Growing Broad Beans or Fava Beans
The broad bean is said to have been brought to Britain by the Romans, and it is known to have been an important crop during the Middle Ages. Its flavour is best when the bean is no larger than a 5p piece and before the pods become tough.
Field-grown beans sold by greengrocers are often twice this size, and the bean may then have a leathery skin.
The tops of the plants provide a bonus, as they can be picked and cooked like spinach.
Planning the crop
Broad beans thrive in fertile, well- drained soil that has had a dressing of manure. In general, spring-sown beans do best in medium to heavy soil; autumn-sown beans are more likely to thrive in lighter soil.
If you think the soil may be too heavy, work some coarse sand or peat into the top 6 in. (150 mm) of soil just before sowing.
How much to grow
A double row 20 ft (6 m) long will provide about 40 lb. (18 kg) of broad beans.
There are two classes of broad bean — longpods and Windsors — which further divide into green and white types. Green-seeded beans are the better choice for freezing.
Longpods have kidney-shaped seeds in pods which can be as long as 14 in. (355 mm). Windsors produce round seeds in short, broad pods. The longpod varieties are hardier, and are therefore more suitable for autumn sowing, but the Windsors are sweeter.
Recommended longpod varieties include: `Aquadulce’, the best variety for autumn sowing, ‘Dreadnought’ and ‘Exhibition Longpod’.
`Midget’ is a dwarf variety, growing to only 12-15 in. (305-380 mm). All the above are white-seeded.
Recommended Windsors include:
‘Imperial White Windsor’ and ‘Unrivalled Green Windsor’ — with, respectively, white and green seeds.
How to grow broad beans
Except in the north of Britain, sow in November for an early crop, and March or April for the main crop.
Set the seeds 6 in. (150 mm) apart and 1-½ – 2 in. (40-50 mm) deep in a double row, with 9 in. (230 mm) between the rows. If more than one double row is sown, space each pair of rows 2-½ ft (760 mm) apart.
Always sow a few extra seeds in a clump at the end of the rows, to provide replacement plants for any that do not germinate or develop satisfactorily.
In the north, particularly where the garden is exposed, it is not worth while trying to sow beans outdoors at the end of the year. Instead, sow in January or February in a cold greenhouse or frame, and plant out in March. Sow the main crop in April or May.
When sowing in a cold frame or greenhouse, set the seeds 2 in. (50 mm) apart in both directions in trays of seed compost. Cover with a 1 in. (25 mm) layer of compost and place a sheet of glass and a newspaper over the box.
Remove the glass and paper whenbegins, after about two weeks. Plant the beans out in their final position — 6 in. (150 mm) apart in a double row, with 9 in. (230 mm) between the rows — in April.
In an exposed garden the beans need support. Insert 3 ft (1 m) high stakes or canes along both sides of the row, and tie string at a suitable height all round. Hoe the rows regularly to keep down the weeds, and give plenty of water during dry weather.
When the lowest pods are 3 in. (75 mm) long, pinch out the plant’s growing points. This encourages pod growth and development, and removes the part of the plant most likely to harbour the bean’s greatest natural enemy — black bean aphid, or blackfly.
Pests and diseases
The principal pests are Bean seed fly, Black bean aphid and slugs and snails.
Diseases that may affect the crop are Chocolate spot and Foot Rot.
The earliest crops are ready in May. Start to pick them when the pods are no more than 2 in. (50 mm) long, and cook them whole. In all other cases pick the beans as they are required, feeling the pods to get an idea of the size of the beans inside.