Most seasoned veggie growers will agree that one of the easiest winter crops is broad beans.
Fresh broad beans have a delicious earthy flavour that fits well with winter cooking. They’re perfect as an ingredient in stews, casseroles and soups, or used in soup instead of dried kidney beans or split peas. Broad beans are an excellent source of high-quality plant protein that, unlike animal protein, is free from saturated fat and is less acid forming than meat, which makes it a great source of protein for people worried about osteoporosis or suffering from arthritis.
Broad beans are a good vegetable for cold areas (even in the Free State) as cold seems to encourage the plant to set seed. It’s not nearly as successful in subtropical areas where more leaves are produced at the expense of beans. Unlike summer bush and runner beans, broad beans are sturdy, upright growing plants about 1 m high that are rarely bothered by pests or diseases.
When to sow broad beans
- You can start sowing broad beans anytime from April to July, but May and June are probably the best months to sow the beans in the southern hemisphere.
- From seed sown in May, you should be able to start harvesting from the end of July or early August through to late September or October.
How many broad beans should you plant?
- For a good supply, a family of four should plant at least 10 plants as these beans are not as prolific as summer green beans. Because we are entering the winter months, don’t worry about succession planting, rather sow the whole batch at once.
- Broad beans are heavy feeders, so good soil preparation with added compost is essential. If the soil is poor, add 2:3:2 or 3:1:5. The beans will grow in most kinds of soil, but they prefer heavier soil. The bed needs to get full sun in winter and should be sheltered from the wind.
How to sow broad beans
- Sow beans directly into the soil where the plants are to mature. The seed can be sown in individual holes, 5cm deep and 30cm apart. Plant two seeds per hole, and if both germinate, pinch or cut off the weaker plant, but don’t leave the two plants to compete.
- A good way to manage broad beans is to sow two rows at a time, about 50cm apart. The beans tend to support each other, and if you need to provide support it’s easier to make a frame or trellis around the beans. If you want to plant more than two rows, make sure there is enough space to move between each block, especially for watering, feeding and harvesting.
- Keep the beans moist during germination and water regularly once the seedlings have germinated.
How to grow broad beans
- Broad beans need moist soil and, like chillies, they will quickly indicate when there is not enough water by wilting. This will affect the yield. However, you need to be careful of overwatering, especially in areas that receive frost. Watch the weather report, and if a cold front is predicted ease up on the watering. It is best to have the soil slightly dry.
- For healthy growth and a good yield, feed with a liquid fertiliser, like Multifeed, every two weeks. Another alternative is to use 3:1:5 for fruit and flowers. Broad beans are particularly heavy feeders and extra nutrition needs to be provided, especially in winter.
- The beans can get top heavy once the fruit starts forming. A good way to support them is to build a ‘kraal’ around them. This takes the form of a pole at each corner with horizontal poles on either side attached to the main stakes. The number of horizontal poles depends on the amount of staking needed. This works better than providing a single stake for each plant.
- These should not be a problem, although there is a slight chance of aphids. Fungal diseases could be a problem with overwatering or in winter-rainfall areas.
- Beans should be ready for harvesting within 12 to 16 weeks. The pods are ready for picking when they have filled out and before they burst open. Pick regularly to encourage the plant to keep on flowering and producing new fruit. If the pods are left too long on the bush, the beans will be bitter.
- If you don’t want to eat the beans fresh, then they can be left on the plant to dry. It may be a good idea to let the last flush dry out. The dried beans can be stored and have a good shelf life.
Cooking with broad beans
- The simplest way to cook with fresh broad beans is to soak them for a short while and then boil them in salted water and serve with a dab of butter. The dried beans need to be soaked for longer.
- The fresh beans add substance to all slow-cooked dishes. For a delicious soup, combine them with carrots, potatoes and onions, and add some diced bacon or a lamb shank.
- Fresh broad beans are also a great addition to salads. This broad bean, beetroot and prawn salad makes a light and tasty meal.