How to Grow Broad Beans

Broad beans germinated in toilet roll holders

Broad beans are cheap and easy to grow from seed.  You need a good number of plants for a decent crop and germinating from seed is the most economical way to get a large crop. Broad beans are a large seed, easy to handle and to germinate. Watch the video for  tips on sowing broad beans and tips about planting different types of beans 

Broad beans are the hardiest of the bean family to grow, quick to germinate within about 5-7 days of sowing, and they put on rapid growth producing a crop around June /July depending on the growing conditions.  In more sheltered parts of the UK, and with the benefit of a well drained soil, you can sow Broad beans in the autumn. The best known varieties for autumn sowing is Aquadulce Claudia' and the plants will overwinter. If your soil is heavy, wet, poorly drained or in an exposed area Broad beans are best sown in the Spring.

The image in the centre above shows the Broad Bean just emerging after germination. Beans have long roots and need to be germinated into deep not in a shallow container. From garden centres you can buy containers known as root trainers, which can be expensive, (image below)  or as image left shows Broad beans can be germinated into toilet roll holders  in which they will grow well until ready for planting out. The main tip,  when growing Broad Beans in toilet roll holders, is to take care when watering and avoid soaking the cardboard otherwise it may go soggy and collapse. The image left shows Broad bean plants ready to plant out with their roots extending out of the toilet roll holders in which they have been germinated.

Broad Beans can be germinated from late February onwards. Fill suitable containers with compost, damp it and press down gently to ensure there are no air pockets and then place a bean seed about 7 cms down the container, sprinkle with a little compost and cover. it does not matter which way up you plant the seed, it will sort itself out. Put in a warm place and germination should occur after a few days. Broad beans can be planted out in March/April and also sown direct into the veg plot.  When growing Broad Beans  in the veg plot or planting out they will need some protection  if there is severe weather. Plant in double rows 30 cms apart, shallow about  7 cms deep, plant every 15cms.

Broad bean support system

The image  top right shows the bean coming into flower and Broad Beans do have attractive flowers which are usually white, or this variety which has attractive crimson flowers, and is simply called Broad Bean 'Crimson Flowering'. One of the main tips about growing Broad Beans is to be aware Broad Beans do not climb or cling and need some support as they have a tendency to flop over. The best way to do this is to grow the Broad Beans into a corridor to keep them upright using string and bamboo cane supports. 

  This works well and as illustrated left, the plants grow  inside the string and keep the string tight and about 1ft/30cms apart  so you can plant a double row of beans and use the string tunnel to support the beans as they grow. This keeps the beans in check and is much better than trying to train up canes and wigwams which are really only suitable for Runners and French beans, and some peas. 

 There are varieties of Broad Beans which are more upright in their growth, and I have grown Broad Bean 'Oscar' without any support and found it to be excellent.

                                                  Beans need very little else other than appropriate support. They can suffer from black fly which cluster on the tips and new growth. To reduce this it is recommended at the top of the plant pinch out the top growth to try and prevent it. It is the young tips which the black fly are drawn to.

The image left shows how to create a corridor of support using bamboo canes; wrap the string around to create support. Broad beans grow to a height of around 1.5 metres, (check packet for details,) which means the support will need several layers of string. Broad beans have a tendency to splay out wards and need regularly to be pushed back in within the string supports. As soon as the pods swell and you can feel the beans inside they are ready to pick. 

Broad bean support system using natural materials

When growing Broad Beans if conditions are wet, there can be problem with rust (small brown patches on the leaves) and chocolate spot (spreading brown patches) may occur, (see image below)  Rust is not too much of a worry remove the leaves and battle on. Chocolate spot is a problem as it can spread across the plants as quickly as you try to remove the leaves. It's a relative of Botrytis (a type of  mould ) and chocolate spot only affects Broad beans.

As it is related to mould, damp will encourage it. If your conditions are on the wetter side do not crowd the plants and space them out more generously to allow greater air flow. Broad beans will need watering in dry spells. 

If you want neat tips,  and the  RHS gardens always have the tidiest vegetable plots ever seen, in the image left,  instead of using canes and string, the RHS garden at Harlow Carr supports the Broad beans with twigs which have been pruned off plants and shrubs earlier in the year. Lots of plants require support and twigs and branches do look a lot nicer than canes. Just a question of collecting enough to make the supports so I guess those winter gales have a purpose when they bring down all the twiggy tree bits; don't compost them, but keep for the vegetable plot.

There are many other types of tasty beans to grow and all are easy green wheelbarrow : runner beansgrowing beans and easy peasy peas.

How to get a second crop of broad beans

Broad beans second crop

Broad beans are vigorous plants and it is always worth trying to get a second crop which can be harvested during late August or September especially if the late summer and early autumn is warm with some good sunshine .  In July, cut down the plants from which you have harvested the beans, and those whose foliage is looking tired, shortening it to around  20 cms. Within a short time the plants will throw out new shoots, and if it's a reasonable summer, new flowers will appear and in due course  produce a second crop, less vigorous, but still worth picking. The image left was taken in October when the plants were still cropping, although the pods are smaller the plant produced a light crop throughout September and into October. 

After harvesting cut plants down to ground level using the tops for compost, and leave the roots in for their nitrogen content.

Chocolate spot on Broad beans

Chocolate spot on broad beans

Broad beans are usually trouble free but if is very wet Chocolate spot can strike and makes a real mess of the crop.

Root trainers for Beans

Broad beans in root trainers

Broad beans grown in special root trainers to allow for a long root run. These are suitable for all types of beans and peas, including sweet peas.

Good Varieties of Broad Beans to Grow

Good varieties to grow, all of which are AGM (Award of Garden Merit) Aquadulce Claudia, The Sutton, Express, Imperial Longpod and the crimson flowering variety  (not AGM) is simply called 'Crimson Flowered'

In  2017 I tried Broad bean 'Oscar' because it is described as being compact, and not requiring support which would be a plus.  It is a popular variety with commercial growers and freezes well. It performed well in what was a poor summer and I will definitely be growing it again.

Video How to plant and grow Broad Beans