Welcome to Lesley Upton’s allotment blog, where she will look at life on her Berkshire allotment, from the veg she is growing to how people are living with the threat of coronavirus. Here she looks at planting broad beans

We’ve had a question form Sarah in Solihull about broad beans. Last year she tried growing them, but got next to nothing. She promised herself she wouldn’t try growing them again, but has been ‘tempted back this spring by thoughts of fresh podded baby broad beans!’

Sarah has been growing ‘Masterpiece’, which is a prolific variety with long, well-filled pods that are quick to mature. Her beans are ready to plant out so she wants some tips on getting a successful crop.

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Broad bean tips

I’ve never grown ‘Masterpiece’, but I am growing ‘The Sutton, which is a bushy, dwarf broad bean. I already have some beans in the ground (‘Aquadulce Claudia’) that are about 2ft (60cm) tall, and plan to use ‘The Sutton’ to produce another, later crop.

Broad bean 'The Sutton' is a bushy dwarf variety.

Broad bean ‘The Sutton’ is a bushy dwarf variety.

If you’re sowing or planting beans now, make sure your soil is well manured and in a sheltered site. ‘Masterpiece’ grows to about 3ft (90cm) tall so it will need staking, and if it’s in a sheltered spot there’s less chance of plants being affected by wind-rock.

For plants that have been started off at home, under cover, make sure you harden them off before planting them outside. We’ve had some cold winds and cold nights recently, so it’ll be a shock to the plants if you take them from shelter straight to conditions outside. If you can, cover the plants with fleece if the cold winds and frosts persist to give them a little extra protection.

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When planting young broad beans in the ground (I grow mine in the cardboard tubes of loo rolls), I add some blood, fish and bone to get them off to a good start. I plant them about 9in (23cm) apart in double rows about 10in (25cm) apart or in blocks. This makes it easier to put canes around the rows or blocks and thread string through to support the beans as they grow. I also put a 3ft (90cm) cane next to each plant and tie the plant in as it grows.

broad beans, sheltered sits, support

Plant broad beans in a sheltered site and support them if necessary.

Water the plants well until they become established and make sure they get plenty of water once they start flowering. When they are about 4ft (1.2m) tall, when young beans start to appear at the base of the plant, pinch out 2-3in (5-7cm) of the tips to encourage bushier growth. This will also help to deter blackfly that love the fresh young new shoots of broad beans.

If the broad beans don’t set pods (in other words, pods don’t appear after flowering), it could be because the bees haven’t been able to pollinate the plants due to windy weather. Cold and wet will also deter the bees. If the weather is hot, mist your plants to encourage them to set.

I find I have more luck with autumn-sown broad beans than the spring-sown varieties, but I’ll let you know how ‘The Sutton’ performs – once they germinate! They’re in cardboard loo rolls in a shoebox, at the moment, in the shelter of a cold greenhouse.

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Stay safe everyone out there and come back to the blog for more advice over the coming days and weeks.