Broad beans, also known as fava or horse beans, are members of the Fabaceae family, which includes peas and vetch. Dried broad beans can be found in animal feed and coffee. Fresh beans, in and out of pod, are used in a variety of recipes. Consumption of broad beans or ingesting broad bean pollens can cause the onset of hemolytic anemia and jaundice in individuals that suffer from the enzyme deficiency known as Favism.
Plant broad beans in a location that offers full sun and well-draining, nutrient rich soil. Broad beans need a soil pH level of 6.0 to 6.8 to do their best. Use a testing kit from your local garden center or take soil samples to a local agricultural extension agency to determine soil content. Once soil pH is determined, make adjustments to raise or lower the pH to the proper level with the use of compost, lime, sulfur or specially formulated fertilizers. Ask your extension agency for assistance in determining the proper amendments to use for your soil.
Broad beans are a cool weather legume, and cannot withstand the high temperatures of summer. In locations with mild winters that don't get below 20 degrees, plant broad beans in the fall for winter harvest. In locations with hot summers, start beans indoors in late winter and plant outside in very early spring to harvest before temperatures move above 65 degrees.
About the Broad Bean Seeds
Broad bean seeds will germinate more readily when soaked overnight to soften the tough shell. Commercially treated seeds will germinate more successfully than those saved from a previous crop. If you grow broad beans for food, choose smaller-seed varieties. Use large-seed varieties to grow cover crops that add nitrogen to the soil and to use as on-site compost that, when tilled under, will aerate and enrich heavy soils.
Broad bean plants grow 3 to 6 feet in height and need space to maintain proper moisture and aeration during the growing process. Plant seeds at a depth of 1 to 2 inches, spaced at least 4 to 6 inches apart within each row. Allow 18 to 24 inches of space between rows.
Caring for Fava Beans
Fava beans do not require fertilizer during the growing process, because they work with bacteria in the soil to produce their own nitrogen. Water seeds thoroughly at planting time, then moderately before flower and pod formation begin. An inch of water will provide necessary moisture. Ensure that soil stays moist during flowering, but not saturated. Broad beans grown for food benefit from a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch spread around the base of each plant to control weeds and maintain moisture.
Friends of the Fava
Plant broad beans with vegetables or fruits such as potatoes, corn, celery, strawberries or cucumbers to create a mutually beneficial growing environment. Avoid, however, planting fava beans near onions or garlic.
Protecting Broad Beans
Monitor plants for attacks by aphids, leafhoppers, mites and bean beetles. Insecticidal soap should be used to kill and prevent further attack from such pests. Control fungal and bacterial diseases by choosing disease-resistant broad bean varieties, removing any infected plants entirely and destroying them and by rotating planting location each season.