I don’t think I’ve ever knowingly eaten a broad bean.
I seem to remember eating some slimy things that came out of a can that made me gag in the distant past, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t broad beans. Anyway, I decided to have a bash at them this year as a) people seem to rave about them, b) you can sow them in the winter when not much else is happening, and c) the seeds were cheap in a half price sale.
So, in October last year, I poked a few rows in, and amazingly for how cold it was, they all seemed to pop up. They’ve needed hardly any looking after as well, which suits me just fine – all I’ve had to do is put a cane at each corner of the bed and wrap string around, so they don’t get bashed about and fall over.
A couple of weeks ago I noticed black ants running up and down the stalks. Either they were in training for the ant-equivalent of the Three Peaks Challenge, or something was afoot. A rootle around on the t’interweb (it’s a marvellous place!) told me that if you have ants on your beans, it’s pretty certain that black fly are on their way.
The next bit is quite amazing… evidently black fly feed on the sap inside the plant, and in doing this secrete a sugary substance called honeydew that ants love. The ants then herd the flies up to the top of the plant, as they’ve worked out that the honeydew produced when the flies feed there is even sweeter. Clever stuff indeed.
However, black flies are the last thing I want, as they suck the life out of the plants and once you have them, they are hard to get rid of. I try to avoid spraying the veg plot as I don’t fancy eating pesticide and I don’t want to accidentally kill something that’s good for the garden – like ladybirds. And that’s another thing. Earlier in the year, I found ladybirds all over the place… now there are none. I was banking on them keeping my black fly population down.
In any case, the advice was to pinch out the tender green shoots at the very top of the plant. The black fly and the ants would then lose interest, and all would be well again. This I did: the ants disappeared, the flies never arrived, and the beans look healthy and well.
We had the first batch for Sunday lunch. They were a bit small and there was about enough for a spoonful each, but I steamed them with some summer cabbage and sautéed the whole lot with a finely chopped onion before serving. Delish!