When Should You Plant Your Fava Beans?

Interested in planting fava beans but not sure where or when? The Zero-Mile Diet author Carolyn Herriot knows the answer

Credit: Carol Pope

Here are some of my little favas, planted in November and raring to go in my February garden

When’s the best time to plant fava beans? (And what makes them such a valuable food crop for home gardens?)

These are questions that I used to wonder about, and ones that I am asked frequently this time of year. Fava beans (Vicia faba) – also called broad beans, Windsor beans, faba beans or even horse beans – are a cool-season crop best planted in a bright and sunny spot.

The West Coast Seeds Gardening Guide suggests planting them 5 cm (2 in.) deep and 15 cm (6 in.) apart.

For West Coast gardeners wondering if they missed the boat by not planting fava beans last fall, the answer is no! You can plant them in October through November, certainly, but it’s also fine to sow them in February or even in into early spring. And for those in colder areas, you are best to plant in spring, even as late as May, once the ground has warmed up.

Now that you know when to plant them, you might be asking why you should plant them! And that’s an easy answer: Fava beans are a valuable crop for both the table and the garden, the amazing Carolyn Herriot, of The Zero-Mile Diet, frequently reminds me.

Why You Should Grow Fava Beans

Bestselling edible-gardening author Herriot, who just released The Zero-Mile Diet Cookbook, is a big fan of growing fava beans, and in her own words, here’s why:

  • “Favas have no cholesterol and little oil, but they are high in carbohydrate and protein, averaging about 30 per cent protein, which is high for beans.”
  • “The genus Vicia indicates fava beans are vetches, nitrogen fixers, which means they can be grown as cover crops that add both nitrogen and organic matter to soil. They also have deep taproots that break up compacted soils.”
  • “Large, fur-lined pods are produced in pairs on tall stalks; seeds can produce up to three stalks with several pairs of pods on each, what I call a good harvest. I wrap jute twine around the bean patch in mid-May to prevent the heavily ladened stalks from falling over.”
  • “Broad beans are harvested for fresh eating when the seeds swell in the green pods. Properly cooked, fresh-shelled favas have a sweet, buttery “melt-in-the-mouth” appeal.”
  • “Freeze any fresh beans that you don’t eat; just throw them still frozen into boiling water for 10 minutes, after which they taste as good as fresh. Drizzle with olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic or herbs of your choice – yum!”
  • “They can also be harvested as dried beans, when the pods are black and the beans inside hardened. To eat the dried beans they need to be soaked overnight, and then cooked for about 75 minutes.”

Aphids on Fava Beans

Here’s what Carolyn Herriot says about aphids on fava beans:

“Black aphids can be a problem for beans in late spring, when they colonize tips of tall plants. (The only benefit is that the aphids attract ladybugs, so you could regard this as a good “lure” situation.)

If aphid colonies build up, I snap infested tops off the stalks; aphids don’t fly, they crawl, so it takes a long time for colonies to re-establish. Removing the tip signals the plant to set seed and matures the beans.

In the beginning aphids do not affect the quality or production of beans, and are just an eyesore, but if left to smother the plant they could weaken it beyond recovery.”