Fava beans (Vicia faba L. ) should be grown by every vegetable gardener at least once. Their buttery taste can’t be judged based on the dried, store bought variety, but they are so easy to grow, it’s a shame to miss out on this versatile broad bean.
Gardeners in Europe have been growing Fava beans for a very long time. They are favorite in potagers because of their ornamental blossoms. They are a spring favorite since they can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring, or started sooner in cold frames.
Favas can be eaten sauteed with garlic and olive oil, added to pasta dishes, soups, and even salads if picked young and tender. They are nutritious and have been eaten by the early Chinese, Greek, Roman and the Egyptians. Favas are full of protein, second only to soybeans.
Sow fava bean seeds directly into the soil by digging a trench that is an inch and a half deep, spacing the rows about 10 inches apart. A good, fertile soil is best with plenty of moisture, but no standing water or soggy locations. Favas can handle the heavier, damp moisture of spring, unlike some vegetables. As mentioned, they can be started in a cold frame, or sown as soon as the soil can be worked.
The interesting thing about this bean is that it’s sometimes planted solely as a cover crop because of it’s ability to replenish usable nitrogen in the soil. However, after harvesting the fava beans in your garden, the plants can be chopped and added to the compost pile or worked into the soil. It’s also feasible to plant half of the seeds for harvesting and the other half as a cover crop where it’s needed.
Fava beans are technically not a legume, but are considered vetches, however because they produce a “bean” and have that ability to give nitrogen back to the soil, they are classified as a bean. Their growth is similar to that of a bush bean, though some varieties can grow to six foot tall. Favas are a hardy vegetable, able to handle temperatures as low as 21 degrees F., but they don’t like the heat, which is why it’s important to sow seeds as early as possible.
Seeds of the fava do benefit from a treatment of inoculant powder before sowing. Dwarf varieties of fava bean can be grown in large pots or tubs, if they are kept watered on a regular basis and planted in good, fertile soil.
Very young fava bean pods can be picked and cooked for a nice treat, but the majority of your harvest will be when the pods are full, but not bulging. If the favas grow so large they bulge the pod, they will most likely be bitter and tough. Pick when the pods are simply nice and full. Preparing the favas for cooking will be a two step process. First, open the pod and shake out the favas. Next you’ll need to remove the outer shell of the fava to reveal the buttery bean inside. Blanching is the easiest method. Drop the favas in boiling water for about 30 seconds, scooping them out of the water with a large slotted spoon, and placing them into a bowl of ice water. The outer skin should slip off easily at this point.
A few tidbits to keep in mind when growing favas are:
1. Keep the soil weed free.
2. Harvest young pods and cook whole.
3. Support for the plants is helpful, especially taller varieties.
4. Garlic is a great companion plant to favas.
5. Favas make a nice substitute for lima beans in recipes.
6. Some gardeners suggest pinching out the tops of the plants just as they start to form pods.
7. The leaves of the fava are also edible, and tastiest when about 2-3 inches long. Use the leaves like you would spinach.
Favas are known also known as broad beans, pigeon beans, horse beans, or Windsor beans, but when looking for seeds the scientific name, Vicia faba L. should be listed as well. Favas have to be one of the most useful vegetables, both for the soil, and in the kitchen, and hopefully they will gain more and more popularity as they are discovered by gardeners.