Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Planting Favas

I'm usually at least a month behind in my planting. It doesn't matter much. The District of Columbia has a long growing season. But I'm feeling especially spry this year, having finally organized my seed collection into something recognizable. I also worked up a planting list. At a glance, I can see that I could have been planting my spinach a month ago and that carrot seeds could have gone in the ground two weeks back.

It's also time to be planting peas and fava beans. The fava seeds look just like the dried fava beans you see at the Middle Eastern grocery. Did you know that most beans--even the ones that sound French or Italian--have their origins in the New World? Fava, or broad bean, is the original Old World bean. We love favas in a light braise with peas, or spread over bruschetta with Pecorino cheese.

First step is to read the seed packet and perhaps the seed catalogue for specific planting information about favas. These indicate that favas need about 75 days to fully mature and really hate heat. Planting them now should mean we'll be harvesting favas around the middle of May, just about the time the weather is heating up.

Seeds normally are planted to a depth of three times the width of the seed. That means a hole about 1 1/2 inches deep for these large fava seeds. There's a name for the tool used to make the hole. It's called a dibble. I don't own a formal dibble. I use the handle of a screw driver. It's not quite as elegant, and compacts the soil at the bottom of the hole more than I probably should . But it seems to work.

The fava seeds should be planted four inches to six inches apart, according to my seed packet. That gives the individual plants enough room to grow. I don't plant in rows, but in squares. And I plant seeds closer together rather than farther apart. My hope is that the plants will be self-mulching. In other words, the foliage will be so dense it will suppress weeds and help retain moisture in the soil, eliminating the need to spread straw or leaves or some other mulching material. That's the hope, anyway.

Before I begin planting, I go around the area with my forked spade, plunging it deep into the soil and rocking gently back and forth to loosen the sub-soil. I then dust the area with a thin layer of compost (we make lots of compost around here) and work that into the soil with my stirrup hoe. The final step before putting seeds in the ground is to get down on all fours and break up any clods with my hands. This is my favorite part of planting, actually running the soil through my hands, smelling it, seeing how applications of compost over the years have worked their magic, injecting life into my garden beds. While I'm down there, I also remove any weeds and stones I find.

To remember exactly where I have planted my favas, I mark the area with these wooden steaks. That would be on the left, where I planted 50 seeds in all, or the entire contents of my seed packet. The area on the right still needs to be planted. I'll come back later with onion sets or carrots or something else that will appreciate this rich, loose soil.


Ali said...

Planting seeds in the actual ground already! You are killing me. We've had nearly 100" of snow this winter. And more tonight. Sob.

Shannon said...

And I'm a few miles north of you ED, and feeling like a slacker - haven't even tilled the soil but the cold frame is carrying on production of baby salad greens (bought potted sprouts at Trader Joes' last month!)

How big an area is that you have reserved for your beans and onions/carrots? 4 x 4'? larger?

I want to create new raised beds and not sure how much space to dedicate. My existing plot is 4 x 6 but losing light to n'bors Liriodendrons.

Also - did you "cover" the plot with plastic or anything to warm it up / kill off weeds or anything? I was reviewing an older Rodale's guide and that was recommended for bare ground prep .... hmmmm. Any advice?

Ed Bruske said...

Ali, I feel your pain. You have a shorter growing season, but longer hours of sunlight when summer finally arrives. Plus, you have Maine, you have lobsters...

Shannon, cold frame is a great idea, especially for seedlings this time of year. The space where I planted the favas is probably 2x4. I don't believe in using plastic in the garden. I did most of the weeding during last fall's cleanup, so there weren't many weeds. But the chickweed is coming on strong. No other soil prep other than what I mentioned--a little loosening, a little compost worked in with the stirrup hoe.

Charlotte said...

I grew favas for the first time last year and this year I'm putting in twice as many -- I *loved* them -- and my little-kid friends were great help with the shelling (the 3 year olds especially). They're delicious -- and the pods grow up! they curve up off the stems, not down like normal beans -- very odd -- plus, natural soil ammendment

the dauter said...

hi daddy

Ed Bruske said...

Charlotte, I'm really glad to hear about your success with favas. What zone are you in? I'm anxious to see how ours do. It can get pretty hot and humid here in the District of Columbia, even in May and June.

Dear daughter, daddy says Hi.