Plant early broad beans outside for a head start that should have you picking scrumptious fresh beans by early summer. Broad beans are incredibly hardy and germinate in cooler soil than most, so they’re among the first veg to go into the plot in spring.
Any variety of broad bean can go into the ground at this time of year, and you’ll find a good selection here at the garden centre in Poynings. ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ is the hardiest, but there are dozens more to choose from including scarlet-flowered ‘Crimson Flowered’, compact ‘The Sutton’ which grows well in containers, and handsome ‘Imperial Green Longpod’. Why not try growing a selection and see which is your favourite!
Sow your beans about 5cm deep and 15cm apart, adding a few extra seeds at the end of each row so you’ve got spare plants to replace any casualties. Add short canes along each side of the row at 1m intervals and tie string between them at about 15cm above ground to provide loose supports – there’s no need to stake each plant but broad beans are prone to flopping so need something to hold them in place.
Water them in and add protection against mice and slugs. Finally, cover the whole row in a cloche to keep off the worst of the weather and speed up germination; a corrugated plastic longrow cloche or expandable polythene cloche is ideal. This can be removed as soon as seedlings are around 15cm high.
Broad beans are straightforward to grow. Water once flowers start to form and pinch out the top 10cm of each plant once well-grown, usually in May, to deter blackfly (steam the tips and eat them as an unusual and delicious side vegetable). Your beans should be ready to harvest by mid-June: pick them young and enjoy that sweet spring flavour to the full.