Broad bean (vicia faba)

Why plant

Broad beans, or fava beans as they're also known, are very easy to grow and are one of the few plants that can be sown in late autumn or winter. With successional sowing you can be harvesting from May right through the summer.

Interesting uses

The dried beans have long been used for counting, such as for voting, and games. So you can use some dried beans to amuse children by inventing a game.

Since the plants fix nitrogen in the soil, they're worth growing over winter purely to improve soil fertility.


The broad bean is one of the most ancient plants in cultivation, so old in fact that there's no known wild form of the bean. Remains have been found from the Neolithic period in Israel dating back to almost 9,000 years ago and it was another 3,000 years before it found its way to Europe. It was the only bean known in the old world until discovery of the Americas just 500 years ago.

Health benefits

As with other types of beans, broad beans are high in protein. They also contain beneficial levels of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and plant sterols. They're also a rich source of dietary fibre. Theymay therefore be beneficial in avoiding a wide range of ailments such as heart disease, cancer and hign cholesterol.


* Aquadulce Claudia: Probably the best autumn sowing variety, since it can withstand winter frosts and harvests early. A heritage type from the 1850s.

* Masterpiece Green Longpod: A reliable, slender-podded, high yielding and tasty heritage variety dating from the late 19th century cultivar.

* Bunyards Exhibition: A variety introduced pre-1835, the pods are long and produce a large harvest of delicious flavoured white seeded beans with up to 9 beans per pod.

* Medes: A popular, high-yielding, uniform variety

* The Sutton: A dwarf favourite producing small, tender beans ideal for containers.

* Witkiem Manita: An early-maturing cultivar with heavy yields.

* Red Epicure: This variety is a bit different, the pods containing up to 5 crimson red beans which, as well as tasting lovely, add a vibrant splash of colour to the dinner plate when steamed.. Dates from 1894.


You can plant broad beans as early as November to get early spring crops. Alternatively plant from February to May to harvest throughout the summer.

The plants appreciate a well drained and manured site. Sow seeds 2 inches (5cm) deep and 8 inches (20cm) apart, with 18 inches (45cm) between rows. As they grow plants will generally need support with stakes and string. Alternatively grow in blocks so less affected by the elements, but always ensure there's plenty of air circulation to avoid fungal problems.


Keep moist and weed-free. When the lowest flowers have formed small pods, pinch out the tips of the plants to encourage development of the remaining pods and avoid blackfly infestation. Don't waste the tips... they can be steamed and eaten.


The beans are ready to harvest when they have begun to visibly swell inside the pod. Pick the lowest pods first. Small beans are sweeter and more tender and pods can also be picked when they're immature to be cooked and eaten whole

Broad beans are great for storing, either by drying or freezing. Dried beans can be sown the following year, or rehydrated for use in cooking.


Broad beans with tomatoes and anchovies

Fried new potatoes with parma ham and broad beans

Broad beans with mozzarella, lemon and mint

Broad beans with bacon

Broad bean, yoghurt and mint soup

Common problems

Blackfly can be a problem in late spring or early summer. Pinch out the plant tips as soon as the lowest flowers have formed pods to avoid. If the plants do become affected you can manually remove the blackfly, or spray with soapy water. It also helps to grow poached egg plants or polygonum nearby; both attract hoverflies, which feed on the blackfly.

Fungal diseases can develop if there's not enough air flow between the plants.

Broad bean seedlings.

Comes with the bonus of attractive flowers.

Tender beans ready for harvesting.

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