October is a beautiful time of year and though the growing season is coming to an end, there is still plenty to do in your polytunnel, collecting seeds, completing harvests and even sowing overwintering broad beans. Broad beans can be sown now, or in the spring. Sowing now, with the correct overwintering varieties, can provide an earlier harvest next year, which will free up some growing space earlier in the summer for more tender crops. Broad beans can be grown outside, but a polytunnel can make it easier to grow this versatile crop. What is more, the broad beans are a legume and can fix nitrogen in the soil, which helps to ensure the continued good health of the soil ecosystem in your polytunnel.
When choosing broad beans for autumn sowing, it is key to choose the right variety. Some broad beans are best to sow at this time of year, while others will do far better in the spring. Good broad bean varieties for autumn sowing include Aquadulce Claudia and Superaguadulce.
One of the key problems facing gardeners who choose to sow broad beans in the autumn are mice and other rodents, who will quickly gobble up all your broad bean seeds if given the opportunity. A polytunnel affords some protection, though extra protection will be required to safeguard against these pests if you are sowing direct in the soil.
Cloches or horticultural fleece structures can help to some degree to protect broad beans that are direct sown in the polytunnel. Cloches can be made from old plastic bottles or other household waste to keep costs down.
If, however, you have a problem with rodents where you live, you may find it easier to sow your broad beans in pots and keep them in a cool, frost free place before transferring them to the polytunnel at a later date, when they have begun to grow and will be better able to withstand rodent attack.
Another problem faced by those who sow broad beans in the autumn is waterlogging. This is far easier to prevent in a polytunnel than it is in the open – yet another advantage to having a polytunnel over the winter months.
Sow broad beans now and you should have a crop as early as the end of May in a good year. The crop should be ready around two weeks earlier than any seeds sown in the early spring, as long as you avoid waterlogging and provide the plants with the conditions that they need to thrive.