Never Mind Jack And The Beanstalk

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See what I grew from a handful of bean seeds – four pounds of shelled Field Beans from one square metre of raised bed (excuse the mixed metrification). For those of you who do not care for Broad Beans, these are their much smaller, juicier cousins, although they are all known as Vicia faba, faba or fava beans.

They are one of the oldest Old World vegetables, their remains found on ancient Neolithic settlements in the Near East, where their cultivation probably originated some 8,000 years ago. From there they spread across Western Europe and North Africa. Today, of course, they are perhaps best known as a staple of Egyptian cooking, the dried and rehydrated beans forming the basis of falafel.

I use them to make soup, or refried beans or a bean version of guacamole which is surprisingly convincing. Otherwise we just eat them steamed with melted butter and chopped parsley, or add them to a green salad with a vinaigrette dressing .

In the UK this small-beaned cultivar is usually grown as a green manure, or as animal fodder. As green manure it is good for breaking up heavy, clay soils. The seed is sown in autumn (September to November). The plants will germinate quite quickly, and are left to over-winter. In spring, once they have shot up to about half a metre or 2 feet, and before it flowers, you are supposed to dig them in. By then the roots will be quite deep, and they also have the added benefit of fixing nitrogen. A good follow-on crop would be cabbages or broccoli, or any brassicas.

I prefer to grow mine to eat. Not only that, they have wonderful flowers that waft their scent over the allotment in late spring and get the bees very excited. The plants require no attention. Slugs don’t care for them. I grow them in blocks which tends to make them self-supporting, so I don’t add string supports as you need to for broad beans. I don’t feed them or even water them, not even in our increasingly arid springs. I do, however, pick off all their growing tips at the end of May to discourage black fly invasions.

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Growing Field Beans to eat seems to me like a win-win-win situation. They feed me and He Who Is Presently Building A Shed; they feed the bees; they feed the soil. They also freeze well, and there will be enough to dry to sow in autumn for next year’s crop. And then there’s all the top growth to add to the compost heaps. You  may perhaps have noticed the bean weevil damage on the leaves. It is one of many endemic pests at the allotment, but their nibbling doesn’t seem to affect the crop. So now please conjure the sweet, subtle fragrance of bean flowers. There is no scent quite like it. Aaaaah…magic beans!

Copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

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28 thoughts on “Never Mind Jack And The Beanstalk

  1. I might try these in my new 1m square raised bed (I am trying the no-dig method to get rid of the lawn – 2 raised beds filled with cardboard, then home-made compost and topped with potting compost – then next spring I will move them slightly to cover more lawn ). I need something to plant in them to stop the neighbour’s cats using them as a latrine! Your beans look lovely and I could just eat a bowlful with melted butter and a hint of mint perhaps 🙂

    1. It’s amazing how like avocados it tastes. All the same ingredients along with the pureed quick cooked beans. You need to remove the outer testa round the green seed interior which is a bit of fiddle but worth it 🙂

  2. Aha, it’s Tish Thrower Farrell again 🙂 🙂 I adore broad beans and I’m sure I’d love these too. And such pretty flowers. You might be talking me into it. Happy weekend to you!

    1. Well falafel don’t really taste of broad beans somehow. Maybe the drying and rehydrating changes them, and you haven’t got the often tough testa which can taste bitter on fresh beans.

  3. At the risk of sounding a bit sycophantic Tish, you really are my gardening inspiration. I love broad beans, but my one attempt at growing them was disastrous. I will now try again!

    1. They like to be firmly rooted, which is why they like a heavier soil. And I’m so happy if my posts spur you on. Gardening can be disheartening when things go very wrong. I think that’s the advantage of the allotment – once you get over vegetable envy – you can see what does work, and ask others what they did right 🙂

      1. I think allotments are a brilliant idea. I knew about them in a general sense, but then my brother got one which he shares with his mother in law. If I lived near him, I would probably either give up gardening, or specialise in something he doesn’t grow.

      2. I am currently full of envy for fellow allomenteer’s crop of Alderman peas – an old variety that grow up stix like runner beans. They’re supposed to grow to 6ft. Dave’s are 8-9′ and the pods hanging down so tantalisingly. They apparently crop over 3 months. My past attempts to grow this variety were worse than dismal. Now I want to try again, but have to wait till next year. Oooh the impatience.

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