Greetings crop pickers, here's the run down of the current top 12 polytunnel crops. Each of our 'Top of the Crops' have detailed growing guides, working with author and long-time polytunnel gardener, Andy McKee, we have produced a series of guides complete with all the do's and don'ts of growing the most popular crops. Whether you are looking to try growing something new, or just want to improve your existing crops these guides will make sure your polytunnel gardening is a big hit with all the family...
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Growing Broad Beans
Broad beans are one of the first crops to break the monotony of the hungry gap, the period during which there is very little fresh produce coming from an outdoor plot. This prompts some gardeners to sow them in autumn to get an earlier harvest, but gales and hard winters can stunt or even kill them. They do far better in the shelter of the polytunnel, often producing three or four flowering stems per plant. There really is no excuse for empty space in your tunnel in winter!
Varieties: Aquadulce Longpod and Express.
Sowing: Two weeks before sowing, dig some fresh compost into the bed and water it well to settle the soil. In October (for the far north) to November (in the south), sow the beans at a depth of 3-5cm and water them in. Sow the beans 15cm apart with 20cm between rows. It’s a good idea to sow a few extra in Roottrainers or deep biodegradable pots too, to replace any that don’t come up.
Keep the bed well watered, but never let it become waterlogged. When the plants are still no more than 15cm tall, provide some support using pea sticks or short lengths of bamboo and twine. Drape horticultural fleece over the whole lot when extremely cold weather is expected. Nip the growing tips out soon after the appearance of the first pods, to make sure they fill out properly.
Diseases and pests: Mice will happily steal the beans during the first few weeks after sowing, so if rodents are a problem in your tunnel grow all your young plants in biodegradable pots, planting out when the roots start to push through the pots. If you have not sown many, you can protect individual plants by covering them with a cloche or the top half of a plastic drinks bottle.
Aphids (especially blackfly) find the growing tips of broad beans irresistible, although they may not appear early enough to catch your tunnel plants. Mild infestations can be sprayed off with a jet of water from a hand sprayer, but if things have gone too far the only option is to nip the tops out early. Try not to use pesticides in your polytunnel, because without rain to wash them away to the subsoil the chemicals stick around for a long, long time.
Harvest from May to June. For the best flavour, harvest the beans while they are still small. You can also pick them when the pods are no more than 7cm long and steam them whole, like mange-tout peas, for an even earlier crop.
Recipes: Broadbeans are a great ingredient that can be used in many dishes like...
Pea and Broadbean Houmous