About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Cultivating plants: Field beans (and peas)

I did some gardening last week, but the only plant I really tackled was a buddleia, which I cut back. That's a bit boring for a blog post, so I'm cheating slightly and telling you about some of what I sowed yesterday.

In the past I've grown the old favourite variety of broad beans, Aquadulce. I get nice healthy-looking plants, but since living here, haven't had many beans in the pods. Plenty of pods, just a bit short of actual beans. It's probably a lack of insects*, but all the same, I thought I'd try a different variety this year. The beans I've chosen are not strictly broad beans, but the other cultivated variety of vicia faba (I see where the American name - fava beans - comes from now), known as field beans, specifically, Wizard field beans from the Real Seed Catalogue. These have smaller beans than normal broad beans, but in theory there should be lots of them.

My procedure for sowing beans and peas goes like this:

  1. Clear the bed. This involves surveying the plants that are already growing there and deciding whether I want any of them somewhere else, then moving those that I want and sending the rest to the compost heap. This takes a lot longer than simply composting the lot.
  2. Usually in parallel with step 1, remove some of the stones. This isn't really necessary, but I don't particularly want stones in the veg beds whereas I do want stones on the driveway and paths, so I move stones.
  3. We're getting onto actual gardening now... run the hand fork or trowel along the bed to make a shallow drill.
  4. Spread a thin layer of wood ash in the drill. This serves the dual purpose of making the soil more alkaline (an alternative to lime) and adding potassium, both of which are good for beans.
  5. Mainly because I suspect that neat ash might be a bit harsh for baby beans, add a layer of garden compost to cover the ash.
  6. Add beans! These are spaced at about nine inches apart (as per instructions on the packet).
  7. (Oh no, we're not finished yet) place a holly leaf over each bean. This was my dad's idea for protecting the seeds from hungry mice, and seems to be effective. It also helps deter a small cat who sees a freshly sown bed as the ideal place to relieve herself. The downside is that it's time consuming and often painful. Since I don't bury the seeds very deeply, the holly is an ongoing danger when weeding.
  8. Cover the holly with the soil that was pushed aside when making the drill. This takes care.
  9. Finally, water.

Pea and bean seeds getting their holly leaf protection

This is a pretty slow process, but notwithstanding poorly-setting beans, I seem to do quite well with legumes, so I'm sticking to this way of doing it. This is a very unscientific approach - I could be trying various approaches and taking careful notes to see which works best - but I don't want to risk my crops trying a method that might not work as well.

I sowed two rows of beans in bed B1, near where the gas tank used to be, then a double row of peas plus a few more along the edge in the other half of the bed. These are also from the Real Seed Catalogue and are called, Oskar. Since I grow a lot of peas, I find it tedious putting up supports for them all, so I've chosen a couple of dwarf varieties this year. These will only be a couple of feet tall, and are an early variety.


* According to a discussion on Daughter of the Soil's blog, it may be that the bees have found are shortcut; they might be chewing into the base of the flower and bypassing the pollen entirely. Sneaky bees!

Other garden tasks this week
  • Clearing and cleaning the greenhouse
  • Making space for a new compost heap
  • Pruning one of the buddleias
  • Weeding - always weeding
Also harvesting this week
Unexpected potatoes
Ground elder
Nettle tips

Also eating
Bullace fruit leather

Also drinking
Beech leaf wine
Hopped ale
Dandelion wine
Blackcurrant cordial
Half-brewed heather ale

Cultivated plants challenge summary page here.


  1. "According to a discussion on Daughter of the Soil's blog, it may be that the bees have found are shortcut; they might be chewing into the base of the flower and bypassing the pollen entirely. Sneaky bees!"

    Yes! I watched a few bees doing this to my honeysuckle last year!! I did wonder if it was normal practise...

    I like your idea about the holly protection, will try it out when I plant my peas. Thanks!

    1. Hi Pint-Sized :-)
      Interesting that you've seen bees doing this too - sounds like it might be quite widespread. Now I wonder whether to a) Just leave my beans alone and see whether this variety fares any better (scientific study - change only one thing at a time), b) Hand pollinate (no information gained, but might actually get some beans), or c) Watch closely to see what the bees are up to (not good for getting anything else done!)


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