"How to Grow",  Preserve Your Harvest

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!



A close up of a stalk of a fava plant. It has multiple clusters of flowers along its stalk and a bee is inside one of the flowers, enjoying the pollen that it provides. The fava flowers are white with a brown splotch or two on its lower petals, the top petals have brown veins that stand out against the soft white flower.
Hey look, we grew a Fava-Bee!



3 REASONS TO GROW FAVA BEANS


1) Nitrogen-fixing

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!


A close up image of a hand holding a large amount of plump fava bean pods. They look to be about six inches long and are fairly thick, indicating that the beans within should be of good size. The pods are light green in color and it is set agains a backdrop of a flowering guava plant which has green leaves and the flowers are lightish pink to dark red.



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


Temperature

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.


Time

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.


The understory of a fava bean plant is shown, there are many sturdy stalks growing up from the soil line and there are many beans growing off of various nodes all the way up the stalk. They shoot out from the main stalk erect, they may start to droop once they mature and the bean pod becomes heavier. A hand is shown placed behind a few of the beans for comparison sake.



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. Broad Windsor is what we primarily grow! 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.

We have experimented with a handful of different fava varieties over the years, but always come back to the tried-and-true Broad Windsor. Please, enjoy being more adventurous than we are!


A hand is holding a fava bean that has been sliced open in half lengthwise, showing the beans that are residing within. This variety of fava bean is named Extra Precoce A Grano Violetto, an Italian variety that has purple beans inside green pods. The background contains various green leaves from an array of radishes that are growing below.
Extra Precoce A Grano Violetto fava beans


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. 


A two part image collage, the first image shows ten or so dried bean seeds sitting in the bottom of a jar, soaking in water. This can be done for twelve hours or so before planting to help the bean germinate easier. The second image shows a half wine barrel filled to the brim with soil.  There are twelve holes poked into the surface of the soil evenly across the face of the wine barrel and there is a large seed sitting in each hole, ready to be covered with soil for planting. There are a few more pale brown seeds planted and a few that are much darker brown to even slight red like a kidney bean.
Pre-soaking and planting fava beans


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.


Many fava stalks are shooting up towards the sky behind a row of red and green cabbage. The foliage is green and they contain many flowers that are just starting to bloom. They grow along tall stalks, making them look as if they are in a straight row. The raised garden beds are in a u shaped orientation against the side of a blue/green house. There are carrots growing as well as various mustard greens, lettuces, and spinach. There are also four chickens at the foot of the raised beds looking upwards at the growing bounty above them.
A crop of fava beans planted along side our winter veggies. Soon after this photo, we added a stake at each end of the row of fava plants, and ran twine in front and behind the plants to support them. The plants that grew in that spot next were very, very happy.


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.


A wicker basket is shown overflowing with Windsor fava beans. A few of the pods have been sliced in half lengthwise to show the beans that are residing within. Some of the pods still have stems and leaves attached to them. The basket is sitting on a green rock landscape with a flowering watermelon salvia in the background. Showing and equal amount of dark green foliage and bright pink flowers.



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.


A three part image collage, the first image shows a hand holding a stalk of a fava plant. In the other hand is a pair of scissors which have their cutting shears wrapped around a portion of the stalk. The tender tips are  being harvested to eat and encourage the fava plant to become more bushy. The second image is a hand holding a number of freshly harvested fava greens as one would a bouquet of flowers, the greens are harvested from the top six to twelve inches of the growing end. The third image shows a metal stainless steel colander full of tender fava green foliage, it can be eaten fresh, cooked, or made into pesto.


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.


A corner of a yard is shown with a patch of fava beans growing to a height of about four to five feet tall. They are all flowering but no pods are visible yet. There are also various trees planted nearby, an avocado tree is directly behind the favas, a loquat tree is off to the right, and a small fig tree is directly in front of it. There is bark mulch surrounding the area and a wooden fence is the back drop behind the plants and trees.
A batch of fava beans growing around our fruit trees. After harvesting all the beans, we cut the plants down, chopped them up a bit, and left them as mulch to enrich the soil.


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.


A close up of a hand holding fava beans that have been shucked from their pod. They are lightish green in color and still contain the outer skin that can be removed from the bean as well. A wok of cooking vegetables such as zucchini and mushrooms sits below the fava beans, awaiting the addition of the beans that is soon to come.
You can tell these fava beans have not been peeled because they still have their “nubbin” attached. Yet you can see the outer skin splitting to reveal the naked bean beneath on one. The skin is what contains a good deal of the favas earthy flavor, fiber, and protein!


EATING & PRESERVING FAVA BEANS


Eating fresh

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.


The ingredients of fava gtrrnd pesto are laid out on a light concrete colored surface. The ingredients include fava bean greens, garlic, lemon, basil, walnuts, parmesan cheese, olive oil, and salt. The colors of the ingredients pop against the light background with the fava greens and basil in opposite corners and the remaining ingredients filling in between them.
The ingredients for our fava greens pesto. Yum!


Preservation ideas

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!


A two part image collage, the first image shows fava beans that have been removed from their pods. They are evenly arranged on a baking sheet that will soon be placed in the freezer. Freezing them in this manner will keep them from freezing and sticking together. The second image is a close up of a hand holding a 16 oz BPA free plastic container full of frozen fava beans. There are three of the same containers in the background also full of fava beans. They are frozen and each bean can move freely from the others, allowing you to take out as little or as much as needed.

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!



DeannaCats signature, Keep on Growing

7 Comments

  • Maryl

    I ordered Fava beans not indicating a variety. Sweet Lorane Improved cover crop is what was sent. Are these edible? also. They are very small. I can not find an answer to that question.

    Thank you.

    • DeannaCat

      Hi Maryl! Yes, they are edible. We have actually grown them in the past too. However, we find they’re slower to develop beans and don’t produce as large of pods or beans (hence the smaller bean seeds). I say grow them anyways, but consider ordering some classic Windsor if you’re hoping for big bean harvests!

  • Lyndsay

    I’m growing favas for the first time this year because of everything you’ve posted about them… we bought a new house in June and the soil is in ROUGH shape. I planted favas in little patches all over, hoping to improve the soil and in efforts to have a little green amidst all the brown of Kansas in early spring. I planted three varieties (Broad Windsor, Extra Precoce A Grano Violetto, and Vroma) about 15 days ago. Every morning I walk around the garden, searching for the smallest sign of a sprout, always to my chagrin. I re-read this article every few days to reassure myself to “be patient…” and then TODAY I saw the tiny, shy, light green shoulders of a shoot barely peeking through the surface of the soil and I literally shrieked and did a happy dance on the patio. I just had to share – I’m so excited! Thanks for this wonderfully thorough post (as always) and for helping gardeners everywhere explore new things.

  • Brittany

    Thank you for the great info! We’ve dabbled in growing favas in our cannabis beds but I never harvested the greens! (And we planted too late to get any beans!) I’ll be getting them in earlier this year and excited to try all the different uses! Love those nitrogen fixers!

  • Shannon

    Thanks for the information. I’ve always been a little intimidated by fava beans, but your thorough explanation helped them seem much less daunting. I’m ordering some seeds now!

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