I’ve been meaning to write this post for a week now, ever since I got rid of the last of the broad beans. This year was really the first time I’ve made a concerted effort to grow winter vegetables so I thought it would be a good idea to reflect on the successes and failures I experienced – I’ll do this over several posts.
In the past I’ve tried to grow broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, but only ever managed to harvest 1 small cabbage, everything else went to seed or died as seedlings, eaten to death by caterpillars. Even this year my ‘concerted’ effort was quite ad hoc and unplanned, a general reflection of my gardening style. What was different this year is that I planted everything from seed and also that I actually had some success – yay!
I planted broad beans, silverbeet, broccoli and turnips. Not a huge variety, but a good way to start winter gardening I thought.
Firstly the broad beans:
I planted out an area about 1m by 1m, and planted the seeds quite a bit closer than recommended. I tend to do this with everything, but I think it worked really well for the beans as they were able to support each other as the started to grow quite tall. I planted the seeds quite early in April (knowing that with a baby due at the start of May I might not get another chance to sow some seeds for a while, little did I know how easy Baby Good was going to be and I’ve managed to garden continuously since she was born) and the germination rate was close to 100%.
I had decided to grow them for their ability to add nitrogen to the soil after the bed had been in continual operation for four years and was very much depleted of nutrients. I was also keen to try cooking with them, I hadn’t like them in my previous experiences, but had heard about double peeling and thought that might make a difference. It did, I love broad beans now.
I found them very easy to grow, requiring just a little watering after a few dry days in a row and a feed with liquid fertiliser every now and again. Other than that, they were left to grow and grow and grow. They ended up almost as tall as me, and much taller than any others I saw in the vegetable gardens in the streets around me – it appears broad beans are popular front yard crops around my area. I supported them with some string wrapped around the whole bed once they started to get too tall and worried my little head off every time we had strong winds. But they survived with very few casualties along the way.
I had flowers on the plants by June, and discovered why you would plant them in among a flower bed, they had such a sweet little black and white flower. After a few weeks the stalks were absolutely covered with flowers and also with beautiful, buzzy bees – always a good sign.
The first beans appeared in late August, but from there to becoming big enough to harvest seemed to take an eternity. It didn’t really, I’m just impatient once I see the first signs of ‘food’ on a plant.
I picked the first lot at the start of October and from there picked beans every couple of days until the start of November. That’s not a terribly long harvest period, but I estimated that in that time I picked about 5-6kgs of unshelled beans. Enough for Mr Good to be well and truly over broad beans. In the end I shelled, blanched and the peeled the grey skin off a whole pile of them and froze them in zip lock bags to use when we have a lull in the harvest later in the year or next year.
I posted several recipes, here and here and I also tried out this recipe for Chicken and Broad Bean Casserole which was lovely (though as usual I did add a generous amount of parsley at the end to give it a fresher flavour). As well the beans made it into lots of soup, pastas and stir frys.
I read recently that you should grow broad beans simply for their benefit to the soil rather than their crop. Whatever it was I was reading suggested the crop would be small and the preparation time for the beans not worth – I couldn’t disagree more! Miss Two and I had a ball peeling the beans lying on the grass in the sun – she took a little while to get the hang of it, but was quite a skilled peeler by the end. The double peeling did add a little to the prep time of any dish, but the beans so easily popped out of their skins that it was quite a satisfying job and the taste was so worth the effort.
So what’s the verdict, will I be planting broad beans again next year? Most definitely, and this time in a different spot to spread that nitrogen goodness around the other beds. Speaking of nitrogen, in order to get as much into the soil as possible I was told to cut the stalks off at ground level and dig the rest into the bed to break down on its own, so that’s what I did, let’s hope it works. The only down side to this first foray into broad bean growing was a disease that appeared first on a couple of leaves and then slowly spreading to about three quarters of the plants. I pretty much ignored it as it didn’t seem to be effecting the beans themselves at first. However, by the end it did and I think many of the later beans didn’t mature because of it. I think perhaps it was some kind of rust, but will have to do more research for next time and try to nip in the bud…. so to speak.