Autumn Planting When Growing Broad Beans
Broad beans are one of those things that can taste completely divine when small, juicy and tender; or absolutely inedible when hard, over large and over ripe. Growing broad beans is the simplest way to ensure you only ever get to eat the former, since leaving yourself at the mercy of supermarket produce will yield mixed results at best. Luckily, growing broad beans can be done in both the spring and autumn so with a little bit of careful planning, you can assure yourself of a good, almost year round, season of growing broad beans to feast upon.
If you’ve already grown broad beans this year and have some seeds left over, exercise a little bit of caution before you get stuck in. Not all broad beans are created equal! Some are best for spring, some for autumn. There are some lucky types that will do well in any weather, but for late autumn planting you really are best advised to go with an over-wintering variety. I only ever use one variety, Aquadulce claudia. As usual click on the name and it will take you straight to my preferred supplier. I never cease to be amazed at how hardy they are. Last year the plants were under snow in temperatures of -5 Celsius for at least two weeks and still 50% of them survived. I don’t recommend you treat your plants like that but it does go to show!
Once you’ve got your seeds sorted out, the next decision is whether you want to plant straight out or would prefer to start your beans off in a covered seed tray or propagator. If it’s the latter, simply pop one bean in each module, covering to a depth of about ½ an inch, then top up the soil, pat very gently indeed, water well and then leave under a cold frame or in the greenhouse. You’ll need to water them once a week or so to keep things nice and moist, and you can expect to wait about 2 to 3 weeks before things start shooting and a bit longer still before planting out.
If you’d rather skip the extra work, planting straight out into a raised bed or container will be fine, even as late as November. Dig a trench and space out your beans to avoid over-crowding. If you suffer from mice eating your seeds a little trick, or gift of the season, is to cut off some holly leaves to drop into the trench alongside the beans. They won’t interfere with the growing but they will keep little gnawing mouths at bay… in a “kind to nature” sort of way.
After that, simply cover over and water in well. Broad beans will get off to a great start under a polytunnel or cloche but if you don’t have one spare and are expecting a fairly mild winter, as mentioned before they’ll do fine uncovered too.
Come next year, you’ll be wanting to get canes in place nice and early to support your growing broad beans if they are in a raised bed. Put a cane at each end of the row and run string round them trapping the plants in between; putting a new string support in for every six or so inches of growth. If you’re growing your beans in a container like I do then supporting them is even easier.
As you can see from the picture taken today my broad bean container is currently being used as a strawberry runner nursery! However, when I get five minutes they, hopefully having produced some good roots, will go into their final containers leaving my broad bean container free for its intended purpose – growing broad beans! I will plant them straight into the soil and pin a sheet of polythene over the top until early spring. Now, see the four post sticking up, well they are just screwed onto the container and as the growing broad beans get higher and higher I just wrap gardening string round the four posts, and across the diagonals if necessary, to support the growing plants. This method is simplicity itself and really demonstrates the versatility of wooden containers.
My wooden container for growing broad beans
Growing broad beans over winter should mean that you get a really good, early crop of beans. As I said at the start, the really important thing is to pick your beans whilst they’re still young and tender. If you go away and miss the boat, or like me, actually do go away on a boat and sometimes regret missing the best of my beans, don’t despair. Rubbing them to remove the tough outer skin will get rid of much of the toughness and prevent them causing the wind that they have a reputation for! After all, any of you who’ve been around long enough to remember the tale of my ‘fartichokes’ will know that we hardly need any extra ‘wind encouragement’ in our household.
Like all of my autumn planting suggestions, getting these in over winter really does feel a bit like cheating the season so, even if you’re yet to be converted to the joys to be had, make this the year to get started growing broad beans. They’re delicious on their own, in salads, or mushed up as a lovely topping for bruschetta. Enjoy!