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Plant of the month

Vicia faba (broad beans)

In the depths of winter, most of the plant life at Fulham Palace is still dormant, apart from a few oddities poking out. The empty veg beds wait patiently. But who is just ahead of the game? Broad beans, or Vicia faba of course! They are the first to fill their spot on the veg bed nice and early.

Back in December I sowed two varieties of broad bean: ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ (the hardiest of broad beans) and ‘Witkiem Manita’ in root training modules (long modules providing space for the large, vigorous tap roots they produce). I sowed them about 2 inches/5cm deep, giving them a push in to the soil with a finger or thumb, and then covering with soil and watering well.

Broad beans are very hardy and can germinate at temperatures as low as 2 degrees. They germinate quicker the warmer they are. We kept them in the warm vinery, watered and well, and within two weeks we had plenty germinating!

We grew them in the vinery until they were big enough to harden off outside. When they were ready we planted them out in February in neat rows, guided with strings. Now they will establish and grow in preparation for harvest in the summertime.

The plot on 1 February, ready for beans.
By 5 February, the beans had already started to grow!

We planted 25 strong broad beans per row at 23 cm apart, between every 2 rows there is a 45 cm gap to ensure we can access the crop to harvest, water and maintain it. The freezing weather in mid February came as a surprise so I had to go through them and cut off some leaves as they actually had a bit of frost damage, but broad beans are hardy plants so luckily ours are still very healthy.

You can find them on the far west side of the veg garden, bringing some of the first green growth of the year in to the garden. Fingers crossed for a bountiful crop that you will find lots of on the barrow!

by Millie Woodley, garden apprentice