8 Feb 2016

Soil protection to protein, beans have it covered

Ardd Fotaneg · Botanic Garden

Broad beans ‘The Sutton’ and ‘Super Aguadulce’ are doing battle with the rain in the Growing the Future Garden . 2015 was declared International Year of Soil by the UN General Assembly.  Now, with 2 months of what feels like constant rainfall protecting the soil has never been as relevant.

The impact of heavy rain on bare soil surface can be incredible, heavy drops of rain dislodge soil particles and splash them away, the biggest damage however is caused to soil structure.

How rain damages soil

When the soil is hit by heavy rain it causes soil particles to clog the surface, which in turn reduces water infiltration, increases water runoff and soil erosion. The type of heavy rain we are experiencing now can cause significant nitrogen loss due to leaching and soil loss due to surface runoff.

The best thing we can do to protect our soil is to keep it covered, this could be by using organic materials such as leafmould, straw and cardboard or in organic materials such as membranes and gravel.

Year of pulses

One thing we can do to keep our soil protected is to plant into it, which brings me on to 2016 the International Year of Pulses. Pulses are annual leguminous crops which produce seeds that are used for food. The term “pulses” is used for crops harvested dry.

Pulses are a useful source of plant-based proteins and amino acids and form part of a healthy dietand include peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas.

Pulses belong to the fabacaea family of  plants. These are capable of fixing nitrogen helping to increase soil fertility. They can protect our soil when used as an over wintering crop or a green manure.


Now you might be perusing seed catalogues and planning what you are going to grow in your garden this year. When choosing which beans to grow in your garden bear in mind those varieties that you could be growing to harvest as dry beans.

Fava bean

Fava beans (Vicia faba) or what we more commonly refer to as broad beans were grown in the UK long before the arrival of the Phaseolus group of beans which include runner beans and french beans.

Fava beans are a valuable source of plant based protein. In this country we usually harvest the beans green to eat fresh. In North African and Middle Eastern Countries they are harvested and used dry.

The great thing about the fava bean is that it is incredibly hardy. It can be grown over winter with the bonus of providing winter protection to our soil. It is also a nitrogen fixing plant and useful in crop rotations and managing soil fertility.

The Growing the Future Garden

Now we are getting ready to sow our heritage broad bean ‘Crimson Flowered’ saved from last year’s harvest.

This year we will be also be growing as part of our Regency collection bean Borlotto lingua di fuoco (Phaseolus vulgaris). It dates back to the 1800’s. If you are interested in heritage varieties Thomas Etty has a vast variety of heritage seed and information.

Seedy Sunday

Seed swaps are great place to pick up unusual varieties of beans many with their own story.
For super big buttery beans you could try growing ‘Greek Gigantes’, a variety of runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus). These originate from the Greek mountains. Available from Pembrokeshire’s Real seeds.