The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Planting broad beans in the winter

broad bean borderI was up earlier this morning than usual. To clear a bed in our kitchen garden so that John could dig it over and we could plant the broad bean seeds. This is the second year that we have sown broad beans in November and already it has become something of a ceremony. Discussed and planned for weeks.

“Shall I dig over this bed? There’s nothing but weeds.” John had said a couple of weeks ago.
“Don’t worry. I’ll do it. Next time that you come the border will be clear.”

Unfortunately, I had fallen at the first fence. I had not prepared the bed for John. Mullien had self seeded across the bed and I had had plans for this extended family.

For the last five mornings I have planned to rise at six and dig. The warmth of the bed has seduced me. This morning I had even hoped for heavy rain which would keep John at bay. But a clear crisp morning greeted me when I drew back the curtains.

John arrived before I had finished the job. Along with a present of a pheasant, I spied a small box wedged into the top of his Wellingtons when he carried them into the kitchen. Halfway through our coffee I admitted that I hadn’t had time to finish the patch.

John’s face dropped.

Even though I cleared the border as he collected the leaves from the lawn, I realised that I had messed up, big time. Next year I will have the border ready.

We planted broad bean seeds at around the same time last year and they got off to a great start in the Spring. Large, strong plants, covered with flowers – a great potential harvest of beans. We guzzled the young tops and picked some baby beans. We continued to graze and harvest broad beans for weeks. Good fat beans packed with flavour.

There were plenty of flowers for a second flush and then the crop was struck suddenly by rust (a fungus that attacks the plants and eventually spreads to the pods). I put this down to the prolonged wet weather and the position of the plants. The broad beans had been planted in a rather shady border, overhung by sycamore trees.

Today the broad bean seeds have been planted in the best border for sun and warmth. I’m hoping that they will appreciate this honour and produce wondrous bounty next year. If you usually plant your broad beans in the spring why not try planting a few now? I am sure that you won’t be disappointed.

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  1. Ray Smith

    Any views on spacing broad beans in a well-manured deep bed? Seems such a waste to leave 18 inches between double rows as usually suggested. Has anyone tried equal spacing at, say, 6 inches? Will they then pollinate and crop successfully? Any thoughts or experience will be welcome – thanks


  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Celia,

    I love the idea of a garden workout at lunchtime!

    John Coe supplies my broad bean seed. Collected from his most prolific plants. I have no idea as to the variety. He supplies our seed potatoes and our purple sprouting broc plants and gets a bit ruffled if I want to branch out on my own. I’d love to try your heritage seed variety one year.

    Hi Jan,

    The frost shouldn’t kill your plants it will just stop their growth for a bit. Our plants have been happy sitting in snow in the past.

    Hi Richard,

    We™ve had loads of success with Spring sown beans in the past. Yes, the beans are part of the legume family and fix nitrogen in the soil.

    Hi z,

    The tops are delicious and reminded us of asparagus. My uncle discovered this delicacy in France.

    Incidentally John Coe thinks we are quite mad eating the tops!

    Hi Sara,

    I bet the guinea fowl will love the tops. They are enjoying, apples, swiss chard and lettuce here!

    Hi Amanda,

    That sounds delicious. Beans, chorizo and sherry.

    Don’t touch your broccoli! The plants just grow in the summer and stand through the winter. Your harvest will come in the Spring (April ish). We net ours to protect them from the birds.

    Hi Kate(uk)

    We were lucky and got them in just before the first hard frost.

    Hi Anne,

    Love the pun.

    I’m hoping that it will be warmer on Saturday, as I have so much to do in the garden.

  3. anne waller

    my ground has not thawed out from yesterday morning – and it was an even harder frost last night – so i don’t think sowing just yet is an option. i couldn’t get a fork into the ground yesterday and i doubt i will today. a day for sewing not sowing.

  4. A timely reminder- I shall get some beans in tomorrow- once the ice has cleared, very,very frosty morning here today and I suspect tomorrow will be the same.

  5. Will try this Fiona as we love broad beans, especially with some chorizo cooked in sherry. What is your favoured variety?

    Also Sara’s comment reminded me of something I was going to ask you re: purple sprouting broccoli – we planted some far too late for the last season and now they’re huge ugly things that have been so attacked by slugs and goodness knows what else that I’m not sure if we should take them out and plant new or just leave them. I’d love to know you thoughts please?

  6. farmingfriends

    Great minds think alike I am just about to plant mine. I wonder wether the guinea fowl will like to nibble the tops too?! They are certainly enjoying nibbling the leaves of my purple sprouting broccoli.
    Sara from farmingfriends

  7. yes, we eat the broad bean tops like spinach, too and my son recommends them to customers in his greengrocery. Elizabeth Jane Howard, the novelist, was the only customer who knew about it and she said it was an old country thing.

    Pheasants love young broad bean plants – they pull up the plants to eat the sprouted seed, so sowing them direct in the ground in autumn hasn’t been a success. I should net them, I suppose.

  8. I won’t be able to get to mine until the new year – I don’t have any beds at all yet. I have to remove a whole load of shrubs next week as phase 1 of my garden redesign…

    Is it true that beans fix nitrogen in the soil making it more fertile for the next year? I seem to remember something like that from A-level Geography or something…

  9. We planted some three weeks ago or so. They’re now about 10″ high and will no doubt be killed by the bad weather over winter. Typical.

  10. Well reminded Fiona! I usually plant broad beans in individual pots in February then plant them out when they have 2 big leaves and a nice healthy shoot and the root is visible coming through the base of the pot.
    This year I’ll try the Autumn sown method too (I have managed to clear the vegetable garden beds and move barrow loads of leaf mould in readiness for spreading over the soil – part of my lunch-time “garden workout” regime!!!!).

    Which variety is your favourite? I used to favour ‘The Sutton Dwarf’ and ‘Aquadulce’. Now I prefer the big allottment favourite ‘Bunyards Exhibition’ (I think these are the ones I’ll plant now) and of course our saved seed from the beautiful ‘Crimson Flowered’ (Heritage Seed Library) – the beans from these are bright green (not grey-green) and soooo tender!!!!

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