(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 4 of the Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)
GARDENING IN SITKA
By Lori Adams
A WORD ABOUT GROWING BEANS
In general, Sitka is just not bean-growing country, but there is one bean that actually does really well here — the fava bean (also called the broad bean). Up until a few years ago I had never even heard of fava beans, but had read that they’re grown in England so I figured they would grow here too and gave them a try. The results were excellent.
Fava beans are from the legume family. As a rule the members of this family grow pods with seeds in them; peas, beans, alfalfa, clover and peanuts are the most commonly known legumes. Legumes can do something that other plants can do — by working in a cooperative partnership with the Rhizobia bacteria found in the soil they can pull nitrogen right out of the air.
Nodules form on the roots in this nitrogen-fixing process and the plants store nitrogen for pod formation. When you plant beans in a garden bed for the first time there is a good chance that the proper strain of this bacteria will not be present in the soil, so it is important to “inoculate” the seeds. Inoculant bacteria can be purchased in powder form and sprinkled onto the seeds at planting time.
Before planting fava beans prep the soil with plenty of organic material that is not too rich with nitrogen (cured compost or beach mulch) and lime (seashell sand) and prepare some type of support to put in place to keep mature plants off of the ground. I used wire tomato cages. Fava bean plants get about five feet tall and although they are fairly sturdy they can eventually get knocked down by the wind and rain.
You can start seeds indoors mid-March and transplant them outdoors mid-April or just sow them directly outdoors mid-April. Either way it’s best to dampen the seeds and sprinkle them with inoculant before planting. The seeds are quite large and should be planted an inch deep. Final spacing in the garden should be at least 12 inches apart. Floating row cover is not necessary but can speed up maturity.
Fava beans bloom just like peas do with beautiful blooms similar to lupine flowers. These flowers are self pollinating. Pods soon appear and can be picked while very small and cooked and eaten whole like snap peas. Once the pods get a little size to them they are wooly and fibrous and unpleasant to eat whole, so let them get to be full sized before harvesting them for the beans. Full-sized pods contain anywhere from 1-5 beans in them.
Cooking fava beans is rather labor intensive but worth it. Shuck the beans and discard the pods, blanch the beans and then “pop” each inner bean out of its waxy covering. The inner bean will fall out in two halves and can be eaten cold or hot. As with other vegetables, it is good to harvest the mature pods regularly so the plant will continue to produce more pods. Besides, the longer pods are left on the vine the tougher the beans will be.
I think any attempt to leave beans on the vine in hopes of harvesting them as shelling beans is futile as they will probably just mold. I have read that the tips of the plants themselves are also edible as a leafy green but I have never tried them. A word of warning: some people of Mediterranean descent are allergic to fava beans.
I used to grow Fava Beans in the u-pick garden but very few of my customers were familiar with them so I had trouble selling them. Rather than taking up valuable garden space growing something my customers don’t want I decided to concentrate on growing vegetables that they do want.
It is possible to grow green beans here but very, very difficult. The plants simply do not like to get wet and slugs just love, love, love them. If grown outside they MUST be protected from the rain, but if enclosed with a covering they are very likely to rot, so any cover needs to have the sides open for ventilation. I have had very little success growing green beans, but they are so delicious fresh from the vine that I just keep beating my head against the wall trying.
Brought to you by Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden
2103 Sawmill Creek Road
Open June-August / Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
747-6108 or 738-2241