How to Grow Broad Beans

Broad beans germinated in toilet roll holders

I realise Broad Beans are a bit of a marmite vegetable, love them or hate them, but I love them and they are so easy to grow. Broad beans crop early in the year and it is possible to plant a quick crop in the soil afterwards such as rocket, radishes or cut and come again lettuce. Equally during a good summer you can get a second, smaller crop of beans if you want to leave the plants in the ground for longer.

 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 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 top right shows a bean flower, which although usually white this variety has attractive crimson flowers, and is simply called Broad Bean 'Crimson Flowering'.  

How to grow Broad Beans from Seed

Broad bean seed

Broad beans are large seeds, easy to handle and quick to germinate. 

You can start Broad Beans from late February onwards. Fill suitable containers, such as small pots, root trainers or toilet roll holders with compost, damp it and press down gently to ensure there are no air pockets and then place a bean seed about 7 cm 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 are the hardiest of the bean family and can be planted out in March/April and also sown direct into the veg plot from late March /April onwards particularly in more sheltered gardens.  Broad Beans will only require protection if there is severe weather. 

Plant in double rows 30 cm apart, shallow about  7 cm deep, plant every 15cms.

What are the best containers for Broad Beans

Broad beans growing in toilet roll holders

 Beans have long roots and for this reason if sowing from seed they need to be germinated into deep container. You can buy special containers, suitable for all legumes such as peas and beans,  known as root trainers which are good and see image below. However, they can be expensive and not all garden centres sell them and a more eco friendly non plastic alternative is toilet rolls holders, illustrated left. Broad beans (and all beans and peas )  can be germinated in 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.

 

How to Stake and Support Broad Beans

Broad bean support system

 Broad Beans, unlike Runners or French 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 make a corridor using string and cane/ wooden supports. 

  This works well and as illustrated left, the plants grow inside the string which provides support and stops them from flopping. Set the stakes 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 only suitable for Runners and French beans, and some peas. 

Broad beans grow to a height of around 1.5 metres, (check packet for details) which means the can supports will need several layers of string. Broad beans have a tendency to splay outwards and need 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. 

 There are varieties of Broad Beans which are more upright in their growth, and I have grown Broad Bean 'Oscar' with no support and found it to be excellent.

                                                 Broad beans often suffer from black fly which cluster on the tips and new growth. To reduce this pinch out the top growth. It is the young tips which the black fly are drawn to.

 

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. 

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

Last updated 16.01.2020