Marianne CannonGrowing broadbeans

Autumn is a great time to sow broad beans for spring harvest. They are one of the easiest vegetables to grow and you start by sowing the bean seeds directly into your garden or a large pot. They’ll grow rapidly through the cooler months into large, bushy plants and about 5 months after planting, you’ll have lots of large bean pods ready to harvest.

Broadbeans photo by grailbeard

Broadbeans photo by grailbeard

Choose a sunny, well-drained spot. Beans don’t need high-quality soil and will cope with clay or even slightly saline soil, but it’s a good idea to improve it with some low-nitrogen organic matter like cow manure so the soil holds plenty of moisture. If you make the soil too rich, you’ll probably get lots of leaf growth but not many flowers and bean pods.

Sow the beans seeds quite deeply, at least 5cm (2″) down, and space them about 20cm (8″) apart. [TIP – soaking the seeds first in a dilute seaweed solution can speed up germination]

Young broad beans. Photo amandabhslater

Young broad beans. Photo amandabhslater

If you put them too close together, the plants become more prone to fungal disease but if they’re too far apart they can’t help support each other. Broad beans don’t have twining tendrils like other beans and peas so they need something to lean against, like a trellis, plant stakes or other bean plants.

Once you’ve planted your bean seeds, the trick is to NOT water them again until after you see the first seed leaves emerge from the soil, which should take about 2 weeks. Overwatering causes the bean seeds to rot in the ground. (Well, OK, you can’t do much about it raining!)

Broad bean flowers. Photo Paul Dixon

Broad bean flowers. Photo Paul Dixon

The plants will become bushy during the winter, growing to about 1-1.5m (3-5ft) high and are also quite pretty, with grey-green leaves and then white flowers with black centres in late winter. They cope with frosts very well and will really put on a growth spurt in early spring. You can tip prune the new leaves to make them even bushier. Make sure you keep them well-watered especially if the spring is warm and dry as a stressed plant will not set fruit.

Broadbean pods Photo avlxyz

Broadbean pods Photo avlxyz

Harvest the pods when young, and open the pods and remove the 4-8 beans inside. Peel off the outer skin and steam them lightly. If you leave the pods on longer, the beans will become drier and you’ll need to also remove the inner skin off the individual beans, which you can do after blanching in boiling water. You can also freeze broad beans after blanching and a quick cooling with a plunge into iced water.

After the harvest has finished and you’ve removed all the pods, you can break up the plants, roots and all, and turn them back into the soil.

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Marianne Cannon

About Marianne Cannon

Marianne Cannon has been broadcasting as Real World Gardener on radio 2RRR 88.5fm in Sydney, since September 2009, and the program is now syndicated to radio stations around Australia. It's about growing your own, the abc of plants, and how to create sustainable gardens to fit into today's environment. Not just a show about plants; it has a strong green and ecological bent, with co-presenters addressing issues such as native animals and plants, water conservation, composting, reducing waste, protecting native species and more.

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