Tag Archives: fava beans

Time to Plant Cover Crops

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There was a 50% chance of rain predicted for today (which resulted in 100% chance upon awakening this morning!) so yesterday I raced out into one of my flowerbeds and tucked away some fava beans. The ground in this flower bed is okay, but I can tell by the flowers that it certainly needs a boost. With hard clay soil, we need to stay on top of constantly amending and improving it. Just the other day I opened up a sketch book to find that I had made garden notes from when we had only been married a month! That was 11 years ago. I wrote that we had planted favas in October and by April they were only 3″ tall. That’s not tall above the surface, but I know by growing other things over the winter, that the roots had gained a firm foot. I remember to this day how big and healthy those favas grew once spring hit.

Since the idea of cover crops is to let the crops root system do your hard work, planting the seeds in fall is a good idea indeed. Many cover crops are called ‘accumulators’ meaning they draw nutrients up from deep down in the soil up to the part where the majority of roots are. In the case of favas, they draw up nitrogen. In years past I did a longer post on cover crops, even showing the nitrogen balls the fava roots collect. We try and plant cover crops every year, but last year, who knows, we must have gotten too busy or lazy. And we paid for it. Two early springs ago I went outside for 10 minutes at a time and dug up new ground and planted favas as I went. It was slow work, but we were rewarded with an incredible garden in that spot the following summer. This past summer, without a preceding fava cover crop, the garden was pale in comparison. This year, we won’t make the same mistake.

Cover crops also crowd out weeds. One daunting task of the spring garden is weeding the darn thing before you can start planting. If you have the foresight to plant cover crops in fall, the winter & early spring weeds will be crowded out. Since I was planting in my weed prone flowerbed, I planted an extra thick border along the back to aid the amaryllis in keeping the weeds at bay.

Yet another job of cover crops is to break up hard packed soil. As you probably know, there are some very devoted people who don’t believe in tilling the soil. There are others who break out their trusty rototiller every spring. And yet others who advise double or triple digging your garden bed with a shovel. As for us, we are experimenters. We try a little of everything and with this section of gardening I’m going with the no till method. My idea is to layer on compost and mulch and build from the top up. It’s still helpful to get down deep however and to do that, you can plant cover crops. Their roots will shoot way down, all those thousands of tiny root hairs. Then in spring when you cut it down, all those roots will die and wither creating little pockets of air in our hard clay soil. This will make it easier for worms to dig down further as well as new flower roots to grow down further.

So that’s my plan for these little bean seeds. Are you planting a cover crop this year? Which kind and do you plant in fall or early spring?

more about our cover crops

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favas for dinner

waiting to become dinner
I don’t cook very often, only a few times a week, but when I do I love to try and cook with what I find growing in our yard. Now that spring is here, there are more options, like fava beans and mustard greens and mint and even a some rag tag dandelion greens. These were all steamed and sauteed with fettucini.
just picked
The weather this weekend was crazy warm. Well into the 80’s here, so Scott was planting up a storm. In fact I lost tract of all the seeds he planted so I’ll have to pin him down and have him list out everything that’s now in the ground.

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favas & vetch as cover crops


Every fall we plant a new cover crop. Why plant something we can’t really eat? Because not only does it make our otherwise brown winter garden green, but it’s quite beneficial to the soil. Cover crops hold down soil from winters erroding rains, they build up nutrients in the soil, and come spring they provide plenty of material (called biomass if you want to talk like a pro) for composting.

Each year Scott tries a different combination of cover crops to bring new nutrients to our soil. This year it was fava beans and purple vetch.

What I find pretty amazing about using cover crops is that when you pull up the roots you can actually see the little balls of nitrogen that have formed on the roots. Here’s the roots of the fava beans, do you see those little balls attached to the roots?
Fava Roots
What is also amazing is the immediate action of that added nitrogen. Our fava bean patch and lettuce patch became interplanted at one end and the lettuce that was growing amidts the favas was about three times larger than the lettuce growing on it’s own. I wish I had taken a picture of it before our chickens found it and made themselves a salad lunch.

One thing new we learned this year about growing fava beans as a cover crop is that you should till the crop under before the plant has created beans because the nutrients are then brought up from the soil into the making of the beans. Previously we had waited for the beans to form so that we could eat them ourselves. This year we’ll most likely till the majority of them and eat a few of them. They are too tasty to till them all!


Our chest high favas also make for great exploring for little ones:
Chasing Chickens through Fava Beans
Here is the purple vetch
Vetch
and it’s roots
Vetch Roots
Vetch actually gives a bit more nitrogen to the soil, but it grows in a more matted form so it’s hard to do interplantings if you wanted to do those like we did (inadvertently with the lettuce).

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