Browsing Tag

broad beans

Vegetable Garden

How to Grow Your Own Broad Beans

April 4, 2017
How to grow broad beans

Companion planting with limnanthes and broad beans

Learning, Tutoring and Sowing Broad Beans

It was 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 mad a change from studies at Kildalton College for the Advanced Level 6 in Horticulture. The months flew after I wrote the article about following my curiosity and returning to education once more. I loved every second there. The workload was 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 rose exponentially and I came away full of ideas for Greenside Up thanks to a fantastic Entrepreneurship tutor Nicola Kent.

But back to the School of Food where 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.

You can see a video below about how I plant them in my polytunnel:


How to cook broad beans

How to grow broad beansIt’s the beans that are nestled inside the velvety pods that are usually eaten, although young beans that are no thicker than a finger can be cooked in their pods.

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 your own broad beans

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.

How to grow your own broad beansThey 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.

How to grow broad beansBroad 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.

How to grow your own broad beans

Black bean Aphid

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.


Community Gardens

Callan Community Garden ~ Progress At Last

April 14, 2013

This is my first post about my Monday gardening group at Callan Community Garden as we haven’t had many pictures to show you!

I started working with this Kilkenny Leader funded project back in the autumn of 2012 with a four-week, indoor, introductory course that approximately 15 people attended. Of those around eleven signed up to participate in the community garden that I’m working with for the coming year.

As you can see from the picture below, our area is quite small and was very overgrown with perennial weeds when we began. However, as soon as the soil was dry enough and not frozen solid, we headed out and got stuck in.

Callan Community Garden - winter 2012/2013

It might be small but we expect great things! Callan Community Garden

First on the agenda was some serious hand weeding. The bed was chock-a-block with creeping buttercup, dandelions and docks – all indicators that we were working in a clay soil – something we’d already established during the four-week introductory course. 

Well Rotted Horse ManureIt appeared that no organic matter had been added to the soil since the beds were built some time ago, so thanks to a donations, we remedied that by adding several wheelbarrow loads to all but the area allocated for the carrots and parsnips.


The bed really needed the addition of well-rotted organic matter to help to break down the heavy clay soil

We’ve spent a lot of time preparing the soil for this garden as it was so neglected. Inside the polytunnel our small allocated area was like dust…

Inside the polytunnel at Callan Community Garden

The area for the community gardeners, the rest of the tunnel is shared with St Bridget’s School & the BTEI Group

At last the weather warmed up enough to plant the chitted blight resistant potatoes, onions, garlic and broad beans.

Planting onions at Callan Community Garden

We use a board to avoid standing on the prepared soil

Today we were able to start sowing seeds inside the polytunnel. As we’ve been waiting for funding for equipment, it’s been a great excuse to show everybody how they can reuse and recycle household “rubbish”. The gardeners have been very inventive but it’s meant that the precious funds can be spent on seeds rather than pots!

Using recycled household "rubbish" in the Community Garden

Using recycled household rubbish in the Community Garden

Recycled pots and trays only for Callan Community Garden

Westland Peat Free vs Suretart Seed & Cutting Compost

Westland Peat Free Compost (top) vs Suretart Seed & Cutting Compost (bottom)

We’ve used this to our advantage by running some experiments on the differences and I’ll let you know how they compare over the coming weeks.

Lastly Alma filled the onion section with twigs to stop the birds pulling them out of the ground ~ no those little brown things aren’t worms, they’re our alliums trying to grow roots!

I’ll keep you updated over the coming weeks on how the garden’s progressing. Sign up for the blog posts at the bottom of the page if you’d like to keep up to date.


Food & Drink

Harvesting Broad Fava Beans – how many ways do you think you can eat them?

June 30, 2012
Harvesting Broad (Fava) Beans - how many ways do you think you can eat them?

Broad (Fava) Beans

Are you a fan of broad beans (or fava beans as they’re known in the majority of countries around the world)? Have you even tried them?

I wrote a blog post a while ago about how easy it is to grow these hardy beans, but basically just pop a seed in the soil and watch it grow!

Harvesting Broad (Fava) Beans - how many ways do you think you can eat them?

Broad (Fava) Bean Flowers

Watching the plants grow, smelling the beautiful scented blossoms as they develop never ceases to bring a smile.Baby broad (fava) bean

Have you ever observed how a bean appears? I was enthralled the first time I saw it, checking my plants daily to see if there’d been a development overnight. Firstly the flowers open, then as they wither you’ll notice tiny little beanlets replacing them. The pods develop on the bottom of the plant first, so that’s where you’ll find them first. When they’re ripe for picking just twist them off the stems rather than pulling which will prevent an accidental stem snapping. As the plant continues to grow, more beans will appear, working their way upwards.

Harvesting Broad (Fava) Beans - how many ways do you think you can eat them?

A morning’s harvest


Outside my bean plants never usually make it past waist height but this year in the polytunnel they were over six-foot tall – that’s a whole lotta beans!

So once your beans are developing what then? How do you know when to harvest them?

Would it surprise you that you can prepare a simple broad bean in at least five different ways?

Different ways of preparing broad (fava) beans

  1. Starting with a bean pod about a little finger in length, you can leave these whole, top and tail then add to stir fries, steam or add to stews.
  2. As they grow larger, about middle finger length, slice them into 1cm pieces and cook – we usually steam and serve them as an accompanying veg.
  3. Larger still, when you can see the bulges of the beans growing inside, split the pods open, remove the beans and add to salads, steam or become more adventurous with different bean recipes.
  4. If you find the waxy outer shell of the beans too tough, you can split these open to  reveal tiny little pea sized tender beans. The easiest way to do this is to put them into  boiling water for a minute, then plunge into cold water and pull off the skins. I’ve watched a friend sit and double pod her broad beans in this way but I have to admit to taking the lazy option – serving them hot onto plates and the diner can choose whether they would like to take this fiddly option.
  5. Finally you can dry them – lovely for winter stews. The simplest way is to leave the pods on the plants until they go brown and dry up.
broad (fava) bean tops

broad (fava) bean tops

As if that’s not enough variations of a meal from one plant, the tender tops can also be removed and lightly steamed just like spring beans. Pick them when the plant is still flowering but before the pods form. This will help the pods to swell and prevent blackfly too as they’re very attracted to the tasty tops. Wash the tops a couple of times and steam them for a few minutes.

Wikipedia lists many other ways of cooking broad or fava beans in countries around the world – I like the idea of frying them (which splits their shells) then salt or spices are added making them a tasty snack – might give this a go!

black bean aphid

black bean aphid

It’s important to keep picking beans as this will encourage more – stop picking and the plant will stop producing.

You can either harvest the beans as you require them, or pick them all, blanch and freeze. Blanching involves placing the washed and prepared beans into boiling water for two minutes then plunging into cold water. I find it easier to bag  them into portion sizes bags (I usually serve up four portions with family meals so that’s how many spoonfuls end up in my bags) then freeze them. Blanching prevents enzymes building up when defrosting and helps to retain the texture and flavour.

nitrogen nodules on broad beans

nitrogen nodules on broad beans

Once you’ve removed all the beans from the plants, cut the stems off at ground level digging the roots into the soil. You might notice nitrogen nodules growing on the roots which following plants will benefit from (the nodules ‘fix’ nitrogen into the soil.) Disease free stems can be added to the compost heap.

Have you any favourite recipes for using these versatile beans?



Vegetable Garden

Fresh growth, hope and patience

January 5, 2012

Fresh growth, hope and patienceIt seems apt somehow that during the first week of a new year I should walk out into my polytunnel and be greeted with rows of tiny fresh green leaves.

The two seed leaves of the broad bean that were sown a few weeks ago and now reach upwards for the light, resembling miniature ancient Egyptian cats, fill me with hope.

They are the sign of birth and of nature’s cycle. I feel excited at the prospect of a new season of growth and longer days ahead, planning and raking, sowing and planting. I look forward to caring for the little plants until they are big, strong and healthy and can be harvested and cooked, their discarded pods added to the compost where they will decompose and finally be scattered onto the soil where their nutrients will nourish the next crop, completing the cycle.

Today I am smiling at nature’s gifts and patiently waiting for the coming weeks ahead and the joy and  tranquillity they will bring. Today I am quietly reminded why I have such a love of gardening.


Harvesting vegetable crops in early May

May 6, 2010

Harvesting vegetable crops in early MayGreat excitement in the Sewelly polytunnel & garden as veggies are almost ready for harvesting!

The peas and broad beans that were planted before Christmas are starting to appear so I’ll be digging out the recipe books soon as picking fresh produce always makes me want to try out a new dish.  This early harvest will help to fill the ‘hungry gap’ when the only other fresh veg we have to eat at the moment is purple sprouting broccoli.  I almost pulled it up after the snow as it was looking so downcast, but decided to give it a feed of fish, blood & bone and this is the result – five plants full of delicious florets (that were especially tasty in this evening’s stir fry). There are loads more tiny florets starting to appear beneath the large leaves in the next few days too.

The plan this year is to keep the polytunnel as productive as possible so that it earns it’s keep!

With that in mind we have shallots planted behind the peas & beans and the plan is to plant cucumbers once they’ve all been harvested.

I haven’t quite cracked full productivity yet though as the bed waiting for the tomatoes is still empty, and there’s a big space where the courgette is slowly growing.

My experiment of planting sweet corn early too hasn’t quite worked out – only three germinated (!) so I planted another packet last week in the hope that they’ll catch up soon now the temperatures are rising (there’s obviously a good reason why seed packets recommend a month for growing and late March wasn’t it).  The french beans have all germinated and are starting to grow rapidly too. We never had much success growing these outdoors as it just never seemed warm enough so hopefully will have better luck inside this year.

Meanwhile outside the strawberries are showing signs of flowering and the Red Duke of York first early potatoes are coming along nicely too.

I love this time of year!