February 2010

Ah, almost time to start planting. Finally, and so many lovely seeds to try this year.
I am especially excited to plant a fava bean crop in February. It has been so warm this January; I am tempted to plant sooner than the late February suggested time. But a serious freeze is still possible.
Fava Beans, aka broad beans, are a simple crop to grow and don’t require a well prepared area. They tolerate heavy soils, in fact they improve your heavy soils. I have struggled with planting them in late fall, though it is suggested to plant them as a cover crop over the winter. Mine usually froze out or were eaten by rabbits or deer or other mammal pests. Very poor results from the labor of planting.
So last year we planted in Late Feb. and got a most delicious, lovely crop in June. Yumm. I was surprised at how well they did with so little attention. Granted they were a large tough plant that produced just a half dozen pods per plant, but they were a real delicacy for us. Fava’s are not technically a bean, but a vetch plant. The pods are very thick walled and shelling them takes time. Then after blanching the bean seeds, we peeled each seed coat off in order to eat the remaining seed part. But they were so beautiful and green and fresh tasting, as well as meaty, and they absorbed flavors of any soup, salad or stirfry I prepared.
This year I’ll plant in beds where I’ve added a little manure or compost. The rows should be about 8-10 inches apart and planting one seed every 2 or three inches. I’ll add some vetch type inoculant to make sure the right bacteria colonize the roots as soon as possible. I’ll look at the local garden store for a small package of inoculant because it is a live product and can’t be saved from last year’s planting. Plants should emerge in a couple weeks, sooner if it stays warm. Their extensive root system breaks up soil to 2 feet deep, and brings up soluble nutrients from 10 feet deep. They don’t need trellising and the stalks are firm. The flowers appear in May and are great bee food. The only pests of concern are aphids that could appear if we have a dry spell in May and June. These I usually can just wash off, so some overhead watering will help them after our rainy season ends. Favas tolerate weeds if they get a head start, so just help them out in the early spring with a little weed removal. They will have short harvest period, so you’ll probably get them all picked in just a few weeks. Then you’ll have room for planting a later lettuce crop in August. Fava’s should fit nicely in the rotations of a typical food garden.
Favas also are helpful for rejuvenating older garden sites. If you think we will have a milder winter next year, you could plant favas in October to improve soil or perhaps for an early spring harvest. Especially if no irrigation or manure is used, favas can reduce the symphylan populations. Symphylans are small soil arthropods shaped like minute cetipedes that feed on soil microorganisms and sometimes roots. Although they’re harmless in small numbers, their populations can build up in organic gardens where lots of compost and manure has been added to the soil where they cause nonspecific root damage. This condition can be hard to diagnose because it stresses plants, but doesn’t kill them, reducing your yield and the growth of the plant. Including favas and also potatoes in your rotations can help control these pests. As another natural bonus, overwintered fava’s produce the best crop of nectar and pollen at around February– right when our bees need an early nutrition boost.
Learn about the many other delicious vegetables you can grow this season by coming to the Tilth/Grange sponsored organic food growing classes on Tuesday evenings in Feb. and March. See the class syllabus in this newsletter and choose which classes you want to attend this winter. Or pay for the whole series and get a thorough refresher course on gardening the organic way.

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