These Mediterranean natives are one of the most ancient old world beans. Dating back to the Bronze Age, archeologists found their remains in the ruins of the storied city of Troy. Now, over 6,000 years later they are still enjoyed in the Mediterranean and all over the world.
Cuisines of the world feature the versatility of these fabulous beans. In the Azores they like to shell the green beans, and then split and fry them. Burmese folks like the fresh shelled beans in salads. You often find parched dried favas in Chinese snack mixes. The Dutch and Danish use the dried boiled beans in soups. Egyptians like to drain the boiled beans and serve them with olive oil, garlic, and lemon – yum! And the French use the immature beans, pods and all, much like green beans are served in North America. You don’t have to go far to find ethnic recipes for fava beans. A simple search on the Internet with the country of your choice, a slash, the words “fava beans,” another slash, and the word “recipes,” ought to turn up plenty. (IE: Germany / fava beans / recipe) You can even find recipes for the edible leaves! ("Fava Leaves" / recipes) But you might not have to go as far as the Internet. If you have a collection of ethnic, gourmet, or garden related recipe books, you probably already have lots tips just waiting to try.
Fava beans are tasty and nutritious. The young pods are a good source of fiber, folate, phosphorus, and potassium. They also contain essential fatty acids, beta-carotene, protein, and vitamin C. For you dieters out there, they are also low in calories! The mature shelled beans are considered a good source of choline (necessary for proper brain function), as well as protein, fiber, and carbohydrates. They also contain substances called protease inhibitors, which are said to help block the absorption of carcinogens from the intestinal track. Either way you go young green pods or dry beans – favas are low in fat and contain no cholesterol.
Fabulous favas are also considered medicinal. They contain a substance called levodopa, which the body uses to manufacture dopamine. (Dopamine is necessary for proper brain function.) Because of this boost, some people find favas to be a very energizing food. There is some evidence that they may be helpful for people with Parkinson’s disease. However, if you have problems digesting or utilizing proteins or amines, if you are taking MAOI medication, are prone to food allergies, or suffer from chronic migraines - fava beans might not be for you. For more information ask your doctor and see: http://www.purifymind.com/FavaBeans.htm
While favas may not belong on everyone’s plate, these cool season favorites are still worth growing. They provide greenery and flowers at a time of year when the garden tends to be bleak. The flowers attract beneficial insects, and the plants produce both nitrogen and carbon to improve our soils.
Fava beans grow from 2 – 6 feet tall, depending on the variety. They don’t need staked, unless you live in high wind areas, and they are bothered by few pests. Gophers may help themselves to a few plants. So be sure to get yourself some cats, plant other things the gophers like to eat, or grow your prized favas in a raised bed. In the spring fava beans sometimes become infested with aphids. But by then it is usually to late for the aphids to harm your crop. Favas set their seed very early while the weather is cool. So you can just ignore the aphids if you like. (I do.)
If you are ready to get your own fava beans started, first you will have to track down some seeds. You can ask at your local nursery, farm, or feed store. If you purchase your seed from a farm or feed store, be sure to let them know you will be growing the seed for human consumption. Another likely source of Fava beans you can grow are the bulk bins at local grocery, health, or ethnic food stores. However, if you are patient, have a little more money to spend, and really want to know what you are getting – consider ordering seeds from Territorial Seed Company, or another seed catalog.
Territorial Seed offers 3 types of Fava Beans - Aquadulce, Sweet Lorane, and Broad Windsor. Aquadulce plants reach about 3 feet tall, and produce small clusters of cool gothic flowers in white and black. They performed well in my Hoopa garden last winter. Each plant produced at least a dozen long fat pods with 6 – 8 large beans each. Sweet Loranes only grow to about 3 feet high and are a small seeded type Fava. Their beans are a pretty glossy reddish brown. Broad Windsors (sometimes sold as Windsors) grow 4 – 5 feet tall, produce clusters of white flowers with rose or mauve colored veins, followed by fat pods filled with light colored seeds.
To get the most out of your Fava bean crop you might want to try using a rhizobia bacteria inoculant. This bacteria forms a symbiotic relationship with the Fava bean root system and increases nitrogen fixing. These bacteria are very efficient at absorbing nitrogen from the air and soil and they change it to a form that is more bio-available. Inoculated plants grow better and produce larger crops. At the end of the season when their remains become compost or mulch, they provide a nitrogen boost to your soils. While the inoculant doesn’t come free, it does pay dividends if you protect your soils nutrient cycle with mulch, worms, and cover crops.
Unless you are planting a whole field you will never use all the inoculant in the package in one season. (However, the inoculant will also boost productivity of your other beans and peas.) Keep your inoculant in a sealed container in the fridge. Make sure you mark the container so no one thinks it is food. I have a special compartment in the fridge set aside for gardening supplies and cold treated seeds. That way no one gets confused about what is food and what isn’t.
Fava beans can be planted anytime starting right now - through early spring. Keep in mind, that they like it best when the weather is cool. These guys are easy to grow. I like to presoak the beans for a few days. I usually soak 10 beans at a time, in about 1/3 cup of water to which I have added a couple of pinches of inoculant. After the beans begin to swell, I plant them out where they will grow, about ½ inch deep and 8 inches apart. Any of the soaking liquid that was not absorbed by the beans gets poured in the planting holes. Then I start over again with ten more seeds. If you’re in a hurry to plant lots you can simply moisten the seeds, stir in some inoculant (if you like), and broadcast over your prepared beds. No rototilling is required, simply mow or rake last years garden debris out of the way, use a digging fork to loosen the soil, and toss your seeds over the beds. It is really that simple, and now that the rains have started – you won’t even have to irrigate!
If you would like to order seeds or inoculant on line or by phone check out Territorial Seed Company: http://www.teritorialseed.com (800) 626-0866 For recipes and photos see: http://www.mariquita.com/recipes/fava%20beans.html
That’s all for this week, but stay tuned, next week we will be finding ways to cope with the dread of north west gardens – those slimy slugs. Meanwhile, you can probably find me out in the garden, Digging the Dirt.
For more cool season crops see: