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Xanthe White’s guide to growing broad beans
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These are a garden staple and a wonderfully satisfying starting point for the new gardener. They grow up to 1.5m in height and produce a plentiful harvest of large pods filled with plump edible seeds. The flower heads and foliage are also an attractive addition to the veggie patch.
Best planted early in the milder seasons of spring and autumn, they will be ready for you to begin harvest in around 75 days.
Choose a position in full sun and add plenty of organic material such as compost and sheep pellets to the soil in preparation for planting. If planting in the second year or season, practise crop rotation to deter pests and diseases.
Sowing and planting
Broad beans are most successful when grown from seed sown directly into the garden. Sow the seeds approximately 4cm deep and 5cm apart, and if planting multiple rows space these a generous metre apart.
If planting in a potager, plant in a circle, as large as suits your garden and harvest needs. Make sure your soil is freedraining as broad beans do not like wet feet.
All beans grow well with carrots, caulifl ower, beets and summer savory. They assist cucumber and cabbages but onions and garlic are said to inhibit growth.
Corn and broad beans are complementary and you can grow the broad beans up the corn stalks. This supports the beans and anchors the corn while the broad beans add nitrogen to the soil, assisting in the corn’s growth — a great technique for a garden where space is at a premium.
Thin to 20cm when the seedlings are well established. As the shoots come away, provide support at least 1m high (depending on the variety of broad bean you have chosen). Bamboo stakes are affordable, attractive and effective. Alternatively you can sow the seeds next to an existing frame made of trellis or wire strings.
When your plants are a generous 70cm high, pinch out the tips of the new shoots to encourage growth. These are delicious lightly steamed.
Use a chilli and garlic spray weekly to control aphids and mites. If you notice darkening on the end of the growing tips (broad bean wilt), remove any infected plants immediately and carefully dispose of the waste material. (Burning is the most effective way.)
Broad beans should not be left until they are big and leathery; instead harvest early in the season when the beans are sweet and tender.