How to Grow Broad Beans (Vicia faba)

With easy-to-handle large seeds, robust nature and ability to grow in the ground or containers, broad beans make a lovely crop of vegetables to try if you’re growing your own crops for the first time.

Broad beans are grown for the large green beans inside the pods, although young pods can be eaten whole. Most types grow to be at least 1.2m tall but dwarf varieties are available, which only grow to around 35cm, if space is limited.

They’re relatively easy to grow and produce a huge crop that’s easy to store by freezing, plus home grown broad beans have fantastic flavour compared to those that you’d find in the supermarket.

Equipment required to grow broad beans:

  • 1 Bag of vegetable growing compost
  • Water
  • A trowel
  • 1 Tray of 9cm pots and a shuttle tray
  • 1 Water tray
  • Labels and pen
  • Bean fertiliser

How to grow broad beans from seed?

When to sow broad bean seeds?

For spring sowing: February – April

For autumn sowing: October – November

For planting young plants: May

Sow broad bean seeds outside in October or November, providing the ground is still warm. Sowing in autumn means you can achieve an earlier harvest, starting from around May the following year.

Alternatively, they can also be sown outdoors from February throughout spring. If sowing in February, it’s a good idea to give them a head start by warming the ground with a polytunnel or cloche until they germinate. To give them even better chance of success you can sow them indoors or in a propagator, one per Rootrainer is ideal.

When sowing outside, sow 4-5cm deep in drills made with a dibber. Seeds can be sown 20 – 25cm apart in staggered rows.

How to sow:

  1. Prepare a pile of vegetable growing compost, with a good balanced nutrient content for vegetables
  2. Fill 9cm pots with the seed compost, striking off the excess and lightly patting down the soil so it’s flush with the top
  3. Sow one broad bean seed per pot to about 2.5cm (1 inch) deep
  4. Cover with more of the seed compost and place pots on a water tray, water with a can fitted with a ‘rose’ (sprinkler at the spout)
  5. Insert a label and leave in a cool, light position

When the green shoots push through the soil, water the modules daily. At this stage of growth they are called ‘seedlings’. Make sure the compost is always moist without being waterlogged. Tip out any excess water in the water tray at the end of each day.

Planting broad beans:

After around 14 days your broad beans will be big enough to move on into containers. If the weather is always warm keep containers outside. If it’s a cold spring bring containers indoors at night and return them outdoors by day.

A 20-30cm (8-12in) pot will take two plants comfortably. If planting in containers, be prepared to stick in some surrounding supports in a ring around the plants as they grow. Tie a double row of string around the ring of supports.

Water each morning in spring, and morning and evening if it’s particularly warm.

In late spring to early summer pick the beans daily. In the event of a glut, broad beans freeze well.

When to harvest broad beans?

For autumn-sown seeds: May – September

For spring-sown seeds: June – September

For spring-planted young plants: June – September

How easy are they to grow?

From seeds: Easy, but requires a little bit of time

From plants: Very easy –suitable for beginners

Where to sow them and what soil is best?

Well dug soil that’s preferably manured the previous winter. Autumn-sown crops benefit from shelter and well-drained soil. Broad beans prefer a sunny, sheltered position. They also require support, such as canes.

Our Top Varieties

Aquadulce Claudia, Masterpiece Green Longpod, Sciabola Verde

How to Grow, Harvest and Store Broad Beans

Growing

Tall varieties require some support. Canes should be pushed into the ground at next to each plant. Use Pea & Bean Net between canes for extra support.

For best results, feed established plants with a good multipurpose feed, such as Bio-Gro Black Gold seaweed fertiliser.

Once the plants reach 1.2m tall, cut off the growing tips to encourage bushier growth and more beans. The tips can be eaten as spring greens.

Pick the pods regularly to encourage the growth of more. Young pods can be cooked and eaten whole.

Harvesting

Pick green tips about 7.5cmlong when the beans are still in flower and before the pods form. These can be steamed very quickly and eaten like spinach.

The immature pods are eaten whole, semi-mature pods are shelled and the young beans are eaten as flageolets. Mature pods are shelled and the beans used fresh or dried for winter use.

Storing

The easiest way to store broad beans is by freezing them. This way they can be used cooked or defrosted as and when needed. Broad beans can also be dried and stored in air-tight jars.

How to Grow Broad Beans from Young Plants

Planting

Your young plants will arrive in May, just as they’re ready to be planted out in your garden or allotment. They should be planted 20 – 25cmwith growing supports, such as canes, should be positioned next to each one. Water-in after planting.

Broad Bean Pests and Diseases

Broad beans can be susceptible from the following pests and diseases:

  • Blackbean aphid/blackfly – Young shoots are often covered with masses of black aphids. These growing tips can be snipped off and disposed. As a precaution, the rest of the plant can be treated with Plant Rescue Bug Killer
  • Mice – Sometimes mice unearth the seeds as soon as they’ve been sown. If you notice this happening it’s best to cover them with fleece or netting to prevent the mice getting in. Alternatively, sowing in Rootrainers and planting out once germinated is a goo preventative method
  • Chocolate Spot – Dark brown spots and blots on leaves develop and can sometimes kill plants in wet seasons. Infected plants should be destroyed.

For Best Results

Improve plant health with Bio-Gro Plant Health Invigorator to suppress insects, pests and fungal diseases and boosts vigorous healthy growth.

You May Also Need

Protect your young broad bean plants with Insect Net.

Use Pea & Bean Net between canes for added growing support.

Pre-dig the soil with our lightweight, dry Organic Extra Natural Farmyard Manure.

Health Benefits of Broad Beans

Broad beans contain an amino acid called L-dopa, which stimulates the brain to make dopamine – the chemical associated with happiness.

Broad beans are also rich in potassium, which can have beneficial effects on blood pressure. Eating foods rich in potassium is the best way of maintaining healthy potassium levels, rather than taking supplements.

HOW TO GROW BROAD BEANS

QUICK CALENDAR FOR GROWING BROAD BEANS

Correct timing is probably the most important factor in sowing broad beans and lumping all areas of the UK together (as most websites do) will not give you the correct sowing dates. to adjust ALL dates in this website to be correct for your area of the UK and Ireland. If your area of the UK is too cold for autumn sowing it will tell you below.

Sow seeds outside in autumn – the third week of October

Sow seeds in pots for spring planting – the last last week of February

Sow seeds outside in spring – the last week of March

Transplant pot grown plants outside – the last week of March

Start to harvest Broad Beans approximately – the second week of June

WHERE TO GROW BROAD BEANS

Most soils are suitable for growing broad beans but if you are sowing them in autumn a free-draining soil is important. This will allow water to drain through the soil and stop the seeds from rotting. Although broad beans prefer cool conditions it is important to grow them in full sun or partial shade because they will have finished cropping well before the July and August heat sets in.

If the soil is fertile at planting time your broad beans won’t need feeding again. For spring sown broad beans scatter a handful of fish, blood and bone in the soil per plant when planting. For autumn sown broad beans scatter a handful of fish, blood and bone in the soil around each plant in spring time (April) and gently work it into the soil surface with a trowel.

Depending on the height of the variety you are growing and conditions in , wind may be an important factor. It’s always best to choose a site which is at least partly protected from the wind. for details further down this page on how to support broad beans.

WHEN AND HOW TO SOW BROAD BEANS

AUTUMN SOWING
Autumn sowings are best made directly into ground in the third week of October. At this time of year the soil will still be about the correct temperature for germination. The two major problems with autumn sowing are cold and water-logging. Whilst you may be able to predict the temperatures with some accuracy, the amount of rain which may fall before spring is almost impossible to predict. Water-logging will cause the seeds and seedlings to rot.

To help you decide if autumn sowing is an option in your area consider the diagram below showing average soil temperatures in the UK. The majority of areas in the UK will fall somewhere between the blue and red lines. The chart shows the average of day and night time temperatures combined and you can assume that the day time temperature is about 2°C higher than the averages shown below.

The minimum temperature at which broad beans will germinate is 7°C / 45°F. If cloches are in place, or the ground is covered in plastic, the soil temperature will be approximately 2°C higher than shown in the above diagram, the ground will also be drier reducing the risk of the seeds rotting. The soil temperature is the key to sowing broad beans in autumn. If the temperature is high enough for just a couple of hours, the seeds seeds will start the germination process.

For spacing and depths to sow broad beans see the paragraph Spring Sowing Direct in the Ground below. Although many books and gardening websites recommend autumn sowing, our experience is that in many winters the seeds fail to grow and even when they do the advantages over spring sown seed is almost indiscernible.

SPRING SOWING IN POTS
Only do this if you can provide cool (but not freezing) conditions for the seeds to germinate and grow on. If the seedlings are grown on in warm conditions the plants become leggy and very prone to damage when planted out. A cold frame or unheated greenhouse is ideal as is an unheated room or against the outside wall of a heated house out of windy conditions. Sow the seeds in the last last week of February and transplant them into open ground in the last week of March.

Fill a 7cm / 3in pot with multi-purpose compost and stand in shallow water for half an hour. Use a plant marker to make a hole in the compost about 4cm / 1½ deep and drop the seed in – it’s not important which way round the seed goes. Fill the top of the hole with compost and gently firm the surface of the compost down.

Mark the pots with the variety sown and the date. Place the pots in a cool position (in or out of light). The ideal soil temperature for germinating broad bean seeds is about 12°C / 54°F but anywhere between 7°C / 45°F to 15°C / 59°F will give good results.

As soon as the seedlings appear above the compost make sure to move the pots to a position which gets lots of light and is also cool, a temperature around 12°C / 54°F is ideal for growing on young broad bean plants.

Broad Bean seedling ready for transplanting

SPRING SOWING DIRECT IN THE GROUND
This is a good method for almost all areas of the UK. Seed should be sown in the last week of March.

Sowing broad bean seeds is simple. First the ground should be well dug to allow good drainage. If the soil is poor add well-rotted compost or a couple of handfuls of blood fish and bone fertiliser to every square metre / yard.

Broad beans have a very good germination rate so it’s only necessary to sow one seed for every broad bean plant wanted. Sow a couple more seeds at the end of a row just in case one or two plants don’t grow.

For dwarf varieties sow seeds 15cm / 6in apart, for taller growing varieties sow 23cm / 9in apart. Sow the seeds about 6cm / 2½ins deep lightly covering the seed with soil and lightly firming it down. Water well if conditions are dry.

A young broad bean plant

If you are sowing more than one row then it is theoretically possible to have the rows 23cm / 9in apart. That is fine if you limit yourself to two rows. If you are sowing more than two rows then you need to allow more space between every second row (60cm / 2ft) so that you can walk down the rows and harvest your crop.

We have a strong preference for the dwarf varieties of broad beans because they don’t need any support, taller varieties do. If you need to create supports then simply set stakes into the ground along each side of the row and tie a couple of string lines along the row supported by the stakes.

CARING FOR BROAD BEANS

Broad beans are generally easy plants to grow without any special needs. When the pods start to grow on the lower part of the plant it’s a good idea to pinch out the growing tip to help the pods grow well and also to reduce the severity of any attack by aphids.

Broad beans have two methods of pollination, important to know if you grow them in a greenhouse / polytunnel or under cloches. Their primary method is self-pollination, in other words they do not need insects to produce a crop. However, they can also be pollinated by insect activity and will produce the best crop when pollinated using both methods.

So, if you provide cloche protection early in the year it’s best to remove the cloches as soon as flower buds start to appear. This will allow bees and other insects to get at the flowers when they form.

HOW TO SUPPORT BROAD BEANS

Taller varieties of broad beans will need support and even some of the shorter varieties will need support in windy conditions. This is very easy to do if you follow our instructions below.

Insert a cane deep into the ground at each corner of the area where the beans are to be grown. Tie one or two rows of string around the corner posts to enclose the broad beans. This applies equally to a single row or a block of the plants. If using one row of string, place it about 60cm / 2 foot high.

Nothing stronger is required, this will be enough to provide support to stop the plants toppling over. The string / canes can be put in place at any time before the plants reach 60cm / 2 foot high. See our page on broad bean varieties here for an estimate if a particular variety will require support or not.

POLLINATION OF BROAD BEANS

Most broad beans are partially self-fertile but you will have a much better crop if insects pollinate them as well. This varies depending on the variety. We explain below how they can pollinate themselves and some problem areas.

As a broad bean flower develops, the stigma inside the flower becomes taut and it is also bent over. Insect activity in the flower will cause the stigma to spring open onto the pollen allowing fertilisation to occur. In some cases, where there is no insect activity, the stigma will ripen and spring open as a result of wind movement. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t which explains why poor pollination can occur.

Some bees have got lazy in recent years and instead of entering the flower from the front to get at the nectar, they drill a small hole at the base of the flower and get the nectar from there. This type of bee activity is not so efficient as far as pollination is concerned.

Another problem with broad bean pollination is that different varieties will easily pollinate each other if insects are allowed to go between the varieties. This will often result in pods which are not true to type.

WHEN AND HOW TO HARVEST YOUR BROAD BEANS

Broad beans are best harvested when they are young and about the size of half an average thumbnail. At this stage the beans will have soft and tender skin and the flesh will be sweet and delicious.

Many beginners who have not grown broad beans before have asked the question, “does a broad bean plant produce ore than one picking of the crop throughout the year?”. The answer is they only produce one picking each year however not all the beans on a broad bean plant mature at the same time.

They ripen earliest at the bottom of the plant. The amount of pods (each pod contains 8 to 10 beans) per plant is very variable depending on the variety but around 15 to 20 pods is a an average amount.

When your broad beans have finished cropping they can be dug up and placed on the compost heap. In their place there is still time to sow some lettuce, radish and beetroots. The beetroot may not grow to full size but they are delicious when harvested young.

As a guide broad beans should be ready for harvest around the second week of June although this will depend on when the seeds were sown and the weather conditions. Autumn sown seeds will tend to be ready a couple of weeks earlier compared to spring sown seeds.

Broad beans ready for harvest

To harvest the beans, twist the pod and gently pull the stem until it is removed from the plant. This can be a bit tricky some times because the stem holding the beans to the main stem can be quite tough. Don’t pull too hard, it can pull the plant out of the ground. If the stems are tough then a small pair of scissors is a very good alternative.

GROWING BROAD BEANS IN CONTAINERS

Broad beans are not an ideal vegetable to grow in containers however given the right variety and a large container they can be successful. The container should be at least 30cm / 1ft deep to allow the roots sufficient room. The best dwarf variety to choose is definitely The Sutton. Cultivation is the same as for growing in open ground although more watering will be required especially in warm and dry weather.

One trick which significantly reduces the need for constant watering is to place a layer of small stones or wood chip on the surface of the soil in the container. This works very well, far better than you might expect.

RECOMMENDED VARIETIES OF BROAD BEANS

We have dedicated an entire page to reviewing large number of broad bean varieties which can currently be grown in the UK. to go there now.

PESTS AND DISEASES OF BROAD BEANS

Broad Beans are very strong growing plants and suffer from very few pests and diseases in our experience. The only pests you are likely to suffer from are aphids and this a very common occurrence. Spraying is not really an option because the beans will be harvested soon after any spraying occurs. It is worth while pinching out the growing tips as described in the care section above. The aphids love the growing tips and if you pinch them out it will remove their first point of feeding.

If aphids do attack then follow our advice in our page on aphids.

Damage to the leaves of broad bean plants is most likely due to pea / bean weevils. They tend to leave notches in the edges of the leaves. They can severely damage young broad bean plants but larger plants can normally outgrow them. See our page on vine weevil which is almost the same pest and the advice given applies to both.

Blackened tips or edges to the leaves is, in most cases caused by frost damage. Plants started off indoors and then planted out (or into an unheated greenhouse) too early without hardening them off are the most vulnerable. Normally they will grow through the damage when the weather warms up.

There is some doubt as to whether broad beans benefit much from crop rotation. We discuss this in detail on our crop rotation page which can be found here.

END OF ARTICLE

BACK TO MAIN VEGETABLE PAGE

Yesterday I planted 2 packets of Windsor Fava Beans in front of the chicken coop area.

In a week or so when the beans start to pop through the soil I’ll set out the Swiss chard and kale plants in front of the fava. Fava bean plants can get as high as 4 feet tall, so I think the fava bean, kale and Swiss chard combo will look pretty cool once everything is at the peak of its growing season.

I haven’t grown fava beans in ages, so I’m pretty excited about growing them this year. Now that we have a boatload more garden space carved out in the backyard I’ll be able to try all sorts of new veggies. I’m excited!

If you have never grown fava beans before, here is how to do it:

Brief description: Fava Beans are also known as Broad Beans, Field Beans or Windsor Beans. The beans are sweet, sized like a lima bean, and best when harvested and grown in early spring.

Where to Plant Fava Beans: Fava Beans are a cool season plant. They can be planted in garden beds, raised beds and containers.

Planting Seeds: Seeds must be soaked for 12-24 hours before sowing. Then sow seeds 1″ deep. When seedlings are 1″ tall, thin to 1 bean every 4″-6″.

Growing Tips: Plant in a full sun area. Plants do best when temperatures do not get above 60-65 degrees. Fava Beans do not need fertilizing, so long as they are planted in quality soil. They like well drained soil and should be watered just before the soil completely dries out. Do not over water, though.

{photo credit}

How to Harvest: Fava Beans have different harvest times depending on how you plant on using them. When harvested young, the entire pod can be eaten. In the middle, they are best shelled and cooked, and finally, you can wait until the shell turns hard and brown to store the beans dry. To harvest, pick as you would a snap bean.

I think I’m going to do a little of both this year, eat some fresh, and also dry some beans to use later this winter in soups.

Are you ready to start your garden but you’re not sure when you should plant your seeds or set out your transplants? Head on over HERE and you’ll be taken to a handy dandy chart that is broken down into what vegetables should be planted {or transplanted} each month in your area.

Anyone can do this. Dirt + Seeds+ Water = Food!

~Mavis

Here are a few Fava Bean recipes to try:

Arugula and Fava Bean Crostini

Grilled Rainbow Chard with Fava Beans and Oregano

Fact: Did you know that there is a small population with a genetic condition called Favism? People who have the conditions should not consume Fava Beans. Who knew?!

How to grow broad (fava) beans in containers

Broad beans seem unlikely candidates for containers. The problem is that they can get big. With most varieties, you’re looking at height of more than a metre. That’s enough to send container growers running to take shelter under the nearest pot!

But the diverse range of dwarf varieties (that will reach one to two feet) overcome this problem, giving you all the benefits of broad beans without the drawbacks. They’re easy plants to grow – happy in colder weather, high-yielding, and largely unbothered by pests.

At around 14 weeks growing time, they’re also quick movers, making them ideal for staggered sowings. Sow in March and you’ll be eating home-grown, homemade bean casserole in June…or a salad, if you’re that way inclined (preferably with your own leaves).

A little side note: the curious history of broad beans

Broad beans are one of the oldest cultivated vegetables and probably the first “bean”. They date back at least 8000 years, when they were first grown in the Mediterranean.

Pythagoras showing either fear or reverence to some fava bean plants.

Followers of the sect of Pythagoras (Pythagoreans) weren’t allowed to eat them and often described the plants in pretty disparaging terms. The risk of favism, a rare but potentially fatal condition caused by exposure to broad beans, was perhaps the cause of this view.

Factsheet

Germination/sprouting time: 1 – 2 weeks.
Time from sowing to harvest: 3 months.
Size of pot: Large.
Difficulty of growing in pots? Easy.

Sowing and harvesting calendar

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Sow (✓)
Harvest

Potting soil tips

  • A good potting mix for broad beans is well-fertilized and free-draining. Add a little extra drainage material (grit, perlite or composted bark) and a few extra handfuls of slow-release fertilizer. Alternatively, liquid-feed every week once the seedling has put on some growth. Your drainage material should make up no less than a third of your total mix.

  • All of the above in mind, broad beans are unfussy. They’re good candidates for already-used potting soil, especially if you’re planting in autumn. Just make sure you rejuvenate it with some fertilizer.
  • Broad beans don’t like soil that’s saturated with water, so good drainage is a must, especially in the wetter months.

Sowing and planting

  • Sow seeds about 5 in. deep, with several to a pot (depending on size) but don’t overcrowd them. Allow at least 6 inches of space between plants.
  • There are three times of the year to sow broad beans: early autumn (usually October or November), late winter (February) and up until the end of spring (March to May). The last period (March to May) is the most common time for sowing. You’re less likely to encounter problems with frost in this period, though the’re an increased risk of black bean aphid (see below).

  • Early autumn (October and November) – Go for a variety that has some resistance to the cold, which will be needed for overwintering. City microclimates and small, well-sheltered spots are ideal for sowing at this time of year. Once again: make sure the variety is suitable.
  • Late Winter (February) – Start seedlings indoors and be ready to provide protection.
  • Spring (March to May) – The main sowing season. Stagger sowings (every month or so) for a good supply. Pods freeze well after they’ve been harvested so you don’t need to worry about having too many.

Growing tips

  • If sowing in autumn, provide as much protection as possible. Bubble wrap your pots and have some fleece to hand in the case of frost over winter. The main issue with planting at the end of the year is loss of plants to frost. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and if it’s going to be a very cold night wrap the plants up. I’m not a fan of keeping fleece on plants for long periods (it creates a moist environment ideal for pests like slugs) so take it off when the weather warms.
  • After six weeks or so, feed weekly with a balanced liquid feed if you haven’t added slow-release fertilizer when putting together your potting mix. The exception to this is through winter, when autumn-planted broad beans will be dormant.
  • The main thing to remember is that the plants need lots of water when the pods start to develop. At this stage. and especially in dry weather, water liberally.

  • If you’re going for a dwarf variety, staking shouldn’t be necessary. For run-of-the-mill varieties, pop some bamboo canes next to the young plants so that you can stake them (use twine not plastic ties) as they grow.
  • With dwarf varieties, you don’t need to worry about pinching off. Otherwise, when the first bean pods appear, tear off the top couple of inches (above a leaf node/branch) with your fingers. This will ensure that all energy goes into the formation of pods. It will also deter black bean aphids, which love the scrumptious young shoots. These are completely edible (and tasty) so don’t throw them away!

Harvesting

  • When are broad beans ready to harvest? It really depends on whether you want to shell them or cook the pods whole. The general advice is that pods above 2 in. long are OK for harvesting.
  • After you’ve harvested, the plants are excellent fodder for the compost bin.

  • For shelling, pick when you can see the bulbous outline of the beans through the skin of the pod (see the picture). Do this before the seams/scars of the beans turn brown, which indicates that they’re tough. They should still be green or white.

Pests and problems

  • Black bean aphid – Black bean aphid is the main potential problem. They’re difficult to miss because big groups of the little buggers colonize leaves and stems. Pinching out the tops once pods start to form is an important preventative measure. If you are unlucky enough to be bothered by them, scrape them off and use a homemade insecticide until they go away.

  • Chocolate spot – If leaves appear blotchy with brown spots, your plants may have a bout of chocolate spot. Unless it’s chronic, it will likely just be an issue of appearance and the beans will still be edible. Give plants lots of space and air if the spots do appear.
  • Other common issues, like downy mildew, can occur. Use a homemade pesticide.
  • Always discard seeds with little black holes in them. These are caused by tiny grubs and won’t germinate (or produce weak plants).

Good broad bean varieties for pots

Good varieties for US growers include:

  • Stereo Bush – I’m not entirely sure where the name comes from, but this compact, bushy variety is good for pots. The slimmer pods can be eaten raw, cooked when young, or left to ripen. Expect it to grow to around three feet in height.
  • Broad Windsor – This variety is worth mentioning simply because it’s so widespread. It might be the most available broad/fava bean variety in the US. It grows higher than dwarf varieties but isn’t too tall, making it possible to grow in containers. It will reach between three and four feet in height.

Good varieties for UK growers include:

  • The Sutton – Probably one of the best-known compact varieties in the UK. If you’re wondering whether or not it’s got anything to do with the seed company Suttons…well, it’s bred by them. It is fast-growing, suitable for sowing all year round (including November) and will only grow to a height of 1.5 feet.
  • Robin Hood – Another variety bred specifically for containers and small spaces. You might want to try both The Sutton and Robin Hood (which is supposed to have good pest-resistance) and see which one you prefer.

Broad beans: storage and cooking

  • Broad beans are adaptable. When young they can be eaten raw. More mature pods can either be cooked whole or shelled (see the harvesting advice above). Personally, I prefer to eat them steamed when they’re younger.

Young beans be picked as you need them.

  • They can also be frozen or dried. In my opinion, drying is too involved. The beans are usually left on the plant (or hung in a room) to dry out before storing. They need soaking and a longer cooking time, however, when you do eventually come to eat them. Freezing is a much better option. Pick the fresh beans (see harvesting advice above), shell and then blanch them for a few minutes, before bagging and freezing. They’ll keep for at least a year.
  • If the individual beans have brown or black scars because they’ve been harvested too late or left to dry, then remove the skins (after cooking and before serving).

More Resources

  • The New Vegetable & Herb Expert by dr. D.G. Hessayon – I recommend this book in most of my guides. There’s an excellent section covering all the different types of beans (the classifications can certainly be confusing).
  • Grow Your Own Crops in Pots by Kay Maguire – Another great container growing book that also has a section on broad beans.
  • Vegetables for the Gourmet Gardener (RHS) by Simon Akeroyd – A superb little book that combines cultivation advice with little snippets of history and trivia. Not a container gardening book but well worth a place on your bookshelf.

More container vegetable growing guides

If there’s some more space in your container garden, consider having a look at some of our other guides:

  • Grow Carrots in Containers
  • Grow Garlic in Containers
  • Grow Kale in Containers
  • Grow Black Radishes in Containers
  • Grow Spinach in Containers

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below!

Have you tried growing broad beans in containers? Leave a comment below and let me know how it went!

Image credits: Broad Beans by Malcolm Manners, Fava Plant by Ariel Mieling, Homegrown Broad Beans by Deirdre, Broad beans by Malcolm Manners, Black Bean Aphid by Sascha Kohlmann.

Growing broad beans

Where to grow

Broad beans grow best in a sunny situation sheltered from winds and enjoy rich, moisture retentive, well-drained soil.

What to do

Soil preparation

  • Prepare the planting site by digging over and adding leaf mould or well-rotted manure.
  • Choose the broad bean variety that suits your needs, hardy cultivars for early autumn sowings or dwarf broad beans for windy areas.

How to sow seeds direct

  • Dig over the soil to create a seed bed and sow one bean directly 5cm (2in) deep and 23cm (9in) apart.
  • Sow in double rows or blocks but stagger plantings to make the best use of space.

How to sow seeds under cover

  • Sowing broad beans under cover can give more reliable germination especially if you have trouble with frozen soil or pests like mice.
  • Sow one per 7cm (3in) pot filled with multi-purpose compost. Water in and place in a cool but frost-free place. Avoid heated rooms or hot greenhouses as they will fail to germinate. Harden off before planting out 23cm (9in) apart.

Autumn sowing

  • You can sow broad beans from October onwards, but make sure the ground is not frozen. If it is, you may need to lay some polythene or other material down to warm it up.
  • By sowing in autumn you can have beans as early as May, but watch out for frost as this can easily claim your hard work. Cloches, polytunnels or fleece are worth keeping on standby just in case the temperature drops.

Aftercare – pinching out and staking

  • 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.
  • Spacing shouldn’t be compromised as good airflow is essential for combating fungal disease.
  • 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.
  • Dwarf varieties will need less space and less staking and are well worth considering especially on windy or small sites.
  • 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.

Five to try

  • ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ – good for autumn sowing, nice long pods
  • ‘Express’ – tender, tasty and good for freezing
  • ‘Imperial Green Longpod’ – heavy cropping hardy variety
  • ‘Optica’ – compact plant, great for those short on space
  • ‘The Sutton’ – dwarf variety, prolific cropper

The best easy growing projects

Broad beans

When to sow: March

One to whet their appetite for growing things. Rinse a clean jam jar, leaving it wet inside. Put in a folded piece of kitchen roll and press it up against the glass. Put a broad bean seed between the kitchen roll and the glass and leave on the windowsill. Add a spoonful of water to the seed every day, enough to keep the jar moist but not waterlogged. After a few days, the broad bean should sprout. After a couple of weeks you’ll have your own broad bean seedling, which can be planted out into a 10cm pot of compost or open ground. As the plant gets larger, it will need supporting with a stake. When it’s about 75cm high, snip off the top. Now wait for your harvest.

Sunflowers

When to sow: indoors: March, outdoors: late April

Big, easy-to-handle seeds and a doddle to grow. The main problem with sunflowers are the slugs and snails who, like evil lumberjacks, eat through young stems so the top of the plant collapses. For this reason, sow more seeds than you will need and prepare the children for casualties. I start sunflowers in large pots on an outside table, away from predators. If size matters and you’re after a monster, go for the Russian giant variety. But there’s a whole range of interesting types, including multi-headed and red flowered ones – check what they’re selling in your garden centre. Your sunflowers can stay in a large container or be planted straight in the ground. Either way, they’ll need supporting with a bamboo cane or tying to a fence. As for where to plant them: there’s a big clue in the name.

Cress heads

When to Sow: On a rainy day

Take some washed-out egg shells that are three-quarters intact. Draw a face on the shell and fill with damp cotton wool. Sprinkle cress seeds on top of the cotton wool. Now leave on the windowsill, checking from time to time that the cotton wool is still damp. Soon your face will have its own head of green hair.

Potatoes

When to sow: March, or later, if very wet or frosty

Make sure you have lots of compost for planting your seeds and bulbs. Photograph: Tricia de courcy ling

Even if you have a small outside space, don’t write off potatoes. They’ll grow in any large container providing there are holes in the bottom for drainage. We use old compost bags, turning them inside out so the black interior is on show, which makes for a much classier display on the patio. You’ll need one seed potato per bag, which should be filled half way with soil. Plant at least 10cm deep and as shoots peek out of the earth, gently cover them with soil or compost. Repeat this about once a fortnight until the bag is nearly full. Keep the bag well watered. You’ll find seed potatoes in the garden centre sold as earlies, second earlies and maincrop. Don’t be daunted by this; just buy the spuds you like the sound of.

A junk garden

When to make: Anytime

Broken watering cans, old wellies, a disused sink … any old bit of junk will do for a container just so long as it has holes in the bottom for drainage. Let’s assume you’re planting a Wellington boot. Put gravel or stones in the foot; this not only helps drainage but stops it falling over. Now fill with soil. Planting options include pelargonium, zinnia, busy lizzie and petunia. Buy as young, plug plants and they’ll be a lot cheaper. You can also try planting herbs – thyme, marjoram, rosemary, mint (a beast, best grown in it’s own container) – or nasturtium seeds.

Baby salad stripes

When to sow: April onwards

With a little effort at the right time you can get fantastic results. Photograph: Tricia de courcy ling

Fill a seed tray or a deeper container, such as a wine crate, with compost. Sprinkle 3cm-wide rows of different types of salad seed into the tray, cover with a thin layer of compost and water gently. You are aiming to make a stripy pattern using leaves of different shapes and colours. Most salad leaves are suitable: until June, use lettuce varieties and bull’s blood beet for a nice red colour. From July to mid-September, try rocket, corn salad, and oriental greens, such as golden mustard, red mustard and mizuna. You want seedlings to be about 1cm apart, so thin them out after germination if necessary. Harvest your leaves when 6cm high, cutting about 2cm above soil level. Water and leave, and with luck your leaves should grow back again.

Microgreens

When to sow: March-October

Microgreens are tiny, highly nutritious vegetable seedlings that you’ll find in some of the smartest restaurants in the world. No matter: growing them is a piece of cake. They can be sown directly on to compost in a seed tray or pot, but are best raised on vermiculite, which you can buy at the garden centre. The growing container needs to be placed in a larger tray of water. Sow seeds on to the vermiculite and add water to the tray until the vermiculite surface is wet. Do not water the vermiculite; always water through the tray and keep the latter topped up. Grow on a sunny windowsill and harvest with a pair of scissors when your greens are a few centimetres high. Broccoli, radish, Swiss chard, beetroot and snow peas are among many veg you can grow this way.

Courgettes

When to sow: Mid-April

Seeds must be sown in warm soil so start off indoors in small pots. When two leaves have formed and a third is developing, plants are ready to go into the ground or big pots or compost bags (see potatoes above). Suitable varieties are yellow burpee’s golden, venus and zucchini. The timing of the planting out is crucial. If it’s cold, like last May, keep plants indoors, putting into bigger pots if needs be, until warmer late weather really kicks in. To do so, dig a good-sized hole for your seedlings, leaving about 30cm between plants. For flavour, courgettes are best harvested young, when firm to the touch, with their flowers still on them. Harvest using secateurs or old scissors to avoid damaging the plant. Don’t leave this too long, or you risk harvesting watery old marrows.

Pumpkins and squash

When to sow: Mid-April

Start off like courgettes and plant into fertile ground when it’s nice and warm. There are hundreds of varieties to choose from. If it’s size you’re after for Hallowe’en, go for the atlantic giant variety, but don’t expect to eat it. For taste, I’d go for blue-grey crown princes. Pumpkins and squash typically need two metres diameter growing space, and should be grown in a sunny spot. For the largest pumpkin possible, chop off the growing tip of the plant once one fruit has formed – the plant will put all its energies into producing a whopper. Harvesting pumpkins is an inexact science. Best leave them on the plant to ripen for as long as possible, so keep your fingers crossed for a sunny September. Harvest before wet autumn gets into its stride and cure in a dry, sunny spot or on a window ledge.

Sprouting carrot tops

When to sow: On a rainy day

The next time you’re preparing some veg, keep the tops of your carrots. Put on a shallow plate and add water, then leave on a windowsill. Before long your carrots should have sprouted. These greens are edible – you can treat them like parsley as a garnish or in a salad.

Bean wigwam

When to make: Mid-May onwards

You’ll need three or more bamboo canes at least 1.75 metres-tall. Push them 10-15cm into the ground in a circle to make a wigwam. Tie canes together firmly about 20cm from the top. Now plant your beans. Aim for one seedling per cane, so plant at least twice as many seeds as you’ll eventually need around the base. Train seedlings around the canes with string. It’s worth growing some more seeds in pots as a back up, because slugs and snails adore beans and are particularly active at this time of year. The reliable French bean variety Blue Lake can be better to grow than runner beans, simply for their taste and the guarantee that they won’t be stringy. However, Polestar and White Lady runner varieties are reputed to be string-free.

A ladybird house

When to make: Before late summer

Using a hand saw, cut old garden canes into 10cm lengths, then tie a dozen or so together to make a cylindrical shape. Now secure this tightly to a tree or wall, in a sunny, sheltered spot. The hollow canes should attract ladybirds when they look for winter hibernation, as well as other plant-friendly insects such as hoverflies. They also make an ideal place for solitary bees to lay their eggs.

Grow your own pesto

When to make: May onwards

First you’ll need the main raw material – basil. This herb needs warmth. It can grow outdoors, but is best raised on a sunny windowledge. You’ll want the reliable sweet basil, Ocimum basilicum Genovese. Aim for three seedlings to an 8cm pot, which means sowing three times as many seeds and thinning them out (chuck the thinnings into a salad). Pinch out the top of the plants when they reach 15cm to encourage bushier plants. For pesto you’ll need two handfuls of basil leaves, 1 clove garlic (optional), 10g pine kernels, 50g parmesan, 60ml olive oil, salt. Using a mortar and pestle, crush together salt, garlic, basil leaves and pine kernels to form a paste. Add the cheese, then pour on oil, mixing all the time. Add more salt to taste. Top tip: you can also spare yourself the labour and whizz everything together in a blender.

Hyacinths for Christmas

When to sow: Autumn

This is a process known as forcing, which means tricking the bulbs into thinking it’s spring. Hyacinth bulbs can irritate the skin, so wear washing-up gloves when handling them. Buy your bulbs from September onwards then put them in the fridge, wrapped in a paper bag, for at least four weeks. Next, plant the bulbs in a pot filled with compost, with the tip just poking out of the surface. Bring the plant inside into the warmth by mid November and they should start to flower around six weeks later. The blue hyacinths are best for scent (try the blue jacket variety), while amsterdams have a beautiful cerise colour.

Outdoor tomatoes

When to sow: May

You can grow tomatoes from seed but why not follow many experienced gardeners and buy seedlings. You want a dark-green plant about 15cm-high; keep it on the windowledge until late May/early June, putting it in a bigger pot when it looks top heavy. It’s ready to go outside when the first flowers are opening. Plant out in a pot, soil or, better, a grow bag; a sunny wall is the best position. Plants need to be tied to a cane for support. Water when the weather is dry, cut off yellowing leaves and pinch out the little side shoots at 45 degrees between the stem and the main horizontal branches. When four clusters of fruit, or trusses, have formed, cut off the tip of the plant two leaves above the top truss. Suitable varieties include gardener’s delight, Ailsa Craig, Alicante and moneymaker.

The Playground Potting Shed: Gardening with Children Made Simple, by Dominic Murphy, is published by Guardian Books (£8.99). To buy a copy for £6.99 with free UK p&p, go to guardianbooks.co.uk

Plant growth at home

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This is another childhood favourite of mine – and something that we have done before growing beans in jar it’s a fantastic opportunity for kids to observe the process of plant growth as the seed is visible at all times.

We used a glass jar although you could easily use a plastic jar but clear glass makes the experiment easier to see (if you are worried about the children using glass then like we did last year we grew the beans on our kitchen window sill which the children can’t reach but can easily see inside and outside of the house watching them grow).

Scrunching up Paper Towel J pushed it into the jar and then we watered the paper. From the garden I found a pack of runner bean seeds and explained what they are (J is convinced we are trying to grow baked beans) we talked about how the bean is the seed the same as sunflowers and other seeds that we have been growing in the garden. Demonstrating how to put the beans between the paper and the glass J put in a couple with T observing closely and then T helped as well.

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We have added the jar to our window sill nature table and are waiting and watching it grow daily – Last year we did the same experiment as part of the back to basics series E is for Experiments and used Broad Beans which we then grew on the kitchen window sill so that neither J nor T could get the jar off and break it.

It’s great to introduce some simple science at home to your kids lives – we’ve currently got frog spawn in a tank (the tupperware container got too small when J decided we needed more frog spawn to observe) and some seeds growing.

Try these other easy Science Experiments to do at Home

Chromatography Experiment – Separating Ink

Exploring Plant Structure with Celery

Growing Crystals

Testing Materials – what makes balls bounce

Energy transfer with a cotton reel car

Viewing the Constellations – with a show box viewer

Exploring how colours are made (no mess experiment using light)

Sea Turtle Conservation Lessons away from the Beach

Check out these other fun science at home that you could enjoy

Exploring how plants drink with a colour experiment – you can do it with daisies like above or even with daffodils.

With a few easy to set up science experiments our Back to Basics is a lot of science fun for kids.

We grew carrots from the tops cut off – another easy to set up and fun experiment to show growth to kids.

Cerys is a marine biologist, environmental educator, high school teacher and mum. Realising that life doesn’t have to be put on hold and you don’t just have to survive whilst the kids are young she shares ideas to inspire you to LIVE with the kids, with activities to do together, recipes to cook and enjoy and family travel to make memories to last a lifetime.

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We have been very busy here at Life At The Zoo.. but not always had the time to share our activities – such as this Growing Beans activity. We have lots of photos to share and will hopefully do so over the coming days and weeks. We have been particularly busy with Gardening with Kids, and exploring “Growing” Science activities. Today’s activity, has a little twist on the simple, easy and fun “Growing Beans” experiment.

A wonderful image showing the classic “Bean Growing” observations – you can see the roots forming and the shoot and leaves going up “stretching” towards the light.

We decided to watch beans grow… but we also decided to see what happens if you keep one bean in darkness and one in the light. Would one grow quicker than the other? Would one grow BETTER than the other? Let’s see….

1) Use a glass or a jar of a clear plastic cup for your growing beans experiment.

2) Line it with kitchen towel paper or cotton wool buds. Then tuck your bean (it can be any bean – a broad bean or a runner bean – between the glass and the tissue. We actually prepped 6 beans like this “just in case”.

3) Squirt with plenty of water. You want the tissue to wet, but you don’t want the bean to swimming in water – in case it gets mouldy.

4) We placed on glass into a “cardboard box” to darken it and to see what would happen.

Now wait. And make sure the towel stays moist!!!

Growing Bean Experiment – Results

After 2-3 days our beans started to grow. Interestingly… not all beans “hatched” at the same time. In fact some took well over a week. BUT, ONE of the beans in the dark, and ONE NOT in the dark started sprouting at the same time.

This tells us, that the light has little to do with it. The bean itself contains enough energy for it to start growing – the growth is stimulated by the wet and the temperature around the bean – telling the bean it is time to grow.

We continued to keep one been in darkness and one in light. Look at the difference:

I would say that the difference is minimal. Yes, the bean grown in the light has a few more leaves. But then the bean on the left grew better than some of our other “test beans” that DID get light. I would not say that the growth or colour difference is significant enough to say, that light is necessary for the bean to grow well at this stage.

All the bean needs is water, a warm environment and the energy stored within.

You could argue that “this makes sense”. As the bean buried in the earth, doesn’t get light either. It is only once it breaks through the surface, that it starts to stretch and reach out towards the light.

After this, we planted all the beans out in the garden 3-4 weeks later they are quite tall already and have started to bloom. We look forward to the broad beans beginning to from!

Your little scientist may also enjoy these DIY Catapults!

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