Cultivation techniques Heirloom plants Seed saving and breeding

Bergeron Fava Bean

Here’s quite an unusual heirloom for northern New England – vica fava, also known as broad bean and horse bean. This is a different species than our more familiar snap and dry beans, phaseolus vulgaris, which have their origins here in the western hemisphere.

Bergeron fava blossoms

Favas are one of the oldest domesticated food plants, with origins in the Mediterranean region. They are quite widely grown and eaten elsewhere in the world, but are not very well known here.

I received this in the 1980s from Annette Bergeron, who, with her sister, left their family farm in Quebec to marry two brothers in West Burke, Vermont probably in the 1940s. Hence, I gave it her maiden name. She said in Quebec they called them “Monkey Beans” and in some years, when they could not afford to buy coffee, they would roast the favas and grind them up for a coffee substitute.

As an aside, I used to have a bean (phaseolus vulgaris – it was a bush dry bean) called Quebec Coffee (aka Canada Dot Eye), which makes me wonder if it was a common practice in Quebec to roast and grind various beans to make their hot beverages. If anyone knows anything about this, I’d love to hear about it.

Anyway, most likely these favas were brought over from France to Quebec.

It took me quite a while to get what they were all about. For years, I gave them prime real estate for phaseolus vulgaris – sunny, sandy well drained soil – and I was barely able to keep them alive. They would get totally covered with aphids, and have very few flowers, and hence very few beans. They were miserable, but I stubbornly kept them going, motivated by sentiment alone.

Bergeron fava blossoms

Finally, I got decent information about their cultivation (Thankyou Alan LePage – see “Radio Talk Show for Gardeners” at right). Favas, unlike phaseolus vulgaris beans, like cool and moist conditions (they are grown in the winter in the Mediterranean). This makes them quite valuable to me, because a large portion of my gardens are on the wet and clay-ey end of the spectrum. Heavy wet soil is no good for ants, so the aphid problem is nearly eliminated by growing favas in the wetter spots.

Bergeron fava blossoms

Here on the edge of zone 3 and 4, favas need to be sown absolutely as early as the ground can be worked so that they can set pods before summer’s heat (we sometimes do actually have hot weather in the summer, though sometimes not). I haven’t tried fall planting them yet, but that’s a possibility when I get to a point where I have plenty of seed to fool around with. Overwintering’s risky with our voracious mice and voles.

Bergeron is not a particulary early-maturing fava, and I can’t really say how it compares in other ways to other fava varieties. It’s the only fava I have any significant experience with. Favas self pollinate but are also insect pollinated, and very attractive to pollinators; so isolation is required to maintain the variety.

green shell stage

And so, what can you do with them, you may well be wondering. Check out Wikipedia and you’ll find all kinds of culinary suggestions. Favas are very delicious at the green shell stage braised, steamed or sauteed. I haven’t yet tried them as a substitute for chick peas in hummus, but that’s another way folks use them. As a dried bean, they have a tough skin, some varieties more so than others, so sometimes it is necessary to remove the skins before cooking or serving. I’ve used Bergeron either way – at the green shell stage the skin is usually tender enough to leave on.

Favas sprouts

I learned about sprouting the dried beans before cooking from an Egyptian garden blogger, and I really like them that way, braised with onion or garlic and simmered until tender. The skins come off the sprouted beans easily. In Egypt they are evidently widely eaten for breakfast.

Also, the young leaves are very good as braised greens, so I plant the favas thickly and harvest the thinnings, which are very welcome in early spring. Note the sticks in the photo below laid out to keep the vole patrol (2 cats) from digging up the newly planted bed…

Favas for greens

13 Responses to “Bergeron Fava Bean”

  1. Paula says:

    How nice to check on your site and see a new essay. You gave me fava bean seeds last June and I’m excited to try them this year. I might also try your anti-cat device — I’ve covered carrot beds with chicken wire before, to keep out our cats. Since you mentioned your voracious voles, I wonder if you have asparagus that the voles get to? This winter for the first time, I didn’t mulch the garden, party because I think the voles are happily wintering under all the mulch, and eating the asparagus roots…

  2. Extreme Gardener says:

    Thanks Paula – I’ve had my hands pretty full lately.
    I haven’t had noticeable trouble with voles in the asparagus, but I think they are bothering some of the other edible perennials. I never seem to get many decent sized tubers out of my cinnamon vine (Dioscorea batata – it’s a hardy yam) – even though it grows rampantly, and same for the dutch mice (lathyrus tuberosus – a perennial tuber bearing pea). Some areas in the garden suffer more than others.
    I find that mulch in the garden over winter is like building a vole restaurant, so I mostly don’t do that any more. Pity, because I love what it does for the soil, and the extra protection from the cold for over-wintering plants.
    Flame weeding all the paths between the garden beds helps a lot – for one thing it makes it easier for the cats to get the little */!#^*s.
    Yup, I like chicken wire for a cat deterrent, too. I have a collection of odd hunks of old fencing, sticks, branches etc. to throw on top of any newly seeded bed. I consider it just part of the planting process.

  3. Ottawa Gardener says:

    I used to chicken wire for squirrels! I hadn’t heard of sprouting before cooking before. Sounds like a great idea. I’m going to try it.

  4. Ben in MA says:

    Woa, you take a flame thrower to your weeds! Do you use mulch at all in your beds?

    Thanks for the blog — I love your writing (and gardening!) style.

  5. Extreme Gardener says:

    Hi Ben – yes, the extreme gardener is a flaming b****. Since I started flaming, I have been able to expand the garden significantly – I was always struggling with the vegetation in the paths, mostly witchgrass. (I never rototill.) I occasionally use organic mulch (grass, leaves, cardboard), in special situations, but mainly I compost like crazy and lay finished compost on the beds. It’s usually so wet here that flaming is quite safe. Also, the black exposed soil heats up much better, and there is better air circulation in the garden overall, both of which are normally more important here than keeping the moisture in.

  6. Ben in MA says:

    Lol, flame on then! Thanks for explaining everything — I wouldn’t have thought that compost would work to prevent weeds, but I guess that depends on a number of variables — and since you like to use volunteer crops, it sounds like it’s also a balancing act. I usually go light on mulching too, but I’m starting to rethink that. (In my Massachusetts garden, I end up having to water nearly every day most summers!)

  7. Ray says:

    Love the idea of sprouting the seeds first. Tell me, do you slip the skins off after the first overnight soak, or just let them come off over the sprouting period?
    I eat a lot of dry beans (Phaseolus vulgaris mostly and all homegrown) but should branch out into other legumes. Broad beans would be eminently suitable in my climate.
    And flaming weeds … I’d never thought of doing it. Another thing to try! Thanks.

  8. Extreme Gardener says:

    Hi Ray – I just let the skins come off during sprouting.

  9. Mike says:

    We just planted our fava beans the other day. Such an amazing bean to be able to thrive in the cold the way it does. Last year was a terrible one for regular beans in our garden but the favas produced really well for us. I was reading in an interesting book I picked up called Heirloom Vegetables by Sue Stuckland that mentioned how so many of the fava bean varieties are in danger of disappearing altogether.

  10. Ray says:

    Tried the sprouted beans in ful medames. Changes the flavour somewhat. Excellent!
    Thank you for the heads up.

  11. Sheryl at Providence Acres Farm says:

    I love the weed flaming idea! I have a terrible problem with weeds on the driveway and the fieldstone path! I think I’ll get out the propane torch tomorrow and give that a try!!

  12. Erik Landry says:

    Beans are doing well here in E. & W. Wash.
    I wish I could post some pictures…

    May be of interest to those with a bumber crop of favas;)

  13. windy says:

    This reply is a couple of years late I guess but just discovered that you can get a second crop of fava beans in the fall. After harvesting a good crop of beans, the plants were flattened by a strong wind, I just cut them off above the soil line and forgot about them. Just recently went out to deal with that neglected corner and found that the plants have regrown and have another crop of beans ready to pick.

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