Broad bean tips will contribute greatly to those suffering from Parkinson's disease; it is all about the dopamine.
Anyone reading this column with any regularity will know that I have a love affair going with broad-beans. I would be astonished if you have ever seen them in the supermarket; in fact, very surprised if you have eaten them before.
Why do I love them so much? Firstly because they are very high in vegetable protein; that means we can eat much less red meat if we choose. And secondly since they are virtually the only source of the precursor of dopamine, the “feel good” hormone. Without it we develop a very serious and not uncommon condition known as Parkinson’s disease.
You may find broad beans at one of the farmers’ markets, such as Reko Hilton. A man called Derek sells them regularly. Otherwise you must grow them yourself. Picked young and enjoyed the same day they are wonderful. Old and starchy they are perfectly awful.
Broad beans, also known as favas in many parts of the world, are not difficult to grow, but they are tedious. Having planted them for over five years I now realise there are good reasons why farmers do not like them.
Each plant must have a firm stake at least 3m long; bamboo is perfect. After a rain loosen the soil to a spade deep and force the shaft in as far as you can; it really must be firm as the plants grow over two metres tall. Each frond will be very heavy in pods; they readily topple over and break.
The stakes should be placed about a metre apart; don’t plant the seeds too close together. They need plenty of light.
Inoculating the seed with specific rhizobia bacteria makes a huge difference. The bugs attach to the roots so the plants can harvest nitrogen from the air. This enables legumes to synthesise the amino-acids they are famous for; the building blocks of protein. They remain in the soil for up to five years.
Ours were already 20cm high so we just watered the material around the plants; it has proved immensely successful. The crop is far greater than in previous seasons.
Place the seeds between sheets of damp newspaper in a warm, dark place for a few days before planting. Once they start to sprout they can go into the ground; one per stake. Don’t crowd them. Mulching definitely helps.
Purchase a large ball of plastic baling twine. It is expensive but will last for years. Be generous in cutting longer than expected lengths and loosely knot the growing fronds to the stake. Often one long piece over a metre can go right around the stems. Don’t be tempted to pull them in tightly with shorter bits; they really do need that extra light. You will just get a smaller crop.
I stress loosely. The plants grow incredibly fast so every few days you have to raise the supporting twine; you may need to undo the knot and retie it. The lengths can be reused many times; they will last for years.
This is not single-use plastic. I don’t like that either but it really will last and can be utilised for many other purposes; like tying up a bean trellis. Cut it with a Stanley knife rather than scissors.
They have to be irrigated deeply and regularly through the winter. Harvest and store your summer rainfall for this purpose alone; if you have to purchase municipal water your broad beans will turn out very expensive.
Finally a profusion of beautiful black and white flowers appear. Keep a sharp look out for tiny black aphids that attack the growing tip and flowers. Given a chance to proliferate they will destroy your whole crop. A two litre milk bottle with a teaspoon of washing-up liquid and filled with water is the solution. Pour the mixture over the insects, gently brushing them off with your fingers. Caught early it’s a very small problem and easily dealt with.
On the subject of disease, plant in a different patch of ground every year. Broad beans are susceptible to an untreatable mould that turns the leaves and stems brown; they then die. So you can’t grow them on the same fence year in and out. Avoid picking the fruit when it is wet; irrigate around the base.
Growing favas will teach you patience; it takes an age for the flowers to produce first the young pods and then finally the mature beans.
The young pods contain even more L-dopa than the seeds and can be enjoyed just like normal green beans; then you’ll “feel good.” However the mature crop has more protein but it is quite a fag getting them from the shell. We enjoy them both ways. When a frond has finished bearing, cut it back and new shoots will appear. You will have masses of food for months.
In short growing broad beans is not difficult but it is finicky and time-consuming. It is our contention that we either make the effort to enjoy good food or accept that we’ll spend a lot more hours consulting doctors and the pharmacist.
In a recent survey of 2,000 Britons it was found they “feel good” less than half the time; and 61% have accepted that aches and pains are a part of their daily life. That’s a sure sign of angry, inflamed muscles and joints. They blamed not exercising enough, a poor diet and not having enough hours in a day.
If you want to feel good 90% of the time, then grow broad beans.
Our decision was to drastically reduce screen time, to get walking and gardening; what a blessing it has been. As the Dutch trot out regularly, totally direct and un-PC people, those who will not hear, must feel.
You could plant some favas now, but like peas they grow better through the winter and into spring. Set the seed in March; right now in September we are preparing regular green beans and limas for summer; reap a mountain of vegetable protein from your own garden all year round. If you include “doctor time” they will save you from pain and a lot of money.
Should you have a glut then freezing broad beans is one solution; enjoy them all year round.
Nature is calling; is it time to heed? These broad bean tips would be a good start.
Broad bean tips are for those wanting more vegetable protein. It's called the flexitarian way of eating; enjoying meat only once or twice a week, or even less.
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