Broad beans are the first of the legumes to mature and there's nothing quite like shelling and eating the first crop of the year. With successional autumn sowings you can be harvesting broad beans from late winter through Spring.
The main sowing period is April to June, however Spring sowings are also possible in cooler regions. Sow 5cm deep and 20cm apart; dwarf varieties can be sown 15cm apart. They are best sown in double rows, with the rows 20cm apart. If a second double row is needed this should be positioned 60cm away from the first. Sow a few extra at the end of the rows to fill in any gaps from seeds that don't germinate.
Taller varieties will need supporting so place a stake at each corner of the double row and run string around the stakes at 30cm intervals. Broad beans can be attacked by aphids. One way to reduce the damage -and produce an earlier crop -is to pinch out the top 7.5cm of the stems when the first pods start to form. Don't throw these tops away as they can be lightly steamed and eaten.
Coles Early Dwarf, Early Long Pod, Evergreen
If you want you can pick pods when they are 7.5cm long and cook them whole. But when picking pods to shell wait until the beans start to show through the pod, but don't leave them too long - the scar on the bean should still be white or green - not black.
Where space is tight and when pod set in runner beans has been a problem it would be worth considering growing French beans; generally they're easier to grow than runners as they are self-pollinating. Some varieties produce coloured pods, which makes them useful in the ornamental garden. There are two types - bush and climbing.
The main sowing period is from October to January. Sow seeds 2in (5cm) deep 4in (10cm) apart in rows 18in (45cm) apart. Sow a few extra at the end of the rows to fill in any gaps where seeds don't germinate. Successive sowings can mean continual harvesting throughout the summer months.
The bush types may not need supporting but short twigs can be used to support the plants to help keep the beans off the soil. Climbing varieties will need twiggy sticks or netting to scramble up. Mulch around the plants in October / November as temperatures rise.
Blue Lake, Epicure, Purple King, Banjo, Gourmet Delight, Pioneer, Simba, Snapbean, Tendergreen,Borlotti, Shiny Fardenlosa, Top Crop.
Begin picking the pods when they are 10cm long. Pods are ready when they snap easily and before the beans can be seen through the pod. By picking regularly you can crop plants for up to seven weeks.
There is no better way to avoid the stringy, tough shop-bought runner beans and that is to grow your own! These beans rely on pollinators for pod set, so make sure you’ve got loads of other flowers around your garden to attract them to your beans!
Sow beans from September to January 25mm deep and 15cm apart. The traditional method of growing is to sow a double row with the two rows 100cm apart; this makes supporting the plants easier.
Runner beans need a support to climb up. The traditional method is to grow them individually up inwardly sloping 2.4m bamboo canes tied near their top to a horizontal cane. If you slope the bamboo canes so that they meet in the middle and tie them here so that the ends of the canes extend beyond the row you will find picking is easier and the yield is usually better. When growing in beds and borders, a teepee of canes takes up less room and helps produce an ornamental feature. Loosely tie the plants to their supports after planting; after that they will climb naturally. Remove the growing point once the plants reach the top of their support. It is essential that these plants be sown early in the season to avoid flowering set in the hot months of December, January & February. Failure to do so will result in a significant reduction in pods.
Scarlet Runner 7 years, Scarlet Runner Stringless
Start harvesting when the pods are 15-20cm long and certainly before the beans inside begin to swell. It is vital that you pick regularly to prevent any pods reaching maturity; once this happens plants will stop flowering and no more pods will be set. If you pick regularly plants will crop for up to eight weeks.