Broad beans, otherwise known as horsebeans, windsor beans or fava beans, grow well in the UK and throughout Europe.
Containing rhizobium bacteria in their root nodules, they are good nitrogen fixers and are ideal for growing as a green manure crop as well as being an excellent source of food. Nutritionally broad beans are high in protein. They also provide some phosphorus, the vitamins A and C and contain lectin, a cancer-fighting substance that may protect against bowel cancer.
According to a report published on the Internet at the BBC News web site on the 19 April 1999, research studies have shown that both broad bean and mushroom lectins can halt or even reverse the cancer process in colon cells. In fact the general message seems to be that eating beans of any sort is good for your health. Beans contain plenty of soluble fibre and have been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure and can also help to control insulin and blood sugar levels. At the end of the day even the farting that they are said to cause will probably turn out to be good for you in some way!
Growing Broad Beans
Broad beans are an easy and fairly trouble-free crop to grow. They have few diseases and although they dislike hot weather are fairly hardy and will stand some freezing and frost. They prefer a neutral to slightly alkaline soil and produce higher yields if planted in a rich and fertile soil. Add plenty of vegetable compost and some wood ash to the area in which you intend to grow your beans and you should be rewarded with a very good crop.
As for pests, you will need to keep a sharp look out for blackfly on your spring-sown beans when they are in flower in June. To discourage blackfly attack and improve your bean yield pinch out the growing tips of the plants when they are in full flower. If blackfly still attack, then spray with a mild soap solution, otherwise your crop yield could be reduced when the blackfly feed on the sap. You may also see brown spots on the leaves and stems. This usually indicates the presence of chocolate spot fungus (Botytis fabae). However, this is not usually serious and most of the time can safely be ignored, the pods only being affected during a severe attack.
Broad beans can be sown in both spring and autumn. But, a good crop will probably only be obtained from autumn-sown beans, if the winter is fairly mild. One advantage of sowing broad beans in the autumn is that they tend to flower early, producing beans in May or June, before any blackfly appear and this is well worth trying out in milder areas. Varieties suitable for a late October/early November sowing include Aquadulce Claudia, Futura RZ, Masterpiece and Supersimonia, all of which are available by mail order from the Organic Gardening Catalogue.
Autumn-sown crops should not be fertilised at the time of planting, or they will grow too fast and may suffer from the winter frosts. Instead mulch autumn-sown bean with a good helping of vegetable compost in February. And avoid autumn sowing completely if the soil is waterlogged, or the seeds may rot.
Spring sowings of broad beans can be made sometime between late February and April, depending on the weather conditions and the variety of bean being used. But do sow your seeds at a time when the soil is frost free and not too wet. My favourite variety for spring sowing is the Sutton, which always seems to crop reliably.
This bean is usually sown in April, although I often sow mine in early to mid-March in the south of England, covering the emerging plants with plastic bottle cloches or a fleece if the weather is bad. The Sutton is a dwarf variety and is ideal for the small garden or for growing in containers or grow bags on a patio. Other varieties that are suitable for a spring sowing include Witkiem and Green Windsor and White Windsor.
To speed up germination try soaking the bean seeds for 24 hours before sowing. Broad beans should be sown in a drill about 23 cm wide and 10 cm deep. For spring sowings add some vegetable compost to the bottom of the drill and push the seeds into the compost about 23 cm apart in three staggered rows. When the plants have grown to about 30 cm high the entire row can be mulched with further compost.
Further sowings of broad beans can of course be made until June to ensure a good supply of beans throughout the summer. Taller varieties will need staking. Water the plants well when they start to flower and feed fortnightly with diluted seaweed solution or compost water. Insect pollination, especially by bees, greatly increases production in broad beans so beans planted in containers do need to be kept outside. Finally, when all of the beans have been harvested, cut off and compost the stems and leaves of the plants and dig the roots into the ground, where they will continue to supply nitrogen to the next crop.
Using Broad Beans for Green Manure
Consider sowing a green manure crop rather than leaving large areas of soil bare and vulnerable for long periods of time. Broad beans can be used for green manure purposes in much the same way as field beans, but be careful not to let them get too old and tough before digging them into the soil. Select a variety of broad beans appropriate to the season and seeds could be broadcast rather than planting them in drills, as this will give a more even cover. Sometime before flowering cut all of the young plants down to within 10 cm of the ground and dig the cut-off plant material, the stem bases and the roots into the soil. Don't bury the material too deeply: Soil organisms can decompose it much more efficiently if it is only dug into the top 15-20 cm where there is some air. And if you would rather not do any digging at all, then compost the cut-off material instead and leave the roots in the ground, planting the next crop around them.
Cooking Your Broad Beans
Broad bean tops can be cut off and cooked like spinach. When young and immature, the pods of broad bean are edible, so very young beans can simply be cooked and eaten inside their shells. Otherwise shell out older beans and boil or steam them until tender. Broad beans can also be roasted and ground to make flour and in Greece and Italy they are often eaten raw, although some people can be allergic to raw broad beans. The resulting genetic disease is known as 'favism' and is often found in people of Mediterranean origin. It causes a blood disorder (a type of anaemia) when the beans are eaten and it can even occur in susceptible people if they come in contact with pollen from the flowering plant.
Broad beans can be frozen, if you have too many beans to eat fresh and they can also be dried and used in winter stews and casseroles. Dried broad beans take quite some time to cook unless you have a pressure cooker and are best soaked first. There are some vegetarian broad bean recipes at the Vegetarian Society's web site. (http://www.vegsoc.org/cordonvert/recipes/broadrec.html)
Here's some more broad bean business
From Olga Schifani -Education Director at the Center for Vegan Organic Gardening Vashon Island Washington USA
The botanical name for this legume is Vicia faba. Vicia, the genus name, indicates it is a vetch. The species name, faba, represents all the Fava beans: Broad Beans, Tick, Bell, Horse, Field, Windsor, Longpod, Seville etc. They're all Fava, or Faba beans. So, Vicia faba is an edible vetch.
Fava acts as a cover crop. It protects the ground from cold and pounding rain. It helps keep the soil alive by maintaining biological stability and good crumb structure. Or simply put if you add it to your soil as a cover crop it adds nitrogen and organic matter.
Fava, depending on soil temperature can surpass any other
nitrogen fixer; 50 to 100% over crimson clover. Fava is unusual as an annual
legume crop having a stout taproot that helps to break up compacted soils. Fava
can be used anywhere that the temperature stays above 10F <
Fava can be sown early to late October. Or if you’re like me you plant them in November after you’ve finished canning all your tomatoes.
Before planting you can inoculate with a legume type bacteria, although this is not usually needed. Some seed catalogues have these inoculants. Put the seed in a bucket add water, seeds, the inoculants and mix. You can tell when it covered thoroughly, because the seed turns black. Then just broadcast into the ground. A one half a pound of seed covers approximately 250 sq.ft. In the spring you can chop them into the soil with a spade.
If you haven’t already I encourage you to try some of the fava beans in your garden this year.
Happy gardening to you.