Fava Beans, (Vicia faba) aka Broad Beans, involve you in a labor of love. They have a short season, are hard to find, expensive when you do find them, and are laborious to prepare, but I adore them so I grow my own. I admire the way their pods are lined with fluffy white batting, like some precious gift sent through the mail. I love their nutty, creamy, texture and the way they taste like fresh green sustenance after a cold brown winter. I love to pair them with their fellow spring compatriots – peas, asparagus, artichokes, mint, and arugula – in a salad or pasta. If eating that crew doesn’t make you feel alive, I can’t help you. They’re great in a frittata or mixed with goat cheese as a dip for crudites. I don’t mind the work it takes to get to that meaty morsel, it’s meditative, and if I serve them to you, it’s because I love you. In the garden they are lovely plants. Easy to grow and fairly unaffected by insects with handsome black and white flowers like they have somewhere fancy to be.
You can even eat the leaves in a salad. The flowers attract bees and other pollinators and as a member of the legume family they fix nitrogen leaving the soil better than they found it. They are an ancient crop, believed to have been part of the Mediterranean diet since 6,000 B.C. They are a great source of lean protein with no saturated fat or cholesterol, are high in dietary fiber and folate, and contain a number of minerals including iron, copper, manganese, calcium, and magnesium. And on the off chance you have too many, they also freeze well.
I’m growing two varieties this year; “Aquadulce”, a Spanish heirloom with large white beans and “Broad Windsor”, and old English favorite and the variety I grew last year.
I get a lot of inspiration from British gardening sources. My all time favorite garden magazine is BBC Gardens Illustrated and I love to watch Jaime Oliver’s show “At Home” online and pause it to lust after his gorgeous kitchen garden. A while ago I came across a video of a British gentleman planting fava beans in what he called “loo” rolls. (I love how it sounds like Lou Rawls, and so much better than toilet paper rolls.) I began collecting loo rolls myself. They are the perfect container for starting fava beans as they’re deep enough to allow a nice root system to develop and they’re biodegradable so the whole thing can be planted causing no root disturbance. With a little forethought, they’re readily available.
I found an inexpensive plastic bin at Home Depot, lined them up in it, and filled them with planting mix. (I made a funnel with some rolled up paper which helped.)
I soaked my fava beans in water overnight, popped one into each container with the dark eye facing downwards, made sure they were buried to a depth about twice their size, topped them up if they needed it, and watered them in. I’ve also been saving my half and half containers to make plant labels. I clean them out, cut off the top and bottom, slice open one side and cut them into strips. They are somewhat waterproof and can be inscribed with a Sharpie.
They should germinate in 8-10 days. Last year I direct seeded mine on March 15th.
Here they are (above) on April 26, 2014.
And again on May 23rd with potatoes above them, swiss chard below, and “Calypso” bush beans just coming on in front of them. I hope by starting them a little earlier this year and growing two kinds, I’ll get to enjoy even more of them.
It should be noted that ingesting fava beans and even inhaling their pollen can trigger a hereditary disease, known as favism, in susceptible people of Mediterranean descent. If you’re curious, you can find a lot more information regarding this online.
And by the way, the leeks I planted last week have germinated! I promptly removed the plastic wrap and have put them where they can soak up some sun. I’ll keep you posted!