I'm joining Liz at Suburban Tomato with another Saturday Spotlight post, this one is about the fava variety that has become the principal variety that I now grow. This is year three for Extra Precoce Violetto (Extra Early Purple) favas in my garden. I've grown a few varieties of favas over the years, including Windsor, Super Aguadulce var. Morocco, Supersimonia, Extra Precoce Bianco, Crimson Flowering, Guatemalan Purple and others that I can't recall. Most of those varieties fell by the wayside for various reasons, such as too tall (Guatemalan), non-producer (Morocco), late producer, or just because I moved on to something new. I still grow the Crimson Flowering favas because they are so beautiful, but they aren't my primary fava because they are late producers. A few years ago I experimented with the Extra Precoce Violetto and Bianco varieties, side by side, in an attempt to get an early crop and to get the space they occupied into earlier production of summer vegetables. Both varieties were a resounding success. I harvested over 100 pounds of fresh pods from April 10 to May 30, and then had a further harvest of 5 pounds of dried beans that I gleaned after I pulled out the plants and left them to dry with the last of the beans left on them.
Here's a photo of the harvest on April 24, 2011 of 31 pounds of pods.
I could not tell the difference between the two varieties so far as fresh pods and fresh shelled beans were concerned. Both produce long fat pods that generally encase about 6 fat beans. The beans stay green and tender until they start to bulge in the pods. The pods size up faster than the developing seeds, so when I harvest the pods I feel each one for the developing seed inside, if it still feels "loose" or a bit empty I leave it until the next harvest, when the seed feels firm in the pod I pick. When the pods start to bulge with beans the beans are starting to get a bit starchy - still tasty, but different. Early in the season I like to harvest the pods when the seeds are medium sized. At that point the pods are still tender and not too stringy and the seed coat is still tender also. Those beans are destined for the grill or hot oven - they are delicious cooked whole, just slicked with a bit of olive oil and grilled or roasted until tender and blackened in spots. You can eat the entire bean, except perhaps for a bit of a string on the outer pod.
The big difference in the two varieties is in the color of the dried seeds.
Here's my bed of fava beans in 2011, one side is planted with Violetto and the other side with Bianco.
This bed is about 5' by 20', so about 100 square feet, the same as in 2010, and the harvest came out to about the same, 112 pounds of fresh pods. This is about as tall as the plants get, somewhere around 4 feet. Each plant has multiple tillers (shoots) and they tend to stay upright, at least until we get a good wind storm which knocks them over. If you click on the photo and look closely you can see the stakes with strings strung between them to fence in the beans which keeps them from flopping into the path but it doesn't keep them from flopping on top of one another within the patch. It was always a chore to literally wade through the patch to harvest the beans.
Skip to 2013, (no favas in 2012 because of the new bed building project), and I've reduced the planting to only half of a bed. And this year I decided to grow only the purple seeded variety. It was definitely the earlier of the two varieties in 2010 and perhaps a bit so in 2011 so that gave it the edge over the Bianco variety when I chose between the two of them for exclusive space in the garden.
This year I had the brilliant idea to plant the favas in my tomato cages. At the end of tomato season I removed the cages and cut the plants to the ground, then I planted 3 fava seeds within the space of each cage and replaced the cages. I also ended up enclosing the cages with bird netting because the birds insisted on pecking at and digging up the newly emerging seedlings. The netting also helped to keep the growing shoots from poking out of the cages. I kept the netting on the cages until the plants started to set beans, longer than really necessary, but I'm still paranoid about rats getting in and munching my beans. (Come to think of it, the harvest in 2011 would have been higher but for the rats!) The cages necessitated a bit of contortionism at harvest time, but it was a huge improvement over the required wading through the beds in seasons past. I ended up with only 34 pounds of beans this year, only a third of the 2011 harvest. I'm not sure if the Violetto variety is less productive than the Bianco variety, I think not. I know that some of the plants ended up being shaded by some huge kale and cabbage plants so they didn't get as big or produce as many beans as the unshaded plants. And I lost a few plants to the birds. And I think that I didn't have as many plants as I would have had in the same area without the cages. And on top of all that, the harvest ended earlier than usual this year, perhaps because we've had a number of warmer than usual days this spring. Next year I'll sow 4 seeds per cage, get that netting up earlier, and be sure to not plant something next to the beans that will shade them - there's nothing I can do about the weather.
In my mild Mediterranean type climate (USDA zone 9b) I can sow my fava beans any time from perhaps as early as September through March. September can be iffy because we often have very warm weather in October and sometimes in November which can stress the plants. October and November are optimal, December and January are possible but a lot of seeds may rot if we get a lot of rain. I've found that plantings made any time from November through January produce a harvest at the about the same time, starting in April and continuing through May. For that reason I generally put off sowing my favas until late November or December so the plants don't take up space for so long. If some of the seeds rot there's still plenty of time to put in replacements. I've not tried earlier plantings because I don't generally have space open in the garden at that time. It should also be possible to sow favas in February and March, but I've not tried that either so I don't know when a harvest would start from plants started that late.
This variety of fava is widely available. My seeds came from Gourmet Seed International, but are easily found from many other seed companies. It's also offered as Extra Precoce A Grano Violetto and I think that "Negreta" is another name for the same variety or something very similar. Most seed companies claim this is an heirloom variety but I can't find any sort of history about it. It's been a good performer in my garden over the past few years and equally good in the kitchen. I highly recommend it.