Peter Cun­dall: How to fill your gar­den full of beans

Not only are broad­beans su­per easy to grow and nu­tri­tious, they are also ex­cep­tion­ally good for in­creas­ing soil fer­til­ity, writes PETER CUN­DALL

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - CONTENTS - with Peter Cun­dall

I’ve long sus­pected that the rea­son why broad­beans have such short har­vest­ing pe­ri­ods is due to day-length and cool, wet con­di­tions that frus­trates pol­li­nat­ing bees. No mat­ter when we sow seeds, au­tumn or win­ter, most broad­bean plants only be­gin form­ing pods around the same time, usu­ally dur­ing Oc­to­ber.

What makes these plants so re­mark­able, is an as­ton­ish­ing abil­ity to keep grow­ing, even if reg­u­larly frozen solid dur­ing night-time frosts. This is why they are such a valu­able food crop, grow­ing through the cold­est win­ter months and giv­ing us a nu­tri­tious harvest of tasty beans at a time when many other fresh veg­eta­bles are rel­a­tively scarce.

There is an­other great ben­e­fit from grow­ing broad­beans in our own veg­etable patches. These ex­tra-vig­or­ous legumes have pow­er­ful, widespread­ing roots, mak­ing them ex­cep­tion­ally valu­able for in­creas­ing soil fer­til­ity, even while grow­ing and crop­ping.

They do this by fix­ing and lock­ing-in ni­tro­gen, ex­tracted from soil at­mos­phere.

It’s worth dig­ging out a broad­bean plant and wash­ing the soil from its roots just to see how it is stored. Once soil is re­moved, great, cling­ing clus­ters of pale nod­ules be­come ex­posed. These lumpy nod­ules are forms of ni­tro­gen, one of the most sig­nif­i­cant el­e­ments needed by most plants, es­pe­cially leafy veg­eta­bles such as sil­ver­beet, let­tuces and bras­si­cas.

Broad­bean plants have sim­ple needs, which is why they are eas­ily grown and highly-pro­duc­tive, de­spite lit­tle ef­fort on our part. They need an open, sunny bed and well-drained soil and lit­tle else. The plants ap­pre­ci­ate a sweet soil, so sprin­kle a good hand­ful of lime over ev­ery square me­tre of sur­face and rake in.

I’ve never both­ered us­ing fer­tilis­ers when grow­ing broad­beans, even in fairly im­pov­er­ished soils. Some­times it may be

Broad­bean plants have sim­ple needs, which is why they are eas­ily grown and highly-pro­duc­tive, de­spite lit­tle ef­fort on our part

nec­es­sary to sprin­kle sul­phate of potash along­side broad­bean plants if grow­ing in over-rich con­di­tions.

Potash firms leaves and stems, mak­ing them less vul­ner­a­ble to at­tacks from black aphids. Most broad­bean plants don’t need wa­ter­ing dur­ing win­ter and early spring be­cause most Tas­ma­nian soils con­tain plenty of mois­ture dur­ing cooler parts of the year. In low rain­fall dis­tricts the plants may need a wa­ter­ing dur­ing Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber.

Push the big seeds into cul­ti­vated soil down to the sec­ond fin­ger joint and space them about 10cm apart. These are big plants and even the so-called ‘dwarf’ va­ri­eties with still grow to a height of 1.5m or more. Most seedlings are up and mov­ing in a cou­ple of weeks and never look back.

The big mis­take is to sow seeds too close, be­cause this en­cour­ages fun­gal prob­lems es­pe­cially broad­bean rust, through poor air cir­cu­la­tion be­cause of con­ges­tion.

Many be­gin flow­er­ing in late Au­gust or even ear­lier, but few pods will form un­til the bees start to get busy. How­ever, when the first pods be­gin to form, most plants grad­u­ally be­come top-heavy and this can be a real prob­lem if blown over. When this oc­curs, the stems bend and be­come kinked, caus­ing growth to stop and crops to fail.

It’s a sim­ple job to sur­round a broad­bean patch with wooden gar­den stakes and stretch strong twine be­tween them, also criss-cross­ing through the plants. Some peo­ple ob­tain an ear­lier harvest of small, ex­tra-young pods and cook them whole, but from my ex­pe­ri­ence, flavour is in­sipid.

How­ever, if the beans are har­vested while still small – a lit­tle big­ger than peas – they are in­cred­i­bly sweet and de­li­cious eaten raw.

Chil­dren love them so should be shown how to harvest the young pods by pulling them sharply down­wards rather than try­ing to drag them off the plants.

When we pur­chase broad­bean seeds, there are usu­ally far too many in pack­ets. Don’t waste them, scat­ter all sur­plus – and last year’s left-over seeds - over any va­cant beds and rake them in. They make fan­tas­tic green ma­nure if smashed down and dug in when about knee-high.

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