Choose the right variety and these hardiest of beans will provide early harvests from both autumn and very early spring sowings, says RHS Chief Horticulturist Guy Barter.
Broad beans have large seeds, produce big seedlings and grow quickly. Where the site and soil are too windy or wet for autumn sown beans, sow a quick maturing cultivar such as ‘Monica’ in pots indoors in February - there is hardly any difference in maturity times between these and autumn sown seeds.
‘Aquadulce’ is a notably hardy cultivar for November sowing, but broad beans, unlike some crops, don’t need winter cold to ensure they flower (this is known as vernalisation), so you can sow any leftover ‘Aquadulce’ in spring, too.
Sow seeds for best value
Because few pods are produced per plant, many broad bean plants are needed to make a decent ‘picking’. Buying plants is highly uneconomic compared to raising them from seeds, which is something to bear in mind when ordering your veg seeds.
Sowing in early winter or early spring gives the best crops; broad beans sown after mid-April produce fewer and fewer pods until by June they are no longer worth sowing. Happily, May and June sowings of French and runner beans are highly productive, so they can fill the gap left after your broad bean harvest.
Broad beans are too bitter to tempt slugs and pigeons, but they will almost always be afflicted by blackfly. In practice the oft-quoted advice to pinch out tops to prevent infestation is ineffective but the blackfly are easily polished off by a product that works by contact action such as ‘SB Plant Invigorator’ or indeed ‘RHS Bug and Mildew Control’ - these are not officially pesticides, leave no residues and are relatively benign to helpful insects.
Pick of the crop
Look for the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) when buying vegetable seed or small plants. You can also download the RHS lists of recommended cultivars.