Wednesday, April 15, 2015

How to Fold in Fava Beans

After several seasons of constant use, our garden soil was in need of some TLC this winter. We planted a large bag of fava beans in our veggie garden and nothing else. Fava beans are legumes that take nitrogen from the air and fix it to use for bean production.

A few months after planting the seeds, our garden was filled with fava stalks! Fun fact about favas: the grow so quickly that it's rumored that the "magic beans" in Jack and the Beanstalk are favas. Right before the favas started producing bean pods--the beans will take away from of the nitrogen the favas have fixed--we folded the favas into our garden.

Fava beans fix nitrogen from the air through a symbiotic relationship they have with bacteria who live in the little white nodules on the roots of the favas. The bacteria help the favas fix nitrogen into the soil, which the favs wouldn't be able to do without the bacteria  

When you cut back the favas (before they start using the nitrogen for beans) they release the fixed nitrogen back into the soils as they decompose.

After I cut back the beans, I added fur mulch and crushed egg shells for especially healthy soil this summer. Egg shells are great source of calcium, which vegetables need for healthy development; a lack of calcium can cause blossom end rot in plants like tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers, where the end of the fruit breaks down.

In addition, the stalks and leaves themselves are great green manure.

And you can eat some of the small beans that have grown like summer green beens (that is whole). I like to cook them in olive oil and garlic with just a little bit of salt. 

Fava bean seeds
A garden plot in need of some nutrients
Bean inoculant
Fur mulch (optional for extra nutritional love)
Egg shells (optional for addinh calcium)

Large shears
Small shears

Time (active): depends on your garden size, but an afternoon.
Total time: (at least) 4 months

  1. Order a bulk amount of fava bean seeds; wet the seeds then lightly coat them with bean inoculant. Plant immediately after.
  2. Plant your fava beans at least four months before you will plant your spring starts and/or seeds. Plant seeds 1-2 inches deep and 3-4 inches apart. If you would like to enjoy some favas, you may want to thin you seedlings, but if you are growing more as a cover crop, leave about 4 inches apart. 
  3. Wait at least 3 months for the favas to grow and start to grow some flowers. 
  4. Chop the fava bean plants at the soil level and continue to chop the fava stocks and leaves into smaller bits; 4-6 inches works well.
  5. Optionally, add fur mulch and crushed egg shells on top of your fava bean cuttings.
  6. Fold favas and any added fur much, egg, or other amendments into your soil.
  7. Wait 4 weeks and enjoy your revived soil. 

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