How to Grow Broad Beans
How to Grow Broad Beans
The broad bean is also known as the horse bean, the field bean, the Windsor bean, and most famously as the fava (Vicia faba). It’s actually vetch, a type of legume that traces its roots to west Asia. They love cool weather and full sun, can be grown in a variety of climates, and are an excellent source of protein and vitamins A, C and B. Rich in fiber and delicious, these are definitely worth growing in the garden. You can learn how to plant them, care for them, and harvest a crop of broad beans.
Starting Broad Beans
Select a variety of broad bean to try.Broad beans are available in many different varieties, some more appropriate for your available space. Whether you want to grow broad beans in a small kitchen garden, or a big hoop house, there’s one that's right for the space.Some excellent and hardy varieties:
- The Sutton grows only about 12" (30cm) high, making it an excellent choice for smaller gardens, hoop houses, and anywhere space is at a premium.
- The Imperial Green Longpod produces huge 15" (40cm) pods, each containing several big beans and are noted for their flavor.
- Stero are compact plants that produce heavily if picked regularly. The Stero beans are so sweet they can be eaten without cooking.
- Red Epicure produce vibrant red beans that can offer a distinctive and exotic alternative to regular favas or broad beans.
- Aquadulce Claudia has been around since the 1850s, winning awards for its flavor and hardiness. This variety is noted for being particularly good to overwinter. Plant Aquadulce Claudia in the winter or late autumn.
Pick a date to sow your beans based on the climate.Depending on where you live, you may want to plant your broad beans in the late autumn, after you've cleaned up your garden from the summer, which means you'll be harvesting them sometime in the spring when you're ready to start planting other plants. In regions with very cold winters, however, waiting until spring is essential.
- Temperate zones: In most regions, you'll want to start broad beans in the early spring to ensure a late summer harvest. Broad beans like to be planted between 60℉ and 65℉ (15-18℃), and struggle in temperatures higher than 80℉ (27℃).
- Warm Mediterranean climates: Let plants winter-over in areas with mild winters. Fava beans can stay healthy down to temperatures of about 15 °F (−9 °C), making them a good candidate for overwintering in some climates. Because of the long maturation period, planting broad beans in late autumn can ensure that you’re harvesting in early spring.
- Cold or very hot zones: Start beans indoors in regions with sudden shifts in temperature. If you live in the American Midwest or the Southeast, the transition from winter to summer is often sudden enough that it puts a strain on broad bean varieties, making it a better choice to start your plants indoors, several weeks before putting them in the ground.
Prepare the ground with fertilizer.Whenever you're planting your beans, plant them in well-tilled soil that's been properly fertilized with the fertilizer of your choice. Since broad beans are nitrogen-producers, you don't necessarily need to fertilize. If you do, use a low-nitrogen fertilizer.
- Pick a spot with good sun, away from any plants in the onion family, tilling the ground in the area you're planting several inches deep and working in compost.
Consider inoculating the seeds to promote growth.Broad beans can grow in any kind of soil, as legumes are self-fertilizers. To help them convert nitrogen, however, it’s a good idea to use Rhizobia bacteria to promote growth and help the roots fix nitrogen. This black powder is available at any gardening store.
- Wet the seeds lightly and put them in a coffee can or a cup with the inoculant, then shake them gently to coat the seeds evenly before planting. Do this just a few minutes before you're ready to put the seeds in the ground.
Direct sow your seeds or starts in well-tilled, moist soil.Moisten your soil with water gently before planting. You don't want standing water, - just a bit of dampness to get started.
- Use your finger to poke a hole about 2" (5 cm) deep in the ground. Place them 8" (20 cm) apart in double rows, with the same distance between the two rows. If you're planting a variety known for growing quite large, you might plant them with a bit more space between.
- Find the dark spot–the "eye" of the seed–and plant it downward. Some gardeners recommend planting twice as many seeds as you want plants, to allow for non-germinating seeds.
Start plants indoors in colder climates.If you need to start your beans indoors, a great way to start them is using empty toilet paper tubes, one tube for each plant you hope to grow. Use a seeding tray, available at any gardening store, to line up your tubes and start your broad beans.
- Stand the tubes in the tray, fitting snugly. Fill the tubes ⅔ to ¾ full with potting soil. You'll probably spill some in between, but don't worry about the mess.
- Place one bean on top of the soil in each tube. If you have already germinated the seeds by soaking, place the seed root-down. Water the tubes gently from the top to compact the soil a bit, then fill each tube with a little more soil, covering the beans.
- Keep the tray at room temperature until the beans sprout, then move the tray to a sunny place. Cool temperatures are fine, just as long as the temperature doesn't dip too much below freezing for long.
Tending Broad Beans
Stake the plants as they start to gain height.The small bushes that the beans will grow on will quickly become laden with heavy pods, and will sag over without the proper support. For this reason, it's important to plant stakes along your broad bean row to use to support them when they start to gain height.
- Use small dowels spaced every foot or two along the row, with twine tied between, to give the plants something to lean on. You can use twine, or old strips of bed-sheet to gently tie the plants and keep them upright and keep the pods off the ground.
- Don't wait until you've got a huge plant and it's flopping over to stake them. It's very easy to damage the roots and promote mildew if the plant spends too much time flopped over on the ground before getting staked up.
Water sparingly and deeply.Broad beans can withstand dry spells, but keep the plants well-watered, especially if you live in an especially warm climate. Water the soil deeply in the coolest part of the day–first thing in the morning, or in the evening after dinner–and avoid over watering. You shouldn't see a bunch of standing water around your broad beans.
- Avoid overhead watering, which is watering the tops of the plants and letting it drip down into the soil. This will promote mildew and other problems. Water the soil.
Weed aggressively, especially if you’re wintering the plants.Broad bean roots are relatively shallow, making it very easy to accidentally uproot them if you're careless with a hoe. Weed around your broad beans by hand, keeping the area competition-free. Once the plant is established, you can lighten up on the weeding some.
When the plant starts producing pods, pinch off new sprouts.The plant will keep growing and will overproduce unless you stunt the growth by pinching off the new sprouts at the top of the plant as soon as you seen pods producing. At this point, you can harvest some of the leaves to eat, which are a surprisingly tender salad green.
- Pinch out the growing tips when you see young beans appearing at the base. Remove the tips with two leaves attached from the tops of the plants. If you don't want to eat them, compost them.
Consider using a row cover.If you've got problems with rodents, groundhogs, rabbits, or other pests messing with your garden, broad beans would be a good candidate for row cover, if necessary. Row covers are plastic or cloth sheets that you can stake gently, draped over the plants. This leaves enough room for growth and air circulation, and also warmth.
- Row covers can also be a great idea if you're planting in the autumn, because it will help trap the heat near the ground and protect the plants from frost.
- If you use a row cover, leave the rows uncovered for a while in the middle of the day, maybe while you're weeding to let the air circulate more readily. Watch for fungal disease and wet rot at the base of the plants. If you see any whitish or yellowish patches, water them less and expose the plants to more air.
Watch out for aphids.Aphids love bean plants and will congregate usually at the top of the plants, near new shoots and buds. Some gardeners like to use insecticidal spray to keep aphids off the plants, but an easier method involves cutting the tops off the plants where the aphids congregate as you see them. If you're a diligent gardener, you should be able to pinch them off before they do much damage.
Harvesting Broad Beans
Harvest some early to eat them whole.Like other bush beans, broad beans can be tender and edible in the first couple days of their formation, eaten like sugar snap peas, or steamed whole as a side dish. Broad beans are notable for the waxy outer shell on each bean, but harvested young those outer shells will be soft and edible.
- Look for a narrow pod that’s bright green. The pods should be thin and narrow, showing none of the bulges that are the sign of mature beans on the inside. If beans are showing, let them mature fully.
- Don't over-pick your young beans, since the full-grown variety is where the flavor's at. It's ok to pick a few from each plant if you can't wait, but save the majority for full maturation.
Harvest mature beans when the pods are bright and not over-bulging.Broad beans are ready to be harvested when the pods and plump and the beans are fat and distinct in each pod. The pods will appear to plump some and begin to droop with the weight of the seeds when they're ready to harvest.
- Depending on what variety you're growing, pods can be anywhere from 6 to 15 inches long, with several large, fat beans on the inside, with several pods per plant. If you pick them regularly throughout the season, you should open up space for more production as well, if you're had a good growing season, weather-wise.
Shuck the beans.To get at the broad beans, you've got to shuck them out of their pods. Holding each pod with the pointy tip up, pull the string along the side of each bean to open the pod.
- Again, depending on the variety, each bean should have 5-10 large beans in each pod, which have a thick waxy shell that needs removed before eating. It takes some work, but getting organized can help to make the process go fast.
- The easiest way to do this is to blanch them, dropping the beans in boiling water for a count of five, then removing them immediately with a slotted spoon and putting them right into ice water. This will loosen the shells on each bean.
Enjoy the beans in soups, salads, and other dishes.The best way to eat broad beans is the most simple: steam them and serve them simply dressed with salt and pepper. They're big, meaty, and delicious, ideally paired with red meat. They're also a great base for bean soups, or as an addition to hearty salads.
Return the whole plant to the soil when the beans finish.Because broad bean plants are great nitrogen-providers, it's a good idea to return them back to the soil and let their nutrients enrich the soil. Cut each plant down to the base and dig the roots into the soil. Cover them in soil and rotate your garden so something in need of nitrogen-enrichment is planted there next season.
QuestionWhen is the best time to grow broad beans?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerGrow them any time between early autumn and early spring in temperate climates.Thanks!
QuestionWhen do the pods appear? Is it after flowers have died off?Community AnswerYes, the pods appear after the flowers have browned and fallen off. This is only true if they have been pollinated; if the flowers are falling off without the pods growing, you may need to hand-pollinate the flowers in the absence of natural pollinators such as bees.Thanks!
My wintering variety has started flowering before spring is October will they be any good?
What is the conflict between broad beans and onions planted together?
What do you need to know? We'll do our best to find the answer.
How long for broad bean harvest?
Should I remove the side shoots?
- Broad beans grow well in most soil types but the richer the soil, the better the crop.
- The beans can also be dried. Remove the beans from the pods, lay them out in a dry place and leave to dry completely. Dried beans can be stored in an airtight container for eating or growing again later.
- Don't store the bean pods in the fridge; this will cause them to turn black and slimy quickly. They will keep well for a few days in a cool, dry and airy space.
- For longer term storage, freeze the beans; remove them from the pods, place in a plastic bag and freeze.
- Black flies like broad beans.
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Video: Ways to grow and pick broad beans, showing results of sowing both autumn and spring
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