growing unguided, though it’s a good idea to place stakes around the perimeter of the crop to prevent the stems snapping in the wind.
Broad beans like well-dug, previously manured soil so are an ideal crop to follow potatoes. Once they’ve all been harvested, if they’re disease free chop the stems off at soil level and compost the rest, leaving the nitrogen-fixing roots in the soil to help the Brassica crops (cabbages etc) that might follow them, depending upon your crop rotation plan. As long as you didn’t plant F1 hybrid seeds, any dried beans that you missed when harvesting can be stored and re-sown next time.
Things to watch out for ……. if you plant broad beans in the Spring, one day you may wander into your garden and find that the tops of them are covered in black bean aphid, insects that adore the sweet flavour of the plant tops. Sometimes just spraying them hard with the hose is enough to remove them, or pinching off the tops of the plants as soon as you notice the little black aphids. Vigilance is key in ridding yourself of this pest but companion planting can work well too.
Because we grow our own using organic principles, we encourage beneficial insects into our garden that will prey on the predatory aphids; Limanthes (poached egg flower) is one of our favourites.
Chocolate spot. This is a disease that’s particular to broad beans and one we’ve suffered most years on crops grown outside here, though the polytunnel beans have managed to escape. Chocolate spot is what it says… chocolate coloured spots that appear on the leaves, and then spread to the stems, flowers and pods, potentially leading to the plant’s death.
It’s caused by a fungus Botrytis fabae that thrives in damp, humid air and can overwinter on the remains of previously infected plants. For this reason it’s a good idea to get rid of old, infected plants rather than composting them. The good news is that it usually affects the pods last of all, so whilst they remain unaffected (or infected), they’re still fine to eat.
Spacing the plants well, about 25cm between each plant – will help with air circulation and is recommended to prevent or delay infection.
So why not give Broad Beans a chance? Have you eaten them or do you have a favourite way of eating them? They’re a great crop for grow your own newbies as their success rate is high, which all helps in raising the confidence levels.