By Sommer Cartier.
As the days shorten with the arrival of fall and temperatures begin to drop, our fruiting warm season crops come to an end. After enjoying a bounty of beans, tomatoes, and cucumbers throughout the summer months, it is hard to say farewell. However, for those legume connoisseurs, there's good news. You can still enjoy beans throughout the winter months right from your own backyard garden. Fava beans are a cool season legume and they are delicious. The flattened look of the seeds gives the beans their other common name, broad bean, and western gardeners might also know them as Windsor or Straight beans. In Arab countries, they might go by the names tick or pigeon beans. In fact, it is believed these beans were being cultivated in ancient Egypt and are purportedly found in ancient tombs.
Fava beans are a cool season crop and need temperatures 80 degrees or below to flower. Ideally, they do best when temperatures drop to 60 or 65 degrees. Since fava beans tolerate very little root disturbance, it's best to plant them from seed. Sow the seeds four to five inches apart and one inch deep in fertile, well drained, compost-rich soil. While fava beans prefer moderate sun, they can grow in partial shade, too. In fact, if you live in one of the county's warmer micro-climates and have full sun exposure, you may prefer to provide some shade for your beans.
When growing fava beans, patience is definitely a virtue. While you can expect roughly four to five months between planting and harvesting, the wait is well worth it. When fava beans are ready to fruit, they produce spiked clusters of beautiful, delicate white flowers with brownish black specks. The excitement you experience upon discovering that first flower is similar to that experienced when the first bulb surfaces from the thawing earth and you know clear skies and warm sunny spring weather is ahead. The wait is almost over! As the flowers transform, they mature into thick, waxy-looking pods between four and ten inches long.
While fava beans are widely cultivated for consumption, their nitrogen-fixing abilities make them great cover crops. Fava beans are of the legume family (Fabaceae) and, like other members of that family, can feed our tummies and our soil at the same time. Nitrogen is produced in nodules that form on the roots of fava beans, which contain rhizobia. This bacteria pulls nitrogen from the air and converts it to a form the plants can readily take up. For this reason, fava beans are a great cover crop and green manure choice. Either grow them alongside your heavy feeders, such as broccoli or cabbage, or add a blanket of fava beans across your entire bed and sit back and let the beans work their magic on your soil. In the spring, till them directly into the soil, allowing them to continue enriching your soil throughout the season and into the summer.