Broad beans are easy to grow and provide an early summer harvest in the edible garden. Here at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, we are growing a crimson flowered variety that looks great in an ornamental kitchen garden or in containers.
A vegetable garden can look as attractive as a herbaceous border with a little creative flair.
The end of February or beginning of March is a good time to sow broad beans. They can be sown directly into the ground, but will need the protection of a cloche early in the season. Alternatively they can be sown into deep pots in a polytunnel, greenhouse or cold frame and planted into the garden in April or early May.
Sow the seeds 5cm deep and 23cm apart to give them the space they need to grow. As with all gardening, be aware of pests, mice and birds as they like the seeds and young shoots so try to discourage them with nets.
Broad bean plants have a tendency to flop over so it is a good idea to support them with canes and string.
Nip out the tips of the plants once the pods start to form. This helps to prevent blackfly, a sap sucking aphid. The tips of the plant can be eaten like pea shoots. Companion planting with the aromatic herb summer savory (Satureja hortensis) is said to discourage blackfly.
Last year we had a problem with “chocolate spot” – a fungal disease that causes dark splotches on the leaves. It is encouraged by damp, humid conditions.
The way to avoid it is to increase the space between plants to allow better airflow and avoid high nitrogen fertilisers as they encourage soft, infection prone growth.
Broad beans are ready to harvest in June and July. Pick the pods whilst they are still small to prevent them becoming tough. They are very versatile and can be used in risotto, pasta sauce, stews and salads or mashed up to make a delicious hummus-like dip.
• The Edible Gardening Project is funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery, based at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. We teach people the skills and knowledge they need to grow their own food. For more information, please log on to www.rbge.org.uk/ediblegardening