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On the Pulse...

Why we should all be giving peas a chance.

World Pulses Day 2020

Did you know that the 10th February 2020 is World Pulses Day? I didn't. I had never heard of World Pulses Day until 2 weeks ago. In terms of world days, it is a fairly recent addition to the global calendar and was only proclaimed by the UN General Assembly as an official day in 2019.

To clarify, pulses = legumes. To be more specific beans, lentils, chickpeas, lupines, peas, broad beans etc.

Dried beans - home grown

A Special Day for Beans?

You might ask why pulses are important enough to be given a whole day of celebration. According to the UN, the purpose of World Pulses Day is to provide:

'an opportunity to disseminate the nutritional benefits of pulses as part of sustainable food production with the aim of optimizing food security and nutrition. The official announcement is also linked to the UN Sustainable Development Agenda 2030, a document that lists a series of Sustainable Development Goals to ensure world peace.'

I love the idea of something as simple as a dwarf French bean being able to bring us closer to world peace (although I'm sure it isn't quite as straightforward as that). And I get where the UN are coming from. They speak about the sustainability of legumes as a crop, about the nutrition provided to millions of people through legumes and about the biodiversity of legumes as a food group. Looking at the bigger picture the UN talks about how sustainable growth and development are important tools in the fight against climate change.

So beans really could help to save the world!

But what does all this have to do with garden design, gardening and my gardening blog?

It all leads perfectly towards me bigging up the humble legume and encouraging you to grow beans and peas in your own gardens, courtyards, balconies or allotments. I can't think of a better vegetable to big up then the beautiful bean or the tasty garden pea. Both are super easy to grow, have incredibly pretty flowers that are loved by our pollinators and are well-worth adding to your gardening repertoire (if they aren't already there).

Whether you have an allotment, a few raised beds in your back garden or a container garden on your balcony or courtyard, it is easy to grow some kind of legume. Beans and peas in particular are very useful for adding a vertical element to your outdoor space and, as a result, take up little space themselves. You also cannot beat the taste of a home-grown, pesticide-free bean or pea. I find that the supermarket beans are tasteless and bland and the peas are lacking in sweetness. But a pea picked fresh from the garden and popped into your mouth on a sunny late spring day is one of the simple pleasures in life. If you haven’t experienced it you should definitely add it to your list of things to do (it isn't just me being a gardening geek!).

Beans and peas are also incredibly easy to germinate and amazing to watch grow. I love the way bean seeds start to grow and break through the soil like angels spreading their wings above their head. As the seed germinates it splits in two and the two halves lift up with the first of the new stalk - it's truly beautiful to see and an amazing example of the simple intricacies of nature.

Tips and Tricks

I've included some tips below for growing your own beans and peas (and for more detailed guidance have a look at Charles Dowding's amazing No Dig website or get hold of a copy of Joy Larkom's 'Grow Your Own Vegetables' (my vegetable growing bible):

Broad Bean (Vicia faba)

Direct sow broad beans in late Autumn (November), space plants about 23cm apart in staggered rows. Earth up stems as they grow for some additional protection. Taller varieties may need staking.

Alternatively sow in late February to mid-Spring in modules/seed trays under cover (e.g. in a green house or cold frame) and plant out in early Spring.

The biggest broad bean pest is blackfly. I do everything I can to encourage ladybirds into my garden as the ladybird larvae feast on blackfly. Alternatively squish or wipe the black fly off with your fingers or a cloth. I find that soap sprays end up killing the insects that you want to encourage (like ladybirds) so I avoid those too. Like all aspects of gardening – balance is key and the destructive insects are an essential part of the balance.

Pick the small, immature pods and eat whole. Harvest young, tender pods from late Spring to late Summer depending on when the seeds were sown. You'll need to remove the beans from the pod prior to cooking.

French Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)

French beans are best sited in a sheltered, sunny site on well-drained soil.

For a summer crop, sow outdoors from mid Spring through to mid Summer. Start seeds off in modules or seed trays (under cover if temperatures are still low) and plant out once all chance of frost has passed and the seedlings are just over 5cm tall. Use canes to support the plants and to stop the plants from flopping over. For taller varieties you may need to construct a tepee to provide support.

As with broad beans, black fly can be a problem. See my note above about what to do.

Harvest the beans about 60 to 70 days after sowing. The more you pick, the more you get so harvest frequently to encourage heavier cropping. To dry beans for winter leave the plant unpicked until the end of the season and allow the pods to dry out. Then pull up the entire plant (or pick off the individual beans) and leave to dry in an airy place until the beans become brittle and you can shell and store for later use.

Peas (Pisum sativum)

Peas can be eaten either as pea shoots (the young, tender leaves that appear shortly after sowing) or left to grow on to form plants that produce pea pods.

Pea shoots in flower

A well-drained site is essential for growing peas and light shade is tolerated in summer.

Peas like a little competition so sow outdoors in their growing position spaced about 10cm apart. Avoid sowing when conditions are too wet as the seeds may rot. As with beans, taller varieties will need supports.

Alternatively start them off a little earlier and sow in modules indoors before hardening off and planting in their growing position.

Harvest shelling peas once the pods are full, firm and bright green.

Harvest mangetout varieties when the pods have taken shape and snap crisply in half.


What bean and pea varieties do you like growing in your garden? Or are you not quite sure where to start?

I'm always available by phone or email with tips and advice. Get in touch now or subscribe to my website at the bottom of this page for regular blog posts, tips, advice and more.

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