People either love or hate broad beans but they are worth trying in the home vegetable garden where you can harvest them before they develop the tough grey outer skin which is so off-putting. Indeed, I have a friend who will only harvest them to eat when she can cook the complete young pod. We find them tasty at all stages and once the hard shell has developed, we let them mature and store them dry. The dried beans are delicious when reconstituted though I admit I peel off the outer casing of each bean after soaking them. Broad beans are often called fava beans overseas and in upmarket eateries where they have enjoyed a recent revival as a fashion ingredient.
Broad beans are one of the few crops which continue to grow through winter. Autumn planting means you will be harvesting in spring when there are not a lot of other fresh vegetables which are ready. Plant the beans directly into the ground at finished spacing. We favour a double row about 30cm apart and the plants in each row at least 15cm apart but not more than 20cm. The plants need some support as they grow, or they will fall over under their own weight. The quickest way we know is to support them either side with a long piece of horizontal bamboo suspended at about 60cm off the ground and supported at both ends of the row. You could achieve the same support by running a wire along but bamboo is good because you can easily incorporate cross pieces for added support. It saves having to stake individual plants. Once the plants have reached about a metre in height, we nip out the tops to eat as fresh greens.
If you sow in succession from autumn through to late winter, you can be harvesting from August to Christmas.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.