For gardeners who want an early start on bean production, fava beans fit the bill. Also called English broad beans, favas (Vicia faba) grow most vigorously in cool, moist rich soil, although they will produce in poor soil. They must be planted earlier than traditional bush and pole beans. They are a godsend for northern gardeners who can’t grow lima beans because their warm season is too short.
Prepare the bed as early as the soil can be worked in late winter or early spring, adding manure-enriched compost. Sow seeds in time with your spring peas (three to seven weeks before your expected last frost). Plan on harvesting before the temperature rises above 80°F. Grow favas in blocks or in rows close together, so the plants will support each other when they are filled with heavy pods. Sow the seeds, scar-side down, in holes two inches deep and four inches apart. They should sprout within two weeks. When the seedlings are several inches tall, mulch the bed with clean straw to keep the soil cool and hinder weeds.
Given the proper growing conditions, favas are heavy producers. The pods grow seven to twelve inches long, each filled with up to nine large beans. Harvest the lowest pods first as the beans fill them. Harvest again every week thereafter, working up the plants as the pods mature. Shell the beans as you would lima beans. They can be substituted for limas in any recipe. Their flavor is sweeter and their texture, a bit meatier.