We love them. Eaten fresh when they're picked - who remembers the advert with Patsy Kensit? - or gently steamed, added to some nice, proper sausages, some sun dried tomatoes and fresh pasta - the taste of Broad Beans early in the summer just can't be beaten!
We grow broad beans every year. This is what we said in 2020:
This year though - and in line with everything else we're growing up at Muriel Jones - we're going to go through what we do step by step. How and why we do things, stuff that works and stuff that doesn't. After all this is nature and a natural process - it's not a factory Mr Wallace!
Last year those beans that Edie planted and transplanted? Well they grew really well. We watered them and nurtured them and they responded well. One weekend and the pods were swelling nicely with what looked like the potential for a glorious harvest.......
But hang on. What's with the ........s? And the words "looked like" and "potential"?
Well rather than stay an extra hour that weekend and pick them I came home. The next day? The plants had been stripped! I'm guessing that the ever so innocent looking rabbits were waiting and watching and sniggering as I left the previous evening.......
Anyway this year.
One thing we're contemplating is to try and keep the bunnies at bay. Now we love Beatrix Potter but after last year we wonder if Mr McGregor had a point. The thing is we also like the idea of the plot being open and not fenced in so it looks like a territorial fortress.
Oh what to do? The rabbits have had our broad beans and attacked one of our espalier pears not long after the maiden was planted up. I think for now we'll continue to ponder - after all the beans aren't going in the ground just yet.
What are we growing?
There are several varieties that you can sow at this time of the year - we favour The Sutton as the plot at Muriel Jones can get quite windy and this variety produces a compact, bushy plant that stands up well to the conditions they have to contend with.
They can be sown directly outdoors - slightly later in March - but we normally start ours off indoors. More on that later.
Last year we tried a second, later variety - Luz de Otono - as we'd hoped that this autumn cropping variety might give us a harvest that we'd get to enjoy rather than the rabbits. We planted them slightly too late and although they germinated and grew well the flowers missed out on pollination and the pods didn't form to produce any beans.
We talked about that - to some extent - here:
You can also get varieties that can be sown - again directly - into the plot towards the end of autumn. A popular and good example is Aquadulce Claudia that can get off to a flying start in the spring and produce an early harvest.
How do we do it?
Let's talk about sowing those Suttons. All 65 of them. Enough for a good few double rows that we're aiming to plant out at the beginning of April. That'll take up a fair bit of space - initially on the kitchen table and then within a couple of weeks in our greenhouse - yes, at the moment it's still only partially glazed (the PGG that we spoke about last year). Beans though are reasonably hardy and don't really want or need a lot of fuss.
We made our seed compost the other day and we're using that for the beans. We want something that's free draining so that the beans don't rot in their pots. We use clean pots that we fill with the compost and then using our dibber - or finger if we've mislaid it - we make a hole about 2 inches deep and drop the seed in.
There's a fair bit of discussion about whether there's a right way or a wrong way to sow beans. Here's a photo that shows what the seeds look like that might help explain what the debate is about:
Now ok these are the actual beans that we harvested back in 2019 but if we'd not eaten them and if we'd allowed them to dry and then stored them, in theory, we could have used them as seeds the following year.
Back to the great broad bean seed debate though. Does the seed need to be planted "scar-end" down? Or up? Does the seed need to be planted on it's "side" or on it's "back"? Does it really matter?
Well this might sound like a cop out but we don't really know - and neither it seems does anyone else! What we've found - and in previous years we've planted a number all at the same time in each of those different combinations - and they've all germinated roughly at the same time - is that as long as the actual growing conditions are right then it doesn't seem to matter.
After all this is nature. Not a factory. And we doubt that if left to their own devices seeds would fall from a sun ripened broad bean pod and always fall and naturally be sown in a certain way. If nature doesn't worry and if the evolution of the broad bean hasn't been affected then we aren't going to spend too long thinking about it!
And another thing. Think back to those good old days when as a child you dropped a broad bean into a bottle that you'd stuffed with damp kitchen roll. Were you able to influence scar side up or down then? We weren't! But what we did see was whatever way those seeds ended up they would either turn so that the roots grew down and the shoots sprouted up towards the light. Or if the seeds themselves didn't turn then the roots and shoots knew which way to grow!
So in short? Don't worry too much about it. As long as the seed compost isn't too damp the seeds shouldn't rot. And as long as any mice don't start nibbling them then we ought to be ok. And after all beans are one of the easiest things to germinate!
We'll be sowing our seeds early in February. We'll add some photos so come back and take a look.
We'll also be checking the bed that the beans will be growing in. It needs to be free draining and well manured. We'll be checking that and making sure that the growing conditions are right over the next few days.
And that, for now, is that. Updates will follow!