October Broad Beans
Where to grow
Broad beans grow best in a sunny situation sheltered from winds and enjoy rich, moisture retentive, well-drained soil.
What to do
Prepare the planting site by digging over and adding leaf mould or well-rotted manure.
Choose the broad bean variety that suits your needs, hardy cultivars for early autumn sowings or dwarf broad beans for windy areas.
How to sow seeds direct
Dig over the soil to create a seed bed and sow one bean directly 5cm (2in) deep and 23cm (9in) apart.
Sow in double rows or blocks but stagger plantings to make the best use of space.
How to sow seeds under cover
Sowing broad beans under cover can give more reliable germination especially if you have trouble with frozen soil or pests like mice.
Sow one per 7cm (3in) pot filled with multi-purpose compost. Water in and place in a cool but frost-free place. Avoid heated rooms or hot greenhouses as they will fail to germinate. Harden off before planting out 23cm (9in) apart.
You can sow broad beans from October onwards, but make sure the ground is not frozen. If it is, you may need to lay some polythene or other material down to warm it up.
By sowing in autumn you can have beans as early as May, but watch out for frost as this can easily claim your hard work. Cloches, polytunnels or fleece are worth keeping on standby just in case the temperature drops.
Aftercare - pinching out and staking
As soon as young beans appear at the base of the plant it's time to 'pinch out' the growing tips. Go to the very top of the plant and remove the tip with two leaves attached, you can compost these or steam them as a leaf vegetable.
Spacing shouldn't be compromised as good airflow is essential for combating fungal disease.
As the plants grow you will need to stake them to prevent the fragile stems from bending or breaking and pods being damaged. Stake after the seedlings are up and use anything from pea sticks to bamboo with string to support the plant.
Dwarf varieties will need less space and less staking and are well worth considering especially on windy or small sites.
Pick from the bottom up when ripe and continue to harvest frequently. Finger thick beans can be eaten whole or wait until the pod bursts open to harvest the fully ripe beans inside.
When finished, cut off stems and dig roots back into the soil to make use of captured nitrogen.
Broad beans are great for storing. You can dry or freeze the beans. To freeze, pick fresh, pod, place in a plastic bag and freeze. To dry, pick, pod and lay out the beans in a dry place. Leave beans to completely dry and store in an air tight container. These can be sown next year or rehydrated for use in cooking.
Material courtesy of BBC Gardening