how to plant, grow & care for broad beans
complete growing guide
There are some vegetables which, on a blindfold test, I don't think you could tell if you'd grown them, but this isn't true of peas and beans. Almost inevitably, shop-bought broad beans are too big. They are often starchy great blobs without much flavour and with leathery skins. Broad beans at their best should be no bigger than a thumbnail – tasty, tender and soft. I’ve never seen them that size for sale, so it is a good idea to grow your own instead. They are wonderful eaten raw and mixed up with just picked peas and crumbles of salty feta cheese or slithers of pecorino.
Browse our range of broad bean seeds and seedlings, carefully selected for performance and great taste.
- Common name Broad Bean
- Latin name Vicia faba
- Type Hardy annual vegetable
- Height & spread 90cm
- TLC rating Easy
- Aspect Full Sun
- Spacing 20cm
- Yield 15-20 pods per plant
- Suitable for pots Yes
- Grow in a greenhouse? For an early crop
how to grow broad beans
where to grow broad beans
Soil type: Broad beans grow well in a moist but well drained, fertile, neutral or chalky soil.
Aspect & Position: Grow your broad beans in full sun, with shelter from strong winds.
when to plant broad beans
Sow your broad bean seeds under cover in February and March, when it’s still cold, and direct sow in the garden from March onwards. You can also sow them at the end of the year in September or October to overwinter and come into harvest two weeks ahead of your spring sown crop.
If you have bought our seedlings, or sown your own in pots or rootrainers, they can be planted outside in March or April.
how to plant broad beans
sowing broad bean seeds undercover
One of the ideal jobs for March when it’s still cold, is sowing broad beans, and that’s because broad beans are really truly hardy annuals, they love getting their roots down when it’s cold and wet. You can even sow them at the end of the year in the September or October to overwinter and come into harvest two weeks ahead of your spring sown crop.
If you are sowing broad beans indoors to get a head start, rootrainers are your best bet as they allow the roots to develop naturally and they can be used time and time again. Loo roll middles come a close second if you are keen on recycling. You don’t have to disturb the roots and the cardboard will rot down in the ground.
When I’m sowing broad beans, I plant them down to about the first knuckle on my finger, about 2cm. Cover the seed with more compost and water lightly. I always sow the whole tray with the seeds first, and then I cover with compost, because otherwise if the phone rings, or something happens and I get distracted, I forget which cell I’ve already filled. They can then be put in a porch, greenhouse or polytunnel and will germinate quickly, even more so if you have a heated propagating blanket!
direct sowing broad bean seeds
Broad beans are also very happy to be sown direct outside in the garden from March onwards. Prepare the ground by forking in a little garden compost, or if you prefer the no-dig method, ensure you have a good layer of compost on the surface to plant into.
Most people grow broad beans in a row, then you can support them with canes and string if they need it. You can either use a hoe to make quite a deep drill about 5cm deep and drop the seed in 20cm apart, or plant them individually with a trowel, using a string line to ensure you are going straight. Either way, you will want a second drill about 20cm away, to form a double row, the beans then help to support themselves. When you get to the end of a row, either end, it’s a good idea to sow a clutch of 6 or 7 seeds, spaced a few cm apart. This means if any seeds fail to germinate you have transplants the same size and variety ready to fill the gap.
succession sowing broad beans
You can succession sow broad beans every couple of weeks between March and May, ensuring a continuous supply of tender young beans. You can also sow indoors or outdoors in September or October particularly if you have well drained soil and a sheltered spot. The best broad bean for a late sowing is 'Superaguadulce', with fantastic flavour and pods full of just the right size of bean. The pods are long, often nearly a foot from stem to tip, but inside there are lots and lots of small, tender beans. Rather than five or six monsters, you usually find eight or nine nail-sized lovelies.
growing broad beans in pots and borders
Broad beans will grow in a large pot or container, and there are some very decorative varieties such as the Crimson flowered one that really looks the part in the middle of a herbaceous border. Just make sure you don’t forget they are there and reach in occasionally to pick the beans to ensure they keep flowering for you.
how to care for broad beans
Your broad beans will need some water if it gets really dry, but with any luck the early sowings (and the very late ones) will have got their roots down nice and deep to find their own water supply. If the weather is very dry give them a really good soaking as they come into flower, and then two weeks later when the pods begin to form.
Broad beans do not cling on with tendrils or climb but can benefit from a bit of support as they grow taller, especially if they are in a windy spot. Place a cane at each corner of your double row and tie a string halfway up the cane (around 50cm) and then again at the top (1m). Zigzag the strings to and fro between the plants.
Do keep an eye open for the arrival of black bean aphid, or blackfly, on the tender growing shoots. You can actually prevent an infestation by pinching out the tips when the first pods form at the base of the plant. Don’t just throw them on the compost heap, add them to the stir fry and you’ll discover a whole new vegetable experience! Wilted over pasta or a tasty spring risotto, they are fantastic.
Harvest pods once beans have begun to visibly swell inside. Regular picking (ideally 2 or 3 times a week) will keep production going for about 4-6 weeks. Broad beans at their best should be no bigger than a thumbnail. I love the miniature bean pod too, picked the size of my ring finger, and eaten whole like a mange tout, only a couple of inches long. If you let them grow any bigger, it can be like eating a wad of cotton wool, but at this stage, the pods are deliciously crunchy and packed with that characteristic broad bean flavour.
Don’t panic if you have let your beans get big and tough, they can then be podded, boiled and each bean popped out of its inner skin (a satisfying and meditative task) and then turned into an attractive salad or whizzed into a delicious houmous.
- February: Sow an early crop indoors.
- March: Direct sow seeds outside and plant out broad bean seedlings
- Continue sowing every few weeks.
- Stake plants to prevent wind-rock
- Pinch out growing tip when the beans start to form.
- Pick regularly to ensure a continuous supply
- Cut back stems and compost.
- September/October: Sow seeds now for an early crop next year.
- Decide which varieties of broad bean you want to grow next year.
pests, diseases & common issues
black bean aphid (blackfly)
These aphids, specific to beans, arrive just as the first beans are beginning to form at the base of the plant. You can actually prevent an infestation by pinching out the tips when the plants are in full flower.
broad bean chocolate spot
You may find brown spots appearing on the tops of the leaves of your broad bean plants, which then spread to the stems and eventually the beans themselves. They are caused by a fungus Botrytis fabae which thrives in moist conditions. Ensure plenty of space between the plants and remove any affected plants as soon as you see the spots. Do not over fertilise as lush leafy growth makes the situation worse.
broad bean rust
This is another fungal infection, this time with spots on the underside of the leaves, often with a yellowish halo. The same treatment is required as for chocolate spot – ensure plenty of space between plants and remove any affected plants as soon as possible.
broad bean mosaic virus
This virus is spread by aphids and causes the leaves to become blistered and distorted. Eventually the flower buds curl up and any beans that grow are kinked and spotted with yellowish green. Some varieties are resistant and will shake off the virus, but others never recover and need to be pulled up to stop the spread.
broad bean weevil
The adult broad bean weevils eat notches around the edges of the leaves, but this rarely affects the crop as there is minimal damage on adult plants. The larvae live in the soil and when mature the adult beetles climb up the plants to eat the leaves. Young plants can be protected with enviromesh which may stop the adults reaching the plants to lay eggs.
broad bean seed beetle
The broad bean seed beetle lays its eggs within the bean pods, so that the larvae emerge from the bean seeds if they are dried for sowing the following year. The beans will still germinate as they do not damage the embryo.
why are my broad beans not setting?
Although broad beans can self-pollinate, the attention of bees helps greatly. So a shortage of pollinating insects might be the problem. If too much fertiliser is added to the soil it can encourage vegetative growth rather than setting. Usually, the plants will settle down in a couple of weeks and start to produce beans for you.
how to stop mice eating broad bean seeds?
This is why many people start their beans off indoors to avoid that problem. Outside you have fewer options. Planting them deeper than usual can put them off and will slightly delay the crop. But generally sowing a few extra at the end of the row to fill any gaps should do the trick.
frequently asked questions
when to pinch out broad beans?
This is done to foil the black bean aphid which likes to lay its eggs on the tender tips of broad bean plants. The best time is just as the bottom flowers on the plants begin to turn into beans. Don’t forget, the bean tips make really good eating, wilted over pasta or tossed into a stir fry.
which way up to plant broad beans?
It really doesn’t matter; the root will always find the dark and grow down and the shoot will look up for the light.
how tall do broad beans grow?
That rather depends on the variety. There are very dwarf types (good for windy spots) which only grow to 45cm (e.g. The Sutton), whereas others such as Super Aguadulce can grow to 1.2m.
how long do broad beans take to grow?
With a spring sown crop, you should be picking your first broad beans approximately 10 weeks after sowing the seed.
how far apart to plant broad beans?
Some dwarf varieties can go as close as 15cm apart, but generally it is better to go for 20cm, to enable plenty of air circulation.
how often should you water broad beans?
If the weather is dry give them a really good soaking as they come into flower, and then two weeks later when the pods begin to form. Apart from that they should be fine with the average rainfall.
why do broad beans go black?
If you mean after cooking then the solution is to blanch them in cold water straight after cooking, this will then retain the vibrant green colour.
why do broad bean leaves curl up?
Leaves curl up for many reasons: to protect themselves from drying up in hot weather, as a result of weed killer damage, or possibly after an attack of broad bean mosaic virus. The last two are usually terminal, so destroy the plant and start again in a new location.
what to grow with broad beans
In the spring, before the beans crop, inter-sow your lines of broad beans with summer savory – the delicious herb which tastes like thyme. This can either be direct sown or planted out as seedlings. It will help protect against black bean aphid and a sprig or two in their boiling water gives the beans delicious flavour.