One of the most rugged, carefree, and useful beans for our cool, wet coastal climate is the fava (or broad) bean, and planting season for varieties destined for the kitchen starts in February.
Aside from producing tasty beans, favas leave the soil richer than they found it, by fixing nitrogen in nodules on their roots. They don't mind slightly acidic soil, and can also handle clay or even soil that is somewhat salty.
They are popular all over the world, and are said to still grow wild in their original habitat of Algeria. They were apparently being eaten by Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks as early as 3,000 BC.
Until Columbus brought other bean varieties back from America, favas were the only beans that Europeans knew.
Young fava beans are the most flavourful, and can be eaten like green peas. They're even more tasty with a sprig or two of mint added to the pot.
The young beans freeze beautifully, too, and dried fava beans will store well for months.
Cooked, their soft centre is the base for many kinds of dips and spreads.
In the garden, favas stand straight up on thick, square stems about 120 centimetres (four feet) tall, until the pods fill out, tipping the plants at different angles. A tall stake at each end of each row, with string run between them stop the bed from turning into a shambles.
Fava flowers are heavily fragrant. Most are white with a black blotch, but one heritage fava, 'Cambridge Scarlet,' has red flowers and bright green beans. It's a dwarf variety, and the beans are also quite small.
Where different varieties of favas are grown together, they will cross-pollinate. If Cambridge Scarlet is one, you can end up with a stunning mix of flowers from white to pale pink to hot pink to purple-red. The bean shapes, colours, and heights of the plants will be equally diverse.
Even when soil is not especially fertile, these beans can produce adequate crops. And, by the time other beans need frequent watering, favas have finished cropping and the bed can be cleared for second-season vegetables such as broccoli or Brussels sprouts.
Although favas can apparently develop rust or fungal infections, it doesn't seem to happen frequently.
Black bean aphids' yearly attack are dealt with by removing the tender top leaves. Unlike others, black aphids attach firmly, and few are dislodged by blasts of water from hoses. The first warning signal is when ants become visible on the tops of the fava plants. That's when gardeners who want to do a pre-emptive strike will pinch out the top of each bean plant. The aphids don't bother moving down to the tough lower leaves.
If you mulch favas with grass clippings around the time that mowing begins, you can manage to avoid weeding from seedling emergence through to composting the mature plants. Mulching is best started down the rows, and as the seedlings enlarge, the mulch can extended to cover around the plants.
Anne Marrison is happy to answer garden questions. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
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