Sowing Broad Beans – A great crop for beginners.

I once made wine from broad beans.

It was horrendous. The colour of urine and a taste I can only imagine of antifreeze. It would get you drunk though.

As a child, I wasn’t so keen on broad beans. Maybe it was the way they were often presented to me on the dinner plate. Boiled, grey and hard as little pebbles. A dollop of salted butter and a good twist of black pepper made them palatable. However, they never excited me and I found them dour.

I grew broad beans on my first allotment. Mainly because they are a traditional allotment garden crop and perfect for beginners as they are so easy to grow. They germinate well and require little in terms of ongoing maintenance. This legume is hardy too and varieties such as Aquadulce Claudia are often sown in the autumn to over winter.

If you consider it, they appear to be a vegetable that lacks popularity. A veg for a previous generation. Maybe it’s time to change this perspective and as I salivate over the pages of Nigel Slater’s recipes for broad beans in his delicious kitchen garden book, Tender, I certainly plan on doing so in our household. I hope others take the same direction too.

It’s February and the itch to sow and grow is getting even stronger. Spring is on the horizon but it’s still too soon to sow many crops out on the plot. Despite the chill and gloom the month is throwing in our direction, there is some positive change for us to embrace. Light.

Daylight has now increased to ten hours and although the temperatures are still low, the light level is a huge benefit to enable some crops to be sown in the later stages of the month. But only those suitable for the cooler season. Luckily, broad beans are one of those crops.

Those lovely people at Dobies have provided me with the opportunity this year to grow a modern variety of broad bean called Listra. I’m sowing a few seeds this month and will sow again in a few weeks to allow a successional crop of the beans in early summer.

Listra broad bean

Listra broad bean

Listra broad bean

As I did with the sweet peas last month, I’m using toilet roll tubes as pots to sow the broad beans and then keep in the mini greenhouse in the garden. I was surprised how long broad bean roots are, and so the tubes are very useful to facilitate this growth.

Fill the tubes with seed compost and push each bean in. Cover them with a pinch more compost and water in thoroughly.

toilet roll seed pots

toilet roll seed pots

toilet roll seed pots

I’m excited to grow broad beans again. They are an easy crop to grow and I can’t wait to use them in some delicious recipes in the kitchen this year.

What about you? Are broad beans a staple in your kitchen garden or are they something you’ve not grown before? Let me know in the comments below.

Dobies have gifted me the seeds. All words and opinions are my own.

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Super supper from the store, Onion and Cider soup with Gruyère

Onions are often treated as an additional ingredient to a dish.

Indeed, they are essential in creating a base for so many cuisines including the foundation of many Italian sauces and Indian curries.

Continue reading “Super supper from the store, Onion and Cider soup with Gruyère”

10 highlights from the grow your own blogs: January 2018

There’s a fantastic number of allotment, kitchen garden and grow your own bloggers out there. I read as many as I can for inspiration, advice and to find out what everyone is getting up to.

Continue reading “10 highlights from the grow your own blogs: January 2018”

Turning the heat up in January, sowing chillis

The American funk rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers were originally named Tony Flow and the Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem.

Rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it?

In the chilli pepper plant world, name changes or rather the use of multiple names for the same plant is unbelievably common.

There are thousands of different varieties of chilli peppers. What seems to increase their population, even more, is many of them go by more than one name.


Twelve years ago, when I caught the grow-your-own bug, chillis were one of the first crops I grew. This wasn’t because they were easy to grow, but rather a result of restricted space.

Those who are anxiously waiting on allotment lists or wondering what to grow in that tiny backyard or balcony, this factor alone should make growing chillis and peppers appealing.

Growing my own fruit and vegetables emerged from my passion for cooking. Having discovered the joy of growing tomatoes and benefiting from the huge variety of colour and flavour this provides, it was for equally the same reasons I decided to grow chillis.

At the time, my home had a small, concrete back garden and creating a veg patch was simply not possible. However, I owned two small plastic greenhouses from Wilko. Each costing less than twenty pounds.

Despite the cheap price tag, these are one of the best investments you can make. They last for a surprisingly long time and are a fantastic resource for growing your own, even when you have the luxury of an allotment garden. Just ask Mark.

In most parts of the UK, you really need to grow chillis undercover to provide the climate they require to thrive and produce a good crop of ripe fruit. With a rearrangement of the shelving, these greenhouses allowed me to accommodate a few chilli plants in each.

I love chillies. Some people think chillis are simply about heat but they have such a variety of fantastic flavour too. It’s the combination of the heat and the flavour of the fruit that makes them a welcome ingredient for the kitchen.

When it comes to deciding which chillis to grow, as is the case when you grow much of your own fruit and vegetables, the choice is phenomenal. They range in heat, flavour, colour and size. It really comes down to how much room you have available and how you plan to use the chillis.

The popularity of chillis

Twelve years ago, hungry for chilli growing knowledge, I discovered a huge and passionate community of chilli growers online. It was incredible. I thought then that growing and eating these mighty fruits was popular, but in the last decade, the popularity of chillis, both in terms of growing and utilising them in our kitchens, has risen dramatically.

Perhaps it’s a result of the opportunity to grow chillis when space is restricted? I believe it’s also a combination of our love of spicy food, our expanding desire to cook and create fantastic dishes at home and the increasing demand for inspiring, quality ingredients to cook with. It really shouldn’t come as such a surprise.

When I began growing chillis all those years ago, Chillis Galore was a resource I used frequently and today it’s still a top source of information and means of communicating with the numerous chilli heads across the globe. Richard & Kathy started growing chillis in 1990 and started the website to share their knowledge and experience.

Chillis Galore

Now in its eighteenth year, Chillis Galore has grown in popularity with a huge following worldwide. The site hosts a forum packed with people all sharing and talking about the world of growing and making use of chillis.

As you might guess, these days Facebook is the place to set up and join online communities who share the same passion and interests. If it’s chilli chat you want then there are two groups you should think about joining.

UK Chilli growers currently have 2,000 members and provide advice and tips for the hobby grower or professional. Chilli Heads & Keen Growers UK have over 2,000 active members and is a place to share knowledge and experience of growing chillis and recipes.

I’ve not grown many chillis in the last few years but I’m hugely excited to re-enter this world of heat and flavour with the polytunnel soon to be erected on the allotment. I also know there’s a massive band of chilli growers and lovers on the blogs and social media. I’m looking forward to connecting with them all and learning and sharing the experiences.

Growing Chillis

I’m easing myself quietly back into the experience of growing chillis and peppers this year and using just a few seeds from the varieties I have to hand.

This includes the variety Curry Peppernew to Mr Fothergill’s range and which they have kindly provided for me to trial. A sweet pepper, Mohawk F1 provided by the lovely people at Dobies and finally De Cayenne which is a long slim chilli with a bit of a kick.

Chilli pepper Curry

Sweet pepper Mohawk

De Cayenne

Chillis need a long growing season here in the UK. We must sow early, with the support of heat to accommodate their growing and fruit ripening needs in what is usually a short summer.

This is why January and February are popular months to sow seed indoors. A heated propagator is useful, but you can get away with a warm, sunny windowsill.

I’m using a few mini propagators, filled with seed compost and placed on a sunny windowsill in the kitchen.

Chilli seeds

chilli sowing

Chilli seeds

Chilli sowing

I’m excited to see how these chillis and peppers grow and I can’t wait to enjoy the harvest later this year. I will certainly look to expand and grow a wider and more exotic and interesting variety of chillis and peppers over the coming years. I’ve missed it.

If you are a chilli growing fanatic, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a comment below with your recommendations for varieties and resources too.

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Sowing Sweet Peas in January

January can be a tough month for an allotment gardener.

We may have flung open the doors to let the old year out in a raucous chorus of Auld Lang Syne, but the countryside is still bare, the light is low and hazy and the world is still a cold and dark place.

Continue reading “Sowing Sweet Peas in January”

10 highlights from the grow your own blogs: December

There’s a fantastic number of allotment, kitchen garden and grow your own bloggers out there. I read as many as I can for inspiration, advice and to find out what everyone is getting up to.

Continue reading “10 highlights from the grow your own blogs: December”

10 highlights from the grow your own blogs: November

There’s a fantastic number of allotment, kitchen garden and grow your own bloggers out there. I read as many as I can for inspiration, advice and to find out what everyone is getting up to. Continue reading “10 highlights from the grow your own blogs: November”