Very early spring is a good time to sow Broad Beans (Fava Beans) if you have a green house or sunny windowsill (pictured are my Broad Beans that are doing well). I have become very taken with my own Broad Beans, I think it must be the flash of tender green in all the grey of late winter – I was amazed at the mystical and sometimes quite dark connections that they have. So here is a little grow guide and a ‘potted’ history……
Broad Beans are a completely different plant to Kidney, Haricot, French and String Beans. They are recognised by the black spot on delicate pale flowers. Evidence shows that they have been in widespread cultivation across the Middle East, Epypt and the Mediterranean for at least 9,000 years and that they arrived in Britain around 6,000 years ago. Around the Iron Age they became part of the staple diet along with wheat and barley.
Broad Beans are widely associated with fertility, reincarnation and generally things that come back to life – perhaps unexpectedly. This is easy to understand, as is it very simple to dry a mature Broad Bean and pop it back into the earth the following season, for it to produce (often within 60 days) a fully mature plant again. Broad Beans also represent a deep connection with the earth, with some ancient cultures seeing the plant as a direct connection to the underworld, allowing spirits to return through their hollow stems.
Broad Beans have been used for divination purposes in the past, with patterns being sought in thrown beans, and also black and white beans were used for voting. Such were the mystical connections with the bean that some cults banned their followers from eating Broad Beans – most notably being the Pythagoreans. The reason for this is unclear however two separate theories have been offered in that it may be because of the deficiency known as ‘Favism’ that would result in poisoning and possibly death if someone affected with Favism ate a Broad Bean, or the close resemblance to the ‘Urdu’ Bean, which is taboo in India because of its associations with death and impurity. It is said that the philosopher Pythagoras dies because of his refusal to cross a Bean Field.
How to Grow
Broad Beans are easy to grow and are one of the earliest vegetable to crop – making them ideal for this time of year. You can plant the seeds directly into the garden in late Winter to crop early Summer. However I prefer to plant inside in early spring. I have used cardboard toilet roll holders, stand the tubes in a tray and fill with seed compost, then leave on a cool windowsill and water a little each day. When they have reached 10cm (4inch) high you can plant in their permanent position, keep them in the tubes, the roots will quickly penetrate the tubes as they bio degrade into the soil. During warmer weather water every day. As soon as young beans appear at the base of the plant it’s time to ‘pinch out’ the growing tips. Go to the very top of the plant and remove the tip with two leaves attached, you can compost these or steam them as a leaf vegetable. As the plants grow you will need to stake them to prevent the fragile stems from bending or breaking and pods being damaged. Stake after the seedlings are up and use anything from pea sticks to bamboo with string to support the plant.
Pick from the bottom up when ripe and continue to harvest frequently. Finger thick beans can be eaten whole or wait until the pod bursts open to harvest the fully ripe beans inside. When finished, cut off stems and dig roots back into the soil to make use of captured nitrogen. Broad beans are great for storing. You can dry or freeze the beans. To freeze, pick fresh, pod, place in a plastic bag and freeze. To dry, pick, pod and lay out the beans in a dry place. Leave beans to completely dry and store in an air tight container. These can be sown next year or rehydrated for use in cooking.