Broad beans are one of the earliest crops to be sown in the vegetable garden. You can plant broad bean seeds in many areas in October for harvests in early June when there still isn’t many staple crops ready to harvest.
Growing broad beans for early harvests can be quite tricky but this article will guide you step by step from sowing, planting and growing your beans and how to essentially guarantee a successful crop.
When To Sow Broad Bean Seeds
You can sow hardy broad bean seeds in October and November for harvesting in early June. It’s far more common (and much easier) to begin sowing from February to May but will result in later crops, you can expect to begin picking the first Spring sown crops in late June or July.
Sowing is best done in pots in a greenhouse, on a windowsill or under a cloche, this will provide the initial heat they need to germinate quickly. Fill your pots with a nice free draining compost and firm down well, the seeds should be sown about 5cm (2 inches) deep and watered well. Do no water again until the plants have germinated.
Under good conditions you can expect to begin seeing the first leaves of your broad beans within 5-7 days.
Quick tip: Rather than sowing broad beans in pots I have had fantastic success growing in cardboard toilet roll inners which can be planted directly in the ground with no root disturbance
You can also sow your seeds directly outdoors in the ground by following the spacings below.
Planting Broad Beans
Once the plants are about 3 inches high they are ready to be transplanted outside. If you have sown indoors they will need to be hardened off for a few days prior to planting, this is done by putting the plants outdoors during the day and back in at night to avoid the sudden shock of being outdoors.
Broad beans are very tough plants and will survive cold wet days, frosts and even snow.
Broad beans are usually grow in “double” staggered rows. Space the broad bean plants 15-20cm (6-8 inches) apart. Broad beans tend to be quite self supporting but such close dense planting means with some canes and string you can make some support to keep them from falling over.
Caring For The Plants
Other than basic support to keep the plants upright broad beans do not need significant caring for. Broad beans do not need feeding. Weeding may be required in the first few weeks but once the plants are established they should shade any future weeds.
Blackfly can be a problem for broad beans, although they do not affect the beans they can weaken the plant. You can help stop any problems with black fly buy planting early and removing the top growing tip once the plants are established, the black fly love the tender new growth so tend to avoid your plants if the growing tip has been removed.
Getting A Second Crop Of Broad Beans
It is possible to get a second crop of broad beans from the plants once they have begun to die. In late June or July cut the plant back hard, cut the plant down to around 4 inches (10cm) and within two weeks new shoots and growth will begin. These new shoots will grow quickly in the summer weather and you can expect to have a second crop in September.
Using this method you can almost double the crop and significant extend the growing season.
Harvesting Broad Beans
There are two ways to pick broad beans, either when they are still small for cooking whole or when larger for the podded beans. The first beans of the year are the most tender, these are ideal for picking when a few inches (5-8cm) long and cooking whole.
To harvest the beans you’ll need to wait a little longer until you can see the shape of the bean through the outside of the pod. Once you can see the outline of the beans in the pod they are ready for harvesting, don’t allow them to get to large as broad beans can quickly get tough and bitter if not harvested regularly.