During June, July and August when most of the garden is in hibernation mode, broad beans suddenly become a top seller on the seed stand or as punnets of six in the garden centre. Broad beans are a vegetable that seems to be either a favourite to be savoured, or on the disdain list conjuring some horror from childhood! Like all good vegetables, broad beans are full of nutrients and goodness including potassium, iron, vitamins A and C, and are a good source of fibre and protein. Broad beans are a good plant to grow with children as the seeds are large and easy to handle. It also seems that kids are more keen to eat vegetables that they have helped to grow.
Broad beans are a cool season crop, are frost tolerant and will germinate in temperatures as low as 2C. The seed can be sown from late autumn right through the winter months. They don't like to grow in the heat of summer. They are an easy crop to grow and will provide a good food supply at a time during spring when options are often limited and vegetables expensive to buy. A general guide is to plant 12 plants for each person who will be eating them.
A sunny site is preferable although broad beans will tolerate some shade. Running rows north to south in the garden will ensure more even light distribution and that no plants are disadvantaged. Some prefer to make their planting in blocks (eg, six plants by six plants): in this case make your plantings on the southern-most edge of the garden so as they grow tall they will not block light from other plants.
They can be grown from seed planted directly into the garden or from seedlings purchased from garden centres and planted out. Soaking seeds overnight and then draining before planting can be beneficial: these will swell and a shoot may even appear, speeding the germination process. If the soil is very wet where they will be growing and there is risk of the seed rotting, then starting off with seedlings or sowing seeds into trays first for later planting may give better success. Broad bean seeds should be planted 4cm deep.
When sowing seed plant approximately 15cm apart in rows 70cm apart. Most varieties grow between waist and shoulder high so will need to be staked to avoid being flattened by wind. Use a secure stake at each end of a row and stretch string down each side of the row at a height of approximately 30-40m. As the plants grow add a second string down each side at approximately 65-70cm high and a third higher again if needed.
Depending on the severity of winter, plants will take approximately 18 to 25 weeks to reach harvest. Later plantings tend to catch up with earlier plantings. By sowing seed now in Whanganui gardens, you should be harvesting broad beans around early November. By making an early and late planting, or sowing of seed you can give yourself a second crop, giving good production of broad beans for a number of months.
Soil preparation for broad beans is relatively straightforward. Remove weeds and debris, then work the soil to a fine tilth. If the soil structure needs improving, mix some compost through the soil before planting or sowing. Avoid using fertilisers with a high nitrogen content, instead use sulphate of potash which is beneficial for strengthening plants for pest and disease resistance, as well as promoting flowering. Broad beans prefer alkaline soil conditions so if your soil is acidic then an application of garden lime is recommended. Ensure seeds and plants do not come into direct contact with fertilisers as this can cause burning.
The broad bean plant is actually a legume - a soil improver. The plants take nitrogen from the air and store it in the plant. When the plants have finished producing they should be cut down and dug into the soil which will release the nitrogen into the soil, enhancing conditions for nitrogen hungry crops such as cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage or corn.
Broad beans are very easy to care for, suffering very few pests and disease. Protect from slugs and snails when first planted with Yates Blitzem or other slug bait. Occasional rust or chocolate spot can be controlled with Yates Fungus Fighter. If black aphids appear in spring, hose them off or spray with new Organic Certified spray Gro Safe En Spray 99.
If birds are a problem when the seedlings are small (they peck at and eat the new shoots), simply cover with bird netting. The success of your broad beans depends upon good pollination from bees. Planting blue flowering plants such as lavender, phacelia or borage near your vegetable garden to attract bees is beneficial.
Harvesting your beans will take place over a number of weeks as the pods nearest the base of the plant come ready first. These should be harvested when they are young and tender, before they get too big and become tough, leathery and any childhood nightmares are relived! The tender fresh beans can be enjoyed fresh, boiled or steamed, or blanched and frozen for later use. The soft growing tip can also be picked and eaten as an addition to salads, stir fries or steamed.
Good varieties to grow include: Broad Bean Exhibition Long Pod is the heavily cropping, traditional favourite broad bean. Strong, sturdy plants that carry a heavy crop of very long pods sometimes up to 30cm long. An excellent green vegetable for spring harvest.
Broad Bean Evergreen; This tender and succulent, green seeded variety produces small, mild flavoured beans that are suitable for fresh use or freezing. Reliable crop for spring harvest.
So have a go - plant some broad beans today!
Gareth Carter is general manager of Springvale Garden Centre
July garden talks at Springvale Garden Centre:
Saturday, July 9, 2pm - Healthy plants for a Healthy home
Sunday, July 10, 2pm - Rose Talk and Pruning demonstration
Sunday, July 17, 2pm - Fruit tree pruning and maintenance
Sunday, July 24, 2pm - Fruit tree pruning and maintenance (repeat of July 17)
Sunday, July 31, 2pm - Preparing for a bumper vegetable garden