Broad beans

Broad beans is a blog published in the Witness under the title Our Green Home.


  1. Bernard Preston
  2. Our green home
  3. Broad beans

By Bernard Preston

Sugar beans are a major source of protein for many South Africans, especially the poor and vegetarians; however there are problems. The price has increased sharply, in part because of the drought.

The price of seed of new varieties has shot up since major agricultural companies have become involved with new hybrids supposedly resistant to mildew and other pests that have caused poor yields.

Retail prices have increased by over 70% in the last six months.


Beans in general have large amounts of soluble fibre making them the perfect food for those who suffer from raised blood glucose; a huge problem in South Africa.

By forming a gel in the gut they slow down the absorption of the refined carbohydrates like white rice that we as a nation have come to love.

Contrary to their name, sugar beans are the perfect food for diabetics; but that increase in price has put a brake on sales.

There is an alternative; fava beans, as they are sometimes called, have an even greater proportion of protein; in fact, at 25% the highest of all legumes.

They are simple to grow and go on bearing for months; autumn is the best time to plant them.

Broad beans

Broad beans are the richest source of plant protein and one of the few sources of L-dopa for those suffering from Parkinson's disease who are looking for a natural source of their medication.


The seed is relatively expensive too, but if you keep back a few pods at the end of the season, they will grow readily next year.

We have found that our own seed germinates far better for some reason than that bought from your local nursery. It should be soaked between damp sheets of paper for a few days. Plus, favas as far as we can tell don’t seem to be prone to the fungal diseases of sugar beans; the aphids love them though.

We use natural white oil to asphyxiate, not poison, the aphids.

We have had no problems with rust. There’s absolutely no need to spray them with noxious chemicals as is required with sugar beans, making them doubly perfect for the green garden.

Soil should not be heavily fertilised as legumes produce nitrogen for the soil; they are the perfect crop to follow maize, for example. In our case the hens have picked the area between the mealies clean leaving their droppings; together with ordinary compost that is more than sufficient.

They will need to be watered through the winter; the hens show no interest in the plants as with green beans.


They need to be supported; a simple frame of treated ntingu poles or 5mm round bar is perfect, lasting for years.

Broad beans are unique in one other important way; they are the only natural source of a phytochemical called dopa, the precursor to dopamine.

Preliminary investigations published in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research suggest that broad beans have “tremendous applications in the prevention and treatment of highly prevalent Parkinson’s disease, cancer and cardiovascular conditions.”

Harvest your broad beans when they are still relatively young; like most vegetables they aren’t very nice once they are old; we have not tried drying them but I am sure one could for year round availability. Our plan is use any excess as a substitute for laying mash; that is yet to be tested.

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