University of California
UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County
Fava beans—also known as bell, broad, and horse beans—have value as a cool-season crop in home food gardens as well in agricultural fields. Deep roots and tasty beans endear favas to dedicated gardeners, as well as to many immigrant groups who praise their flavorful and cultural virtues that were first known in Europe and Asia. In the Middle Ages favas were salvaged from drought in Sicily where they became revered and considered almost magical.
- Attractive, bushy but erect plants grow 3-7 ft. tall with large, fragrant white or purplish flowers.
- Stems and foliage may be cut to the ground and composted or turned under planting beds as a green manure crop to nurture soil. Deep roots loosen soil and bring up nutrients.
- Nodules on roots contain rhizobium bacteria that fix airborne nitrogen, allowing it to replenish usable nitrogen in the soil, but only before bean pods form. Roots send nitrogen to developing beans as soon as pods develop.
- Deep roots act as a winter cover crop that deters erosion by protecting topsoil from wind and rain. Thick foliage slows winter weed growth.
- Plants become an integral part of crop rotation and fertilization after summer crops are cleared from food gardens.
- Early pollinators are attracted to cool-season fava blossoms.
- Mature pods hold large beans, resembling lima beans, that may be eaten raw, freshly boiled, or dried and cooked like any other dried bean.
- Thin skin surrounding mature shelled beans can be removed from raw or cooked beans for a more desirable texture and taste.
- Some people of Mediterranean origin have a genetic trait, an enzyme deficiency, that causes a severe allergic reaction to fava beans; testing a small sample is advised.
- Excessively cold winters and hot summers do not favor fava bean growth.
- Sow in late summer for late fall harvest, or in late summer-November to overwinter for early spring picking. In the absence of fall, winter, or spring rains, irrigate beds.
- Sow in January for beans in early summer, but only in mild, cool regions. Plants do not do well in warm weather when they are susceptible to pests and diseases.
- Seed in beds 1-2 in. deep, 6-8 in. apart in rows 18 in. apart in regular garden soil. A legume inoculant, specifically for fava beans, is recommended for an initial planting.
- Sonoma County Master Gardener Vegetable Planting Summary.