Thanks for taking the time to read our article on how to grow broad beans for beginners in the UK. These are one of the oldest vegetables and the good news is that they are one of the easiest ones to grow.
Broad beans, are also known as fava beans, and are considered to be a nutritious and delicious legume that is easy to grow in the UK. They are a great choice for beginner gardeners as they are relatively low-maintenance and can be harvested quickly. In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through the entire process of growing broad beans, from selecting the right variety to harvesting and enjoying your crop.
Standard plants will grow to about 4 feet tall with the dwarf varieties growing to around 12-18". Each seed grows about 3-4 sections with black and white flowers. These flowers are then followed by pods and is is inside these leathery pods that you will find the broad beans. They can be white or green depending on the variety, and also round or kidney shaped depending on the variety.
The good news is that you can plant these in April and eat them in July, so one of the fastest way to achieve a growing result for any beginner gardener.
Choosing the right varieties
There are many different varieties of broad beans available, each with its own unique characteristics. For beginners, we recommend choosing a variety that is known for its ease of growth and heavy yield. Some popular varieties for beginners include:
- Aquadulce: A hardy and reliable variety that is suitable for autumn planting. They grow quite tall, have a good yield, are hardy and great for freezing
- Bunyard's Exhibition: A high-yielding variety with excellent flavor. This is one of the most reliable beans that grows well, has a good yield and tastes really good.
- Express: An early-maturing variety that is perfect for spring planting.
- Masterpiece Longpod: A productive variety with long, green pods. This is also an early cropper with green beans and good flavour, and perfect for freezing.
- Red Epicure: A unique variety with red pods and a nutty flavor.
- Red Epicure - This one has a very distinctive flavour, is reddish in colour and turns yellow when cooked
- Sussex Wonder - This an early and quite prolific grower and has really broad beans - a great choice for the beginner.
- Express - This is a very good choice if you want to grow broad beans in early Spring. It matures very fast and is a heavy cropper.
- Imperial Green - This is one of the biggest croppers on the market and has been around for many years.
- Relon - A challenger to the one above and a real giant among the broad bean family. If you want to win a show then go with this one
The broad bean is grown from seed. Never use any seed that shows any sign of small round holes.
Germination time of seeds
7 - 14 days
Life expectancy of seed
Seed needed to grow a 10 feet row
Expected yield from a 10 feet row
Ease of Growing
- Seed Sowing Time (Outdoors) - March to May
- Picking Time - Late July to mid October
Broad beans can be planted outdoors in the spring or autumn. The best time to plant will depend on your local climate. In general, spring planting is best for areas with mild winters, while autumn planting is better for areas with harsh winters.
Best Soil & Planting Tips
Ideally you want a rich and free draining soil. That is ideal but to be honest broad beans will grow in most soils as long as they are not water logged, or too much acid.
You should sow the seeds in a reasonably sunny spot. Never grow broad beans in the same soil that you have used the previous year. If you plan on Spring sowing then dig the soil in the Autumn and add compost or rotted manure.
Apply a general purpose fertilizer about 1-2 weeks before sowing.
- Choose a sunny spot with well-drained soil.
- Dig over the soil and add plenty of compost or manure.
- Sow the seeds 2-3 inches deep and 4-6 inches apart.
- Water well after planting.
Caring for your broad beans
Broad beans do take a little work but they will not be heavy on your time. It is a good idea to regularly hoe as that helps keep good control over weeds.
They don't need a great deal of watering. That said, if the weather is dry when the pods start to swell, then you will need to give them a lot of water, so keep an eye on that.
For the taller varieties you will need to support them with stakes. Place a stake at each end of the row and then string between the posts.
As soon as the beans start to form, pinch off the top 3 inches of the stem. That will get you an earlier harvest and really helps a lot with controlling blackfly.
After cropping has finished, dig the plants into the soil as that will give you some very useful green manure.
- Water regularly, especially during dry periods.
- Hoe around the plants to control weeds.
- Support taller varieties with stakes or canes.
- Pinch off the tips of the plants to encourage branching and early harvest.
Broad Bean Pests and Problems
The Seed Beetle
We mentioned not to use any seeds with small round holes. The reason for that is a tiny seed beetle is usually the cause of that hole. Those seeds will never germinate or they will produce very weak seedlings.
Just be aware of this when buying your seeds and only buy from a good supplier. There is no treatment for these so you simply have to avoid the problem.
Bean Seed Fly
These are small grubs that live in the soil. Almost all beans are susceptible to these. They will make the bean seedlings very weak. Destroy any seedlings like this.
Mice love beans and we have seen them clear a row of beans overnight.You can put down spiny branches along the rows as that will deter them. You can also use some type of mouse poison.
Black Bean Aphid
This is the main one to look out for when growing broad beans. Blackfly will go after broad beans in the Spring. We use Bayer Garden Provado Ultimate Fruit and Vegetable Bug Killer to control that as it is very effective.
You may notice U shaped notches right at the edges of younger leaves. This can kill off seedlings but in older plants, they almost always recover. Spray with Fenitrothion and it can also be prevented by hoeing around the plants in April and May.
Beans Not Producing Flowers
This does not happen often but we have seen it before. It is usually caused by a bug called a Capsid. Use a balanced fertilizer that has phosphates and potash.
Harvesting & Use
You can begin to pick beans when they are 2-3 inches long and the best way to cook them is whole. The best time to pick beans for shelling is when the beans have started to push through the pod, but just before the bean has started to discolour.
Remove each pod from the plant by a sharp downward twist.
Here are some tips for harvesting your broad beans:
- Harvest the beans early in the morning when they are cool and crisp.
- Use a sharp knife to cut the pods off the plants.
- Shell the beans and enjoy them fresh or cooked.
Additional tips for beginner gardeners
- Companion planting can help to deter pests and improve the flavour of your broad beans. Good companion plants for broad beans include nasturtiums, carrots, and calendula.
- Where possible, use natural pest control methods, such as insecticidal soap or neem oil, to control pests.
- Harvest your broad beans regularly to encourage continued production.
Hopefully we have given you enough information to be able to grow broad beans in the UK. As a beginner we would recommend trying these as they are very easy and fast to grow.
Broad beans are ready to harvest when the pods are plump and the beans are full-size. This will usually be around 10-12 weeks after planting.