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Growing and harvesting broad beans
Picking broad beans really is a family affair in the Pasco household. The fat, swollen pods are full of promise and we eagerly pop them open to release the harvest.
Much to my wife’s surprise, my two children really enjoyed their first taste of broad beans a few years ago. Was this a result of their active participation in bringing in the crop, or did they really enjoy the flavour of their first home-grown broad beans?
More hands certainly make light work of preparing beans and peas for cooking, but you have to time your picking just right. Leave broad beans for too long and you’ll notice the ‘scar’ holding each bean in place inside the pod turns dark brown. This tells me the beans are really past their best, and will have developed tough, inedible skins.
The best beans are younger, and probably slightly smaller, with a creamy white ‘scar’ attached to each bean. Young beans are delicious, and can be eaten skins and all – unless you have fussy kids like mine who want each bean peeled (well, they’re certainly easier to peel than grapes).
But don’t despair if your beans have matured more than you would have wanted. Just cook, peel and mash the beans into a tasty puree.
Broad beans are a simple crop to grow, but you do need quite a long row of them if you’re going to enjoy a reasonable harvest to feed a family. Once picking is over just cut off their tops at soil level, and leave their roots to break down in the soil.
Sow a leafy salad crop over the area, and the new crop will benefit from the release back into the soil of nitrogen captured in the bean roots by bacteria. This acts like a natural fertiliser created by nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the nodules of bean roots (and other members of the legume family).
It’s too late to sow more broad beans now, but dwarf French beans and even runner beans develop quickly over summer to produce a welcome crop later in autumn.
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