Every year, without exception, I promise myself I will start planting in good time, and every year I fail. (I also swear not to sow too many tomatoes, to label everything meticulously and to not plant out too closely - equally unsuccessful).
For the last week, planting broad beans has been on my daily list of things to do and at the eleventh hour, the close of the last day of the half term break and in the dark, I finally bit the bullet.
I am under a little more pressure than most this year because I need to keep ahead of the growing thing. I have community gardens, school gardens and visual aids for courses I'm teaching to think about. In an ideal world, I will be supplying a multitude of vegetable seedlings, enough to feed the little Barefoot Community, throughout the year. Unfortunately, so many of food growing tasks occupy the same few months of the calendar, which makes for a very busy spring. Broad beans are one of the few crops that sit outside this tight timescale (like me, they are rule breakers rather than followers) so they may just help me with my growing aspirations!
Unlike other beans (which generally need sowing when the soil is much, much warmer), broad beans will tolerate the cold of winter. If you're ahead of the game you can plant them in late autumn for a spring crop the following year, especially if you choose a hardy variety like these ones - Aquadulce Claudia. Or, like me, you can wait until March. Or late February if you're starting them under the cover of a greenhouse or windowsill.
I have learnt through bitter experience that my garden is not suitable for sowing beans (or peas for that matter) directly into the soil, no matter how much the seeds prefer this. Beans might not like the disturbance of being moved as seedlings, but I must be particularly blessed in the amount of hungry mice that my garden supports given the complete failure of any crops I attempt to direct sow! Instead, I start them in pots of some description, and I'll move them when easy enough to handle and strong enough to tolerate a little mousey attack.
I've reused the cardboard toilet roll tubes we had this time because they give some depth for the long root to develop. The tubes are ideal as they can be transferred whole into the soil, together with the seedling, and gradually rot as it grows bigger. Normally these go straight into the compost caddy so it's good to give them an extra purpose first. They just need something to seal the bottom (I used paperclips, but staples are better) and some sort of pot to stand in and support them. Fill the tubes with compost, press down lightly to exclude too much air (but not so much that it's very compacted) and push the bean seed down to a depth of around an inch. You can top the tubes up with compost if needed, as I did. Water using a fine rose and transfer to a spot that is well lit, not too cold, not too hot and let the magic happen!
As well as my selection of compost grown beans, I am reliving an experiment I remember from primary school where beans are grown in a jar sandwiched between the glass and some blotting paper, which absorbs just a little water from the bottom of the jar allowing the seed the moisture it needs to germinate. I'm not sure if this still happens in school, but it might just entertain my littlest kiddywinklies for a short period of time and make up for the fact that I repeatedly deny them a pet dog...
The beans should start to germinate within the next week or so and will be ready to be planted out in a month, maybe a little longer (a very cold snap is predicted). As well as providing food for us, they will support pollinating insects and, being nitrogen fixers, fertilise the soil for the following crop, whatever that ends up being. Not my favourite vegetable, but they are particularly delicious straight off the plant, young and crisp and sweet. And their stout stems and pretty flowers will bring colour and freshness to the garden.
Magic beans? Oh, I think so!
Treading Lightly is simple living, within your means and the means of the planet, and making a minimal impact on the Earth. Find out more here about Catherine, of Barefoot Solutions, does this from day to day.