road beans are often prefixed with the word 'humble' in food magazines but these small, oval-shaped legumes are actually quite extraordinary. Thought to have originated in the Mediterranean basin - although botanists have never once found any in the wild - this veg has a fascinating history that stretches back for millennia.
In 2015, carbon dating of seeds found at an archaeological dig in Israel revealed that Neolithic farmers cultivated broad beans more than 10,000 years ago. also known as fava beans, they went on to play a starring role in the diet of the ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, along with the Persian civilisation.
People in bygone times didn't just eat the things either. The Romans held them in such high regard that seeds were used to cast votes in the senate - a white one meant yes, black was no. Revealing the vote outcome meant to "spill the beans". Ramses III, pharaoh from 1186 to 1155BC offered 11,998 jars of broad beans to the gods of the River Nile.
Broad beans arrived in Britain during the Iron Age and were the most popular type on our shores until runner beans arrived from the New World during the 15th Century.
part from having a fascinating past, broad beans are extremely tasty. Young beans with the outer skin removed are sweet and tender, with a nutty flavour - add them to salads, stews and curries or blend them into dips.
As a bonus they are stuffed full of protein, carbohydrates, fibre and vitamins.
Seeds are often sown in spring but canny gardeners sow them in autumn. Seeds will germinate quickly in damp warm soil and will develop into 1m tall plants before winter. They'll begin growing again when temperatures warm again in spring providing harvests much earlier than those sown in March or April.
The advantages of sowing them in autumn is that plants tend to avoid black fly aphids. These sap suckers won't really go for the woody growth of mature plants but will go for the sappy shoots of spring sown plants, leading to poor growth and poor pod formation.
Sowing at this time of year is perfect for those with light soil in a sheltered garden in a mild part of the country. Anyone with heavy clay that stays soggy all winter or with an exposed growing site should delay till spring. Not all varieties are suitable for sowing in autumn so plant only those capable of withstanding the worst weather such as 'Aquadulce' or 'The Sutton'.
Seeds will germinate readily in light, stone free soil in a sunny spot. Fork over, remove weeds and stones and then rake until the soil resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Make a 2in deep trench and sow seeds 9in apart, leaving a 2ft gap between rows. Cover with soil and water well.
Keep plants well watered, especially during dry spells. Prevent plants falling over by making a simple cage out of canes and string. Shore up shorter ones with lengths of brushwood