Broad bean ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ is one of the toughest for autumn sowing. Photograph: Alamy
Although I love the end result, I’m sure I plant autumn peas and broad beans to satisfy my yearning for green growth in winter; their tiny shoots symbolise the promise of spring and beyond.
From now until the end of the month, I push broad beans and peas into damp earth. It’s one of the last jobs I’ll do bare-fingered, and is how I test whether it has become too cold to sow: gloves mean the beans will fail to germinate quickly and either rot or become mice fodder.
Often, though, I cheat; mice and squirrels can make direct sowing a thankless task. Module-sown peas and broad beans are a doddle. Just push a single seed into good-quality compost, and water. Sow in the large modules (particularly for broad and field beans) and keep somewhere cool; not indoors, but perhaps under a cloche or in a cold frame or cold greenhouse. This will speed up germination, as long as the compost is damp (dried beans need to soak up water before the new root breaks through).
Once you reach the true leaf stage, rather than the baby leaf, get them into the ground; go into winter with about 10cm of growth. All this tender growth is desirable, so barrier against slugs whichever way you can.
Modules give you a chance of catching out the first line of slugs by trap cropping. Clear the bed of plant material and debris and rake it; surface cracks become hiding places. Place cabbage or lettuce leaves, or old roof tiles across the bed. Slugs will congregate under these protected spaces, so pick them off regularly while the seed is germinating. Beer traps with some sort of cover to keep the rain out should catch the rest.
‘The Sutton’ is the best broad bean for smaller gardens. It doesn’t need staking and is prolific with its pods. ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ is one of the toughest broad beans for autumn sowing, though it grows tall and will need staking by early spring. I am still in love with the field bean ‘Wizard’. Don’t be put off by the fact that many seed companies sell it as green manure. It’s hardy, doesn’t need staking and the flavoursome beans make the best falafel.
As for peas, I find ‘Meteor’ one of the most reliable for autumn sowing. It’s short and easy to keep cloched (some sort of cover is essential). ‘Douce Provence’ is also worth a try. I recently got hold of a polytunnel-hardy mangetout pea called ‘Winterkefe’ from Brown Envelope Seeds. It needs cover, grows up to 2m tall and is worth a try if you have the space.