Disappearing ‘Chinese lanterns’, the ornamental Physalis alkekengi

It has been a long, warm autumn in my area, and we have yet to experience the first frost of winter – but the leaves are falling and it’s clear that colder weather is on the way. Very little sown or planted now will put on much growth, as the days are short and there isn’t enough light. But bulbs, perennials and hardy veg will be putting down roots, ready to emerge as the days begin to get longer in late winter.

Broad beans are a classic winter vegetable, sown now to provide a welcome harvest during the ‘hungry gap’ in spring next year. Whilst spring is a hive of activity for the gardener, and plants will be putting on new growth, having anything worthwhile to harvest requires a little planning.

At first glance, broad beans may not seem an obvious choice for a GlutBusters’ garden – although they can be grown in containers, they are far more productive when planted in open soil. Dwarf varieties are available, but these beans can take up quite a bit of space. But the broad bean is a multifunctional plant that deserves your attention.

Broad beans are quite often sown in modules (toilet roll tubes work well, as do little handmade pots), as they are very attractive to rodents until they begin to sprout. They are traditionally sown in November, or February, but check the packet advice for your chosen variety. The large seeds are easy to plant – simply push them into the compost with your finger. Pot-grown plants can be set out in May, and are normally planted in a double row, so that they provide each other with some support. (Space rows about 22cm apart, with 15-20cm between seeds.)

Broad bean bed
Broad beans are an attractive addition to the garden

GlutBusters broad bean advice

  • Broad beans are attractive plants, with interesting square stems and pretty white flowers early in the year. Plant them somewhere where you can appreciate the view – and bury your nose in the flowers to draw in their delicate scent. If it’s looks you’re going for, see if you can find seed for the ‘Crimson flowered’ heritage variety.
  • You should also consider this a wildlife-friendly plant, as those early flowers provide a valuable source of food for bees when not much else is in bloom.
  • You might like to try munching on a few flowers- they’re edible, and were included in a dish I was served at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, no less. Sprinkle a few onto your salad for a homegrown, winter lift.
  • Sowing a couple of different varieties (or some now, some in late winter) will stagger your harvest. Autumn sowings usually mature in late spring/ early summer, but you can find early/ express varieties.)
  • Don’t forget to eat the tops of your broad beans as a leafy vegetable. Pinching them out makes the plants less attractive to blackfly, but don’t throw them on the compost heap!
  • Another simple way to stagger your harvest is to pick some pods very young, and eat them whole (like a beany version of mange tout).
  • At the height of the harvest season, you can shell your beans for cooking (as the season wears on, you may find they need peeling as well….). But don’t waste those empty pods – they are edible and can be used in soup, or for vegetable stock.
  • And once you’ve had enough broad beans, you can leave the rest to ripen fully on the plant and save them to keep as dried broad beans later in the year. The Vegan Organic Network has a PDF factsheet on growing beans for drying.
  • Broad beans are physically easy to save seed from, but they cross very readily. If your garden is isolated, or you don’t mind growing plants that will be different from their parents, then you can keep some seed to replant for the next season.
  • Field beans are tall varieties of broad bean grown as a green manure – to benefit the soil, rather than the gardener. They are nitrogen fixing. If you’re growing your broad beans to eat then they will have used a lot of their nitrogen to produce beans, and won’t have a lot left to leave in the soil when the plants are finished, but there’s still benefit in either digging them in, or removing them to the compost heap to add their remaining nutrients there.

GlutBuster alternatives

If you really don’t have the space for full-grown broad bean plants, or just fancy a quick and easy indoor crop, then why not try the microgreens version instead? You will need broad beans (or ful medames) that are sold for eating/sprouting rather than for planting (as seeds may have been chemically treated), but you can get fresh harvests from the kitchen windowsill all winter long! Broad beans are sprouted in exactly the same way as peashoots are grown, so why not try doing a tray of each?

Soy beans are a more exotic option, although they’re still an unusual crop in the UK and there’s no guarantee of success. They’re tender, and would be sown in spring for planting out once the risk of frost has passed.

Or you could simply choose to grow peas, which can be sown now if you choose one of the hardier, smooth seeded varieties that won’t mind the cold weather.

And although we’re familiar with the idea of shelling peas, we rarely think of doing so with beans, either eating them as young pods or waiting for the beans to dry. But freshly-podded beans are a real homegrown treat! Seeds of Italy have a large range of beans and would encourage you to try eating some of them freshly shelled. Again, these would be for sowing in spring, rather than now.

GlutBuster buys

Blueberries have stunning autumn foliage

Suttons are offering their blueberry plants* collection for just £18.99 at the moment (RRP £44.97). It includes three plants, one each of three different varieties – spreading your blueberry harvest from early July right through to late September. If you’re hoping to add more fruit to your garden next year then that sounds like a bargain not to be missed 🙂

For something more seedy, Helen Gazeley has profiled a company that looks like it was born to cater to GlutBusters – MoreVeg sell seeds in smaller packets, with the idea that you can then choose to grow more varieties 🙂

And the first half of the month is the time to bag a bargain from, where they’re offering a whopping 75% discount on everything until 17th November 2014.

*That’s this month’s only affiliate link. If you choose to click through to Suttons and place an order then I will be rewarded with a small percentage (at no cost to you). If you prefer to leave me penniless then don’t click 🙂

GlutBuster star

Lots of colorful pumpkins
Lots of colourful pumpkins, by Tambako The Jaguar

Our seasonally-relevant star of the kitchen garden this month is the pumpkin. Growing a giant one to carve on Halloween is a popular gardening task with kids, but eating the innards may be less so!

The joy of pumpkins and squash is that they come in all shapes and sizes, and if you’re short on space in the garden you can find a well-behaved one, or allow it to scramble up a vertical support. Nearly every part of the plant is edible, from the tender young leaves and shoots (a common source of greens in African cuisine) to those lovely yellow flowers.

Summer squash are eaten fresh, but winter squash (including pumpkins) can be easily stored to eat later, once they have been properly ‘cured’ – allow the outer skin to dry by keeping harvested squash at room temperature with good air flow for a couple of weeks. And harvest them with a T-shaped ‘handle’ of stem, which helps prevent rot from entering the fruit. You can even use them as a decorative display until it’s time to eat them….

The Independent reports that Halloween pumpkins waste a staggering 18,000 tons of food in the UK, so when you’re carving your pumpkin, think of the flesh as food rather than compost fodder. There’s a recipe for pumpkin soup at that Independent link, and a quick Google will bring up plenty more ideas.

And… you can eat the seeds! You don’t have to have a hulless variety to do so. Check out these sites for a Roasted pumpkin seeds recipe, basic preparation and 5 ways to use squash seeds for ideas.

GlutBuster top tip for November

Check that none of your garden containers is sitting in a saucer – even winter hardy plants will struggle to survive with waterlogged roots! Give them a wash and put them away for use next summer. You may also find they’re harbouring slugs and snails, so it’s a job worth doing 🙂

That’s your GlutBusters update for another month. What are you suggestions for garden jobs to do in November, or are you all busy planning ahead for next year’s garden?