Saturday, June 29, 2013

Grow a European favorite-the fava or broad bean




Saturday, June 29, 2013



The broad bean originated east of the Mediterranean basin thousands of years ago.  The larger seeded broad bean was first grown in Egypt by 2400 BC and spread across Europe in medieval times.  It was not popular in early American gardens.  Fava beans require cool, wet weather which most of the country does not have naturally.


Fava beans have gained significantly in popularity recently.  They can be eaten when small 2-3” whole or left to grow to full size 8-12” and shelled.  The seeds can be eaten in many ways-whole or made into a humus.  A simple recipe is to saut√© in olive oil with garlic, onions and thyme for 4-5 minutes on medium heat, reduce to low and cook for another 5-6 minutes until soft and some of the skins are split.  Season with salt and pepper.

The seeds have a skin on them.  In Europe, they prefer to eat them with the skin as it adds a slight bitterness to them.  If you want to remove the skin, boil for a couple of minutes, then dunk in cold water.  The skin will slip off easily when pinched.

Fava beans can also be planted just for the nitrogen they bring into the soil.  If you are growing for the nitrogen, you will need to cut them before they make beans.  The beans themselves will use up the nitrogen the roots have fixed.

Fava beans can be sown in the fall in Zone 6 or warmer or as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring.  They reach harvest size in 85 days from sprouting.  They should be harvested before the air temperatures are consistently above 85 degrees F.

Fava beans prefer a rich soil, slightly heavy and well drained with a pH of 5.5-7.5.  Lime will help the roots fixate the nitrogen.  As with all legumes, inoculant the seed with rhizobia bacteria.  This helps the roots fix nitrogen to them.

Fava beans should be planted 2-3” apart about 1” deep.  Add 1 cup of bone meal to a 100’ row to encourage growth.  Fava beans are bush type so they don’t need a great deal of support, but perform better if provided with a light trellis.

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