A Guide to Growing Peas and Broad Beans
Peas and broad beans are two crops in a pod when it comes to their role as a garden favorite.
Sweet, tender peas are well worth growing yourself for a taste that surpasses anything you can buy in the store. If you don’t like shelling peas, try a sugar snap type, which can be eaten pod and all.
Like peas, broad beans are a traditional favorite in the garden. These plants are also called fava beans and they are at their best when freshly picked. They are also easy to grow, producing good yields of tender crops in early summer.
How to Grow Peas
Peas grow best in rich, moist soil, improved with well-rotted organic matter, and a sunny spot that does not get too hot. Sow seed outside according to when you want your harvest, from early spring to early summer. Make a trench 2 inches deep and 10 inches wide, water well, then sow seeds at least 2 inches apart, backfilling with soil. If you have space, plant another row 18–36 inches away, depending on how tall the variety is, to allow space for picking and weeding. For a head start, sow podded varieties indoors in late winter into long troughs or plastic guttering, and plant out in spring. Cover early sowings with fabric to protect plants against frost, and sow quick-growing snow peas and sugar snap peas in the late spring and early summer.
Once sown, position supports along the row for the plants to climb. All peas need supports; twiggy sticks are ideal for dwarf or shorter varieties; taller varieties benefit from a trellis, rows of bamboo canes, or netting. Keep plants well watered in warm weather; if planted into fertile soil, they won’t require extra feeding. When the first pods are ready, pinch off the growing tips (which you can eat in salads) to encourage sideshoots that will grow on, flower, and crop. Peas are generally ready to pick about three months after sowing and are best harvested small and tender.
Types of Peas Available
- Snow peas are eaten whole and should be picked just as the peas inside start to swell. Best eaten lightly steamed. Try ‘Delikata',‘Oregon Giant’ and ‘Oregon Sugar Pod’ varieties.
- Sugar snap peas are allowed to develop longer than snow peas; pick when the pods fill out but the peas are tiny. Try ‘Cascadia’, ‘Sugar Ann’ and ‘Sugar Lord’ varieties.
- Podding peas are traditional garden peas that are shelled before eating. Pick them young for the best flavor and texture. Try ‘Ambassador’, ‘Early Onward’, ‘Feltham First’ and ‘Hurst Greenshaft’ varieties.
How to Grow Broad Beans
In the fall, choose a sunny, sheltered spot with well-drained, fertile soil, and dig in plenty of well-rotted organic matter, such as garden compost or manure. For early crops, sow seed under cover in pots in late fall, transplanting the seedlings outside in early to mid-spring. Sow seed outside in the fall in a sheltered site. Space seed 8 inches apart in rows 18 inches apart. For crops during the summer, sow in succession at two-week intervals throughout the spring and early summer. Support growing plants with twigs or bamboo canes, using smaller sticks for dwarf varieties. Mulch around the plants with compost, keep plants well weeded, and water regularly, especially when plants are in flower. Once the first pods have appeared at the base of each plant, pinch off the growing tips. This encourages the beans to mature more quickly and promotes a larger crop.
Harvest when the pods start to swell and the beans inside are thumbnail-size; they become tough and starchy if they grow too large. Broad beans mature from the bottom of the stem upward. Pick regularly, cutting the pods off rather than pulling them to prevent damage to the plants. Eat as fresh as possible.
Varieties of Broad Beans
Broad beans produce green (G) or white (W) beans inside the pods. White beans are considered the tastiest, but green beans can also be a delicious crop. Try ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ (W), ‘Bunyard’s Exhibition’ (W), ‘Express’ (G), ‘Green Windsor’ (G), ‘Imperial Green Longpod’ (G), ‘Jubilee Hysor’ (W), ‘Stereo’ (W), ‘The Sutton’ (W) and ‘Witkiem Manita’ (W) varieties.
Watch Out for Broad Beans Pests and Diseases
Blackfly or black bean aphid target the growing tips of the broad bean, sucking sap and weakening the plant. Pinch off the tips, and apply an insecticide to heavy infestations.
Be sure to also watch out for chocolate spot, a fungal disease that is prevalent in damp conditions and causes brown spots on the plants, reducing yield or killing them. Space plants out to improve airflow, and avoid high nitrogen fertilizers.