It makes good garden sense to cultivate crops that are not readily available in grocery shops and broad beans (Vicia faba) can certainly be classified in this category.
Broad beans are a delicacy that rarely grace supermarket shelves in their fresh form be that for lack of demand or storability. If cultivated and cooked correctly, of all the beans, they are one of the easiest to grow and tastiest to eat. They are a hardy crop that does very well in the Irish climate and certain varieties such as ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ even tolerate overwintering outside.
Often autumn-sown beans struggle in the colder months due to severe weather and waterlogging but if they grow through this they are most likely to crop heavier than spring-sown beans and avoid the advances of aphids. The earlier broad beans are sown in spring the better they will do.
Pinching out the tops of broad bean plants will encourage bushier growth and if not smothered in aphids, these broad bean tops are ideal for eating in salads or lightly steamed as a spring green.
Broad bean Maintenance
Broad beans do not grow as tall as runner or french beans so do not require a trellis or wigwam supports to cling to. However they can grow tall enough to warrant support so it is worth putting a few stakes at each corner of the bed or row end and a few intermittent stakes in between with strings ran around to keep plants supported and upright.
Certain varieties are more compact than others such as the heirloom broad bean ‘Crimson Flowered’ which are not only decorative to grow but also more wind tolerant as they do not grow as tall as other varieties.
Spring -own broad beans should be ready for harvest right about now, however if you managed to overwinter broad beans you could be enjoying first harvests from around mid-June. If pods are picked when the beans are pea-size they can be eaten whole, otherwise they must be shelled. Make sure to pick pods from the bottom of plants regularly to allow remaining pods to swell.
If pods are missed on the plant, they will eventually turn black and contain next year’s seeds. Pick, shell and store dry beans in a cool dark place until next year.
The Classic Broad bean set back:
Summer is the season when large colonies of aphids like to play havoc with all your plants. Blackfly or Black Bean Aphid can have devastating effects if not spotted in time.
Blackfly tends to cluster at the top of plants and amongst the leaves and flowering buds. If the blackfly are in small quantities, squish them between your fingers to remove them from the plant. Observation is the key to good gardening as early detection is vital for controlling this fast multiplying pest.
Hosing your plants with water will temporarily remove them. Washing or spraying the area with mild soap solution may help but will need to be repeated weekly. The most effective treatment is to pinch off the growing tip of leaves at the top of the plant as this is usually where the blackfly congregate in clusters.
This does not damage the plant and will actually allow the plant to put more energy into swelling the beans.
Encourage natural predators such as ladybirds, lacewing larvae and hoverfly larvae into your garden. Growing host plants such as the poached egg plant, calendula and tansy near or around beds helps attract these aphid-feasting winged hunters into your plot.
Blackfly adore nasturtiums so if you plant them around your broad beans, they’ll act as a ‘sacrificial crop’, suffering the aphid onslaught while your beans grow untouched as has happened in my garden this year.
THIS WEEK IN THE GARDEN:
* Continue feeding fruiting and flowering plants with comfrey feeds.
* Harvest peas and beans regularly as the more you pick the more encouragement the plants will have to produce more flowers and pods.
* Pause, take a breath and enjoy your garden and the fruits of your labour.
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