By Ruth D’Alessandro, The Wildlife Gardener I like broad beans. They have a sophisticated smell and flavour that is completely lost on you as a child. When as an adult you rediscover the joy of broad beans, you understand why they figure so prominently in the great cuisines of the world: freshly podded baby beans with Serrano ham from Spain; ful medames, (broad bean stew), the Egyptian breakfast of choice; Crochette di Fave (broad bean croquettes) from Italy; and of course liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti from Hollywood. Last year, in my HDRA selection of heritage seed, I received ten seeds of Crimson-Flowered broad beans. I planted them. Ten plants with beautiful deep pink flowers came up. But ten plants don’t produce that many beans, especially not a heritage variety. Following a delectable dish of lightly braised broad beans, new peas, tiny carrots and a single courgette, that was it. No more home grown beans. Only the jaw-breaking commercial pods from the farm shop left to grow far too big and floury. A miserable anticlimax after the promise of such succulence. So, we must not be beanless again. Broad beans are hardy plants, and some varieties (such as Aquadulce and Bunyards Exhibition) can be sown in the autumn to overwinter in the open ground. I didn’t get round to digging the bean patch last year, and mice tend to help themselves to anything edible in the garden, so I sowed thirty-odd seeds in individual pots in the cold greenhouse on December 26th. Nearly all came up by the end of January, and flourished:
But now what? What should I do with overwintering beans that have been raised in a cold greenhouse? They haven’t been planted in the ground in November to germinate and grow ready acclimatised. They’ve been a bit spoiled. If I plant them out now, will a frosty night kill them or will they be true to their hardy roots and withstand the cold? Do they need hardening off (gradually exposing them to outdoor temperatures by putting them outside during the day and bringing them into the cold greenhouse at night)? I couldn’t find the answer to my particular problem in any gardening books or even on the internet. So, indulging my inner scientist (just the one?), I decided to conduct an experiment. I took one plant ” the sacrificial bean (scapebean?) ” from the cosy greenhouse and brutally put it straight into the ground:
Cold nights including frost were forecast. The kids’ trampoline cover had a speckling of ice. The sacrificial bean stood alone on the frosty soil. Each morning I checked it. It was fine. The owners of our local garden centre thought the beans by their nature would be hardy enough to go outside anyway. The senior owner even went as far as to say they would be ‘much happier’ outside. And indeed they are, as they join their lonesome sibling. I hardened the other beans off more conventionally for a week, then left them outside all night on a milder night. From being slightly floppy in their pots the plants are now standing proud and tall – even, perhaps, ‘enjoying’ the fresh 46mph wind ruffling their leaves.
So, the short answer is: yes, you can raise overwintering broad beans in pots in a cold greenhouse and then put them directly outside in March. The caveat is that the Wildlife Gardener is in the south of England and the frosty nights were only about 0Â°C (enough to slaughter tender plants), rather than penetrating minus numbers, which might have given this article a rather different ending. Watch out for a bean update later in the year when I find out what sort of yield I get from my winter plants.