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Forgotten British legumes

When you buy beans and peas in a supermarket you only have a small number of varieities to choose from. These beans and peas have been selected by farmers, supermarkets and food processers over decades for various reasons, but this selection over time means that just a handful of varieties are available to purchase.

However, there are a few passionate vegetable growers and seed collectors who are preserving some of the old varieites that are no longer grown in commercial farming.


Carlin peas

Carlin peas have almost been forgotten, but they are still grown in a few places in the north of England where they're traditionally eaten parched – that is, boiled and served with vinegar, salt and pepper. They are now classed as a heritage variety, but you may also be able to find tinned or dried Carlin peas in speciality food stores. Carlin peas have a nutty and firm texture like chickpeas and can be used in just the same way by adding to salads, stews and soup. They are also rich in protein (about 25%).


Growing Carlin peas

Carlin peas can grow up to 6 feet tall and so they need supports to climb up such as stakes or pea netting. They have attractive white and purple flowers so would fit in well to an ornamental garden bed just as well as a vegetable plot.

It is usually recommended that you sow your first-tender legumes like Carlin peas 6 weeks before the last frost date for your region. Sowing in Apriil and early May will give your plants a good chance to produce lots of pods of delicious peas before the heat and dry of late summer hits.


Martock beans

Martock beans are an heirloom variety of broad beans. Mortock beans were grown extensively in England and date back to the 12th century. They can be eaten fresh and are very similar to modern broad beans - just smaller. They can also be harvested when mature and dried to be used in soups and stews.

Growing Martock beans

They are short sturdy plants growing to about 3 foot high and so should not need staking. They can be sown in autumn (Oct/Nov) and protected in cloches over winter, otherwise sow between March-April.

Feed your soil bacteria

Rhizobia bacteria naturally occur in healthy soil and form symbiotic relationships with legumes to fix nitrogen from the air. However, if you are growing your Carlin peas or Mortock beans in pots or in soil that has been over-fertilised or covered in black weed matting, it may not contain many soil microbes. The below recipe will provide nutrients to your soil or potting media to promote the growth of naturally occurring rhizobia in your garden.

*Warning: Please do not ingest any of the materials used in these instructions. Use the solution immediately. Please do not store the solution at room temperature as this may promote growth of hazardous bacteria or fungi. If the solution has turned to a darker colour, please dispose of the solution by throwing the sealed jar in the bin to avoid exposure.

This recipe makes 200 mL of growth solution for rhizobia growth that then needs to be diluted with water to a final volume of 1 litre.


  • 0.1 g Yeast flakes – ground to fine powder
  • 0.1 g MSG (monosodium glutamate)
  • 0.04 g Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate)
  • 0.1 g Food-grade sodium phosphate
  • 2.5 g Vegetable glycerin
  • 0.02 g Cooking salt
  • 1 Glass jar (should at least be 400 mL to have 200 mL airspace when filled with 200 mL solution)


Instructions for making the solution:

1. Add all the ingredients together and add 200 mL of water to the mixture.

2. Bring the solution to boil.

3. Prepare a clean gas jar by sterilising the jar with hot water.

4. Once the solution has cooled down, pour the solution into the sterilised jar and close the lid to avoid contamination. This solution is now ready to be used to promote rhizobia growth in the soil.


Instructions for applying the growth solution to the soil:

1. Dilute the 200 mL solution with tap water to 1L

2. Pour the solution to the soil with legume plants