DIY Network

Growing Legumes

Pea and bean crops require less fertilizer than other vegetables because their roots are home to bacteria that take nitrogen from the air and fix it in the soil. Leave the nutrient-rich roots to break down in the soil after harvest.
Excerpted from Simple Steps: Vegetable Gardening

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Step 1: Choose the Right Site and Soil

These climbing plants do best in full sun on fertile, slightly alkaline soil, improved with plenty of organic matter. Since they are susceptible to similar pests and diseases, practice crop rotation. Fava beans prefer clay soils, while other peas and beans do best on lighter soils. Provide shelter from strong winds.

Step 2: Sow and Plant Out

All legume seeds need warm soil in which to germinate, so wait until mid-spring to sow outdoors or start them off under cloches or in pots indoors. Successional sowings help to ensure a steady supply of produce. Erect appropriate supports before sowing or planting out to avoid damaging young plants.

Step 3: Protect Against Potential Problems

Beans are commonly grown up wigwams or rows of canes held together with string; peas scramble up chicken wire supported by canes or twiggy pea sticks. Beans may need coaxing up and tying into their supports, while peas hold on with tendrils.

Keep plants well weeded, and mulch if possible. There is no need to water before flowering, unless plants are wilting. Begin watering generously when flowering starts, to encourage pods to set. For bushier plants, pinch out growing tips when plants reach the top of their supports.

Rodents love legume seeds, so sow indoors where this is a problem. Protect crops from pea moths by covering with fleece. Infestations of aphids are also common.

Step 4: Harvest and Store

Peas and beans are at their tastiest when small and freshly picked, so harvest frequently; this also encourages greater yields. Eating quality deteriorates quickly, even when crops are refrigerated, so either use right away or freeze any excess as soon after harvest as possible. Borlotti beans can be left on the plant to mature, then dried and stored in a cool, dark place.

Sugar Snap Peas Enjoy Cool Weather Growing

Courtesy of DK - Vegetable Gardening © 2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Step 5: Discourage Blackflies on Fava Beans

Blackflies are fond of the young, sappy growth at the tips of fava bean plants. Deter them by pinching out the tips when plants have plenty of flowers and the first pods have set.

Watch for Blackflies on Tips of Fava Bean Plants

Courtesy of DK - Vegetable Gardening © 2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Step 6: Support Runner Beans

Climbing French and runner beans need the support of sturdy canes, ideally at least 7 feet tall, to hold up their lush growth. Wigwams of six or eight canes tied at the top are easy to construct.

Support Runner Beans with Cane Wigwams

Courtesy of DK - Vegetable Gardening © 2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Step 7: Choose Crops

Colorful Peas (image 1)
With violet flowers and pods, the snow pea ‘Ezethas Krombek Blauwschok’ addscolor to the productive garden.

Fava beans (image 2)
Rarely available fresh in stores, these delicious beans are easy to grow and can be sown in fall for a welcome late spring crop.

French Beans (image 3)
Dwarf varieties of this heavy-cropping legume suit the small garden very well. They thrive in pots to yield plenty of gourmet beans.

Borlotti Beans (image 4)
Grown in the same way as a climbing French bean, this beautiful Italian variety has pink-flecked pods. Eat the beans fresh or use them dried.

Excerpted from Simple Steps: Vegetable Gardening

© Dorling Kindersley Limited 2007