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Kildalton College

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.



Follow Your Curiosity

January 8, 2017

Follow Your Curiosity

Returning to Education

In 2008 I made, what turned out to be, a life changing decision to return to education as a mature student. For the previous ten year’s I’d been a stay at home mum of three and was project managing our ongoing house renovation on top of a Carlow hill.

This week, aged 53 (I’ve finally said that out loud), as well as working with Carlow and Kilkenny community gardens, over the next two years I’ll be continuing with my own education as I head to Kildalton College in Pilltown, Co Kilkenny two days a week to study the Advanced Certificate in Horticulture.

I’m embarking upon this new journey with an open mind. I had no idea when I returned to education in my forties that it would lead to me starting Greenside Up a month after finishing, or that I’d go on to become one of the founders of Community Gardens Ireland. Who knows where this new adventure will lead.

A Stay at Home Mum

I was blessed to be able to spend ten years at home with our children before I returned to education, watching them develop and grow. Giving up a wage meant our lifestyle was very basic but it was a decision we’ve never regretted.

If Ian and I had stayed in the UK things would have been very different. There’s no doubt I would have continued to work full-time so we could pay the mortgage on our semi-detached town house. We’d have spent all the extra money on childminders, watching someone else bring up our kids and sharing their special moments instead of us.

If I’d been following my dream career, I might have justified it, but I wasn’t. My job was simply a way of earning money to pay bills. There was no satisfaction and the desire to rear our family outside of a polluted town environment was partly what influenced our decision to move to Ireland almost 19 years ago.

Follow Your Curiosity

An early school leaver

Like many of my generation, I left school at 16 with a handful of basic qualifications, to join the female equivalent of an apprenticeship. In a school of 1,300 around 30 stayed on for sixth form before moving on to study for their degrees. I wasn’t one of them. I hated the authority of school and couldn’t wait to leave and join the workforce. In the beginning, I worked in a large international business as a secretarial trainee, learning from the other departmental secretaries four days a week, then heading off to college one day a week to develop my shorthand, office practice and typewriting skills, qualifying at 18.

After several years, I left that job to join the throng of ‘commuters’ who travelled by train to London, first finding employment in a glamorous design company a few doors away from Oxford Street, before moving to a large accountancy firm close to St Paul’s Cathedral. My last City job, now in the fast-moving financial district, held the most responsibility as I supported the Marketing Director of an international financial news agency, helping him set up offices around the world. My twenty something lifestyle was a busy one – working hard and playing harder. However looking back, other than my friendships and the motorbiking lifestyle the money I earned supported, I felt very unfulfilled. I was an ‘earth girl’, never a city one.

Follow Your Curiosity

Falling in love

And then I met Ian. We fell in love and within a couple of years I found myself in a new country where I barely knew anybody. We shared the rental of an old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere with another couple and their child, living miles from the local village with only one van between us and no phone. I used to write to family and friends to begin with; they’d reply with stories of their new online world of email, Facebook, summer holidays and winter parties and I felt homesick and left behind. We didn’t own a computer for several years, weren’t connected to the internet for many more, and despite joining a couple of toddler groups, I’d only made once close friend.

As a stay at home mum, the one thing I hadn’t anticipated about being out of the workforce was how it would diminish my confidence. We’d left the UK, a large circle of close friends and extended family to relocate to a new country and as my social circle closed, so too did my ability to fit in. I joined the primary school parent teacher group and became involved with our local scout group, attending leadership courses, but I was still searching for my  elusive ‘tribe’.

Horticulture – it’s not just about digging

And then my life changed. It’s another story how I ended up choosing a full-time Horticulture course. I knew I never wanted to work as an executive secretary again; as a full-time mum I was used to being my own boss and the opportunity of returning to adult education helped me look for alternatives.

From day one as I headed out every day on my own without little ones in tow, I studied and learnt, handed in assignments, quizzed tutors, and attended work experience. I felt empowered. Adult education was more than learning about flowers and shrubs, soil and plant science. It was a transformative experience.

Follow your curiosity

Horticulture enabled me to design our own garden and other people’s. Armed with my new knowledge I could grow heaps of organic vegetables which enabled us to feed our family healthier meals and then teach others how to do the same.

I developed a love of writing and began to blog. I set up a small business, taught myself about business plans and how to use social media, to create and update websites, design logos and lesson plans. After the sheer horrors of public speaking I began to feel more comfortable with it which led to gardening talks and demonstrations and coordinating pop up gardens at Electric Picnic. I spoke to journalists on radio and print and regularly met others in the realms of business and social enterprise.

Follow Your Curiosity

Horticulture developed my forever love of our planet as I stepped out of the indoor office and home environments and outside into the garden, learning to fully appreciate the magic, healing and wonder of the natural world around us.

Kildalton College

This week I’ll starting again, continuing my education as I learn more about entrepreneurship, ecology and the environment, trees, and shrubs. Next year I’m hoping to add commercial market gardening and other modules that will make up the Advanced Certificate. Perhaps in my sixties I’ll find enough time and money to finally study for my degree.

Or maybe I won’t.

I really have no idea where this new adventure will take me but I’m willing to be open to changes, opportunities, and new ideas.

I have half a lifetime of experience behind me and now I’m adding structured education to the mix and all because nine years ago, I took the plunge and followed my curiosity. I’d love to hear if you’ve followed yours.


“If you can let go of your passion and follow your curiosity,

your curiosity just might lead you to your passion”

Elizabeth Gilbert