Browsing Tag

Fava 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.


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?