Growing Your Own Vegetables - Broad Beans, Peas and Onions
22nd Feb 2003
It's time now to turn over the soil for planting Broad beans, Peas and Onion sets directly outdoors. The ground however must be in the right condition for working on, if it"s too wet, then leave alone for the crumb structure to start drying out. If in doubt, lay a couple of planks alongside where you want to fork and work off them, this prevents you from compacting the soil. Fork the ground over to a depth of 6 inches or so to create a fine working structure. Rake level whilst at the same time incorporating some fertiliser as a base dressing.
For over 60 years, Growmore, an inorganic fertiliser, has been a good stand by for most gardeners after it was introduced during the last war. However, Westland Horticulture have now introduced a new Organic Growmore plant food with an NPK ratio of 7:7:7, it's in a pelleted form and pleasant to handle with the added benefit that the nutrients last a long time in the soil. Scatter it at the rate of 4 ounces to every square yard and as peas and beans are hungry feeders, for a good crop, I would carefully hoe in a further 2 ounces around the plants when they start to flower, making sure that it"s well watered in.
Beans and Peas
When planting beans and peas, open a flat furrow or drill about 4 to 6 inches wide, 2 inches deep and place the seed in the drill, peas 3 inches apart and beans 4 inches apart in a staggered or Domino style. Make sure they are evenly spaced prior to covering them by pulling the soil over with a rake. It's a good idea to use the back of the rake to tamp down the soil slightly to make sure there are no voids between the soil particles and the seed. This year I am going to sow half a row of 'Optica', the remainder of the row will be sown with 'The Sutton'. Optica is a high yielding white seeded variety with a low growing habit making it ideal for exposed locations. The Sutton is a variety that is quick growing and ideal for producing an early crop, it can also be sown in succession through to July. Cover the row over with cloches to give them an early start or use fleece well earthen up around the edges to prevent it from being blown away.
Onion sets can be planted directly outside now, but it's important to understand the relationship between the size of the sets, the sowing dates and their vulnerability to bolting. I discussed this with the English Set Company who specialise in growing onion sets, primarily for the commercial grower. An onion set is nothing more than a small onion produced from seed the previous year, the seed is precision sown in a field during April and the bulbs or sets harvested during August. When the tops start to die back the remainder is flailed off and the roots under cut before being machine harvested, graded and stored at a temperature of between 5 and 6°C.
The sets are graded into three groups, 10 to 14mm, the smallest size, 14 to 17mm the middle size and 17 to 21 mm for the biggest. The interesting thing is that the larger the set, the later you must plant it directly into the ground. With the small sets you can plant them around Norfolk during January with no risk of bolting, the medium sized during early February and the largest from now on. When you do plant the sets therefore, it pays to be selective in the size that you plant them, any bulb that you think is too big, over 25mm, is best not used.
Prepare the ground as for the beans, mark the row with a string line and plant the sets with a trowel about 4 inches apart, my favourites are ‘Centurion' and the excellent keeper, ‘Red Baron' (picture sent to Natalie) It's better to use a trowel to make a small indentation in the soil rather than pushing the bulb directly into the soil which will compact underneath the root plate. As the bulb starts to develop it's root system it will have a tendency to push itself out of the ground as the roots work their way through the flattened compacted soil below. One small tip, some of the sets will have a dried wisp of old foliage attached to them; after planting, these will flutter in the wind attracting the birds who inevitably will make a grab for them with the result that the bulbs get pulled out of the ground. Pinch these off or snip them with a scissors prior to planting.