I grew a few plants of Vicia faba (fava beans) this year as an experiment.
Fava beans are an old world variety, known to Europeans before they discovered the New World and string beans. They are very hardy and thus ideal for northern gardens. Fava beans grow into sturdy plants five- six feet high. Their large, white, funnel shaped flowers have dark markings and develop into big pods, six to seven inches long. The pods have thick skins with fuzzy insides that house up to six beans. Fava bean pods grow singly or in clusters in the leaf axils.
I was a perturbed when I realized that, given the huge size of the plant and bean pods that the harvest is relatively small. However, I like the taste of fava beans and the plants are beautiful to look at, especially when covered in maturing beans, so next year I plan to grow more of them.
Growing Vicia faba (fava beans)
Plant fava beans directly in the garden as soon as the soil is dry enough in early spring. They need cool moist weather for their best growth, so get them into the ground early. Depending on variety they need a good two to three months to reach maturity. Early fall frost will kill the pods. I planted mine the third week of May and have been harvesting them since the second week of August.
Tuck the large beans into the soil, one inch deep, at four inch intervals. Plants may need staking. I ended up tying mine to the temporary chicken wire fence, I had erected behind them for the peas to climb on.
If you are feeling energetic you can start fava bean indoors, in April.
Harvesting Vicia faba (fava beans)
Pick pods when they are lumpy. The beans inside will be green and succulent. I ate mine raw, straight from the pod and added them to summer salads.
As the bean pods mature they turn streaky brown. The beans from these pods are not as succulent because the casing around each bean has matured. Plunge these beans into boiling water for thirty seconds to loosen the casing, making it easy to slip off. Sprinkle them with salt and eat, or saute them in stir fries.
Fava beans are fully mature when they are brown and dry. Use these beans like you would any dry bean.