Plant broad beans for a later winter harvest, advises Justin Newcombe.
When I hear the phrase "eat your beans" I automatically have a suppressed choking reflex which was not always all that suppressed.
In the past I'd try to pep talk my way through this trial by legume with a few catch phrases like "grin and bear it". If I received a particularly cruel serving from my sadistic caregivers there was "if you can get through this you can get through anything" while saved for absolute emergencies was the ever-comforting "pain is just weakness leaving the body" in between mouthfuls. As I've "grown up" this has become a distant-but-not-forgotten memory, largely thanks to the virtues of salt, butter and gravy. Interestingly the picture in my mind when I hear the phrase "eat your beans" is not of the bean I was forced against my will to eat (they were runner beans). That accolade falls at the feet of the broad bean - which I happen to like.
Broad beans are now a seasonal preference in the autumn garden as they are fast and relatively easy to grow. They require a reasonably free-draining soil and plenty of water to get good results. Broad beans also like a sunny spot which is fairly sheltered from the wind and do better in rows of two. Any more than this and shadow may become an issue, reducing the yield of the affected plants. Rows of two are also good because it is more efficient for the beans' primary pollinator, the bee.
Other plants with a more open, softer flower can be pollinated by many insects, including flies, but the bee is one of the few pollinators strong enough to wriggle into the flower of the broad bean.
Seasonality of the broad bean and its relatively high yield are also encouraging reasons to propogate them. They grow through winter, taking about three to four months to produce beans. I like to plant mine in autumn and if the winter is a mild one - which, let's face it, seems to be the trend - I can hope to be tasting my first bean in late winter.
The thing I greatly admire about beans is that the plants reward your harvesting of beans with an even more vigorous profusion of beans. There seems to be some sort of panic reflex in the plant which realises someone has picked the seed so it needs to make up for the dilution of its chances to broadcast its genetic material into the world. The plants themselves are very vigorous, with soft green stems producing a profusion of foliage so will require some strong staking. It pays to be over-ambitious with staking, installing something that is too big rather than too small. Ideally you want to install the stake before you plant. Each plant should be at least 20cm apart with gap of around 40cm between rows. The seeds can be direct sown in trenches approximately 5cm deep. To speed the germination processes up, soak the seed in water overnight, and, all going well you'll soon have your very own bean crop to torture your children with.By Justin Newcombe Email Justin