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Fava Flowers

By Rick Gush, Urban Farm contributor

Friday, March 4, 2011

Fava plant flowers

Photo by Rick Gush

The fava plants are flowering in the garden ... spring must be near.

It’s still too chilly to work much in the garden and the ground is still too wet to be worked properly, but the signs of impending spring are all over the place. In the garden, the fava beans, Vicia faba, are finally flowering. I planted all the way back in late October, and it’s nice to see the crop progressing to the final stage. We’ll harvest the fava beans in a month and eat them mostly fresh in salads and combined with sliced salami and Roman sheep cheese, as is the tradition here. We’ll put some in soups, and if there’s a bumper crop, we’ll dry some for putting in soups later in the year.

Here in Italy, fava beans are an ancient, poor farmer’s crop. Stories of people surviving on nothing but fava beans are common, and a few holidays are named in honor of these historical events. Fava beans are also considered the equivalent of a lucky penny, and some people carry one bean around in their pockets for good luck. Modern medicine knows that fava beans contain large amounts of levodopa, the ingredient in many medicines used to treat Parkinson’s disease

In the United States, fava beans have been more commonly grown as fodder for farm animals, though this is changing. In general, fava beans are now grown commercially in states, such as Wisconsin and Minnesota, where there is cool spring weather, because the beans are planted in the early spring, and don’t like hot weather when they’re flowering. In warmer states, such as California, the beans are planted in the fall as they are in Italy.

I know fava plants are legumes, but I’m not certain whether they have a significant nitrifying effect on the soil. I’ve heard that they need to be inoculated with a specific nitrogen-fixing bacteria in order to fix much nitrogen, but nonetheless, I try to plant them in a bed that will be filled with tomato plants the following spring.

Fava, for us, are definitely an emotional crop rather than a serious effort to produce the food that we eat. Everybody here likes fava beans as a reminder of when the beans were an important food source, but hardly anybody eats a lot of them. To have one’s own fava plant is great socially and sort of a historical gesture. I earn points giving fresh-picked fava beans to my mother-in-law, who is an old-style, frugal, country woman, and I don’t think the fava beans would be nearly as tasty to her if she knew we’d had to buy them.
     
The good part about growing fava over the winter is that they are tough plants. The light snow doesn’t bother them, and big pest problems are rare in the spring. There is a bit of uncertainty about planting them, and if the weather turns cold right after seeding, germination can suffer. The pros I know often plant several plantings a few weeks apart, to ensure that at least one of the plantings will experience the ideal early season and accumulate the optimal crop momentum that can triple the final yield.

Read more of Rick's Favorite Crops »

Give us your opinion on Fava Flowers.
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Hi Dave,
I think fave have a gentler taste than lima beans. Less beany one might say. Most of the recipes for fave include some other component with a strong flavor. The large amounts of flesh and pleasant crunchiness of the raw beans are the big draw.
rick, rapallo, YT
Posted: 3/19/2011 3:49:07 AM
Last fall was my first time ever growing fava beans and I think I'm hooked. They are fairly easy to grow here in the desert southwest and my native soil with some great compost seemed to suit them just fine. I was harvesting them through last month.
Bruce, Las Vegas, NV
Posted: 3/8/2011 7:24:41 AM
Rick, I tried find out the difference between a lima bean and fava bean but other than they aren't the same bean, there wasn't much info on the Net about the difference. One Net article said they never really caught on here in the States. I do like lima beans and butter beans. Do they taste similiar to those beans?

Planting in the Fall would be quite a different gardening method than I'm used to doing. I have planted carrot seeds and have thought about planting other seeds in the fall late enough to keep them from germinating for the spring thaw. The carrots works out wonderfully well. When the soil warmed up enough they sprouted on their own and I had the best carrots ever.

Have a great fava bean day.
dbentz24@msn.com, Omaha, NE
Posted: 3/6/2011 5:01:35 AM

About the Blogger

Rick Gush

Rick Gush
Rick Gush has long been a staunch organic gardener. While a student at the University of California at Davis he worked at local tomato and sugar beet farms and continued in the agricultural and horticultural industries for many years. A career move in the 1990s led him to design computer games, but no matter how much of a techie he’s become, gardening and farming remain his principal passions.

In 2000, Rick moved to Italy, where he writes to you about his cliff garden and other experiences in Italian urban agriculture.

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