GROW GUIDE - BEANS (not all of them)
Beans are everywhere, If someone was to name the different types they knew, someone else would most likely name those same types something different. There are dozens of cultivated types of beans with thousands of distinct cultivars among them. It might also surprise you to know, a peanut is actually also a bean!
For this grow guide there will only be a few types covered and these will be based on the method of growing them rather than the colour of seed and so forth.
For a bit of background, both peas and beans are legumes, this means they produce their own nitrogen through bacteria they nurture in their roots called Rhizobia. These are able to fix atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia, a much more useable source. This means they are extremely self sufficient and most feeds do more harm in the way of weed boosting than good!
Broad beans are the bean best known for overwintering, they are extremely hardy and the Aquadulce cultivar can survive under snow throughout the winter and still crop. In more sheltered parts of the UK it is also fairly easy to overwinter, either with Aquadulce or Bunyard's Exhibition. By planting in the autumn (October is traditional) the beans have time to germinate and develop roots before the cold pushes them into hibernation. When they start to grow in the spring, other beans will have just started to germinate and they can have a head start of six weeks with good weather.
This doze however have a downside, if the autumn is warm, the beans can put on a lot of leggy growth that is less hardy than the compact strong growth they would normally form. This soft growth is less hardy and more prone to diseases from the warm conditions!
Broad beans have a large seed that is extremely easy to plant, if you are sowing in the ground, it could be wise to sow two in the same hole. If you are sowing in pots undercover then this is un-needed as you can simply transplant out the stronger plants. To encourage germination, you can soak seed for 50-60 mins in warm water (although be carful as the seed is much more easily damaged this way) which can cut germination down 3-4 days.
Beans should be sown outside at about 5cm depth, largely for protection but about 2cm is enough for proper germination in pots.
The main requirement beans have is light, they will happily grow with little food and are semi-drought tolerant but they will require full sun. Some cultivars that are either tall or especially prolific will appreciate staking with a cane as otherwise winds can damage the plant and snap the stem. If you particularly want to feed or encourage broad beans, a bit of super-phosphate will encourage root growth and you can buy bean boosters which is a granulated form of Rhizobia.
When flowers start to appear, they need slightly more water, keep this going until harvest (but don't drown them). If they are having trouble setting, misting the flowers with some slightly sugary water will help attract pollinators and keep the flowers fresh.
After flowers start to appear, pinch the top growth out of the broad beans as this will increase yield and the already existing plant material will mature making it more resistant to blackfly compared to soft fresh growth.
Pods are ready for harvest when they have started to swell slightly, this should be from the bottom up so keep an eye on your crop as the younger you harvest, the better the taste. If you want to save seed then let the pods fully mature until they rattle and shell the beans, bite them and if there is very little indentation then they are ready.
Broad beans are normally eaten shelled, however some people also eat the young immature pods, boiled like snap peas.
Aquadulce Claudia (AGM)
This is the premiere overwintering bean, it is suitable for the coldest weather and it gives an extremely early crop.
Bunyard's Exhibition is another overwintering bean, less hardy but can be sown wither autumn or spring and has a slightly better taste.
Whitkiem's Manita is a very early bean that crops only weeks after an overwintered cultivar. It has a sweet taste and produces small beans. One of the most popular.
Red Epicure is (as the name suggests) a red seeded cultivar. It has a strong taste and has very fragrant red flowers. Defiantly an interesting bean, its colour is preserved if only briefly cooked.
Karmazyn is a gourmet bean, a light pink it has a smooth slightly nutty taste that is very popular. Prolific but stout it is highly regarded