Fava beans (Vicia faba), also known as broad beans, are a fast-growing, cool-weather annual vegetable that can be planted in either the early spring or fall. They are grown for their large, flat, edible seeds found inside the fruiting structures, or pods, although all portions of the plants are edible. There is a good deal of variety within the different types of fava beans, in both the size of their seeds and their color (e.g., white, beige, brown, purple, and black).
The plants are large and leafy with square, hollow stems that are fairly sturdy but might flop under the weight of the pods. Fava beans are not twining climbers like many other bean species. The leaves are rounded and look more like pea leaves than bean foliage. The flowers grow in spiked clusters and are mostly white with dark markings, although they can also be crimson. They mature into thick, waxy pods that can stretch to almost a foot long and contain up to six seeds. Note that both the fruits, flowers, and even pollen can be toxic to certain people who experience favism.
|Common Name||Fava bean, faba bean, broad bean|
|Botanical Name||Vicia faba|
|Plant Type||Annual, vegetable|
|Size||2–6 ft. tall, 0.75–1 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full to part sun|
|Soil Type||Loamy, moist, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral (6.2 to 6.8)|
|Bloom Time||Spring, summer|
|Hardiness Zones||2–10 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Asia, Mediterranean|
|Toxicity||Toxic to people with favism|
How to Plant Fava Beans
When to Plant
Fava beans can be planted at different times depending on the climate. In most areas, they are planted in early spring as soon as the soil is workable. In cooler climates, they also can be planted in late fall to overwinter. And in mild climates, it's possible to grow them year-round. Not only are they edible, the plants are often used as a cover crop to add nitrogen to the soil.
Selecting a Planting Site
Fava beans need a sunny spot with well-draining soil. Make sure no nearby plants will create too much shade for them as they leaf out in the spring. It's also possible to grow them in raised beds, but because they grow quite large, only dwarf cultivars, like 'Bell Bean', perform well in containers.
Spacing, Depth, and Support
Plant seeds about 1 to 2 inches deep and at least 6 inches apart. Rows should be roughly 2 to 3 feet apart. Stake plants while they're still young to avoid disturbing the roots once they mature.
Fava Bean Plant Care
Fava beans prefer to grow in full to part-sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days.
Fava beans can tolerate a range of soil types, as long as there is good drainage. A loose, loamy soil with a slightly acidic to neutral soil pH is ideal.
The plants have average water needs and some drought tolerance. About an inch of water per week is fine. However, during flower and fruit production, keep the soil evenly moist but never soggy.
Temperature and Humidity
Temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit are best. The plants will struggle in hot temperatures and be more prone to diseases. They can tolerate temperatures down to 40 degrees Fahrenheit well — and even cooler temperatures down to 21 degrees Fahrenheit for short periods. Humidity typically isn’t an issue as long as there is adequate soil moisture and good air flow around the plants. Long, cool growing seasons are best.
Fava beans, like other legumes, fix their own nitrogen into the soil and therefore don't usually require additional feeding. However, working compost into the soil can help with growth, especially if the soil is nutrient-poor.
The plants are self-pollinating and will attract bees and other pollinators to the garden.
Types of Fava Beans
There are several types of fava beans, including:
- 'Aquadulce Claudia' is a large Spanish variety with good disease resistance. It takes about 90 days to mature when planted in the spring or 240 days when planted in the fall.
- 'The Sutton' is a dwarf variety, reaching 14 inches tall, that's great for limited space, containers, and windy areas. It matures in 80 days.
- 'Sweet Lorane' is a smaller bean bred to have fewer tannins. It matures in 100 days.
- 'Windsor' produces large, flavorful beans. It takes about 90 days to mature when planted in the spring or 240 days when planted in the fall.
Fava Beans vs. Lima Beans
Fava beans and lima beans are similar in appearance. However, fava bean pods are typically bumpy while lima bean pods are smooth. Plus, fava beans tend to be firmer when cooked and have a nutty, sweet flavor. Lima beans get softer and have a slightly starchier flavor.
Harvesting Fava Beans
Fava beans take between 80 and 100 days on average to reach their harvest, though that can change with variety and climate. Pick individual pods when they’re plump and glossy by twisting them off the plant or using scissors. Don’t wait too long, or the beans will end up tasting dry.
In addition to removing the pods, fava beans have a thick skin that needs to be removed before cooking. You can usually just pop them out of their skins, but know that it can be time-consuming if you're doing a lot. Shelled beans can be used immediately, stored in the refrigerator for a couple of days, or frozen for later use.
How to Grow Fava Beans in Pots
Growing fava beans in containers is a good option if you don’t have the garden space. Choose a small variety to make container growth manageable. A container that is at least 5 gallons with ample drainage holes is ideal, though note the space requirements for your specific variety. An unglazed clay container is best, as it will allow excess soil moisture to escape through its walls. Add a stake or other support structure to the container to support the plant as it grows.
Once the plant starts flowering, pinch off the top couple inches of growth to encourage a bushier habit. Prune plants to a few inches from the ground after you’ve harvested the ripe pods. If your temperatures are still suitable to growing fava beans, the plants might regrow and provide a second harvest.
Propagating Fava Beans
Most gardeners grow fava beans from seed. And you can save seeds from a mature plant to grow during the next season. This is an easy and inexpensive way to get new plants, and it will allow you to duplicate plants whose vigor or flavor was particularly good. Here’s how:
- Allow pods to dry out on the plant. Then, cut them off.
- Arrange the pods in a single layer, and dry them for at least two weeks indoors in a cool, dry spot with good air flow.
- Remove the seeds from the pods, and put them in an airtight container. Place the container in a freezer for a week. Then, store it in a cool, dark spot.
How to Grow Fava Beans From Seed
Fava beans are planted much like other types of beans. You can speed up germination by soaking the seeds in water for 12 to 24 hours before sowing. Direct sow the seeds 1 to 2 inches deep and 6 inches apart. Keep the soil moist but not soggy, and germination should occur in a week or two. Thin the seedlings to 4 to 6 inches because crowding can encourage diseases.
Potting and Repotting Fava Beans
A quality all-purpose potting mix with good drainage should suffice for fava beans. When growing them in containers, it's best to choose a large enough container for the mature plant right away to avoid having to disturb the roots in repotting.
Fava beans are annuals, meaning they complete their life cycle in one growing season. Therefore, overwintering is not necessary. Leaving the plant roots in place after harvesting will continue to fix nitrogen in the soil. However, in warm climates, many gardeners plant fava beans in the fall, overwintering them in the moderate climate, for a spring harvest.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Fava beans are largely trouble-free in cooler weather, but warm temperatures can bring a variety of insect pests, including aphids and black flies. Pea and bean weevils might feed on the leaves and can damage young seedlings. And broad bean seed beetles can eat holes in the seeds, though this usually does not hinder germination. Fungal diseases and rust also can be a problem in wet conditions. Watch for powdery mildew, fusarium root rot, mosaic virus, and broad bean chocolate spot. Make sure you provide plenty of room between the plants to improve air circulation.
Are fava beans easy to grow?
Fava beans are fairly easy to grow as long as they have adequate temperatures.
How long does it take to grow fava beans?
Fava beans take between 80 to 100 days on average to reach their harvest.
Do fava beans come back every year?
Fava beans are annuals, meaning they complete their life cycle in one growing season.