Fava Beans for Food and Fertility (a step-by-step no-till method)

I’ve been inspired by roadside signs along Highway 20 in Lake County that read in Burma-shave fasion: Save Your Soul!   Repent!   Jesus Saves!   When my husband and I read these, we chuckle and say to each other: Save Your Soil! Replant! Save Seed! We think of fava beans. I’m not saying fava is God, but favas are amazing! The bacteria in the soil accumulates atmospheric nitrogen on the favas roots and fixes it in the soil via nitrogen nodules. The beans and flowers are edible, and can be grown during the winter gardening season to build soil for spring and summer crops.

We’ve been saving fava seed for nearly 20 years. They are an important part of our garden’s soil fertility program, as well as an enjoyable food source for our family. We allocate 1/3 of the fava crop for eating, 1/3 for compost crop (via the method below) and 1/3 for bean harvest.

Fava flowers are beautiful and delicious in salads.

Fava flowers are beautiful and delicious in salads.

Instead of importing bagged soil and nitrogen-rich soil amendments, plant heirloom fava seeds as a fall/winter cover crop once the rains come. The following method is an easy, no-till approach to building fertility and boosting organic matter in your soil.  Onions and spring greens thrive when planted into garden beds that have received this treatment.

1. Soak fava beans overnight with water & inoculant (Rhizobium leguminosarum viciae). Inoculant is not necessary, however it encourages formation of high-nitrogen nodules on roots for richer soil, bigger plants & better yields.

Nitrogen nodules.

Nitrogen nodules (see the little white things?).

2. Plant favas at 1/4 pound per 100 sq. ft.

Fava plant in flower.

Fava plant in flower.

3. When ½ the fava plant is in flower, cut down entire plant at the base, leaving roots in the ground so nitrogen nodules can release into soil. Leave the cut favas in place and cover with amendments like biochar and trace minerals followed by 2” of compost; keep moist to aid decomposition. Garden bed will be ready for planting in 4 – 8 weeks from cutting under.

Favas in 1/2 flower, just before cutting down.

Favas in 1/2 flower, just before cutting down.

Favas cut down and ready for compost top dressing.

Favas cut down and ready for compost top dressing.

 

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