Broad beans drive me bonkers
Broad beans are probably the most high-maintenance crop I grow. They are in the ground around eight months, you have to build frames just to keep them standing upright, and they are labour intensive to prepare. Weirdly, I put up with all this because I think they are worth the effort!
It’s my third year sowing and harvesting broad beans, though the first in the big garden. Broadies are hugely popular around here – tender, tasty and, apart from the canned variety, not something you usually enjoy unless you grow your own.
My dwarf(!) plants are nearly 3m high and trying to keep them upright has been a nightmare! Adequate framing is always important to keep the tall, fragile stems from falling over. After two years battling with bamboo structures I tried using metal star pickets this year, but it’s still been a battle. Back to the drawing board…
On top of being tricky to manage, broad beans can also time consuming to prepare. While the very young pods can be eaten whole, the mature pods need to be shelled. The pale green beans are delicious, but can be a little tough. To really show them off, the beans can then be blanched and the pale skins removed to reveal a tender, bright green delicacy (you can see the three stages in the picture above). Yes, that’s a double podding exercise. I recommend setting yourself up in front of the movie…
Despite all that, broad beans offer some pretty special benefits. Like other beans and peas they are a legume, clever crops that draw nitrogen from the air and, with the help of a bacteria, turn it into useful nitrogen in the soil. While they don’t use much of it themselves, when they die and decompose, the nitrogen is released back into the soil, a bonus for your next crop. Once I finish harvesting in the next week or two I will be cutting them down and turning the plants and roots back into the soil to make the most of this.
Not only great for the garden, broad beans are also great for us – nutrient dense and high in protein and fibre. I love them smashed in the processor with a bit of lemon, salt and pepper and spread on toast. Also delicious with peas in a risotto. While the season is pretty much over by the time summer hits, the blanched beans freeze extremely well and can be a lovely reminder of spring for many months to come.