Growing Fava beans in Northeast Arkansas

greentongueFebruary 9, 2008

I'm forever experimenting with new crops and trying to push the boundries on planting times. Most of the world loves Fava beans, and they have a 6000 year history as a food crop. When Wikipedia said they were a vetch, I was sure I could succeed with them. Among my most hated over-wintering weeds are introduced forage vetches!

I invested in 2 pkts of Aquadulce and 1 pkt Broad Windsor -- winter over intended -- but too little rain in September and other committments in October cancelled out the planned fall planting. Germination is supposed to require 65 degrees plus soil temps, and I won't see that again until corn planting time!

I decided 1st week of January to try to grow them anyway for this spring. I presoaked a pkt of the Aquadulce, used fresh innoculant, and potted 2 each in 12 oz styrofoam coffee cups, plus direct planted the remaining few seeds in garden where row was planned. Germination in cups sitting in my kitchen was really irregular (4 days to nearly 2 weeks!), but 23 of 24 seeds came up, When soaked, the smallest seeds showed sprouting first. To me, the irregular germination is acting like a wild species, in spite of 6000 years of domestication???

I took plants outside in south-of-carport sun each day when temps got above 35 degrees, and I finally conditioned them for transplanting by leaving them outside round the clock for a few warmer days, then set them out. They had gotten stretchy-necked due to irregular sun, so I cut them back to 2 leaf joints each to force new shoots to grow.

Soil had warmed enough to germinate spinach and turnips by the time I set them out last week. Root systems were amazing... broad lateral spread instead of taproots (reminded me of cup-hatched cotton!). I untangled roots and watered them in as I would a tomato, then caged them so deer and rabbits can't get them. The foliage of this plant is eaten in some countries, and one broken shoot was far more tasty than any bean sprout!

Most of them are happily making base shoots, but a frost to 27 degrees did damage the original leaves from their inside days. New growth is fine. The direct-planted seeds have yet to be heard from.... I didn't dig to see, just overplanted area with lettuce mixture to make some use of soil.

Research on favas turns up such conflicting reports. Theoretically Aquadulce is hardy to at least 20 degrees, but another source says they will winter over above zone 6. Broad Windsor (not yet planted) is listed as hardy to at least 12 degrees by one source. All references agree that it's MANDATORY to get them in soon enough that they mature their pods before hot weather.

Does anyone else in zone 7 (or 6) have experience in growing favas as a winter-over, a transplanted, or a spring crop?

I will hunt down this thread and post occasional progress reports... regardless of outcome.


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I have grown Favas in zone 6 (New Jersey)and a lot more in Mexico, at high altitude, where we lived for some years. Generally I try to plant them about the time I would plant peas. I have heard that one can plant them in the fall, for a spring crop. But I believe that is assuming that you don't have erratic spikes in temperature before early spring. If the favas get very tall, and you have a real cold snap, like below 31 F., they can be killed.

If you plant the seed outside, and they sprout because the soil temps have warmed enough, then they are more likely to handle cold snaps. My guess is that your outdoor planted seed will show up when the temps are right. That's my take on things.

Tahlequah, OK

    Bookmark   February 13, 2008 at 5:28PM
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Thanks, George!

I was really hoping for your input. What has happened so far (out there about 2 weeks now) is that the original shoots have collapsed, but the plants are making obviously alive and healthy new growth from the base of the plant. We had the milder side of the last ice storm (about 1/4 inch of precip but frozen on for about 3 days), and it was 18 degrees this morning. They were still fine when the sun came up and melted the ice off them. Coriander, spinach, perenniel herbs, native weeds, etc also still fine.

What is the coldest soil temp at which you have had favas germinate, and what variety(s) did you plant? I often have trouble getting peas up... occasionally the soil is warm enough when it's time they were in, but a lot of times I can't plant them until March 10, which doesn't give them much time to crop.

I have had good luck with Super Sugar Snap twice now (ie, a quality harvest, if brief)... woodchuck got my "would have been" seed crop... a couple days after she got the lettuce going to seed that had made it thru a 10 degree winter.

Jan in Arkansas Ozarks

    Bookmark   February 13, 2008 at 7:52PM
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Well, I just planted favas from a bag of fava beans purchased in the market down in Mexico. They were not a named variety. They were small seeded.

Haven't measured soil temperature when planting. I just put them in around the time I'd plant peas, which in NJ, was probably around the middle of March. Both in NJ, and here in NE Oklahoma, I've had very good luck with Sugaree, a non plant variety patented sugar snap, which I believe I originally purchased from Johnny's Selected Seeds. 2007 was not a good year for peas here, as we had a very hard, very late freeze (April 2), after nearly a month of warm temps. Half of my peas were actually frozen and killed. I haven't attempted favas, since moving to Oklahoma. But I suspect that such a late freeze would have gotten them, as it did the peas.

Regarding the woodchuck. Here's a tip. They are good with potatoes, onions & carrots (lightly sprinkled with salt & pepper and done in a Dutch oven). Seriously, I either trap them or shoot them. When time permits, I will fix one. But they are a pain to fix, just because they stink while you're skinning, etc. And, for some reason, woodchuck is only good the first time 'round. I feed the leftovers to the chickens or dogs.

I don't understand all the factors which either make or break it for a plant to survive the cold, this time of year. Sometimes I'll be amazed with what comes through the winter. Other times, it's amazing how something which is supposed to be hardy isn't. But it does seem to help if the plant germinates on it's own, out there. Transplants tend to struggle more with adverse conditions.

Keep us informed. It'll be interesting to hear how your favas do. Seems like there is a pretty fair amount of interest in them, here, and we can accumulate some information to help others.


    Bookmark   February 14, 2008 at 11:45AM
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Nobody in this area of the country will forget that "once-in-a-hundred-years" freeze we had last Easter! I plant by how the weather feels... with one eye on the calendar, but I believe more how soil and air feels and stuff like how far the oaks have leaved out. "Plant corn when the oak leaves are the size of a squirrel's ear", etc.

Frost hardy salad greens were in regular harvest stage and they were all fine. However, I had Black Aztec sweet corn 4 inches tall, assorted summer squash at first true leaves, Red Pontiac potatoes coming up well, all varieties strawberries blooming, figs had leaved out already, Super Sugar Snap peas a foot high... then we're being told it will be 25 degrees tonite!!

Ron and I were able to cover most of the strawberries with heavy plastic sheeting (for me to remove early next morning when temp rose above freezing), and I dropped 3 gallon plastic nursery pots over the squash and potatoes (some 8 inches high).

Next morning I took mental notes, and I immediately ordered more corn seed. I watched and waited on somewhat damaged squash; they stood still; I replanted beside them, and the new seedlings outgrew those that had "survived" the frost. Biggest potatoes had to resprout and were late and I eventually pulled them to make way for next crop. Those just emerging were fine with the makeshift protection and produced a crop.

Strawberries at outside of beds were frozen, but a lot in center were OK... I figgered I lost 35% of the crop. Figs leafed out again and fruited a month late; Peas froze to ground, but most plants sent up base shoots, and I got a crop after all. My soybeans did not come up, and I found them as rotted mush, frozen with their bent necks less than 1/2 inch from emerging! The rest of the seed was planned to follow the corn first of July, but with start-over making corn late, I never got to plant soybeans last year.

When I went to plant replacement corn, I kept find roots obviously still alive. I tossed out the first few, but then I got curious and left them in the ground. A fair percentage (35 - 40%??) sent up new shoots and cropped, altho later than the replants beside them. Mostly a nuisance to a gardener, but shows that variety would survive as a species even with a late frost some years.

Worse news on trees. No acorns; no persimmons; no tree fruits of any kind around here (except my figs!). Trees did recover but a major amount of wildlife winter food was lost forever. Black walnuts sleep late in the spring, and they were fine.

My antique roses (mostly Rugosas, Gallicas, Albas, Noisettes, Hybrid Musk)simply regrouped, leafed out again. The one-time bloomers (Albas and Gallicas) lost most of their flowering capacity for the year; the other groups are remontant; they just regrouped and flowered as usual, but a month later. Most hardy perenniel flowers and bulbs were not significantly affected.

Your woodchuck recipe - still laughing! Back in the last century, I was joking about writing a cookbook for sale at local tourist traps: HOW TO COOK YOUR GARDEN PESTS. Most garden raiders can be found in game cookbooks, even a few with more than 4 legs. I did the research, but I ain't crazy about dressing out warm-blooded animals. Dressing woodchucks: The smell, the general ugliness, and that very tough skin that almost repelled my knife. I pretty soon figgered out something else I wanted to do worse that morning... My first almost-dinner woodchuck very shortly turned into deer repellant tossed under the tree where the herd gathers to lay up during the day and plot their night raids on my ripening corn.

Assassinated feral cats (my neighbor feeds a population of them!)are also used for deer repellent. Anybody caught playing "lion at the waterhole" with birds at my birdbath will be offered a trail of canned mackeral leading into the Hav-a-Hart and will quietly disappear forever. Possums I drive 10 miles and turn loose; rabbits I just turn out locally. But woodchucks just eat too much too fast, plus they dig under my cages and barriers. One way trip for them, too.

Fortunately woodchucks have 3 Achillies heels: too stupid to change their paths once discovered; day feeders so I can find them eating and see where they run so I know where to set the trap; one litter a year, so I can often get Mama and all the kits in 36 hours or so, and they're history until another one moves in. I check DAILY for signs of feeding everywhere I have a crop planted.... sometimes I'm still too late!

I would expect them to taste a lot like wild bunnies and squirrels? Confirm, please. My brother in Wyoming supplies us with top-quality venison every year as a Christmas gift, and often include a few other sundry species. But as long as Arkansas whole fryers keep going on sale for 49 cents a pound, the pest cook book will probably stay on the back burner.

Gee, not a word about fava beans in this one... note they are still fine today... in 54 degree sun and wind, with rain and cold on the way again...


    Bookmark   February 14, 2008 at 9:29PM
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Woodchuck is all dark meat. It's more red colored than squirrel, which is also dark. I once offered a bite to a Greek friend who swore it was similar to lamb. Well, I can see some resemblance. But lamb is better. If cooked long and low with the above mentioned ingredients it is truly delicious. Yet, for some unknown reason, it does not warm up well for leftovers. I've given up on serving it a second time. We are blessed to have VERY FEW woodchucks here in Tahlequah. My theory on this is twofold: first, we have lots of raptors and secondly the people living here have lots of guns. If I ever see a woodchuck on my place he will die a sudden death.

When we lived in NJ we were amazed at the devastation they caused. There were so many animal "rightests" that some places, like the local community college, refused to deal with them. The place looked like a moonscape. I had permission from my immediate neighbors to do preemptive strikes. I'd trap about 14 every spring, out into the neighbors' properties. Then, it would take until the very middle of summer for the newest batch of young ones to venture near my garden. Most never managed to bring back a report to their fellows. In NJ they had at least two litters a year.

I believe a possum got into my duck pen, the other night. That's another animal I routinely eliminate. It's also quite edible, if you want to mess with it. Since we are not hard up for meat I usually use them for fertilizer.


    Bookmark   February 15, 2008 at 11:42AM
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If I had poultry, I KNOW possums would be on my hit list.

Since I don't, they are mostly funny to me. Their easy-going view of the world (due probably to inefficient very ancient brain!)makes them kinda fun to catch. I come to garden and find that they ate the apple slice bait, then curled up and went to sleep while waiting for me. I think individuals could probably be identified by the pigment patterns on their ears, just as whales are tracked by their tail flukes.

A friend of mine in Missouri grows for gourmet restaurants, and they are her worst nightmare, taking a bite of every ripe tomato and defecating on fruit still to come.... so she claims, anyway. I have birds do a lot of that for me, but I forgive them... BUG WARS ... my enemy's enemy is my friend!!

Getting possums out of the trap is what's hard. They climb upward, and their fingers hook so well in the wire they can't be shook out. I have to open trap, back away at least 10 yards, and wait for them to figger out they are free to leave...

COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS ON NOT HAVING WOODCHUCKS! A 20-pound woodchuck requires 1.5 pounds of vegetation a day... they like EVERYTHING (even basil, tomato vines, pepper plants...) I've had them eat the ends off trellised dipper gourds, burrow under edges of heavy wire crates to eat more gourds yet, wipe out a whole planting of okra at 6-leaf stage during my afternoon break, stand there with first ripe tomato between their paws.

Last spring I took an afternoon break...came back to find my whole seed crop of lettuce leveled! Next day I thought I remembered pea pods that I no longer saw... a couple days later I caught her eating. She was a young black / silver roan... color I've never seen before. If she had been a domestic animal, she would have probably been selected on color alone as future breed! Turned out she was feeding almost 50 yards from her den, and we didn't catch her until my husband startled her in the yard one morning and found out where to set the trap. Had her by afternoon.

Sometimes I have caught a mother and 2 spring kits in less than 30 minute intervals; even scent of another woodchuck's demise doesn't turn them from their chosen path. I even caught one in an unbaited trap once!!

So far I've never had raccoon problems... but that will be the hard one if (when?) they show up. Really smart, plus they have hands!! Also nocturnal... that makes it even harder to get ahead of them, cuz I can't stay up all night.

I worked in a restaurant in the 1980's where the whole family for 3 generations was hunters and cooks ... somebody was always coming in the back door with a dish in hand..."Here, taste... see if you can guess what this is!"

So I've eaten most stuff at least once... and I think a competent field dresser plus a competent cook can render nearly anything palatable. You've pretty well convinced me to be a little less lazy and try a woodchuck this spring!

My brother-in-law from Kansas showed up in October actually wanting to try armadillo, cuz he'd heard so much good about them. Texans used to call them "the poor man's hog", and there are plenty of recipes for them in Cajun cookbooks.

Good chance they were eaten in Mexico?


    Bookmark   February 15, 2008 at 12:36PM
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Yes indeed. Many is the time, while living out in the hills, that we were offered smoked armadillo (for sale). I never purchased any, just because of the outrageous price. But whenever we used to come up this way, and we'd see all those armadillos out at night, I'd get the itch to catch one and try it. But alas, we were traveling and didn't have kitchen facilities, etc. Now that we live here, I haven't managed to catch one, at least not when I have time to work on it. Just once my wife bumped one with the car and I was able to lay hands on a fresh armadillo. But, I had commitments and couldn't take the time! Maybe this year!

I'll be going out to do chores in a few minutes. Perhaps I'll have a duck killing possum in my live trap.


    Bookmark   February 16, 2008 at 7:18AM
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Hmmmm - smoked never occurred to me, but it does sound good for something that tastes like pork!

Instructions I was given... by a lady who said she'd tell me how to cook armadillos ONLY IF she had my sworn-in-blood promise I'd never tell anybody who told me how. She spent a lot of time poor in Texas in her youth.

""Open armadillo from bottom, same as if you were dressing out a turtle. Take out back meat ... that's what you use. If it's young, you can fry it just like chicken. If it's an old one, roast it in the oven like you would a pot roast until its tender.""

Too easy!!

I've always liked Jerry Clower's "Possum on the half shell" jokes.


PS: a hundred years ago when I was in my 40's, I used to sell at outdoor flea markets. One time an old man who came all the time to just visit caught and killed a possum, only to discover she had 6 babies with her. Baby possums were hanging off fingers all day as people picked out their pets. I kinda doubt they turned out to be very interactive, considering they sleep all day! Next time get a puppy?

    Bookmark   February 16, 2008 at 5:00PM
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I will have to try it Jan. We had one marauding in the gardens last fall. But I never managed to catch him.

Baby possum! I've heard of people keeping them as pets. But they really smell! I guess, to each his own!


    Bookmark   February 18, 2008 at 7:37AM
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