How to Grow Broad Beans; Varieties, Soil Conditions, Harvest, Yields

Broad beans, fava beans or Windsor beans as they are also known are not generally grown on a large scale, but they have great value in an intensive rotation as both a legume as well as a winter cash crop.

These beans producing in late winter and springtime are a very popular and under-rated vegetable and a useful crop because they can be grown at a time when few other crops are bearing. Eaten whole as young pods, before the seed develops, they almost reach gourmet status. The market generally demands the more mature and longer beans. Care must be taken to harvest them before the pods become over-mature as the quality rapidly deteriorates.

Growing broad beans for a cover crop is one of the finest as they are excellent nitrogen fixers.

The broad bean is also known as other names around the world such as the fava bean, field bean, bell bean, horse bean or tic bean.

The broad bean falls into 3 main categories;

  • long pod broad beans,
  • short pod broad beans and
  • dwarf broad beans
The long pod beans have about 8 beans in each pod, the short pod beans have 3-5 beans, and the dwarf varieties have 2-3 beans.

How to Grow Broad Beans and Broad Bean Varieties

growing broad beans organically For those of you who have limited space in your vegetable gardens you may think about planting dwarf broad beans as they produce clusters of pods on small bushes that don't grow very high. The Sutton is an excellent dwarf broad bean that grows to about 30 cm, matures early and has white seeds in the pods.

One of my favorite broad bean varieties is the Aquadulce Claudia, it is a long pod which has a sweet, nutty flavor and is an early cropper. The pods of this plant tend to grow away from the plant at an upward angle.

Another favorite is the Long pod or Leviathan which has pods growing to 20 - 25 cm in length, and bushes that grow to up to 1.5 meters high.  A good variety for colder climes as it is resistant to frosts and is a prolific bearer. These pods are pendulous.

However, there are other varieties which are just as popular such as other dwarf varieties such as Midget and Coles Dwarf, and Long pods and Short pods such as the Egyptian Brown, Red Epicure and Scorpio, among others.

How to Grow Broad Beans, Climate and When to Plant

Your broad bean crop will be seriously reduced if you plant your beans out too early. They will grow well in cold weather,  but the flowers will not set beans until the frosty conditions have finished in late winter.  In temperate climates you can sow broad beans in fall and winter.

A fall sowing prevents black fly attack. If you live in a colder climate, sow your beans in early spring after the frosts have gone. Do not attempt to grow broad beans in tropical or hot climates as the flowers will not set. They prefer a cool, moderate climate.

How to Grow Broad Beans and Crop Rotation

The broad bean can follow most crops. Potatoes which have been previously manured would be a suitable crop to follow. The pH of course would have to be closely monitored as legumes require a pH of about 6.5 - 7.00 to ensure maximum nitrogen fixation as well as good supplies of calcium and magnesium.

Brassica crops are also a good choice to follow broad beans. Alternatively, a green manure crop could be sown to use the nitrogen made available by the broad bean roots. The procedure would be to mulch down or incorporate the bean stalks into the top few centimeters of the soil.  Leave for a fortnight, cultivate again, and sow the green manure crop. This would in turn be incorporated into the soil in readiness for the next crop.


.3 broad beans in a pod

Growing Broad Beans, also known as Fava Beans

How to Grow Broad Beans and Soil Preparation

Growing broad beans can be done in a range of soil types, but they do best in a reasonably heavy, but well drained soil. They also enujoy a soil which has been manured for the previous crop and treated with dolomite a month or so before planting. However, avoide excessive manuring because high nitrogen in the soil levels leads to a poor set of pods. Extreme variations of temperature can have a similar effect.

They are gross feeders and have extensive roots, so raised beds, high in organic matter prepared as above, with good aeration would be ideal. The addition of a compost would be very worth while.  Broad beans, need good levels of calcium and magnesium to grow successfully, and will grow well in an acid soil as long as these nutrients are supplied. This is why adding dolomite is so important to growing broad beans successfully.

Along with good drainage, the availability of potash is important in helping to prevent 'chocolate spot' fungus that can attack your growing broad beans. Potash may be added in the form of rock dust, seaweed meal or ash from your fireplace as long as you burn untreated timber.

How to Grow Broad Beans and Sowing Seeds

If you live in a windy area then you will have to make sure that your broad beans are sheltered as broad bean plants can easily be damaged by wind. Also make sure that where you will plant your seeds broad beans have not been planted there before in the last 3 years. This is beacuse soil borne diseases will attack the roots.

Broad bean seeds should be placed 3 inches below the surface, in double rows at a spacing of about 10 inches. The double rows offer better support for the plants in a fertile soil. They will also create a micro-climate for your plants creating much needed humidity for fruit-setting.  The rows should be spaced about 3 feet apart and should be set out well to allow for maximum drainage.

Another way of planting broad beans is to plant 2 seeds in each hole. That way, when the plants grow, they can support each other in windy conditions, and you will also double your chances of germination. However, if you live in a warmer climate, planting like this is not advised as it compromises good airflow and could lead to fungal diseases.

Your seeds should start to germinate within 7 days. As soon as the shoots appear keep the soil free from weeds and loosen it occasionally. To provide extra support, you can build up the soil around the base of the stalks.

Even before your crop has begun to emerge it would be still be prudent to make sure that you have hoed well around your rows to keep any competitive weeds at bay.

Because of the high nitrogen in the soil as a result of growing your broad beans, - remember legumes put back nitrogen in the soil, so you will find that weeds are your major problem to control. 

How to Grow Broad Beans - Pests and Diseases

Broad Bean Pests

When growing broad beans organically they can also become susceptible to pests and diseases. Grow garlic and marigolds in between the rows of beans keep pests at bay.

If you find your beans infected with blackfly or bean weevil, you can spray them with soapy water.

As the bean plants grow, especially the long pod variety you will need to stake your plants to protect them from being damaged by the wind. Banking the soil around the stems of the plants also give added protection. You can then run a single or double line of string, depending on the growth, along each side of the double rows to give support when the pods begin to fill and the plants become top-heavy.



Once a good number of pods have appeared it is wise to remove the growing tips from each plant to discourage aphids, common garden pests. By pinching out the tops you will also increase the pod yield.

For extreme cases of black fly aphid you can spray with derris dust.

Broad Bean Diseases

Soil borne diseases area a particular problem when growing broad beans, and the best way of getting around this is making sure that you follow a good crop rotation program.
 
As mentioned earlier 'chocolate-spot' fungus is a problem for broad beans, especially if the plants are grown during prolonged wet periods. Both the leaves and the stems can become infected. Chocolate Spot can be minimized by improving the soil structure, thus allowing better drainage to occur.

Rust can be an issue with plants that have been sown too late, and mosaic, which is a viral disease, can also attack your plants. If your plants have mosaic, the only treatment is for you to remove affected plants and destroy to prevent it from spreading.

Your bean plant should be watered regularly, particularly during the flowering and fruit-setting period.

Harvesting Broad Beans and Yields

When do you harvest broad beans? Well, if broad beans are to be eaten fresh they can be either picked when immature and the whole pod sliced and steamed together with the tender green leaf tops, or they can be picked later after the seed pods begin to swell.

The average time for harvesting broad beans is 3-4 months after sowing. Harvesting should be done at least twice a week and you should pick your beans from the bottom as these are ready first.

If you keep harvesting your beans, you will prolong the harvesting period. If you have had a good lot of bees in your vegetable garden your yields will be good, as this is essential for a good crop. However, an average yield is about 3 1/2 - 4 1/2 tons per acre. If the double rows mature well, the yields will be even higher. As the crop declines rapidly, it is important to harvest quickly if you are going to harvest mature pods.

When your crop has finished bearing, cut off the stems, add them to your compost heap and then dig the roots back into the soil, to take advantage of the nitrogen-rich roots that will enrich your soil. Or, you can dig the leaves and stalks directly into the soil as a green manure.

If you have goats or cows the spent plants make excellent livestock feed.

No matter how you use them after the harvest is over it is best to cut the stalks at ground level and leave the roots in the ground to rot where the nodules will provide a rich nitrogen source.

Saving Seed from Broad Beans

Your mature plants will indicate that they are ready when the pods begin to burst. However, if you leave your pods on the vines too long they will be come over-mature, lose their sweetness and become starchy.

If you find that this is what has happened, don't dispair, instead use it to your advantage. Leave the pods on the plants now until they have fully ripened and then remove, dry and save the seed for next year's crop. 

Store the pods in a dark, dry place until the following season. Using plain brown paper bags works well for this.

Countryfarm Lifestyles Tip:
I find that if I put the beans in layers of ash from the fireplace I never have a problem with burrowing insects who might have found the beans if they weren't stored in the ash.

Nutritious Value of Broad Beans

Broad beans are extremely nutritious, containing large amounts of  potassium and phosphorus, as well as vitamins, particularly Vitamin A. In the green state the beans contain 9% protein and 18% carbohydrates.

Here's a complete breakdown:

Per 100g Fresh Green Dried
Calcium 27 mg 102 mg
Sodium 4 mg -
Potassium 471 mg -
Iron 2.2 mg 7.1 mg
Phosphorus 157 mg 391 mg
Vitamin A 220 IU 70 IU
Ascorbic Acid 30 mg -
Carbohydrate 17.8 g 59.2 g
Protein 8.4 g 25.1 g

How to Grow Broad Beans and Cooking Them

Your young, immature beans can be eaten whole, including the pod. A little like snow peas where they can be eaten raw in salads, steamed, stir-fried or boiled. As your beans mature they will need to have their tough seeds peeled, but this is easier to do after they have been boiled.

However, another way is to do this by dropping the podded beans into boiling water for a few minutes and then removing the skins. Now you can boil them in a little salted water testing them regularly to see if they are tender or not.

I like boiling broad beans, and then frying up a little chopped onion, garlic and bacon together until golden brown. Stir through your boiled broad beans and serve. You can also serve them with a little melted butter and seasoning to taste.

Of course, you can also dry broad beans and then use them in soups and stews during the winter. Again, rub off the skins of your winter dried beans to make them more tender.

Here's a Broad Bean Salad Recipe:

2 Cups broad beans (raw if young)
1 Cup cucumber, diced
1 Cup carrot, diced
2 teaspoons chives, chopped
1/2 cup French dressing
black pepper

Combine ingredients. Add pepper to taste. Serve.

   

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