How to Grow Autumn-Sown Broad Beans

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Broad beans

This time of year isn’t renowned for being one of new life and opportunity. The trees are trembling away their leaves with every passing breeze, herbaceous plants have turned to either a mush or a thicket of straw-like stems, and growth is slowly but surely grinding to a halt as the mercury drops. It is nature’s way of flushing out the old as she settles down for winter’s slumber. Not the best time of year, then, for outdoor veg to be sown. Unless, that is, you happen to be a broad bean.

Broad beans have an incredible capacity to withstand winter weather. Hardy down to an icy -10°C (14°F), these rugged members of the legume family are able to germinate at just 2°C (36°F). Quite why any seed would want to push out its juvenile roots into a soil flirting with freezing point is anyone’s guess, but it certainly works in the kitchen gardener’s favour. It means we can get a crop into the ground now in order to snap up a harvest of tender pods as soon as the end of spring. This is handy for two reasons. Firstly, it gives us the first delicious beans of the year – irresistible cooked in a fresh springtime soup with perhaps spring onions, spinach and any other early risers gleaned from the garden. Second, these early broad beans are less likely to fall prey to black bean aphid, an inevitable pest of spring-sown beans.

Sowing Broad Beans

Despite their heroic hardiness, if conditions are likely to plunge too low for too long you are best waiting until spring to sow outside, although a somewhat earlier crop can be had by sowing into modules or 7cm (3in) pots of multipurpose compost under cover in late winter. These can then be planted out in early spring.

Broad bean seeds
Broad bean seeds

Even where conditions warrant an autumn/fall sowing, not all broad beans will be suitable for this treatment. Longpod varieties are the hardiest, so go for these. As their name implies, this type of broad bean produces longer pods packed with more beans. The kidney-shaped beans have a satisfyingly fat, substantial feel to them. The universal favourite for autumn sowings is ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ (sometimes sold simply as ‘Aquadulce’), which yields 23cm (9in)-long pods encasing smooth white beans. It establishes reliably, crops early and grows to a manageable metre (3ft) tall. It’s the one I overwinter and would heartily recommend. If you can’t find ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ look out for ‘Coles Early Dwarf’.

Choose a sunny, sheltered spot for your beans and sow into soil that is well-drained and fertile – forking in some well-rotted manure or compost before sowing will help to improve soil conditions. There are a number of ways to sow the plump beans, but my preferred method is to sow into the bottom of wide, shallow trenches made with a draw hoe. Space the seeds about 15-20cm (6-8in) apart in a zigzag fashion, covering them back over with 5cm (2in) of soil. Space additional double rows about 80cm (32in) apart. Sow a few extra beans at the end of each row to gap up any that fail to germinate.

Looking after Broad Beans

Once they are in the ground there’s really little to be done. The seedlings may take some time to push through but rest assured things will be stirring beneath ground. It’s a joy to witness those first thick shoots break the soil surface. Keep your bean beds weed free by hoeing as necessary. If it gets really cold be on hand to cover your seedlings with a few layers of horticultural fleece until conditions improve.

Broad beans supported by string

Longpod broad beans can be gangly plants, flopping about all over the place unless tamed with a girdle of string. You’ll get better results if you belt in your beans. Do this by pushing bamboo canes into the ground to create a double row of supports flanking each block of beans. Tie string between the canes to frame the beans – about two strands should do the trick. Tuck in errant stems the right side of the string lines as they grow. The tips of your plants can be pinched out when the first beans reach about 7cm (3in) long. This will act as a further guard against black bean aphid and encourage longer, better-filled pods. Don’t discard the pinchings – they are delicious lightly steamed as a spinach substitute.

Harvesting Broad Beans

Pods can be picked when they are just 5cm (2in) long to cook whole as a delicious springtime treat, or wait until the beans have fully developed before shelling the pods. This can take a little guesswork but a gentle squeeze of the pod case will give you a good idea as to the size of the beans inside. Boiled, pureed or turned into a rich (and heavenly moreish) soup, those keenly anticipated first beans of the year are by far the most delicious.

By Benedict Vanheems. First photo courtesy of Suttons Seeds.

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Comments

 
"This is exciting because I love beans. My question is can I grow these in my greenhouse, (cold frame)? "
Tationia Lykens on Friday 4 November 2011
"Hi Tationia. Broad beans can certainly be started off under the protection of a greenhouse or cold frame. Your best bet is to sow them from mid to late winter for planting out in early spring. Sow the seeds individually into modules of compost, setting the seeds about 3cm (1in) deep. You could also sow them into seed trays of compost, setting the seeds at the same depth and spacing them around 5cm (2in) apart. When they are ready to plant out, gently tease the seedlings apart and pop them into the ground at the same distance as described in the article above. You could, of course, plant the beans directly into greenhouse borders or pots, but bear in mind they can grow relatively tall and will be occupying valuable greenhouse space in spring - precisely the time you'll be wanting to sow other crops. Enjoy your beans - they're fantastically generous plants!"
Ben Vanheems on Friday 4 November 2011
"If I plant the beans now, when can I expect to harvest? thanks"
Gael Squibb on Friday 4 November 2011
"Hi Gael. Assuming you plant them now you should be in line for a crop as soon as late spring - say late May or June."
Ben Vanheems on Friday 4 November 2011
"Hi Ben, thanks for the great article! My question is for the warmer-climate gardeners: will the broadbeans do well in in a coastal temperate climate like Southern California, where our daily temperatures are ~17c during the day and ~6-7c at night? Any specific suggestions? Thank you!"
Leslie C. on Friday 4 November 2011
"How cold is too cold? I live in Dijon, in France, where winter temperatures will sometimes dip below -10°C in winter. Is that too cold to overwinter broad beans, even in a plastic wintering tunnel? I've never seen any other allotment holders to this near me? "
Marthe on Wednesday 9 November 2011
"My daughter-in-law who allotments alongside me thinks we should wait for the first really cold snap before planting out broad beans. I have already put in 3 rows - say 30 beans - and have covered them with a black net tunnel. Whose will do better? do they need cover?"
Mary Garrigan on Wednesday 9 November 2011
"Hi Leslie C. I think you should be fine growing in a milder climate such as Southern California. The problem is more with colder climates where overwintering broad beans can get clobbered by a severe cold spell. Hi Marthe. If the temperature inside the tunnel is dropping below -10°C I would suggest it is too cold for broad beans. It would be best to wait until early spring when the severe weather has passed. Hi Mary. I personally do not wait for a cold spell to plant. It is now mid November and there hasn't been a frost where I am as yet. Waiting for a cold snap would risk delaying the beans' development. The beans only need to be covered in very cold weather - with a clear cloche tunnel or horticultural fleece. I try to avoid covering the beans unless really necessary to ensure sturdy, hardy plants."
Ben Vanheems on Friday 11 November 2011
"WOW! This sound like a great idea – nothing like having something fresh so early in Spring. Are these plants as prolific as bush beans? About how many pods can be expected per plant? Or, to phrase it a bit differently, how many plants do you need per person?"
Marsha on Wednesday 16 November 2011
"Hi Marsha. Broad beans can be very prolific. A three metre (or 10ft) long double row should produce about 9-10kg (or 20lb) of beans - which I imagine would be more than enough for two people. The beans are plump and satisfying - perfect for stews, but you could also try them young when they are delicious served raw in salads with the first leaves of the year. "
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 16 November 2011
"Hi Every body who has commented on growing winter broad beans on how you are taking great care bring on your beans in green houses and such like.I put in two packets of Super Aquadulce seeds that is 130 6inches a part 1ft between rows last week in October every one has come up ,they are about 8inches high, I have found them as easy as beetroot to grow....just don't put netting over them like last year and when the snow came down settled on the netting and flatened the lot had to wait till snow melted before I could lift them up straight and surpported them with canes.Still they groow to maybe 3/4ft just over 20lbs this year no netting just 130 plants doing well."
TONY WOODS on Tuesday 6 December 2011
"I am genuinely glad to read this blog posts which contains tons of helpful facts, thanks for providing these statistics."
Guido on Wednesday 25 September 2013
"I sowed Aquadulce back in November and now have shoots some 3" tall. Unfortunately my garden gets little sun in winter and some of the shoots at one location which is more shady now have blackened tips. Anything I can do?"
GerryB on Saturday 30 November 2013
"Hi Gerry. They may have blackened tips for a number of reasons - possibly fungal disease or even severe frost damage. I would suggest sowing again in early spring on a fresh piece of ground. They will be about two weeks behind autumn/fall-sown beans, but will still crop in good time."
Benedict Vanheems on Monday 2 December 2013
"Thank you Benedict, the former haven't had any frosts so far."
GerryB on Monday 2 December 2013
"I frew fava beans in the fall. They are doing well, have been in flower for several weeks, but no bean set. When can i expect to produce beans ? Date of writing jan 28."
Mathilde. holtrop on Tuesday 28 January 2014
"Hi Mathilde. Depending on where you are the plants could still get set back by frost and cold. However, assuming mild weather you could expect beans as soon as April. This does depend on how many pollinating insects are about at present, as it may still be quite cold for them."
Benedict Vanheems on Wednesday 29 January 2014
"Ignore this if you've mentioned it, but have you ever had the problem of mice neatly removing all your beans sowed directly outside - that night? I'm being urged to start off inside using root-trainers. Seems to be working so far for my Super Aquadulce. I am also reading conflicting advice about chocolate spot. Either treat with potassium bicarbonate and remove infected leaves but leave the plant (they seem to carry on growing) or destroy the whole plant...."
Roger Halford on Saturday 24 October 2015
"Hi Roger ,it may sound daft but if you soak your peas in parfine befor planting the mice don't like the taste. l would think the same menu would work . Plant now your Super Aquadulce they could get to about a foot high and when every one else are having trouble with black fly you will be picking yours. "
Tony Woods on Sunday 25 October 2015
"Hi Roger. Starting off in Root-trainers is a good idea if you have a mouse problem. We always advise organic treatments for problems. I would suggest that if a plant is in infected with disease it might be best to remove the whole plant, as it's highly likely that even if the disease isn't showing elsewhere on the plant it could be within it and about to establish."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 26 October 2015
"Due to the warmer climate we are have my broadbeans have shot up to over 30 cem. should I do any thing about it,thank Joseph. "
Joseph ARIOLI on Thursday 17 December 2015
"Hi Joseph. There's not really anything you can do about it. If you get a sudden cold snap the shoots may benefit from being covered with fleece so as to stop all that fleshy growth getting damaged by hard frosts. But if it continues to be mild you'll be fine."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 17 December 2015
"Love these, was overdosed as a child for one season and hated them with a passion but that passed as I grew up and now I love them of course. They are very popular with the Portuguese who call them Favas which is why I'm writing a comment, I thought in English they were known as Broad Beans so I was obviously surprised to hear that you refer to them as Fava Beans. Thanks for the article, this site is obviously geared at the Northern Hemisphere, I'm down south in South Africa and we're heading for summer here. Yay. I'm aware of your South African version of the site. Anyways I commend you all the same, good site and page on FB. regards from the tropics, paulo"
Paulo Figueiredo on Thursday 13 October 2016
"Hi Paulo, in the US these delicious legumes are known as fava beans (and you'll see them referred to as such on GrowVeg.com) while in the UK they're known as broad beans (which is how they're referred to on our UK and Europe site, GrowVeg.co.uk). I hope that clears things up!"
Ann Marie Hendry on Thursday 13 October 2016

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