Broad beans, along with Kale, are among our oldest vegetables. They have a very definite flavour which you'll either love or hate. If your children refuse to eat'em, tell them they are Hannibal the Cannibal's favourite, for these are Hannibal Lecter's infamous "fava beans" - the American name from their old Latin name, Vicia faba.
You can buy broad beans in the shops, whether fresh, frozen or tinned - none are a patch on the ones you grow yourself. Sow a row or tow, and you can harvest the pods when they are the size of your little finger and boil them and eat them whole - wonderful. The tops of the shoots can also be picked and cooked, and they are if anything even more delicious.
Autumn-planted broad beans in February
Broad beans are easy to grow and this article won't waste time by duplicating the information on the seed packet. But here are a few tips.
- Sow broad beans carefully, seed by seed - rather than just scattering them. If the plants are crowded, they are more likely to get one of the few diseases which affect broad beans, so make sure the plants are well spaced out 4-6ins (10-15cm) apart. You can plant a wide double or triple-plant row, though; they don't need to go in single file.
- Strong wind can blow the stems over, especially with autumn-sowings; draw earth up round them or supply a couple of stakes linked by strands of string to support them.
- Blackfly love broad beans. there are a number of sprays which are authorised to use quite close to cropping, but you may prefer not to use them. You can use a soap-based aphid killer, which will leave no residue. Or pinch out the top leaves as soon as the bottom few beans have 'set' (the flowers have shriveled and you can see baby beans). The blackfly like to land on young tender growth, and by removing it you make the plants less attractive to the pest. These top shoots can then be boiled and eaten - lush!
- If you particularly like these top shoots, save any old dry beans left over when you clear the row at the end of the season. These can be sown, outside or in the greenhouse in winter, to crop just for the shoots.
When cooking broad bean pods or shoots, don't try to steam them. They can go black! The discolouration is harmless but unappealling and the flavour isn't as good.