Fava beans, also called faba or broad beans, are an annual legume plant believed to have originated in Northern Africa and/or Asia. This plant is grown for its large, edible, and nutritious seeds which are encased in long, thick, downy pods. As if it’s delicious and nutritious seeds weren’t enough, fava beans also fix nitrogen and can be grown as a cover crop to improve your soil quality. Generally considered easy to grow, this is a great crop for beginner and expert gardeners alike.
A popular European fava bean first seen in 1863, the Windsor variety produces some of the largest beans around—about the size of a US quarter! Plants will reach 4 feet in height and produce 4–8″ long pods with 3–7 seeds each. The flavor is mild and nutty and are great for eating at the green, shelling stage. Windsor favas can be planted in the fall and overwintered for a late harvest in spring.
Seed Depth: 2″
Space Between Plants: 4″
Space Between Rows: 1′
Germination Soil Temperature: 50–60°F
Days for Germination: 10–25
Sow Indoors: Plants may be started indoors 2 to 3 weeks before average last frost, but this is not recommended as the plants prefer cooler weather earlier on to help them harden off.
Sow Outdoors: 4 to 6 weeks before average last frost. Prefers cooler climates.
Prefers cooler climates between 60–65°F, so plant in early spring. In warmer climate zones, sow fava beans in early winter for harvest in early spring. If left in temperatures of 75°F or higher for prolonged periods, it will bolt and become bitter. This variety is hardy down to 12°F.
Natural: Full sun. Partial shade in hotter weather.
Artificial: Use fluorescent bulbs placed 4–6″ away from the tops of your plants to get your seedlings growing. Plants prefer a good deal of light, so keep your lamps on at least 12 hours a day. Note that, while seedlings will grow under artificial lighting, a natural sunlight cycle tends to work best for beans.
Soil: Prefers loose, well-drained loamy soil. Will do well on sandy soil if it is kept well irrigated. If soil has lots of rocks or clumps, clear these out before planting. A pH of 6.0 to 6.8 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Soilless: You can germinate seeds in a soilless mix.
Hydroponics: Will thrive in a hydroponic system.
Water: Requires moderate to high levels of water. Watering consistently is most important once the plant begins to flower and form seed pods. Avoid splashing the plant when watering: excessive moisture can cause disease.
Nutrients: Although not a heavy feeder, ensuring that there are adequate levels of potassium and phosphorous can help keep plants healthy. Prep the soil with rich compost prior to planting to keep levels of nutrients adequate.
PRUNING: The top shoot of the plant can be trimmed off once the first pods reach approximately 3–5″. These shoots can be eaten, so be sure not to toss them in the compost until you’ve given them a try! Pruning your plant in this way will deter blackfly and encourage production, resulting in greater numbers of large, tasty beans.
SUPPORT: Provide support with a trellis or stake to keep plants upright.
Rotation: Legumes should be rotated with members of the brassica family to keep soil nourished and free of disease.
Companions: Grows well with potatoes, corn, strawberries, or cucumbers. Avoid onions and garlic.
Harvest: Can be harvested in earlier stages of growth but are best when the pods are firm and about 6″ long. Harvest by pulling them gently from their vines, starting at the bottom of the plant and working your way up.
Storage: Unshelled beans can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Fun Fact: Fava beans can fix somewhere around 150–175 lbs of nitrogen into an acre of land when grown as a densely spaced cover crop. Now that’s good soil management!
Preserve: The most common way to preserve fava beans is to freeze them: open the pods, blanch the beans, and then place in freezer bags.
Prepare: Although great for your garden and nutritious, these beans take time to prepare. Mature beans must first be removed from their pods by pulling on the “seam.” Once removed, the peas must be shelled by blanching them. They should slip out of their casing easily once they have cooled. Once shelled, they can be eaten as is, steamed, or mashed! Young bean pods can be eaten whole without being cooked, and the greens can be consumed raw as well.
Nutritional: Highly nutritious, these beans contain significant amounts of fiber, protein, vitamin B6, and thiamine.
Medicinal: In large doses, these beans may be used as a laxative and can help reduce blood cholesterol levels.
Warnings: A genetic condition know as favaism will cause fava beans to be toxic to those with this mutation. It’s more common males and in populations of Mediterranean descent. Take care when consuming fava beans for the first time.
Get a good mix of color and protein with this Grilled Rainbow Chard with Fava Beans and Oregano recipe.