Fava beans are typically grown in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4-8, and thus are a great choice for cool climate gardens. But they can be grown in a wide range of environments—sometimes as a spring or early summer crop, and sometimes over the winter months.
They Are a Nitrogen-Fixing Legume
One of the valuable things about these plants is that they fix nitrogen in the soil.This means that they can help you to maintain fertility in your garden.
In crop rotation, they can come before brassicas and other plants with higher nitrogen requirements that will benefit from the increased availability of nitrogen in the soil.
In companion planting, they can potentially aid other plants through nitrogen fixation. I often grow them alongside brassicas in the polytunnel in winter, and underplant them with lettuce and other leafy greens, radishes, and borage in spring.
As a winter cover crop or green manure, they enrich the soil and get it ready for spring planting.
They Are a Pollinator-Friendly Plant
Technically, fava beans are self-fertile and do not require bees or other insects for pollination; but studies have shown that higher yields can be achieved when insect pollination occurs.
Bees and other insect pollinators love fava bean flowers. Long-tongued bumblebees are able to reach into the flowers to retrieve the nectar. (Note that American bumblebees could soon be categorized as endangered in the U.S) But short-tongued bumblebees which cannot access nectar “through the front door,” as it were, and have developed a strategy of piercing the flower to feed. Honeybees and other insects take advantage of this and enjoy the nectar themselves.
Fava beans are particularly useful because, especially when planted in autumn, they can provide a source of nectar early in the year, when there are fewer food sources available for pollinators.
They Are a Healthy Addition to a Homegrown Diet
As well as being good for pollinators, other plants, and the soil in your garden, fava beans are also good for you. They are high in protein (26% in mature beans) and contain many essential nutrients. For example, 100 grams of mature beans provides 106% of the daily value for folate. Fava beans are also moderately rich in B vitamins and contain dietary minerals such as manganese, phosphorus, iron, and magnesium.
One of the things I like is using them in different ways during the various stages of their growth. Tiny immature beans are delicious in salads or on toast. Once more mature, the beans are best cooked for longer. Remove the outer skins to improve texture and flavor and use them in soups, stews, or as a side vegetable.
Fava beans are also a pulse that you can grow at home. Leave the fully mature beans to dry, and then these can be stored and used in a wide range of ways later in the year. You can use them to make fava bean flour or soak, then boil and dry roast them for eating.
You may also be surprised to learn this, but fava bean pods are edible. They can be breaded with seasoned flour and then fried. The young leaves can also be cooked and eaten in moderation.