Tuesday, September 24, 2013

5 reasons to grow broad beans

Last weekend I was enjoying a long telephone conversation with my precious sister and she remarked that broad beans were "Yucky!" I have tasted them in their late season yucky stage and their sweet "pea" stage, so I do understand what she means...yet they are always an integral part of my winter veggie garden.

My sister is an amazing woman, a dedicated wife and mom, a brilliant beekeeper, vegetable gardener and a stupendous cook! But, well, I don't agree that Broad Beans are yucky ;) ... here's why we will always grow & eat them:

5 reasons to grow broad beans (and two bonus reasons which have nothing to do with their health or gardening benefits!)

1. Broad beans (fava beans, faba beans) are part of the legume family so they fix nitrogen in the soil. So here's my version of nitrogen fixing for the layman...nitrogen occurs in the atmosphere but for it to be of any use to plant, animal or human it has to be converted into ammonia in the soil which is the building block of all plants. This is done through their roots system. Once it is fixed in the soil, it is in a form now available for the next plants to use to grow healthy and strong. As runner and bush beans do not grow in winter here, broad beans are a good way to prepare the soil for the heavy feeding summer crops of tomatoes, corn and squash.

2. Broad beans are prolific food producers. The seed hints at the size of the plant and some of ours grow taller than myself. The flowers start appearing mid winter with the first pods ready to eat by late winter. By spring they begin to get rather starchy, particularly the ones you miss amongst all the foliage. By this time (September) we have hauled in basket loads from just two beds of beans.

3. Because of their massive yield they encourage the inner cook to find interesting ways to use them. I only cook with the tender ones now. They find themselves into soup, stews, shepherd pie and even good old Mac 'n Cheese like today. The tougher older pods are dried out and the seeds kept for next years planting.

4. Broad beans, being part of the legume family, are very high in protein. This makes them a great way for you to get protein in meatless meals. They do also have large amounts of tannin in their skins...the nutritionist advise that once shelled from the pod, they should be boiled quickly to remove the bean skin and just the inside eaten. Since we eat them young before they get to this hard bitter stage, I have never bothered with that.

5. The pods of the beans are fantastic for wormeries or counter  based composting systems as they break down very quickly. The stalks are soft and fleshy and provide lots of bulk for compost heaps. We do not have any grass to mow and add to our heaps so these stalks are a massive contributor to our composting collection.

2 bonus personal reasons:

1. Our rather skittish rescue kitten loves playing jungle cat in the tall broad beans. In fact, today when we were uprooting the now spent vegetables he was sitting in the centre of the patch rather indignant that we were taking away his playground!

2. The broad bean patch attracts snails. This is good on two levels. One, it keeps these critters away from other more delicate plants like my lettuce and, two, the snails are a great treat for my chickens who will munch a couple a day.

Snail factory

"Oh, alright then, I'll play in the spinach!"

Happy chickens cleaning up after plant removal


africanaussie said...

I have just planted soy beans for the first time and they are doing very well. Have you ever planted them? I love them as edamame, which I think are just the young pods boiled, cooled and eaten. I thought for ultimate nitrogen fixing, the spent plants had to be dug into the ground?

Kelly-Anne said...

I just have to say that your idea for putting broad beans into macaroni cheese was fabulous!
This is our first season of broad beans and we are amazed and the amount of beans the plants produce. Thank you for sharing.

Louis said...


Thanks, I got the idea to plant broad beans from reading all the back-issues on your blog. Interesting stuff!

Oh Kelly-Anne, how did your broad beans do? I see you're also in the Garden Route.

Keep up the good work Wendy!!!