MAY – BROAD BEANS
May is an exciting month with temperatures warming, the last of the frosts and moving our crops outside into the warming soil! With June on it’s way we are approaching the end of the hungry gap and nothing quite signals this than the opening of flowers on our broad bean plants!
There is nothing better than the first fresh broad beans of the season and if you planned ahead you may be looking forward to your first harvest from your autumn-sown broad beans.
Broad beans are also known by a few other names, most notably ‘field beans’ in the UK and ‘fava beans’ in the US. The plant itself is normally quite erect with pods that point upwards rather than hanging down such as other beans such as runner beans and french beans. Each pod holds 4-6 beans and the inside of the pod is often coated in a downy ‘fur’. The flowers on the plants are white with a black spot. Unlike other plants, this black spot is a ‘true black’ colour as opposed to very dark blue or purple. Like other legumes, their roots contain bacteria which are able to fix nitrogen in the soil.
A very short history
Broad beans have been cultivated since 3000BC being once of the most ancient cultivated plants. It was grown by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans up until today and were the only beans in Europe until we ‘discovered’ the New World and other beans were exported here!
Why should we eat broad beans?
To be honest, this question is easily answered if you get the opportunity to eat small fresh broad beans straight out of the pod – they are delicious!
But in case you want specific nutritional information, broad beans are low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium and are very high in protein and dietary fibre – a good weight loss combo!
They also contain high levels of folate and are an excellent source of B vitamins which we need for nerve and blood cell development, cognitive function and energy.
How to grow broad beans
There are two times during the year when you can start growing broad beans; autumn and spring. Autumn sown broad beans are sown in early November, of which specific varieties such as ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ are more suited to autumn sowing, and spring sown broad beans can be sown from as early as February up until May, sowing successionally for a long harvest.
Broad beans should be sown 2-3 inches deep, 6-9 inches apart and should be ideally sited in a well-draining site improved with compost or well-rotted manure. Both dwarf and tall cultivars are available and tall cultivars may need staking as they grow or, if broad beans are grown in a block, can be kept erect by placing posts in the corners and tying string between the posts.
When the first pods have formed, you should pinch out the tops of the plants to promote fruit set and reduce black fly infestation. Pods should be picked when they start to swell to enjoy the beans when they are at there tenderest!
Broad beans have many problems, pests include black fly, pea and bean weevil, mice and sometimes birds like to pull out freshly planted small plants. Also watch out for fungi and viruses such as chocolate spot and rust.
How to cook broad beans
Young and tender beans can be eaten raw but as the beans get older they develop a ‘skin’ which should be removed after cooking to really enjoy their flavour. Beans can be boiled easily for 3-5 minutes in water and the skin is removed easily by slitting the skin with your nail and then pushing the beans out.
One of my favourite things to do with broad beans is to put them in a risotto with some fresh peas (although frozen will also do fine) and courgette.
Here are some recipe ideas for using your broad beans: