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30 July 2012

Growing Broad Beans

I have just started harvesting my broad beans, which were planted in the spring. While not everyone's favourite vegetable, thay are relatively easy to grow and give a good yield for the amount of room they take up - important if you only have a small garden.
I started my seeds in a plastic bag of damp compost in the airing cupboard. After 7 - 10 days they should show signs of germinating and can then be grown on in 3 inch pots. This means that you don't waste pots on beans that aren't going to develop. You can of course ignore this and just plant them in pots in an unheated greenhouse, ready for planting out when the risk of frost has passed. Towards the end of April I planted another two rows of seeds directly into the ground, and these have grown successfully. Broad beans can also be sown direct in late autumn/early winter in order to produce an earlier crop. I intend to try this later this year.
The beans I have grown this year are Bunyards Exhibition, which are fairly tall and which require quite a lot of support in our windy garden. These have been successful in the past, as have Optica, which are smaller plants. My RHS book recommends Aquadulce Claudia for autumn sowing, the Sutton for exposed sites, due to it's compact size, and Witkiem as it has long pods and is quick-growing.
Broad beans should grow in any good garden soil with a pH not less than 6. Where previous crops have been manured and fertilised there is no need for the addition of extra fertility, but otherwise add a bucket of well-rotted organic matter per sq. metre. Seeds should be sown 2.5 inches deep, 8 inches apart in double rows 10 inches apart. In cold, exposed gardens or those with sticky clay soil, sow 2 seeds in each 3 inch pot, thinning to one plant before planting out. It is easier to put rows of string in place to support the plants at the time of planting - three rows of string on 5 foot-high stakes should normally be sufficient.
Plants seldom need watering until the beginning of flowering, when they need a thorough soaking of at least 2 watering cans per square yard, repeated two weeks later. Given the rainfall we have had in June and July this year, this extra watering was probably not esential. When flowering has finished it is a good idea to pinch out the tips of plants to slow down blackfly invasion and to divert the plant's energy to pod production.
Regular picking of broad beans is recommended as they are best eaten young - I like mine with butter and home-grown new potatoes - delicious!
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