With winter approaching and summer crops finished, you would be forgiven for thinking there is little opportunity to start growing vegetables right now.
But you can start raising an ancient plant which is easy to grow, enriches the soil, and when picked young, takes only steaming then frying in a little olive oil and garlic to be truly delicious – the humble broad bean (or fava bean).
Soak the big broad bean seed in water for a day before sowing directly into a well composted or manured soil – about 5cm below the surface and allowing 30cm between each seed. Keep the seed watered and don’t worry about the weather – broad beans like cooler temperatures.
As with all vegetables, keep an eye out for bugs. String up some cloth or fine netting for plant coverage to prevent frost damage, and add plenty of mulch to keep soil temperatures up. All things going well, you should be admiring the black and white flowers at the end of winter and then the first pods early spring.
Once your first bean pod appears, nip out the growing tip of the plant – this encourages bean production rather than plant production. The tops also make great eating steamed or fried. The trick to broad beans is to pick them young – when the pods are only a few inches long and no later than when you can see the bumps of the beans inside the pod. King-sized pods look good but have the texture of an old boot -no good unless you plan to grow seeds for next Autumn.
Preparing to eat
Twist off the bean and blanch in very hot water for a few minutes – this makes shelling much easier. The beans should be pale green for the best taste and can then be prepared for an early spring feast.
Keep picking the beans as this encourages the plant to produce more pods and once your beans have given their all, simply chop the stems and turn back into the soil for a free, nitrogen-rich manure, readying the soil for the spring planting once again.