Posts Tagged ‘broad beans’

Fascinating facts and figures about Broad Beans

December 1st, 2016 | The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Broad BeansThe broad bean has a very long history of cultivation, although it no longer exists in the wild. We believe it originated in north Africa and south-west Asia. It was well known to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, and it had reached Britain by the 17th century. The ancient Egyptians regarded it as a food of the lower classes.

The Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras forbade his followers from eating, or even touching, the beans because he believed they contained the souls of the dead. In Rome, beans were prepared at the annual Lemuralia festival (9, 11,13 May) as a dish to appease restless spirits that were haunting households.

In Luxembourg, the national dish is Judd mat Gaardebounen, which is smoked pork collar and broad beans. The Dutch often eat broad beans flavoured with the herb savoury. Broad beans are high in protein and fibre, an excellent source of folate and a good source of other B vitamins. Around 10,000 tonnes are grown commercially in the UK every year. In the USA they are known as fava beans, derived from their botanical name Vicia faba.

There are two main types of broad beans – longpods and Windsors. Longpods are hardier, so well suited to autumn and very early spring sowings and their seeds are kidney-shaped. Windsor types produce rounder beans in shorter, broader pods. Several of the cultivars we still grow today have a long history. For example, Green Windsor was introduced in 1809, Bunyards Exhibition in 1884, Aquadulce Claudia in 1885 and White Windsor in 1895. A small-seeded variant of the broad bean, known as the field bean, is extensively grown as feed for livestock.

It was once widely believed that rubbing a wart with the furry inside of the broad bean pod would cause it to shrivel and disappear. In some parts of the UK, and particularly in Suffolk, the scent of broad bean flowers was said to be an aphrodisiac.

Broad beans grow best in reasonably fertile, well-drained soil into which plenty of well-rotted compost or manure has been incorporated. A sheltered site is best for autumn sowings, but spring sowings are fine in an open, sunny part of the garden. It is not advisable to grow broad beans in the same spot two years running, as this may encourage soil-borne foot and root rot diseases. In many gardens broad beans are often the first fresh vegetables of the year and, picked young, are a real treat when little else is ready.

To browse all the broad bean varieties we have on offer at Mr Fothergill’s just follow this link to the broad bean seed section of our website

Royal Horticultural Society

This article was first published on the RHS website November 2016. 

Read more on the RHS website about growing your own broad beans.

For best broad bean results, Mr Fothergill’s Nation of Gardeners recommend autumn sowing

October 7th, 2014 | Nation of Gardeners, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Nation of Gardeners across the UK for Mr Fothergill's growing trialsMr Fothergill’s Nation of Gardeners has found that sowing broad beans in autumn produces stronger and more resilient beans with a longer cropping period.

The team of amateur gardeners are based in 16 regions across the country and receive a parcel each month from the company to find out what grows best when and where.

The Nation of Gardeners received Mr Fothergill’s Broad Bean Aguadulce seeds in their first parcel in October 2013 and again in March 2014, with the intention of comparing autumn sowing with spring.

Whilst the spring sown beans were quick to produce flowers (on average they appeared 75 days faster than the autumn ones), the gardeners reached the consensus that the autumn broad beans were not only stronger than the leggy and spindly spring plants but that they also cropped for longer.

Nation of Gardeners Pontypridd October Broad BeansThe first beans from autumn sowing appeared in Devon in mid-February and the rest of the country soon followed suit with the gardeners harvesting a plentiful crop on a daily basis, and they continued to be inundated throughout June and beyond.

Mr Fothergill’s Seeds commercial director, Tim Jeffries, commented: “Most gardeners sow broad beans in spring. We wanted the Nation of Gardeners to explore the potential benefits of autumn versus spring sowing and the results have definitely been interesting. The majority of our gardeners reported back that their autumn sowing had a longer cropping period with tastier results. This certainly makes a good case for everyone switching to autumn sowing!”

Good overwintering broad bean varieties include:  Aguadulce, Bunyards Exhibition, The Sutton, Witkiem (Vroma) and Superaguadulce.

Mr Fothergill’s Nation of Gardeners has now been running for 12 months and the parcels’ contents have ranged from windowsill planting of salads and herbs to overwinter protection of bare root perennials, and from testing the vigour of grow your own vegetable varieties to more recently, pushing the boundaries of when to sow with late sown annuals and perennials.

To find out more about Mr Fothergill’s Nation of Gardeners follow regular updates on the blog, follow the hashtag #NationofGardeners on Twitter or regular live updates by our gardeners on Facebook.

Horley broad bean crop

What to do in the garden in October

October 2nd, 2014 | Garden Diaries, The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

As summer started to edge gently into autumn during September, misty mornings gave way to plenty of still-warm days, even if conditions remained overcast rather than sunny for much of the time.  We received very little rainfall in this most westerly corner of Suffolk, and September has been generally a very pleasant month, providing us with, as it often does, an ‘Indian summer’ to enjoy before autumn arrives.

As October now gets underway, autumn now seems to be well and truly on the way, although at the end of September our trial field in Kentford was still full of colour from all the flowers and full of vegetables ready for harvesting.

Photo 11-09-2014 12 57 20

On the whole, we feel this summer has been one of the better ones, although the above-average temperatures we experienced for so much of the time meant many of our annual flowers ‘went over’ rather more quickly than we would have liked.  We are never satisfied, are we?


Jobs in the flower garden in October

Sweet Pea ErewhonWe always like to begin October by looking at sweet peas.  To many keen growers of this favourite annual this is the start of the sweet pea season with seed being sown either in pots to over-winter in a cold frame or greenhouse, or direct in the garden in the plants’ flowering position.  Many sweet pea enthusiasts make their sowings during the first fortnight of the month, but there is a no hard-and-fast rule about this.  Late September through to mid November is the ‘window’ in which many people sow their seed.

There is no doubt that sowing sweet pea seeds in autumn has many benefits.  The resulting plants, which are usually hardy in all but the severest of winters, have a head start come next spring.  They flower earlier and longer than those plants produced from spring-sown seed, so we get more bunches of flowers and for longer.

We offer one of the finest ranges of sweet peas and have a good relationship with Dr Keith Hammett from New Zealand, who is the world’s best breeder of these beautiful flowers.   Browse our range of sweet pea seeds and take a pick of what you fancy in your garden this season.

Calendula grown by one of our Nation of GardenersIt really is not too soon to start thinking about next year’s display of hardy annuals either, so why not direct-sow seed of subjects such as calendula, nigella, candytuft and cornflower during October?

The soil will still be warm, so seedlings will germinate quickly and make enough growth before any hard frosts arrive later in the year to see themselves through the winter, bursting into flower early next summer considerably earlier than seedlings produced from spring-sown seed.  If you have never tried this method before, it really is well worth a go!

While roses are generally given their main prune in February or early March, just before the new season’s growth begins, it is a good idea to cut them back by about half during October, as this stops them being rocked and sometimes disturbed by the wind.  Shrubs such as buddleia and lavatera would benefit from the same treatment.  After giving rose a ‘half-prune’ collect up any remaining foliage from the soil to prevent the development of fungal diseases which can attack the plants.

Tulip bulb collectionThis is the month when many of us start planting spring-flowering bulbs.  Hyacinths, daffodils (narcissi) and croci (we still use the old fashioned plural!) can all be planted during October, but delay tulip planting until late in the month or into November, as this will tend to help them prevent being attacked by tulip fire disease.  We think all these bulbs look best planted in informal drifts and close together to create dense patches of colour.  Remember too the great majority of spring bulbs can also be planted in containers where they will flower successfully.  Bulbs are surely the easiest of all flowers to grow – it is virtually a case of plant them and forget them!

Pansy BeaconsfieldAs half-hardy annuals, bedding and container plants start to fade, pull these up and add them to the compost heap.  They can be replaced either by pansies, violas, primroses and polyanthus, which will all give a welcome splash of colour during milder winter spells, or by spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and hyacinths.  Dwarf daffodils are particularly versatile because they look great in beds and at the front of borders and are also perfect for planting in containers close to the house.  Remember to plant a tub or two of hyacinths near the house too, so you can appreciate their heady perfume every time you come out of the door next March and April.

If dahlias are still flowering into October, keep removing any dead-heads to encourage them to keep on blooming until they are cut down by the first frosts of autumn.  No need to lift the tubers until the foliage has been blackened by a hard frost or two.  Only store sound specimens, keeping them somewhere dry, cool and frost-free over the winter.


Jobs in the vegetable garden in October

Brussels sproutsWe particularly enjoy October in the vegetable garden, as this is the month when the traditional winter vegetables are just becoming ready to harvest.  Parsnips, leeks, Brussels sprouts, savoy cabbages and kale now take over from summer crops of runner and French beans, courgettes and sweet corn – and are every bit as eagerly anticipated.

We know you can buy so many vegetables all the year round from the supermarkets, but we sometimes wonder where the fun is in that?  As a certain book tells us ‘To every thing there is a season‘, and this is the season for parsnips and Brussels sprouts!

Autumn sown broad beans from our Nation of Gardeners

October means it’s also time to sow broad bean seeds and look forward to that early crop next May.  Aguadulce is a splendid choice, as is Bunyards Exhibition.  In colder areas the seed and seedlings will benefit from a little fleece protection.  Aguadulce produces small, fine beans of lovely quality and flavour, while ‘Bunyards’ generally gives larger beans and one or two more per pod.

Pea MeteorWhere you have a spare patch or two in the vegetable garden or on the allotment, how about an October sowing of early peas?  Meteor is probably still the best early pea for autumn sowing, even if it has been about for donkeys’ years!  It only grows to around 2ft tall, does well even in exposed sites and will provide you with that unforgettable first picking of home-grown peas early next summer.  It’s what vegetable gardening is all about, surely!

If you are growing pumpkins, squashes and marrows, cut these and bring them in before the first frosts arrive.  It is best if pumpkins and squashes can be left in the greenhouse or cold frame for a week or two to ‘cure’ before being put into storage.  Pumpkins will be in demand from youngsters as Hallowe’en approaches at the end of the month.

Runner beans will just about be over now, so they too can be pulled up and composted.  The top growth of Jerusalem artichokes can be cut down virtually to the ground, chopped up and added to the compost heap.  Maincrop carrots can continue to be lifted as required.  Our light, free-draining soil has yielded some excellent crops this year and the quality of some of the roots of our F1 hybrid varieties has been very good indeed.  The seed may be more expensive than that of open-pollinated varieties, but at harvest time it is easy to see how worthwhile the little additional cost is.

Chilli PeppersIf you have not already so, harvest any remaining chilli peppers.  Green fruits tend not to be as hot as orange and red ones, but take care when preparing any of them.  It is a good idea to wear disposable, clear plastic gloves when handling and chopping them because it is so easy to touch close to your eyes with your hand while preparing them, which is not a pleasant experience.  Remember that any glut of chillis can be frozen and used throughout the year until next year’s crop is ready.

There is still time to plant garlic, shallots and over-wintering onion sets in the garden in October to provide an early crop next summer.  Once planted, they require very little attention, but do keep any competition from weeds to a minimum.  They are much more susceptible to poor drainage than they are to low temperatures and, given good drainage, they are hardy even in very cold winters.  Garlic in particular generally produces heavier and better crops from an autumn planting than from a spring one.

The first frosts may mean winter is well on the way, but we welcome them if only because Brussels sprouts and parsnips both taste sweeter once they have been ‘frosted’.  It’s a matter of personal opinion, of course, but in our view a couple of frosts seem to concentrate the flavour of these vegetables.


Jobs in the fruit garden in October


We know that technically rhubarb is a vegetable, but because it is used mainly in dessert dishes we think of it more as a fruit.  We have a real treat for all rhubarb lovers, because now they can enjoy those succulent, sweet sticks from September to November.  Our Livingstone rhubarb plant is the first autumn-cropping variety, it’s British bred and has had its summer dormancy eliminated; this is what causes rhubarb to stop cropping by the middle of summer.  So for the first time you can now combine fresh rhubarb with other autumn fruits to create mouth-watering desserts such as rhubarb, apple and blackberry crumble.

Livingstone yields an excellent crop of high quality, deep red skinned stems. It’s very easy to grow – just incorporate some bonemeal or organic matter when planting and, once established, it will crop heavily from September onwards.  It can be ordered from us now for planting this autumn.  It is delicious and we are sure you will enjoy it.

On already established plants in the garden you will now find that rhubarb leaves have died back.  The dormant crowns will benefit from a 3in mulch of well-rotted garden compost or farmyard manure.  If you feel any clump is now too large, lift and divide it, getting rid of the central section and re-planting the younger sections from round the outside of the crown.

Nation of Gardeners results: Broad Bean Aquadulce spring sown

April 22nd, 2014 | Nation of Gardeners, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Broad Beans AguadulceBroad Bean Aguadulce can be sown from October through ’til February/March as long as the sowing conditions are adequate – do not sow when very cold or when ground is waterlogged.  They must be planted 2″ deep and 9″ apart in their growing positions.  Seedlings usually appear in 14-24 days.  Grows to a height of 40″.

Our Nation of Gardeners were originally asked to sow Broad Bean Aguadulce in October 2013 to test autumn sowing against spring sowing. And so in March they were asked to sow the same variety again in similar planting positions to compare results.

The table below charts their progress.

Location Elevation Date planted Date first signs of growth Notes
Cheshire 49m 13 March 8 April Sown direct to open ground on a south facing plot.
Renfrewshire 28m 15 March 12 April
North Devon 30-50m 17 March 4 April Planted in raised bed with south east facing aspect.
Worcestershire 55m
Herefordshire not sown yet
Cumbria 90m
Ceredigion 131m 19 March 9 April Sown into north east facing raised bed
Bristol 55m 13 March 7 April Sown into south facing open ground
Suffolk 6m 13 March 2 April Sown into south facing open ground
Hertfordshire 150m 14 March 5 April
Surrey 58m 31 March 10 April Sown into a south west facing raised bed.
Pontypridd 157m 15 March 6 April Sown direct to open ground on a south facing plot. 24 out of 24 germinated
Buckinghamshire 66m 13 March
Guildford 56m
Gloucestershire 74m 13 March Sown direct to open ground on a south facing plot.
Moray 15 March 6 April Sown into open ground and netted
Derbyshire 241m 13 March 10 April Sown direct to open ground on a south facing plot.  Half the row have survived a rodent attack.

Nation of Gardeners February planting update: plenty of eating to be done with this month’s parcel

March 21st, 2014 | Nation of Gardeners, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

With the January parcel having been sent out fairly late in January, it seemed that the February parcel arrived in next to no time.  In mid-February, the gardeners each received their fifth consignment from Mr Fothergill’s which once again had them utilising different gardening techniques to enable them to carry out their tasks.

Even though the weather across the UK was grim for much of February, there was still plenty for our gardeners to do to get growing under shelter.  February is a good time for sowing indoor tomatoes to get a head start on greenhouse-grown plants.  February (and March!) also gives gardeners a good chance to get last-minute soft fruit bushes into the ground.   And so, in this parcel were three varieties of tomato and two varieties of blackcurrants to trial.

Additionally, the first of the comparative trials came in the form of a second shipment of Garlic Solent Wight.  Last October the gardeners received Garlic Solent Wight for autumn planting and in this parcel they received the same variety for sowing in the Spring.

Throughout the wintry weeks that February served upon us, our gardeners made sure to keep on posting updates to the Facebook wall and to keep Twittering away on the hashtag #nationofgardeners giving great blow-by-blow accounts of what is happening, and where, around the country.


A round up of February’s planting tasks

Our Scottish gardener potted up her blackcurrant into a large pot.The parcel that arrived in mid-February was a fragrant one indeed!  Within the brown bag the smell that greeted our gardeners as they opened up their mystery parcels was divine.  Supplied in this shipment were two varieties of Blackcurrant for testing out comparatively for yield later in the year.

Modern blackcurrant breeding has produced two varieties which produce fruit more than double the size of standard types and are sweet enough to eat straight from the bush.  These varieties are called Big Ben and Ebony and so Mr Fothergill’s wanted to find out how the gardeners felt these varieties performed.  They wanted to know how they grow, but also whether they demonstrated good disease resistance.  Most importantly they would like to know how sweet the fruits are with an all-important taste test at fruiting time later in the year.

Our gardeners chose a variety of places to put their plants.  Though the supplied plants look small and relatively tame right now, they will grow up one day to be enormous beasts! Our Scottish gardener potted up her blackcurrant into a large pot – pictured here to the right. But many other gardeners chose to plant in open ground where the root balls will be able to develop to their full potential.  And so for this, they had to take care to choose a site that can eventually accommodate the full 3 or 4 foot canopy of the mature bushes.

By mid-March, many of these plants have started to wake up to Spring.  Small leaves are starting to emerge from the buds of many of the plants across the country as the pictures below show from our Scottish, Buckinghamshire and Cheshire gardeners.

Blackcurrants leaves emerging in March

February is good for sowing indoor tomatoes although in cooler parts of the country where winter is reluctant to leave, holding back on sowing tomatoes is wise.  For gardeners with a greenhouse, getting going early with tomato plants during February enables them to benefit from the lengthening days.  Given a warm summer like the one we experienced last year, gardeners with early sowings are rewarded with early crops – as long as they can maintain a good warm environment in which to grow their tomato plants.

For this task it seemed only natural to ask the Nation of Gardeners to grow  tomatoes.  But these aren’t common-or-garden tomatoes – the varieties they were asked to sow in February come in every colour except for red!

In February they sowed:

Tomatoes sown in February germinated quickly

Black Opal was selected for trial, and it is a tomato that is bred from the old variety ‘Black Cherry’ crossed with a modern variety with high sugar content in order to give it more flavour.  The flavour is supposed to improve during cooking and so Mr Fothergill’s wanted to find out what our group of gardeners thought of them.

Pink Charmer has been bred for the colour, which as the name implies, is pink!  But where a particular quality like colour has been bred into a variety, flavour is often lacking and so Mr Fothergill’s want our gardeners opinions yet again on a taste-test.

The third variety, Orange Slice, is a greenhouse-only variety that is still on trial by Mr Fothergill’s.   Just like the January issue of Pepper King of the North this is an unreleased variety, and so our gardeners are growing in tandem with the formal triallists at Mr Fothergill’s in the spacious trial grounds in Kentford.

Germination was good across the three types of tomato with it coming quickly for most using heat to bring on the seedlings.   The Orange Slice fell behind the other two varieties in terms of germination rates, with the seeds hitting the 66-80% mark.  Many of the gardeners also commented that the Orange Slice were ‘more puny’ than the other two varieties with our Ceredigion gardener commented that the root system looked much weaker too when she repotted them in March.  The pictures above show windowsill propagators being used by our Devon and Ceredigion gardeners to bring their tomatoes to life.  Heated propagators, heated greenhouses and pots on windowsills indoors were all used.

Along with the tomato seeds, the gardeners also received some more Garlic Solent Wight as part of a comparative trial against the same variety of garlic the gardeners put in during autumn 2013.  These spring bulbs will be observed for speed of ‘catch up’ with their autumn sown counterparts. Conventional wisdom says that autumn planting is better but our gardeners have found within days of planting out the bulbs were ready to go and off they shot!

This picture below shows a direct comparison of top growth on the autumn-sown versus the spring-sown garlic.  Whereas the autumn sown cloves took 8-12 weeks to show any signs of growth at all for many of our gardeners, the spring sown cloves were shooting with green top growth within days for some, and within 2 weeks for most.

The theory is that although spring-sown garlic catches up with it’s autumn-sown counterpart, the bulb development is held back due to the lack of dormant time in the ground over the main part of winter, and so the autumn-sown cloves will produce better bulbs when cropping in July comes along.  So we are able to test this theory thoroughly in this trial.

Direct comparison of autumn sown and spring sown garlic


October, November, December and January updates

Potatoes chittingThere is so much going on now that the weather is starting to warm up, that the following are just a few of the highlights from previous plantings.

The gardeners were each sent a pack of Potato Charlotte in order to test open ground planting versus patio planter growing of the tubers.   A patio planter was provided along with the potatoes in the January parcel and so all the gardeners got busy chitting during the colder weeks of the winter, with a few of the gardeners – Georgina in Cheshire, Gwynne in Morayshire and Max in Hertfordshire  – planting their potatoes out in early March.

The Snackbite and King of the North sown in January have shown some rapid progress with many gardeners having pricked out and potted on within a couple of weeks of sowing.  For our Suffolk gardener though, she has observed that her peppers and tomatoes have stopped growing all of a sudden.  Through discussion between the gardeners, there’s a consensus that watering style may be the problem.  Tomatoes and peppers like to be moist but not wet and so bottom watering or misting is the recommended method to keep them in shape.  Time will tell if our Suffolk gardener’s plants will come to life again, or if they are no longer viable.

Antirrhinums ready for pricking onThe Antirrhinum Purple Twist F1 has shown promising growth for many of the gardeners who successfully germinated them and brought them on. These seeds were supplied in a small phial and the seeds were microscopic.  They came along with the warning that germination can be erratic – and so our gardeners rolled up their sleeves to take on this challenge!  These seeds again are warmth loving and require a gentle heat of 15-20° Centigrade to germinate and survive. Our gardeners deftly managed to germinate these seeds pretty successfully, and as February came to a close, many were thinking of pricking out and growing the plants on individually.  Pictured here are the handsome plants brought on by our Renfrewshire gardener.

For many, the Blackberry Reuben has taken a real hit over the winter from the wind and the rain, with many specimens looking very bedraggled.  The question of whether to cut back or not to cut back is now a hot topic of discussion amongst the gardeners to see how they can renovate their plants back to the healthy looking specimens that were delivered in the autumn.

For those with great sweet pea plants sown in the autumn, the future of these plants is looking very bright indeed.  There’s lots of healthy top growth, and those that developed well enough to get pinched out are looking simply fantastic.  And so, with a promising set of blooms on the way, a number of our Nation of Gardeners members have gamely agreed to enter them for the upcoming Mr Fothergill’s 2014 Sweet Pea Competition at Capel Manor in July.  Will they grow some prize winning blooms? Who knows?  Watch this space!

To follow the results of our gardeners in more detail, take a look at our table of stats for each of the varieties:

February 2014′s planting

January 2014′s planting

December 2013′s planting

November 2013′s planting

October 2013′s planting

Looking forward into March

The gardeners have just received their latest package in mid-March including three types of tomato – Ferline F1, Sungold F1 and Sakura F1.  Also supplied were 3 pot-grown Garlic Solent Wight supplied as live plants, and a second sowing of Broad Bean Aguadulce that is to be grown in comparison with the autumn-sown seeds.  Also to be grown in comparison with their autumn-planted cousins are another issue of Strawberry Buddy and Strawberry Sweetheart.  Let’s hope the gardeners are fond of tomatoes, garlic, broad beans and strawberries!