Fava Beans, or broad beans as they are known in the UK, are the ubiquitous spring crop at farmer's markets. Actually, they really show up in late May or June. Here, at HMG, they are just being planted. As a crop, they don't yield much when you take into account their spacing and the final weight before it makes it into your mouth. Somewhat labor intensive, you have to remove both the thick pods and also the skins of the larger beans. So a pound of beans gives you about a cup to a cup and a half of usable product. It is worth it? Yes! The taste, in my opinion, is sublime. One of my favorite things to make is a fava bean and mint puree or just lightly steamed favas sauteed in a little butter with a light grating of parmesan cheese. Of medicinal interest, favas may be helpful for those with Parkinson's disease as the bean, leaves and roots contain naturally occuring levo-dopamine, the medicine that is used to treat Parkinson's disease. Also, individuals with G6PD deficiency (usually of Mediterranean descent) will develop a hemolytic anemia (lysis of red blood cells) if favas are consumed.
GROWING. Direct seeding vs Sprouting
Planting these are easy. You can directly seed these whopper-sized seeds and they germinate quickly. I started them in 2" soil blocks weeks ago in hopes of getting an earlier crop. They do root vigorously in soil blocks so don't wait too long to plant them out. They are sown 6-8" apart in rows 18-36" apart. Being greedy for space, I decided this year to be more bio-intensive about the planting and used John Jeavon's guide to every 8" with smaller rows. As they grow, there are a few issues to look out for. The stems will need a light support, whether it be small bamboo stakes or creating a nest of twigs around the plants and rows. Watch out for the black bean aphid or blackfly. You can reduce the problem by pinching out the top 4" when the plant is in full flower and your first bean is forming at the base. Don't throw these away; they can be lightly cooked and thrown into a pasta dish. This is "nose-to-tail" growing!
COMPANION PLANTING AND NURSE CROPPING
Companion planting is a method of plant grouping so that each plant benefits from the proximity of the other. Supposedly tomatoes are helped by basil and strawberries by borage, for example. Conversely, there are things that should not be planted together, most notably fennel. Supposedly nothing grows well when planted next to fennel. From what I can tell, much of this is anecdotal through the collective decades of growing and observations people have made. It would be interesting to see some science behind this. It is rumoured that fava's enjoy the company of the herb savory and eggplant. However, it is many weeks before I put eggplant in the ground and savory is nicely situated in the perennial herb area. So I'm going to take a gamble and plant cilantro in between. I am sick and tired of purchasing cilantro only to see it quickly go brown in the fridge days later. It is an herb I use all the time and finding areas that I can succession grow these is sparse in a bio-intensive mini-farm. This will be an experiment and I'll be sure to report back.
Nurse cropping is another version of companion planting where by you can quickly grow a crop in an unused area next to another crop that has a longer growing cycle. I do this with broccoli and lettuce. By the time broccoli gets large enough, the lettuce below will benefit from the shading of the large waxy leaves. This extends the growing season of lettuce and prevents bolting. It's just another way of space efficiency and symbiosis. Fava beans can be a nurse crop for potatoes. As a legume, they'll fix nitrogen into the soil for the enlarging and hungry potato crop and they will be conveniently harvested well before the potato leaves take over in growth. We'll also try this method for the first time this year and see what happens!
Hungry for a recipe? Check out our friends at Grapes and Greens. Deborah Soffel created this recipe of Artichoke Hearts, Spinach and Fava Beans Braised in White Wine that I hope to try once fava beans are ready in our farm. Or maybe Hannibal Lecter's favorite: liver, fava beans and a nice chianti...