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Broad Beans (Fava Beans)

Vicia faba major

It always amazes me how many people claim they don’t like Broad Beans – I always think this is a shame; they must have been introduced to those massive, tough things you find in the shops, not tasty, tender home grown beans.

Very young broad beans can be eaten pods and all, just like french beans. Also, growing tips and young leaves can be steamed and eaten, with a mild spinach like flavour.

Once the beans are mature, they need to be shelled. When young their individual, inner skins are tender and fine to eat. Eating young beans (around the size of a 5 cent piece) is ideal. When older, the inner skins tend to be tough, so removing this is advisable, even if tedious!

Steamed, tossed in a little bit of garlic, and served with butter, salt and pepper they are delicious! And if you have more than you can eat, I have had them oven dried and lightly salted. (I haven’t made these myself, but they have a delicious, nutty flavour.) And of course, you can save your own seed to grow more again next winter!  Excess broad beans can be cooked and pureed and used as a base for pesto-like dishes, dips & sauces.  If you lightly blanche them, they can also be frozen.

Growing Broad Beans

Broad Beans grow very well from seed - usually planted in cooler weather late April/May onwards; it's helpful if we've received some early rains.  Plant the seeds where you had tomatoes growing – as a nitrogen fixing plant they help soil fertility and according to Jackie French also help remove the soil borne wilt virus. Add some potash to the soil, this strengthens the plant and helps prevent brown leaf spot disease on the beans. Seeds should be planted 20cm – 50cm apart (wider spacing between rows allows easier access). Depending on seasonal conditions, earlier or later plantings can be tried, but may affect yield. Encouraging bees and other pollinators to your broad bean patch will result in a heavier crop. 

Broad Beans will take some months from planting until the beans reach maturity (my mum always said it doesn’t matter when they start to flower; you will only get beans begin to set in September). Length of daylight hours and temperature seems to be the factor here. Maximum cropping will be around October/November but can continue into December. 

The bushes will reach at least a metre in height. Plant them thickly so they will provide some support to each other; or they may require a few stakes criss-crossed amongst the plantings as the bushes do tend to be blown over in strong winds Beans don’t require a particularly fertile soil. Add some potash (as mentioned) and rock dust to supply trace elements. Main pest & disease issues are aphids, snails and leaf spot disease. This leaf spot disease can come from infected seed, so if you save your own seed, ensure it is from healthy plants. Leaf spot tends to be more a problem with humid conditions. You can remove a plant or two to improve air circulation, and avoid overhead watering if possible. Don’t leave infected plants to rot down into the soil; as the disease can remain there and be a problem for future plantings. 

Good companions for broad beans include: carrots, lettuce, marigolds, celery, peas, potatoes, parsnip, cabbage, parsley, eggplant. 
Avoid planting near: beetroot, onions & garlic, kohl rabi, sunflowers and Jerusalem artichokes.

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