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Beans – Broad/Fava

Vicia faba

  • Called Fava beans in North America. Here I refer to them as broad beans.

Their plant family is the Fabaceae, which includes all the beans and peas we eat as vegetables. In this same large family are lentils, peanuts, soy beans, acacia, mimosa and wisteria. All these plants can convert air nitrogen to nodules of nitrogen. You see these as pink clusters on the roots of plants when they are growing strongly.

4th June – broad bean pods are part of this wonderful early summer harvest which includes courgettes, cabbage, spring onion and asparagus
Sown in modules in November, then covered with a little compost; these will be ready to transplant in about four weeks when grown under cover
Nitrogen nodules accumulate on the roots of legumes such as peas and beans when plants are growing fast; much of this nitrogen is used by the legume plants themselves

Harvest period

  • Days from seed to harvest: 110 spring-sown, to 200 autumn-sown

In temperate climates it’s mid-May to early August, say late spring through to midsummer. It’s possible to harvest broad beans in late summer and even autumn, but the harvest at that time is light, compared to the time and space needed.

Later harvests mean plants have used the main part of a growing season, compared to early or pre-winter sowings. They are cleared in early to midsummer, which makes it easier to plant and sow again with another vegetable.

  • Broad beans, sown late October to early November, harvest late May through June.
  • Broad beans, sown February to April, harvest late June through to early August.

26th November – broad beans have just been planted after clearing cabbage
June – after clearing beans we transplant cabbage; by mid-October we have harvested most of the heads and the remaining ones are good to harvest for another month
2nd June – a great harvest of vegetables, with calabrese, cabbage, carrots, salad leaves, and broad beans from the November sowing

  • Best climate is temperate, not continental – moist is good.

Broad beans do not like it too hot. Their pattern of growth means harvests are best when day length is either increasing or still full.

In warm climates, such as Florida, they can crop in spring from sowing just before winter. In even hotter climates, I am unsure about timing, or of success.

In climates of winter frosts, they survive as small plants, at temperatures as low as -8—10 °C/ 8–14 °F. At those temperatures, and colder, some cover is worthwhile: mesh is better than fleece because it’s stronger. Snow protects them too.

22nd February – overwintered broad beans which were sown in early November
25th February – we see a frost on the bean plants of -2°C/28°F, cold enough to make the plants fall over because their stems are now elongating

26th March – broad beans and broccoli in a strong -3°C/27°F frost; they look bad here, but are standing again by midday
17th April – the same broad beans and broccoli, now in full health and growing well

Why grow them

Broad beans are mostly eaten shelled from their pods when green and fresh. They lose moisture and also sweetness with any lapse of time after picking.

Therefore freshly gathered homegrown broad beans have excellent flavour – if you have not eaten them before, do have a try. They are not too difficult to grow.

Unlike other vegetable beans, broad beans are frost hardy, and you can sow them in late autumn which means they crop early in the summer.


  • They are exciting! You enjoy early meals of vegetables with fruits of summer-like flavour, after the root vegetables of winter and leaf vegetables of spring.
  • There is time after clearing the old plants to grow a serious amount of vegetables in the same space. Examples include broccoli, cabbage, leeks, carrots and plenty more

31st May – beans Aquadulce Claudia from a November sowing; the first harvest is now ready with the lowest pods swelling
Mid-June – just two weeks later and Felix Hofmann is clearing bean debris from beds, before we transplant cabbages on the same day
Early July – broccoli plants are ready to transplant after broad beans have been cleared, with water in trenches in preparation

Suitable for containers?

Broad beans are large and hungry plants, with a high proportion of leaf and stem compared to the amount of food produced. This makes them probably not worthwhile to grow in containers, although you could try small varieties such as Robin Hood (see below) and The Sutton.

Conditions for success

Plants mature best before summer grows too hot and dry. They profit from a mild but long spring, when there is time for stems and leaves to develop fully before flowering initiates. This can be as early as May, before summer even begins.

When I lived in Southwest France, broad beans flowered in April and we harvested them in May. I followed them with beet transplants and grew giant fodder beet for the cows in that same year.

This is one of several reasons why autumn sowing is so successful: it ensures the long season of early growth before fruiting. During this time plants also tiller, which means growing several stems from one seed. They then look like multisown broad beans!

  • The take-home point is that broad beans are healthiest and most abundant in mild and moist weather, rather than hot.

13th December – trialing composts containing aminopyralids with broad bean plants; contaminated compost turns out to be in the left half of this tray
30th December – the compost trial continues; see two different varieties – taller Aquadulce Claudia on the left and Robin Hood on the right


For sowing in autumn to overwinter, Aquadulce Claudia is perhaps the hardiest, is high yielding and develops great flavour if beans are allowed to mature until white and creamy. It also crops well from sowing by early spring.

Masterpiece Green Longpod has tasty green beans, and Green Windsor has a highly esteemed flavour.

Monica, or de Monica, and Robin Hood grow smaller plants, around 1.2 m/4 ft high, with pods of 4–5 pale-coloured, sweet beans.

Broad Bean Wizard, from Real Seeds, are great over winter, and produce a tasty crop in May, with many small pods.

For something different, there are crimson flowered varieties with pink seeds. The flowering period of all broad beans is a real addition to the garden, with a fine scent and attracting many insects.

Robin Hood broad beans with silky pods
11th June – a feast of spring vegetables! Early dehulled broad bean Aquadulce in the middle
Legumes for freezing – broad beans Karmazyn and Masterpiece Green Longpod, and Alderman peas alongside Sugar Snap

sow & propagate
Transplant - Size, time of year, Spacing, support
container growing
Prune and train plants/thin fruit
Harvest times and method
Potential problems


There is a method to removing bean stems.

  • The root system still has a few nodules of nitrogen, although less than is often thought. Nonetheless, the combination of this, together with the value of leaving roots in the soil to decompose and be food for microbes, makes it worth chopping plants at surface level, just below the stem base which has a very fibrous and tough stem.
  • We use a sharp spade to cut through the topmost roots. This causes only a little damage to soil and benefits it from leaving the root system undisturbed.
  • If you cut the stem above ground level, it will regrow small shoots of new plants. However, they come to nothing and so are a waste.

There is no need to spread compost or add amendments after clearing.


From overwintered bean plants, cleared in early summer, you have almost every option of what to grow next. Spring-sown beans mature later, so there are fewer options – I would check the sowing timeline for ideas.

Mid-June – a final harvest of Aquadulce Claudia, before clearing to transplant chard
21st June – broad bean plants after a final pick, just before clearing and removing the stakes