At Baker Creek, we start ourfavasin the greenhouse to plant outside in the very early Spring!
Fava beans are a terrific plant for cool season gardens. They give you a high-quality bean that's also delicious, but they give you more. Favas put nitrogen into your soil, enriching it for the next crop. And they make large plants which you can chop down and incorporate into your soil, giving you a hefty dose of organic matter to carry your garden through the season. But they are exclusively cool growers, and in much of the country, now is the time to plant!
Fava beans grow happily in the Baker Creek garden during early Spring.
Unlike true beans, the Fava (Vicia faba) originated in the Old World, where they were cultivated by the ancient Egyptians, Greek, and Romans. Although a legume, they're more closely related to the vetches than to beans. Fava beans are often huge, sometimes far exceeding a Lima bean in size. They're used either fresh, like shell beans, or dried. In the latter state, they are often ground for use in falafel, or cooked and mashed with cumin, garlic and other ingredients to make the dish ful medames, widely enjoyed in Egypt, east Africa and Arabia. They are eaten throughout southern Europe, India, and Latin America, having been brought there by the Spanish. (We offer some of these rare types, like Broad Windsor Fava Beans and Extra Precoce A Grano Violetto Fava Bean.) Besides the beans themselves, the pods are sometimes eaten (in immature state), and the young shoots harvested for a green vegetable.
Favas need cool weather to thrive--when days begin to exceed 80 degrees F., they suffer. But they can take frost, and are hardy to 15 degrees. So you plant them early in spring, (or even in fall or winter in milder climates). They take four months to yield a crop, so plant when the weather is unlikely be too cold, but early enough so that they can yield before the heat shuts them down. The large beans should be inoculated (inoculant packaged for vetch is ideal), and direct-seeded an inch deep into well-worked soil, possessing good drainage, in full sun. The plants grow quickly, and make a satisfying sight in early spring when so many other plants are just getting started! Keep the weeds at bay, and harvest shell beans whenever they get large enough to bother with. Or let them reach full maturity, when the pods take on a black, withered appearance.
Jere Gettle, owner of Baker Creek, admires the favas grown on Doug Baty's farm in Montana.
Favas are sometimes grown for soil improvement, and make a good green-manure or cover crop even if there isn't a long enough cool season to get mature beans. The plants get quite large, sometimes to four feet. They make a lot of foliage; best results are obtained if they are mowed and incorporated just when they've reached full size and begun to flower. The plants and beans are also fine for livestock.