Legumes, the sweeties of the garden world
You get more bang for your buck if you grow a sugarsnap or mangetout variety, which can be eaten whole, although most peas can be eaten this way if picked young enough. And best of all, the more you pick, the more the plant will produce. Although I have seen peas grown, trailing, over twiggy branches, ideally you need a tripod of bamboo poles or a trellis or fence to train them up. They are pretty easy plants to grow, and will obligingly cover a fence or trellis once you guide them to its lower rungs. Peas grow well in pots, too.
I’ve grown bog standard sugarsnaps for a couple years (anything with ‘sugar’ in its name is promising), and this year I am also trying heirloom varieties Weggis and purple podded Capuchins. They tend to be popular, so it’s worth buying them early from local suppliers, before they sell out.
Broad beans are less common and perhaps more exciting as a result. They are finicky to peel (any TV chef who calls airily for a kilo of podded broad beans has clearly never podded any herself). Which is why the Roman cafés very sensibly serve them in the pod, with pecorino romano cheese alongside, for patrons to shell themselves, eating as they go, interspersed with slivers of salty cheese. It’s engrossing yet mindless work, very sociable, and addictive. The raw beans taste green, slightly sweet and pleasantly, mildly leguminous. The plants are superb, growing into tall, bushy plants that need to be staked (a stake at each corner of the bed, with wire wrapped around the whole bed every 30 centimetres in height, is sufficient). Nothing grows as lush and enthusiastically, and every vegetable garden should host a bed of broad beans, even if it’s a 40x40cm square.
Aquadulce is a fine old variety available in seed at most garden centres. This year however I also have Karmesin and Rotsamige varieties planted, which are red flowering.
To top it all off, legumes are actually good for your vegetable bed, too, fixing nitrogen in the soil so that it is more accessible to other, less selfless plants.
Sound like a good idea? Find out where to get good quality seeds and seedlings in South Africa and start your winter garden.