Broad beans, peas and mangetout favour the cooler growing conditions of early summer as their seeds germinate at low temperatures. While days are getting longer and warming up, nights and soil are still too cool for many crops but these attractive, tasty and nutritious vegetables are easy to cultivate so great for beginners and experienced gardeners alike. If planted in succession they can be harvested through the summer months, and peas and beans are excellent sources of protein as well as fibre. In addition, with large easy to handle seeds that germinate within a couple of weeks, soon shooting up into sturdy plants, they’re great for getting kids interested in gardening.
While these aren’t especially fussy plants, to encourage strong, healthy growth with good yields, you need to prepare your soil. Both broad beans and peas grow tall, and some need some support, so choose a sunny site sheltered from strong winds, where they won’t get a battering. Rich, but well drained soil that retains moisture is required. Prior to planting, dig soil over well to improve drainage – it will have become compacted over winter. Improve the soil by digging in well-rotted manure, leaf mould or garden compost. This helps to retain moisture during dry spells, reducing the need for watering as well as providing essential nutrients. If you don’t have bulky soil improver available, a couple of trowel loads of fish, blood and bone per square metre provides nutrients – although this won’t help water retention.
Broad beans come in dwarf varieties like ‘The Sutton’ and taller varieties like Bunyards Exhibition and Witkiem Manita. You’ll get more crops from the taller plants, but dwarf beans don’t need support so are better suited to a windy site. Varieties with red seeds like Red Epicure are available too – and if you want to pretty up your plot there is a Crimson Flowered option. Seeds should be planted in double rows about 5 cm deep and 20 cm apart, leaving 60 cm between each double row to allow access for picking. The plants should support each other but for tall varieties and where it is windy shoring them up with sticks and string will ensure they don’t fall flat.
Peas and mangetout
Nothing beats freshly picked peas or mangetout, and like broad beans varieties available include self-supporting dwarves and those growing 1.5 – 2.5 metres high. For traditional peas varieties include Kelvedon Wonder and the dwarf Meteor. For mangetout – you can choose green (Oregon Sugarpod), purple (Shiraz) or even yellow (Golden Sweet) pods to add colour to your plot and plate. Whatever type suits you, peas should be planted about two inches deep. For dwarf peas, make a shallow trench 5 cm deep by 15 cm wide, water it and scatter seed in the trench, covering with soil. The dwarf peas will grow up to support each other. Taller varieties use tendrils to climb, so supports need to be placed prior to sowing. Use a wigwam of canes, two rows of sticks tied at the top – either covered with pea netting or with string wound round at about 15cm intervals, or branched twigs. Seeds can then be sown in a 5cm drill at the base of the supports.
By Mary Stevens
Mary Stevens has a life long love of growing flowers and vegetables in the garden and on an allotment. She holds the RHS 2 qualification in horticulture and has worked supporting disadvantaged adults to pass their City and Guilds in Organic Growing.