Saturday, 20 December 2014

Crimson Flowered Broad Beans

I wrote a post on Broad Beans (Vicia faba) last year.  This year I grew a different variety of broad bean which I have wanted to grow for some time.  At first things seemed promising, they grew well, produced heaps of flowers and started to form many pods.

Then the ducks flew over the fence and ate most of the pods, broke most of the plants, ate most of the leaves, trampled everything that their little ducky feet could trample and generally destroyed things.  I was not overly impressed but some of the damaged plants went on to produce a small number of pods and seeds.  I still ended up with a lot more seeds than I planted so I count that as a win.
Crimson flowered broadbean starting to flower

I grew this particular type because someone sent me some seeds of a broad bean called 'crimson flowered' broadbean.  I had wanted to grow this type of broadbean for a while and was trying to decide between growing it and another one so it worked out well.  They did not send many seeds and I was not sure if we would move before the seeds were ripe so I only planted three.  These three seeds germinated and the plants grew strong.

History of Crimson Flowered Broadbeans

Crimson flowered broad beans are a very old variety of broadbean.  They were widely grown in the 1700s (it is mentioned in books from 1778 but probably grown prior that that) then almost went extinct as some of the newer varieties with longer pods became available.  Apparently they were thought to be extinct until 1978 when a lady called Rhoda Cutbush donated three or four of her precious seeds to the Heritage Seed Library.

Apparently Rhoda's father had received the original heirloom seeds from a cottage garden in 1912.  Rhoda grew up growing and eating these broadbeans, probably not realising that she was one of the last people to grow them.  Then in 1978 a crop failure wiped out all of Rhoda's plants.  She could not find anywhere to get new seeds from so she searched through her shed until she found an old tin which contained 3 or 4 seeds (there are discrepancies over the number).  Instead of planting the seeds Rhoda realised how important they were and decided to donate them.

What an amazing story of survival!  From there this crimson flowered broad bean has been saved from extinction and has been sent to seed savers and breeders across the world.
Crimson Flowered Broad Beans

What are crimson flowered broad beans like

They are a short and compact plant which rarely reaches over a meter tall, as they age they send up multiple stalks all with many flowers.  They grow and look much like any other broad bead plant, until the flowers begin to open.  The flowers are what sets this variety apart from many others.  They range from deep red to red/purple and look great, but it is their scent that is amazing.  I don't know if their flowers have a stronger scent than regular broad beans or if it is because they grow so many flowers, but I could smell them from outside the vegetable garden.  Considering that I only had three plants that is pretty impressive.

The pods, of which I did not get many as the ducks sabotaged them, were slightly smaller than the Aquadulce ones we grow.  I assume had the plants been allowed to produce a crop unharmed would have produced many small pods.  The pods have less seeds in them than the Aquadulce variety, only about 3 seeds per pod.  The seeds are slightly smaller and more green than Aquadulce.

I am told that they taste better than regular broad beans but certainly didn't get a chance to try these, as I don't really eat broadbeans this is purely academic and I have to use other people's advice.  People who grow them as a food crop tell me that their taste and productivity more than makes up for the smaller size of the pods.

As a green manure all broad beans are great, these are no exception.  Even though they do not grow too large they do sequester nitrogen from the atmosphere and make it available in the soil.  As they get older they grow more stems and become bushier, this ads to their use as green manure, compost activator or mulch.

Due to the flowers on this plant they can fit into an ornamental garden rather well.  The flowers not only look great and smell amazing but they are flowering intensely at a time when little else is colourful in the garden.  The flowers attract bees and feed them when little else is flowering.  I consider broad beans to be a great all round permaculture crop because they have so many uses.  Even though we don't eat them I grow them for their other uses.

Young Broad Bean starting to flower

Saving Seeds

If you plan to grow this type of broadbean please keep in mind that broad beans readily cross pollinate with other varieties of broad bean.  Clearly they will not cross pollinate with any other variety of bean, pea or anything else.  If you plan to grow and preserve this variety care must be taken to prevent crossing as they can and will cross at a large distance.  If your neighbour or even someone in the next block grows broad beans then it may well cross pollinate your plants so bagging or caging plants is the only real way to keep seed pure.  You must save a few more more pods from this plant as they produce so few seeds, this is simple enough to do.  I plan to do a larger growout next year and only save seeds from the largest pods to try and select for more seeds per pod.

If you plan to create your own new variety of broadbean this plant carries a few genes which no other varieties carry.  If I liked broad beans more and had time/space I would cross them with a long pod broad bean  and/or a purple seeded type and create a longer podded red flowered purple seeded broadbean.

A few places in Australia sell crimson flowered broad bean seed.  When I have enough seeds they are offered on my for sale page with a few other heirloom vegetable seeds or perennial vegetables.

No comments:

Post a Comment