There is nothing like a (broad) bean

I love growing broad beans. They’re the first vegetable we ever managed to grow successfully, and broad beans are something we struggle to find in the shops, so that’s an extra incentive to grow them. I usually grow several lots of broad beans – one in February and one or two later in the year. The second sowing doesn’t always work out, but when it does it’s so worth it! I’ve sowed 25 seeds for our spring crop – 20 of them are now in the ground, and 5 are in reserve in case anything untoward (chickens, dog, etc.) happens to the other 20. We usually grow 10 but now that we have bigger beds I thought I’d go all out – the beans freeze well and will hopefully sustain our meals throughout the year.

The broad bean plants in a bed with a small homebuilt woven fence around them, and other seedlings in front and behind.
Happy little broad bean plants, with a row of multisowed turnips behind to mark the end of the bed, and alliums and a trial row of early spinach in front. The beans are planted quite close together but they don’t seem to mind that. The fence is temporary and built from pampas grass – it’s to keep out the chickens when they wander around.

This year I sowed my seeds in individual cardboard pots that I picked up on Homebargains. This worked well, and the plants you see in the picture who all been planted with their pots – no need to repot and potentially disturb the root. I’ve found, though, that the beans grew tap roots that penetrated the pot. They didn’t seem to mind being in mid-air for a week or two. I’m keeping an eye on which row of beans will do best – they were sowed and planted out at different times. So far the 3rd row seems to be doing the best (third row from the back, if that makes sense), but I’m pretty sure the others will catch up and they’ll even out eventually. I always sow more seeds than I intend to grow, and so far the extraneous plants are doing well in their little pots, almost 5 weeks on from sowing. The pots have not yet disintegrated, and the plants are still ok with the amount of soil in there.

The cardboard pot that I sowed my broad beans in this year. This picture was taken 2 weeks after sowing, and the seedling is ready to plant out, pot and all.

I’ve never had to cover my broad bean plants, even when it snowed or there was a late frost. If it gets cold again I might experiment with covering half of them with fleece and letting the other half fend for themselves, to see how they’ll fare. But it’s looking warm for the next week or so and the long-range forecast doesn’t mention frost so hopefully that experiment can wait another year or so! Seriously, though: these are hardy survivors, and with the amount of snow we get here on the Tarbat peninsula (no more than a few centimetres, if that) we’ve fared very well with leaving them as they are.

A broad bean seedling 4 1/2 weeks after sowing, and 10 days after planting in the ground.

Broad beans are also great for growing with kids. Not so much for the final produce (though I’d like to think fresh beans straight from the pod is a delight most folks enjoy, no matter your age), but because they’re quick to grow and really sturdy. The beans themselves are large and easy to handle even for someone with clumsy fingers or not that much motor control, and it won’t take long for a stalk to appear. The seedlings are big and strong, and grow big leaves immediately, and are easy to handle and plant out. You don’t have to wait weeks for anything to happen (I’m looking at you, chillis), and they grow so fast you can almost watch them do it. I start mine inside near the AGA and move them to the polytunnel when the seedling appears, but you could also grow them on the windowsill or in a sheltered sunny spot (though you might want to move them inside at night if it gets towards freezing). I usually wait until the first leaves are starting to unfurl before I plant them in the ground. You could sow them directly where you mean to grow them on, but I prefer to start them in pots or modules because I have more control over their environmental conditions that way – no risk of being dug up by mice or munched on by slugs when they just appear, or getting waterlogged in muddy earth. I also really enjoy watching them grow where I can see them.

Will you be growing broad beans this year? If so, which varieties? I sowed from an old packet and I don’t know what variety they were…

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