Broad beans offer one of spring’s best seasonal flavours.
And as well as tasting good they enrich the soil with nitrogen, and handle the toughest frosts so can be planted now in all areas of Australia.
Linda has the low-down.
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Broad beans grow like crazy through winter and their beautiful white and black, pea-shaped flowers appear in winter and early spring. They do stretch your patience though as it seems an age before the beans themselves appear, and then when they do come, the harvest is quick, and the kitchen preparation quite lengthy! Broad beans are much larger than the usual warm season green beans, and they need to be shelled. I like the young beans simply shelled and steamed. Restaurant chefs always double pod them, popping them out of their pale green inner shell after blanching to reveal the bright green bean beneath. By the end of the season the pods are quite large, the flavour stronger and the beans are often pureed.
Ideally, choose an open, sunny position for planting. Because of the pretty flowers I have seen them used as a loose kind of hedge all the way along a front fence. These are very hardy, frost-tolerant vegetables.
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Prepare soil well ahead of planting by adding compost or manure. Horse, cow or sheep manure is helpful as these manures have low nitrogen content. Broad beans make their own nitrogen so its best to avoid using fertilisers that are high in nitrogen, such as chook manure and fish emulsion. Spread cow manure over your bed 5cm thick and dig in well. Add sulphate of potash at the rate of one tablespoon every square metre and water in well. For acid soils, add a dressing of lime or dolomite – one handful per square metre - to sweeten up the soil and provide the best conditions for broad beans.
From March to May, sow broad beans directly into the soil. Plant 2 beans together 10cm apart down your rows. Rows should be 20cm apart. Water once and don’t water again until you see two open leaves. Over-watering is the biggest cause of germination failure.
While young, broad beans are self-supporting, but as they get taller they will get very top-heavy with pods. Planting in double rows is helpful as the plants can lean on each other, but I like to place stakes at the corners of the garden bed and tie strong string around the stakes, which helps hold up the beans.
Pests and diseases
Broad beans are very easy crops to grow and are largely untroubled by pests and diseases. Simply allow enough room between plants so that good airflow can inhibit fungal diseases.
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Tips & Tricks
Buy your beans seeds from any good seed-growing outlet. I like Fothergills, Greenpatch Organic Seeds and Eden Seeds.
Harvest constantly to ensure a continuous crop.
Old, late season beans need to be double-shelled. First peel, then blanch the pale green beans, drain and when cool enough to handle, pinch the end to slip the tender bright green bean out of its skin.
Shelled broad beans freeze well. Blanch in a rolling boil for 2 minutes, cool with icy water for 2 minutes, drain and freeze in freezer zip lock bags for use later. This ensures your family doesn’t have to eat broad beans daily for four weeks!
Rotate crops each year so broad beans enrich soils and add nitrogen into all parts of the vegie patch.
Broad Bean varieties
Coles Dwarf Prolific produces heavy crops on 1m-high plants.
Crimson Flowered has red flowers instead of black/white and good tasting beans. Grows to 90cm.
Early Longpod to 1.5m produces large pods.
Aquadulce is a dwarf heirloom variety usueful for windy areas. Pods get to 20cm long.