Legumes are water and nutrient hungry so need plenty of preparation and care throughout the growing season. The best way to cater for their needs is to dig a trench in autumn and fill it with homemade compost and moisture-retentive material such as kitchen scraps, but shredded newspaper can also be used. Top the trench with soil before sowing or planting out. Water the plants well during dry periods, especially when the pods are developing. Always ensure the soil is raked level and free from weeds before sowing and planting.
Growing Broad Beans
With regular sowings in spring you can have broad beans from June right through until September. The main sowing period is March and April, however, some cultivars may be sown in Autumn under cloches in milder areas (this ensures they are established before the spring, so when temperatures increase they will grow more quickly and produce an earlier harvest).
Sow seeds 5cm deep and 20cm apart (dwarf varieties can be sown 15cm apart), in rows 20cm apart. Taller varieties need supporting; place a stout stake at each corner of the row and run string around the stakes at 30cm intervals. Keep the seedlings well watered and free from weeds. When the first pods start to form, pinch out the top 7.5cm of the stems to prevent attack from blackfly. Lightly steam the tops and eat like spinach.
You should be able to pick the pods when the beans start to show through the pod, however don’t leave them too long as they can be stringy and lose their flavour. For best results, eat on the same day as you harvested them and steam for just a few minutes.
Growing French Beans
Sow seeds in May and June, or in April under cloches. Sow seeds 5cm deep 10cm apart in rows 45cm apart. Bush varieties may not need supporting. Climbing varieties will need sticks or netting to scramble up. Water the plants well during dry periods and mulch around the base of the plants in June to help conserve soil moisture.
Pick the pods when they are roughly 10cm long. By picking regularly you can keep the plants cropping for up to seven weeks. Once all the pods have been harvested, water the plants and feed them with a liquid fertiliser. This will provide you with a second crop of smaller pods.
By growing different types and cultivars of pea (including sugar snaps and mange tout varieties) you can prolong your harvest and enjoy fresh pods from early May right through until October. Peas can be classified into two main types: round peas tend to be hardy and will tolerate poor growing conditions; wrinkled peas have more flavour but require warmer and more fertile conditions.
Dig a trench 5cm deep and 15cm wide and sow the seeds approximately 7.5cm apart. Cover them with soil and firm down lightly. Water the plants well during dry periods and mulch the soil to preserve moisture. The plants will need supporting with twigs or netting to scramble up.
Pods are ready to harvest when they are well filled and when the pod is still green and hasn’t started to dry out. Pick them regularly or the plants will stop producing pods. Mangetout peas should be picked when the pods are about 7.5cm long and the peas are just starting to develop.
Growing Runner Beans
Sow beans from late May to the end of June 5cm deep and 23cm apart. For an earlier crop, sow them in empty toilet roll holders indoors in April and plant them out in their pots at the end of May, 23cm apart.
Support each plant with bamboo canes, either in a wigwam shape or a long double row. Loosely tie the plants to the canes after planting; after that they will climb up naturally. Remove the growing tip once the plants have reached the top of the cane.
Start harvesting the beans when the pods are 15-20cm long and before the beans inside begin to swell. Pick them regularly to prevent any pods reaching maturity as once this happens plants will stop flowering and producing pods. If you pick them regularly the plants will crop for up to eight weeks.