Late sowing broad beans and peas

Posted in All Gardening Advice, Vegetables and Fruit, November, on

In early November there's still some late sowing of broad beans and peas to be done.  I sow these late every year. There are veg – most cabbage, onions, red peppers, aubergines and Maincrop potatoes – which on a blind fold test, I don't think you could tell if you'd grown them, but this isn't true of peas and beans.

Almost inevitably, 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 thumb nail – tasty, tender and soft. I’ve never seen them that size for sale. And don’t always cook your beans - eat them raw mixed up with just picked peas and crumble salty Feta cheese or slithers of Pecorino over the plate.

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.

And that’s not all. One of my favourite vegetables is the pea tip – the top inch of the plant and of its side branches. I grow them almost obsessively, re-sowing a large tray every month throughout the year, and because of my addiction, I decided to taste the same part of the broad bean plant last spring. Wilted over pasta or a tasty spring risotto, they are fantastic.

To prevent an infestation by the black bean aphid, you are meant to pinch out the tips anyway. It’s best to do this when the first pod forms at the base of the plant, but rather than dumping them on the compost heap, eat them and you’ll discover a whole new vegetable experience!

With peas it’s the same story. I don’t think it’s worth the bother of shelling bought peas picked several days before. Frozen peas, straight from the field, to the pot, and then the freezer within a few hours have a much better taste. Peas just don’t store. Their sugar rapidly turns to starch and within a day of picking, remind me more of a lentil. Again, to get that marvellous succulent pea thing, you have to grow your own.

So which are the varieties suited to sowing in November under cover for putting out in the garden to spend the winter outside? The best broad bean for sowing late 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.

For peas, I sow two. ‘Feltham First’ and ‘Early Onward’ both produce tasty peas and they’re hardy enough to survive outside all winter in my garden in the south of England. I tend to sow them in a length of gutter pipe inside. Once they’re an inch or two tall, I put them out with an extendable mini polytunnel to protect them until they’ve settled in. In a mild spell in the winter, I remove this, but install some sort of wind break on the windward side. Once they’re several inches tall, it’s not the cold or the wet that will clobber them, but their roots being swivelled around endlessly in the wind.