How to Grow & Use Fava Beans (Broad Beans): As Food & Cover Crops!
Fava Beans are such a rad crop! Also known as “broad beans”, these hardy annual plants are multi-use, beneficial, and easy-to-grow – totally worthy of a spot in your garden. Commonly grown as a cover crop, fava beans are nitrogen-fixers – meaning they improve soil quality by adding nitrogen to it, rather than taking away from it. The nutrient-rich edible beans and greens are delicious, and bees love the flowers! Winning, all the way around.
After hearing all of that, are you interested in growing fava beans too?
Read along to learn all about growing fava beans, which is pretty dang simple! We’ll go over the benefits of growing fava beans, their preferred growing conditions, varieties, and how to plant and care for them. Additionally, I’ll hit you with some tips for harvesting, eating, and even preserving fava beans. Finally, let’s talk about maximizing the benefits of growing fava beans – by leaving their roots in the soil, and mulching with the greens!
3 REASONS TO GROW FAVA BEANS
Fava Beans are a member of the legume family. As with most legumes, fava beans have the ability to “fix nitrogen”. But what does that mean exactly? Well, all plants have the ability to uptake nitrogen from the soil. That process is a normal and essential part of the plant life cycle! However, legumes do something a little extra special.
In addition to taking in nitrogen from the soil, they also have the ability to absorb and fix nitrogen from the air! They accomplish this through a beautiful symbiotic relationship with specialized bacteria called Rhizobia. The Rhizobia bacteria colonize the roots of legumes, form nodules, and draw in nitrogen – usually in excess than what the plant can use for energy. Therefore, a surplus is leftover and stored in the plant material. Additional nitrogen-fixing cover crops include peas, clover, vetch, lentil, flax, alfalfa, ryegrass, and other legumes like soybeans.
So why does this matter? Nitrogen is one of the key nutrients that all plants need to photosynthesize and healthily grow! However, nitrogen is also easily depleted in garden soil where crops are repeatedly grown, and thus needs to be replenished. Traditional agriculture systems simply add chemical fertilizers to accomplish this, which is harmful to the environment in a number of ways. Using natural, organic practices like cover crops and compost to feed our soil instead of synthetic fertilizers is a wonderful thing!
But that isn’t the only wonderful thing about favas….
2) The entire fava bean plant is edible!
Yep, you read that right! The beans, pods, leaves, you name it… All edible. Sure, some parts may be less desirable to eat, such as the tougher stems or older fuzzy pods, but the other parts are incredibly yummy and versatile! Fava bean leaves taste very similar to the bean: sweet, buttery, and earthy. They are rich in vitamins and minerals like folate, manganese, copper and phosphorus. The beans themselves are an excellent source of protein and soluble fiber as well. We routinely enjoy both the beans and greens with many meals!
3) Low-fuss & Low-pressure
Fava beans are very easy to grow, as long they’re planted in the right season. They prefer mild to cool weather conditions, which we’ll discuss more below. Fava beans also attract very few pests or diseases, and require minimal maintenance!
Even if you have a short growing window between hot and freezing weather (or vice versa) I still recommend planting fava beans somewhere in your garden. Let’s say unfavorable fava weather comes before the plants are mature enough to produce a fat batch of beans… Oh well! For us, we view the beans themselves as bonus – like the cherry on top of all of the other benefits of growing fava beans.
Worse case scenario? When freezing or frying weather is on the horizon, harvest some of the tender fava greens to enjoy, and allow the rest of the plant to fade in place to nourish the soil. Best case scenario? You’ll be snacking on some delectable fava beans… perhaps while sipping a glass of chianti. Both are worthy options.
Like I said, low pressure!
HOW TO GROW FAVA BEANS
Fava Bean Preferred Growing Conditions
Fava beans favor weather that is not much warmer than 75°F during the day. Their ideal temperature range is 60 to 65°F, though they will tolerate colder temperatures down to 40°F as well. This makes them perfect for fall or spring planting in most locations!
Sun & Location
Fava beans grow best in full sun, but will not flower well in hot, dry conditions. Thankfully, they grow decently well in partial shade too. Meaning, if you’re worried about temperatures occasionally climbing over 75°F (especially for spring-planted favas with summer on the way), choose a planting location that receives afternoon shade or filtered sunlight throughout the day.
Fava beans can absolutely be grown in containers! Again, they’re not fussy about much. As long as you can follow the other general guidelines provided in this article, they’ll do great in a container too. We routinely grow them in half wine barrels, but have also grown them successfully in smaller fabric grow bags.
From planting seeds to harvest, fava beans require an average of 3 months of growing to mature. Different varieties will vary slightly in their days to maturity; some say 75 days and some up to 100. Therefore, choose varieties that suit your optimal growing window – especially if you are hoping for a good bean harvest. Note that smaller, less mature fava beans are the most tender to eat though! So even if they don’t have time to get huge, that is totally okay.
Soil & Water
Fava beans are not picky! They don’t mind cool, clay, or deficient soil – things that other plants typically do not love. Therefore, you don’t need to worry much about the soil quality (let alone fuss with amending it) before planting fava beans. However, favas won’t be happy with water-logged roots, so do choose a growing location and soil that can provide decent drainage. Provide regular water in order to maintain the soil moist but not soggy.
Fava Bean Varieties
The most common and popular variety of fava beans is Broad Windsor, and for a good reason! The plants are reliable and productive, and mature quickly to produce large delicious bean pods. We have experimented with a handful of different fava varieties over the years, but always come back to the tried-and-true Broad Windsor. That’s primarily all we grow these days.
Yet there are many other fun and unique types of fava beans out there. For example, we grew these “Extra Precoce A Grano Violetto” that develop purple beans inside their green pods! They do quickly change back to green when cooked though. Others are known to be exceptionally cold-hardy, such as Aguadulce.
Soaking Seeds & Planting Instructions
Once you have your fava bean seeds on hand, lets get planting! Like most beans, favas prefer to be directly sown outside. However, they aren’t as sensitive or prone to transplant shock as some beans, so if you need to start them indoors for whatever reason, that works too. Just ensure they’re transplanted out before they become too large or root bound.
To help aid in speedy and successful germination, soak the seeds in un-chlorinated water for 12 to 24 hours prior to planting. This is a great tip for all tough, large seeds!
Sow fava bean seeds 1 to 2 inches deep in the soil, about 6 inches a part. Lightly cover, water, and keep the soil moist to assist in germination. They can be a bit slow to sprout, so be patient! Some may pop up within a few days, some may take a few weeks.
Ongoing Care & Support
After fava beans have sprouted, they need very little care. Simply water on occasion and they’ll be happy. But did you know that fava bean plants can reach 4 feet tall?! So keep that in mind when you’re choosing their planting location – since they can shade out other nearby plants! Once fava bean plants begin to get tall, and especially as they become heavy with developing beans, you’ll want to provide support for them. In climates with strong wind or rain, you may even want to provide support earlier since they’ll be prone to flopping over in those conditions.
To support our fava beans, we simply put a few stakes around their planting area and run twine between them, creating a makeshift cage. Fava beans do not have tendrils that grab onto trellises like peas, nor do they wind themselves around their support structures like pole beans. You basically have to find a way to prop them up, more like tomatoes.
Harvesting Fava Beans & Greens
It is hard to go wrong when it comes to harvesting fava beans! Some folks enjoy the smaller, less mature bean pods. They even eat the whole thing, outer pod and all – like a snap pea! At this stage, the inner beans are exceptionally tender.
We generally allow the bean pods to get a bit larger before harvesting. Mature fava bean pods can reach over 6 inches long! You can tell when the inner beans are well-developed by feeling or observing the pod. As the beans grow to fill out the pod, it becomes bulbous and firm. However, the larger the fava beans, the tougher their outer skin can get. To remove the beans, pull up or twist on the bean to see if it easily disconnects from the plant. If not, use pruning snips or scissors.
The best fava greens to eat are the freshest tender growth on the tips of the plants. We typically harvest upper portions of stem and leaves about 6 to 12 inches long. As you continue to pluck beans, more will grow. As you trim the stems and foliage, it will encourage branching and fuller plants.
After Harvest or the Growing Season
This may be one of the most important points of this article: When it comes time to say goodbye to your fava bean plants, leave the roots in place! This way, the roots can decompose in the soil and feed it the nitrogen that the Rhizobia has worked so hard to store. Even more, take advantage of the nutrient-dense aboveground leaves and stems!
When fava season comes to an end, you could do a few different things. One is to simply allow the plants to die back and fade in place. This is an especially great option for fall-planted fava beans where winter is on the horizon, and you don’t intend to plant anything else there until next spring.
Another option is to cut the plants down (into pieces if you wish), and leave them on top of the soil to break down. This practice is known as “chop and drop” mulching. Or, instead of leaving them in the same bed they grew, you could also add the fava foliage to your compost pile or mulch another area. For example, we often top our large cannabis grow bags with fava plant mulch.
To Shuck or Not to Shuck?
To answer this question, you’ll have to experiment for yourself! Each gardener and fava bean officinando has their preferred way to process and eat fava beans. Again, some eat the whole outer pod! Personally, I find it too fuzzy and fibrous. Therefore, we shell our pods to reveal the inner beans. Be sure to compost or mulch with those spent outer pods.
Additionally, each individual fava bean inside the pod is wrapped with a thin skin. Some folks are hellbent on removing that skin, shucking or peeling every little bean. In my opinion, this is usually unnecessary, too time-consuming, and a waste of good protein, fiber, and flavor – particularly for the smaller and more tender ones! Do not peel the little guys. Yet the skin around the older largest beans can definitely get tough. We sometimes peel those, but not always.
EATING & PRESERVING FAVA BEANS
Fava beans are versatile little vegetables. You can enjoy them sautéed, roasted, pan-fried, and more! Most often, we add them to our favorite cast iron wok to sauté with various veggies and seasonings, and serve it all over brown rice, quinoa, lentils, or with eggs. We also routinely add them to soup. Pan-fried or roasted fava beans go particularly well with olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and even a little squeeze of lemon juice at the end!
For fava greens, we treat them much like kale or any other leafy green in our garden. Add handfuls of leaves to any sauté, stir fry, soup, frittata, quiche, salad, or more! Fava bean greens also make for an insanely delicious, nutritious, nutty pesto – which can also be frozen to preserve. Check out our fava green pesto recipe here.
There are SO many options for preserving fava beans too! Last season, we froze a lot of them to use in future soups or sautes. A quick tip for freezing fava beans (or any food, really): Lay them out on a baking sheet, not touching, and freeze this way first for 6 to 12 hours. Then package them together into a container for long-term storage in the freezer. Freezing them individually first prevents them from sticking and clumping together later, which makes it much easier to fish out just a handful of beans when you want them!
In addition to freezing, fava beans can be pickled, fermented, or dehydrated! We will definitely be doing a little of each this season, and I will report back with recipes. In the meantime, if you need a good pickling brine recipe, check out our easy refrigerator pickled peppers. Simply swap out the peppers for fava beans instead, or any other delicious veg! Similarly, use this simple ferment recipe and replace the radishes for favas. For pickling or fermenting, I suggest to use smaller tender beans, or remove the outer skin of the tougher large beans as needed.
And that, my friends, is how you grow and use fava beans – from seed to table.
I hope this article was interesting – and inspired you to try growing fava beans at home! Please let me know if you have any questions, and feel free to spread the fava love by sharing this article. If you’re interested in learning about other ways to organically amend your soil, you may enjoy this article about how we amend our garden beds between seasons. Thanks for tuning in, and for your interest in organic gardening!
Edward L. Van Deventer Jr.
Have you or anyone else you know pressured can the complete bean/pod? Thanks Ed.
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Ed, we don’t typically pressure can fava beans but it can be done. If you are wanting to can the whole bean, I would use the smaller pods that are still tender and can be eaten whole. Hope that helps and good luck!
Hello I have my fava been growing first time. I tried like 2 leaves yummy. I want to harvest some leaves to eat. If I take from the top of the plant will it mess up its growth? I am just getting some side shoots to grow. I would say they are about 1 or almost 2 feet tall. Should I wait? If I can now how much can I harvest?
Thank you 😊
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Sharon, you can either just remove the leaves themselves or “top” the plants by removing the new growth at the top of the plant above a node where small leaves are coming out. New shoots will grow out of these places and the plants will become bushier, now would be a great time to harvest some of the leaves in this way. You may have add a trellis as they continue to grow, enjoy your favas!
I’ve read that the nitrogen fixed by fava beans peaks when they flower and then some of that nitrogen is used to produce the beans. Curious if I can have my cake and eat it too? Are you all able to use them as both food crops but still get the benefits of a cover crop for the next plant in its place? Perhaps I’m overthinking it, but is there balance between letting them produce beans while not using up all the nutrients before chopping? Thanks!!
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi JR, we don’t overthink it too much. It is at the very least building microbial life and enriching your soil, we have dug up fava roots after they have flowered and produced beans and have found nitrogen nodules on the roots. Maybe they don’t provide as much nitrogen as if you cut the plant down before it flowers but just growing the plant will offer many other benefits aside from nitrogen being left behind in the soil. Bees and other pollinators also love visiting the flowers for nectar. Hope that helps and have fun gardening.
Thanks love it
Ok I just want you to know your site was super helpful to me today! It helped confirm my favas had nitrogen nodules not root knot nematode damage. Yahoooo! Thanks internet buddy that I’ve never met 😜
I also enjoyed reading your thoughts on fava bean growing, harvesting and eating. Personally did not know most, if not all, the plant was edible.
Sooooo….if I possibly planted a whole bunch of fava beans and forgot to soak them first, will they still germinate??
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Jenna, yes they should still germinate. Just be sure that your soil is moist enough to get them going. Good luck!
I’m anxious to try the greens. Do you wait until you have a more mature plant before you harvest them? Mine are about a foot tall. When and how often do you harvest?? Great article!
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hello JR, we have made pesto with a large portion of the plants leaves. Most people will harvest the new growth tips of the growing plant, we don’t harvest the greens too often but usually wait until they are about 1.5-2 feet tall. Harvest some and try them out, maybe it’s something you will enjoy or something you can do without. Usually pinching the plant at its growth tips make it even more bushy. Hope that helps and happy gardening!