Our Field Bean Experiment

Regular readers will know that we over winter our broad beans, onions and garlic on the veg patch. We’ve also had increasing success using green manure field beans over winter too.

One thing we’ve noticed over the hardships of winter, is how the green manure field beans always seem to suffer much less, and recover more quickly, than their broad bean relations.

With spring conditions of the veg patch particularly difficult this year, first record draught then record rain with an unusual number of late frosts, our broad beans were so decimated we had to resort to a spring replanting for the first time, with no confidence that any broad beans would grow at all this year. Needless to say, true to form, the field beans just perked up on their own and carried on.

So this year, when it came time to chop up and dig in the nitrogen fixing field beans, the thought occurred to us, potentially devoid of Broad Beans, what would happen if we just let some of the field beans grow on. Would we get beans to eat?

Fortunately a bit of research proved this thought was not a new one. Garden Organic, the organic research people, had tried this very experiment a few years ago, and the results looked good.

This gave us the confidence to leave a patch of the field beans to grow on. They easily grew to twice the size of our broad beans, and true to the Garden Organic trails produced many more, but smaller, bean pods, which we started to harvest towards the end of June.

The field beans grew to a record height for us (left), drawfing the broad beans (right).

Their trial, ours, and others, show that field beans provide a viable alternative to broad beans, albeit producing a larger number of smaller beans in more pods. In the Garden Organic trail there was a slight bias towards the flavour of the Broad Beans, but to be honest we can’t taste much difference.

The field beans produced smaller but more numerous pods (left) compared to the traditional broad beans (right).

Which has led on to a second experiment for us. We’ve left a small unharvested patch to grow on further for seed saving to see if we can be completely self-sufficient in the cycle.

We can certainly see ourselves using the green manure field beans right across the veg patch annually, leaving a section in each year to eat, and then leaving a smaller part of that in for seed saving, to do it all again next year.

We highly recommend giving it a go.

Take your pick – bigger broad beans vs smaller but a greater number of field beans,

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