I find growing broad beans a very rewarding crop. They grow fast, have beautiful flowers, they attract bees and honey eaters, and they give you a tasty crop to eat. But I have discovered this season that not all Broad Beans are created equal. In July I wrote a blog and not only did I let you know of the six varieties I was trialling this year, in it I also ‘spilt the beans’ about my changing attitudes towards the humble Broad Bean. Have a read of my conversion experience.
I have been harvesting Broad Beans for a couple of weeks so far this season from the six different varieties. The results have been remarkably diverse. I am a couple of weeks away from the end of the season and I am now satisfied that I can give you the results. But before I give you the verdict, let me tell you how I grew them.
They were all sown into the same garden bed which received at least 8 hours of sunlight a day. Into a loamy soil, I added a bag of aged cow manure, a light dose of blood and bone and a couple of handfuls of mixed fertiliser. PH was at 6.5 and I was happy with that. On 9th of May the seed went into the ground, and within a couple of days young plants were emerging. Three times I gave them a top up of fish emulsion liquid feed and that is all they needed. When the crop was 20-30 cm tall I constructed a frame with 2 layers of wire mesh that I could move upwards as the plants got taller. And oh boy, did I need it, the crop got to 2 m tall.
The Standard of Measurement! Every variety that I grew was very different. For this test, I have rated their performance according to a series of ‘Meyles’ approved standards. I have used this rating standard before and in the spirit of consistency, I will use it again. The rating is extremely scientific, has all the appropriate certifications to make it authentic (NOT) and is based purely on my personal preferences. I scored them on taste, ease of growing, resistance to pests and diseases and also harvest amounts.
The Verdict! Overall, all of the varieties grew almost twice the height that the seed supplier claimed on the packet. I also started picking the pods around 30 days later than the suppliers said that I would on their packets. Why? I hear you all asking. Well, I reckon the reason why this occurred is because I put the seed into the ground about one month too early for my location. There were no pest issues at all this season, not even one little black aphid was seen his year. Overall, pollination rates were, I believe, below what I would expect for the amount of bees I attracted.
Now for the variety detail………
Aquadulce: A good heirloom variety. Started picking them late in September. There were 5-6 beans per pod and they were a pleasing shape. If I chose to let the pods mature they are very light green, almost white. What let this variety down was that unfortunately the pollination rate was average and as a result the yield was below what I would expect. Easy to grow and generally healthy. Not the top producer, but I would give it another chance. Score 6/10.
Tripoli: This variety was chosen because in the catalogue it claimed that it would handle warmer climates better. The claim is true and it was the best of the six varieties. Overall the pollination rate was as I would expect and the pods had 6-7 beans in them. An early variety which I started to pick in early September. It was not bothered by any pests or diseases. Score 9/10. Definitely plant this one again next year.
Crimson Flowered: As the name suggests it has a crimson flower. In fact it is quite stunning. Not only did it have an abundance of striking crimson flowers it was always full of bees. Unfortunately the beauty of the flowers did not translate to a decent harvest. The pods I did get were ready to pick early October and contained on average 4 small beans. I reckon that this is a variety for the cooler areas. It did not handle the warmth and as a result many of the leaves became scorched and the tips have dried up. Score 3/10. I would not plant it again except as a decorative flower.
Chocolate Flowered: I really want to tell you that the flavour of this bean was just like a block of dark chocolate, but I can’t unfortunately. This variety was all about the flower – not the bean. Probably the lowest yield of them all. They were ready early October and delivered small pods with only 3-4 beans in each. Had plenty of smallish flowers that did not pollinate well. If you live down in the southern parts of Australia in the cooler climates give it a try but I won’t bother with it again. Score 2/10.
Fava: I suspect that this has another name, I swapped them for some tomato seeds and I wanted to give it a try. A small flowering variety that had a below average yield that began in late September. It was the only variety that had some disease trouble and I lost a couple of plants. Overall disappointing and it only gets a score of 4/10. I will probably not plant it again next year to harvest for eating but it does have a redeeming feature. I have used it for a brilliant green manure crop this year and would again.
Coles Dwarf: I had grown this successfully before and because of this I used it as the benchmark variety. Grew well and produced pods that had 5-6 beans in them. Not as prolific as previous years but it was a decent yield that started in late September. It was not susceptible to pest or disease problems. I would give it a score of 7/10 because it is reliable and will give me a decent yield in this climate Will be sown again.
So, the report is in. A good trial and I now know that I will not be using all of these varieties again. I will use Tripoli as an early variety followed by Coles Dwarf and AquaduIce for the later harvest. I will spread my crop over a longer period, this way making it possible to enjoy them fresh for longer. I reckon that I can easily do better next year and I have a couple of ideas to improve the results. The season has been mild in winter and the past 3 weeks quite hot. This has knocked them all around quite a bit. I have not used any sprays for pests or diseases at all and have let the birds and bugs look after them. I did feed them regularly with slow release fertiliser and occasionally some liquid fertiliser to correct any suspect deficiencies of nutrition.