Introduction: The Fava bean originated in the Middle East, but has been grown in the colder parts of Europe as far back as the Iron Age. It has long been (no pun intended) a staple of Northern European peasants and was actually their only bean until the discovery of the Americas and their various beans. They are also popular in parts of Asia, South America and North Africa.
Crop value: Fava bean isn’t closely related to any other bean and is actually a kind of vetch (Vicia). It does resemble other beans in being very rich in protein (it has been called the soybean of the north) and because it is a nitrogen fixer. It is quite easy to grow and is often recommended as a good crop for beginning gardeners.
The fava bean has great potential as a self-sufficiency crop. It isn’t highly productive for the space it takes up, but because of its ability to grow in cool weather, it can often be planted as a additional winter crop, using space that would otherwise be vacant.
Ease of growing: Fava bean is a fairly easy crop to grow so long as it gets suitably cool weather (warm weather brings problems). It doesn’t need very fertile soil as it fixes its own nitrogen.
Nutritional content: Fava beans are very nutritious with 24% protein, 2% fat and 50% carbohydrate. A comparison of protein quality shows soybean 68, fava bean 67, kidney bean 55 and peanut 52. They also contain soluble fiber (which can lower cholesterol) and complex carbohydrates. They contain about 1530 calories per pound.
It has recently been found that fava beans contain a substance called levodopa which is used in commercial medications to control Parkinson’s disease. Some people have been using fava beans instead of the commercial drugs, apparently with some success.
Caution: Some people, particularly males of Mediterranean (and sometimes Asian) descent are allergic to fava beans. It causes a serious (sometimes even fatal) allergic reaction known as favism. Favism occurs in people with a deficiency of a blood enzyme called G6PD and destroys red blood cells. If you have any reason to think you might be allergic then it is usually recommended, that you eat only a couple of beans initially (the first symptom is urinary bleeding).
Some people are even allergic to the foliage or pollen and get a rash when they come in contact with it.
| About Fava Bean
Germ temp: 40 (40 – 75) 75˚F
Germ time: 7 – 14 days
Viability: 2 – 6 years
Germination percentage: 75%+
Growing temp: 40 (60 – 65) 75˚F
Plants per person: 10
Plants per sq ft: 3
Direct sow: 4 wks before last frost
Fall crop: sow 4 – 8 wks before first fall frost
Succession sow: every 2 – 3 wks
Days to harvest:
70 – 90 shell beans
90 – 150 days dry beans
Plant height: 3 – 5 ft
Plant diameter: 12 – 18˝
Harvest period: 6 – 8 wks
Yield per plant: 2 oz beans
Plants per person: 5
Yield per sq ft:
¼ ‑ 1 lb sq ft (green beans)
1 oz sq ft (dry beans)
Climate: This species is unique among commonly cultivated beans in that it actually dislikes heat. It is a cool weather crop, with requirements more akin to the pea than other beans. If your climate is too cold for other beans, this is the one to try.
Most of the United States is too warm for fava beans in summer, so it is grown in spring or fall (at the same time as peas). It is grown as a summer crop in colder climates like Britain and as an over wintering crop in areas with mild winters like Italy. In the tropics it is only grown in high mountains.
Fava bean grows best at a temperature of 60 – 65˚F. It won’t really work if it gets much above 70˚F, because the flowers will fall off instead of setting pods. It is very hardy (down to 20˚F) and doesn’t mind cold soil so long as it isn’t actually frozen.
pH 6.0 ‑ 7.0
Fava beans do well in most soil types, so long as they aren’t too acidic. Their preference is for a fertile, fairly heavy soil, with lots of organic matter to retain moisture.
It is important that the soil be well-drained, especially for an over-wintering crop, as their roots may rot if they sit in cold wet soil. The large seeds are also prone to rot if they sit for a long time in cold wet soil without germinating (some seed is pre-treated with a fungicide to try and prevent this). If your soil tends to stay wet then raised beds are a good idea when growing fava beans.
Soil preparation: Fava beans like organic matter, so incorporate 2˝ of compost, or aged manure, into the top 6˝ of soil. If they are following a crop that was heavily fertilized, you don’t need to add this. They don’t need a lot of nitrogen, because they host nitrogen-fixing bacteria in nodules on their roots. If the pH is low, add lime, as they don’t like acid soil.
Where: Like most plants that grow in cool weather, fava beans need full sun for best growth. When growing in hotter weather they may benefit from light shade during the hottest part of the day. They can get quite tall (5 ft), so don’t put them where they might cast shade on other crops.
When: Fava beans like the same growing conditions as peas, with 2 – 3 months of fairly cool weather being ideal. The best time to plant them depends on the climate, there are several options.
Spring: In areas with many weeks of cool spring weather, they are often grown as a spring crop. They are planted out as early as the soil can be worked, which may be 4 weeks before the last frost (or even earlier if sown under cloches). These plants should be out of the ground by the end of June, leaving plenty of time for another crop.
Summer: In areas with cool summers, they can be succession sown every few weeks, to give a continuous harvest all summer.
Fall: You can plant them in late summer / early fall for a fall crop.
Winter: In areas with mild winters they can be sown in fall, to grow right through the winter and mature in early spring. The trick is to use a suitably hardy variety and for the plants to be advanced enough when cold weather comes that they keep growing. If they are too small they may never really get started.
Early spring: If winter isn’t mild enough for continuous growth, you can sow them in mid winter for an early spring crop. In England some particularly hardy varieties (the long pod types) are sown in winter, to emerge in early spring. These plants bear a few weeks before spring planted ones. Much of North America is too cold for this however.
Germination problems: When fava beans are planted in cool, wet soil they are prone to rotting and may not have a very high germination rate. If this is a problem wait until the soil has warmed up a bit more. If you have continued problems with poor germination you might want to try pre-germinating the seed.
Inoculation: If you haven’t grown this crop before, it will fix more nitrogen if inoculated with the appropriate nitrogen-fixing bacteria (one suitable for vetches). By enhancing the health of the plants it may also increase yields. See Bush and Pole Beans for how to do this.
Indoors: Fava beans aren’t usually started inside, because they do so well when direct sown. The large seeds can germinate at low temperatures and grow quickly once they have germinated. I suppose you might want to start them inside to get a very early start, or if birds or rodents are a big problem. They can be started in flats, but (like most legumes) they dislike root disturbance, so it is better to start them in large soil blocks or cell packs.
The seedlings grow quickly and won’t need to be inside for very long.
Outdoors: The seeds can germinate at temperatures as low as 40˚F, so they can be direct sown into cold soil. You can hasten germination by pre‑sprouting the seeds, though you have to be careful not to damage the delicate shoots.
The seeds are planted 1˝ (small seeds) to 2 ½˝ (large seed) deep, using a dibber. It is a good idea to plant a few extra seeds at the end of the row, to fill in vacant spots where seeds fail to germinate.
You can speed up germination and growth of your earliest planting by starting it under a cloche or poly tunnel.
Succession sowing: To get a continuous harvest, you can make several succession sowings every 2 – 3 weeks.
Spacing: This varies according to the fertility of the soil and the size of the variety. Dwarf varieties are planted closer together than the larger types.
Beds: Plant 4 – 8˝ apart in offset rows across the bed.
Rows: Taller varieties do best when planted in two rows, down the center of the bed. Space the plants 4 – 6˝ apart in the rows, with 18 – 24˝ between the rows.
It is possible to plant 2 double rows in a bed. Space the rows 9˝ apart, with 6˝ between plants in the row. Separate the 2 double rows by 24˝.
Weed: Fava beans are pretty robust plants and can handle almost any weeds when full grown. The young plants will need to be kept free of weeds though.
Watering: Water regularly in dry weather, as lack of water can affect the number and quality of the pods. Fortunately dry soil is not usually a big problem in the cool weather they prefer.
Water is most critical when the flowers appear and they are setting pods. If water is in short supply, just give it when the flowers open and again when the pods begin to swell.
Fertilization: This isn’t usually necessary if they are growing in reasonable soil, especially as they fix their own nitrogen.
Support: Though these beans don’t climb, they may get quite tall, to 4 feet or more. When they get a heavy load of pods they can become top heavy and fall over (especially in windy areas). Consequently they may benefit from some kind of support. The simplest support consists of bamboo canes and garden twine.
A simpler approach is to earth up the stems to stop them falling over.
If they are grown in a dense stand the plants tend to be mutually self-supporting.
Pruning: It is a common practice to pinch out the top 4 – 6˝ of the plant after it has set three sets of pods. This not only helps the pods to develop, but also discourages bean aphids (these are attracted to the succulent new growth and can be a major pest). If the tops aren’t infested with aphids, they can be used as a potherb. If they are infested they should be removed from the garden.
Companions: It is said that fava beans don’t like garlic or onions, which is ironic as they go together well in the kitchen.
Pests: Most pests and diseases aren’t very active in the cool weather when fava beans are doing most of their growth, so they are relatively pest free.
Cutworms may destroy the young seedlings as they appear. Slugs and snails can also be troublesome.
Bean aphids are the common problem and as soon as it gets warm enough their appearance is almost inevitable. They tend to cluster on the growing tip of the plant, which is why this is often removed after enough pods have set. You can also try washing them off of the plants with a strong jet of water from a hose.
Other pests include bean beetles, broad bean weevil, flea beetles, leafhoppers and mites.
Diseases: Commonest diseases include anthracnose, chocolate spot, mosaic and blight.
The plants are indeterminate, so the lower pods ripen first and then those above. If temperatures get much above 70˚F, the flowers will usually drop off instead of setting pods.
Pods: The very young (2˝) pods can be used like green beans. They should be harvested before the beans start to enlarge and the interior of the pod gets cottony.
Shell Beans: Fava beans are most often harvested in the green shell stage. They should have reached full size, but the skins shouldn’t have started to toughen. At this time the pod will still be quite soft and the seed will be not much bigger than a penny. Gathered at this time, the seeds are tender and delicious.
Dry beans: These are gathered after the pods turn crisp and almost black (don’t wait too long or the seeds may start to mold in the pod).
Greens: The succulent growing tips can be harvested for use like spinach.
The flowers are not only edible, but also taste pretty good.
After harvest: Don’t pull the plants out of the ground after the harvest is over, cut them off at ground level instead. This leaves the nitrogen rich roots to decompose directly into the soil.
Storage: The pods can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, for up to 2 weeks. Shell beans can be canned or frozen. The dry beans (they must be really dry) can be stored in a cool dry, aerated place, where rodents can’t get them (though they can be frozen too).
Seed saving: Fava beans are usually self- pollinated, but may occasionally be cross-pollinated by bees, so to ensure purity you should only grow one variety at a time. Allow the pods to ripen fully and dry out on the plant. Take seeds from at least 5 of the best plants and dry thoroughly for storage. Don’t keep any seed that has gone moldy or has black spots on it.
If you want to grow fava beans as a cover crop you will need quite a lot of seed. The best way to get this is to save it from your own plants.
Unusual growing ideas
Second harvest: If you cut the plants down to the ground after harvest they will sometimes send up new suckers. These may actually produce more pods (not a lot, but some). Even if they don’t, they will provide biomass for composting or green manure.
Greens: Fava beans can also be grown as a super hardy, low maintenance edible leaf crop for spring or fall (or you can eat some of your green manure). Simply sow the seeds and when the plants appear you can start harvesting the tender young greens, If you cut them at a node when 4 – 6˝ tall they will grow back with two stems instead of one. Do this several times and you get a bushier plant that can then be allowed to produce flowers and pods.
Cover crop / green manure: Fava bean is commonly used as a green manure or cover crop. In mild areas it will grow right through the winter and reach a height of 5 feet or more. It not only fixes more nitrogen than most other crops (it’s been estimated that 100 lb of green material contains ½ lb of nitrogen), but also produces a lot of biomass for compost material, Their roots are good for loosening compacted soil and generally improving tilth.
Fava beans are a useful crop for re-establishing a garden on a neglected site, either as a winter cover crop or a summer green manure (in cooler areas). When used as a green manure, the plants are dug into the soil when they start to flower.
The density for a cover crop should be about 1 plant per square foot, which means you need quite a lot of seed to plant a large area.
As a bonus you can eat the tender parts of the green manure plants as greens.
Insect food: The plants are an important source of food for insects in winter or early spring. They are also a good source of pollen for honey bees.
Survival crop: Fava beans are an excellent survival crop: high in protein and calories, easy to grow, they fix a lot of nitrogen, produce a lot of biomass and grow in the colder part of the year (leaving the warmer part for another crop. The only drawback is that they take a lot of space (but in winter it probably isn’t used anyway).
Containers: Fava beans can do quite well in containers, though you probably won’t get much of a harvest.
The larger seeded types are usually used as shell beans. There are distinct varieties for autumn and spring sowing and its important to choose the right one. Fava bean isn’t a very popular crop in this country and the choice of varieties is limited (mostly to imported European varieties).
Longpods: The pods on these varieties may be over a foot in length, with as many as 8 large kidney shaped seeds. They are very hardy and are often sown in fall, as a winter or early spring crop.
Aquadulce – A classic early variety.
Extra Preoce Violetto – A hardy Italian
Windsors: These varieties produce short pods with only 4 smallish round seeds per pod. They are not as hardy as the longpods and so are usually sown in spring. Some people say these are the best-flavored types.
Broad Windsor – An old English variety.
Express – Not easy to find.
The Sutton- Not easy to find.
Bell beans: These are the small seeded fava bean types that are commonly used for green manure and animal feed (which could be why they are sometimes called horse beans). They are also good for humans to eat however.
Sweet Lorane: This variety can be used as a edible cover crop, as it produces tasty, small seeds.
Foul (Ful) Masri This small seeded Egyptian variety does well in warm weather. In this country it is most often used as a green manure for warmer areas, but the seeds are also edible. In Egypt it is commonly used for making hummus.
Fava beans are usually eaten as shell beans, either steamed, stir fried, or boiled for 5 minutes. If you are using older beans you might want to remove the tough skins before eating (though you don’t have to and it is tedious). This is done by snipping off the end with scissors and squeezing out the bean.
The dry beans may be used like kidney beans, though they take longer to cook.
They are often used in soups, stews and other dishes. I’ve read that they can also be popped like popcorn, though I have never tried it.
The tender young growing tips are edible, as are the flowers.
Falafel is usually made with chickpeas in this country, but in the Middle
East (where it originated) it is usually made with fava beans.
1 lb dry fava beans
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley (chopped)
1/2 cup cilantro
8 green onions (chopped)
6 cloves of garlic
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp baking powder
Soak the beans for 24 hours and then boil them until tender (about an
hour). Puree them to a paste in a food processor and then add the
chopped parsley and onion and the rest of the seasonings. Leave for
about an hour, then mold into 1½˝ balls , coat in sesame seeds and fry.
They are normally deep fried, but you can also saute them. The balls are eaten with pita bread, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber and a sauce made
from tahini, lemon juice and garlic.