Broad Beans – Hearty and Healthy

There are varying degrees of difficulty when it comes to growing vegetables, but most seasoned veggie growers agree that one of the easiest of winter crops is broad beans.

beans-broad132This is a good vegetable for cold areas (even in the Free State) as the cold seems to encourage the plant to set seed. It is not nearly as successful in subtropical areas where more leaves are produced at the expense of beans. Unlike summer bush and runner beans, broad beans are sturdy, upright growing plants about 1 m high that are rarely bothered by pests or diseases. From seed sown in May you should be able to start harvesting from the end of July or early August through to late September or October.

Fresh beans have a delicious earthy flavour that fits in well with winter cooking, as an ingredient in stews, casseroles and soups, or used as the main constituent of a soup instead of dried kidney beans or split peas. Being a legume, the broad bean is an excellent source of high-quality plant protein that, unlike animal protein, does not contain undesirable saturated fat and is less acid forming than meat, which makes it a more suitable source of protein for people worried about osteoporosis or who are suffering from arthritis.

For a good supply, a family of four should plant at least 10 plants as these beans are not as prolific as summer green beans. Because we are entering the winter months, don’t worry about succession planting but sow the whole batch at once.

Soil preparation

Broad beans are heavy feeders, so good soil preparation with added compost is essential. If the soil is poor, add 2:3:2 or 3:1:5. The beans will grow in most kinds of soil but prefer heavier soil. The bed needs to get full sun in winter and should be sheltered from the wind.


Sow beans directly into the soil where the plants are to mature. The seed can be sown in individual holes, 5cm deep and 30cm apart, or you can make a drill and place the seed in the drill at the right distance apart. Plant two seeds per hole, and if both germinate pinch or cut off the weaker plant but don’t leave the two plants to compete.

A good way to manage broad beans is to sow two rows at a time, about 50cm apart. The beans tend to support each other, and if you need to provide support it is easier to make a frame or trellis around the beans. If you want to plant more than two rows, make sure there is enough space to move between each block, especially for watering, feeding and harvesting. Keep the beans moist during germination and water regularly once the seedlings have germinated.

Further care

Watering – Broad beans need moist soil and, like chillies, they will quickly indicate when there is not enough water by wilting. This will affect the yield. However, you need to be careful of overwatering, especially in areas that receive frost. Watch the weather report, and if a cold front is predicted ease up on the watering. It is best to have the soil slightly dry.

Fertilising – For healthy growth and a good yield, feed with a liquid fertiliser, like Multifeed, every two weeks. Another alternative is to use 3:1:5 for fruit and flowers. Broad beans are particularly heavy feeders and extra nutrition needs to be provided, especially in winter.

Staking – The beans can get top heavy once the fruit starts forming. A good way to support them is to build a ‘kraal’ around them. This takes the form of a pole at each corner with horizontal poles on either side attached to the main stakes. The number of horizontal poles depends on the amount of staking needed. This works better than providing a single stake for each plant.

Pests – These should not be a problem, although there is a slight chance of aphids. Fungal diseases could be a problem with overwatering or in winter-rainfall areas.


Beans should be ready for harvesting within 12-16 weeks. The pods are ready for picking when they have filled out and before they burst open. Pick regularly to encourage the plant to keep on flowering and producing new fruit. If the pods are left too long on the bush the beans will be bitter.

IMG_0046If you don’t want to eat the beans fresh, then they can be left on the plant to dry. It may be a good idea to let the last flush dry out. The dried beans can be stored and have a good shelf life.

Cooking with broad beans

The simplest way to cook with fresh broad beans is to soak them for a short while and then boil them in salted water and serve with a dab of butter. The dried beans need to be soaked for longer. The fresh beans add substance to all slow-cooked dishes. For a delicious soup, combine them with carrots, potatoes and onions, and add some diced bacon or a lamb shank.

Fresh broad beans, prawn and beetroot salad

Colourful and tasty, this salad has a base of butter lettuce that is combined with roasted beetroot, peeled and cut into chunks, cooked prawns, fresh broad beans and crumbled feta cheese. To finish it off, a simple mayonnaise and lemon dressing brings all the flavours together.

(Note: prawns may be removed for a vegetarian meal).


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