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Vermont Garden Journal: The Versatility Of The Fava Bean

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Andrew Huff
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Vicia faba, or fava beans, can be grown in a wide variety of soils, including clay and salty soil, and tolerate cool weather.

Vicia faba is a legume that has been grown around the world for 6,000 years. It’s a food in countries from Ethiopia, Peru, Nepal, China, Italy, and England and can also be used as animal feed and a soil builder. It grows in a wide variety of soils, including clay and salty soil, and, unlike other beans, likes cool weather. Yes, it’s the broad, Windsor or fava bean.

Now before you go ho-hum about the taste of fava beans, consider that if you’ve traveled any part of the world and ate some native cuisine, you probably have eaten favas. They’re popular in soups, dips, vegetable mashes and falafel.

What I like about fava beans is their versatility. Soak seeds overnight and plant in spring. They grow quickly in the cool soils and produce beans by early summer. Then they can be tilled under as a green manure crop. The taproot helps break up clay soil and revitalize it. Or in our cool climate, they sometimes keep producing flowers and fruits throughout the season. You can also sow them now, for a fall crop.

Most varieties have orchid-like white flowers dotted with a black center, but one heirloom I found in England called ‘Crimson’ has bright red flowers, making this an attractive plant as well. Fava beans can grow up to 3 to 4 feet tall and might need staking if not grown near other tall plants.

You can, not only eat the beans, but the young leaves too for salads or for making pesto. Harvest bean pods when they’re bumpy and full, but not too large. Shell the pods, parboil the beans for a minute then place them in a bowl of cold water. The outer skin will crack open and you can easily peel it away revealing the treasured bean inside.

And now for this week's tip, deadhead spent perennial flowers such as bee balm and salvia to encourage a new round of blooms to emerge for some fall color.

Next week on the Vermont Garden Journal, I'll be talking about monks hood. Until then, I'll be seeing you in the garden.

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