The variety of broad bean seedling we grow in our nursery is Witkeim Manita. They are a quick and easy cropper.
Site & Soil
Broad beans grow best in a sunny situation sheltered from winds and enjoy rich, moisture retentive, well-drained soil.
Prepare the planting site by digging over and adding leaf mould or well-rotted manure.Choose the broad bean variety that suits your needs, hardy cultivars for early autumn sowings or dwarf broad beans for windy areas.
How to Sow Seeds Direct
Sow outside from late February till late April. Your soil should be well dug and reasonably fertile. Sow your beans in 5cm deep drills at a spacing of 15cm between plants and 45 cm between rows. Drills Drills are mini trenches scooped in prepared soil in which you plant your seeds. Don't forget when you scoop out your drill that the soil piled either side will make it look a little deeper than it actually is.
How to Sow Seeds Under Cover
Sowing broad beans under cover can give more reliable germination especially if you have trouble with waterlogged or frozen soil or even pests like mice. It also means you can choose to plant them out on a day when conditions are perfect.
From mid February till mid April sow one per cell in a 6 cell modular tray filled with a good multi-purpose compost. Sow in a 6 cell tray with a size of 3 inches in each module. Sow 2 seeds per module to a depth of about 1 inch. You can use any good multi purpose compost. (Please use peat free compost if you can get it) Water in and place in a cool but frost-free tunnel or greenhouse. Avoid heated rooms or hot greenhouses as they will fail to germinate. Harden off before planting out 15cm between plants and 45cm between rows. To plant out your seedling make a hole in the soil the approximate size of the seedling 'plug'. You need to push the soil in around the roots firmly with your fingers to get good contact with the soil. Dont firm down on the top of the soil as this can compact the surface and prevent moisture getting down to the plants roots. Water the plants after planting but do not soak them.
You can sow broad beans from late September till early November. By sowing in Autumn you can have beans as early as May, but watch out for frost as this can easily claim your hard work. Cloches, polytunnels or fleece are worth keeping on standby just in case the temperature drops.
Pests and Diseases
The most common pest affecting broad beans is blackfly. You will see small black aphids crowded around the growing tip (top of the plant). When the bean plant is fully grown and has started to prodcue beans the tip can removed as a control method. If your beans suffer from blackfly when still young spray with an organic pest control spray.
Chocolate spot is likely to effect beans later in the season, you will notice characteristic brown spots on the leaves. Good drainage, air flow and soil fertility is good preventative practice but hopefully you will have harvested most of your beans before the disease hits.
As the plants grow you will need to stake them to prevent the fragile stems from bending or breaking and pods being damaged. Stake after the seedlings are up, about 12 inches in height, and use anything from pea sticks to bamboo with string to support the plant.
Dwarf varieties will need less space and less staking and are well worth considering especially on windy or small sites.
You should be harvesting your beans from June till August. Pods can be harvested early at about 2-3 inches long where you cook them whole without removing the beans. For shelling, pick the pods at about 6 inches long, you don't want the beans to reach their full size because they will become large and tough. Pick from the bottom up when ripe and continue to harvest frequently. Finger thick beans can be eaten whole or wait until the pod bursts open to harvest the fully ripe beans inside. You should be able to pick them once or twice a week so keep an eye on maturing beans. Remove the pods from the stem using a sharp downward twist. Pulling without twisting can damage the stem and encourage disease
Broad beans are members of the legume family which take nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots. Leafy plants like cabbages, brocolli and sprouts love nitrogen so will be an ideal crop to plant in the bean space the following year. When cropping has finished and you have no more beans cut the tops down to ground level but leave the roots in the ground. The roots will rot down and release their stored nitrogen into the soil.
Broad beans are great for storing. You can dry or freeze the beans. To freeze, pick fresh, pod, place in a plastic bag and freeze. To dry, pick, pod and lay out the beans in a dry place. Leave beans to completely dry and store in an air tight container. These can be sown next year or re-hydrated for use in cooking.