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We've gathered two articles that discuss a crop that is new to many of us - fava beans. Find out why these farmers choose this crop, and whether it might be of value to you.


by Simon DeBoer

R.R. #2, Teeswater, On. N0G 2S0 (519) 357-1919

In 1991 I set out to find an alternative protein source which would be adaptable to a style of farming in which I can be a good steward of all the resources available. For the past three years fava beans have filled that need.

The fava bean (also called faba, horse, bell, or tick beans), are botanically known as Vicia faba minor. An annual legume with a stout tap root, it can fix more nitrogen in two months than any other crop, as long as the soil temperature is below 60 degrees F. Fava beans fix approximately 150 to 220 lbs./acre. (The extensive nodules on the roots shows why it does this so well.) Plant them as early as possible, since light frosts won't hurt the young plants. Favas are usually the first thing I plant.

My first step was to multiply my initial two acre of seed. Since then I have continued to use my own seed each year, although I have begun selecting from food varieties. This is to find a larger bean.

With a planting rate of 150-200 lbs./acre, most weeds cannot compete - especially since no fertilizer is required. (I do apply 50 lbs./acre of soft rock phosphate.) For planting I use a grain drill. Shortly after planting until harvest in late August - early September, a dense, dark green crop grows. Plants are usually four to five feet high, (six to seven feet in '92). Flowers begin at the two feet mark, and form in clusters. The pods, clustered and pointing upward, turn black before harvest.

The first two years I swathed. This year I swathed some, and straight combined the rest with a scour clean. The end result: 1.5 to 2.0 tons/acre of beans dry enough to store right off the combine. The beans are fed by putting 150 lbs. in each load of corn silage (approx. 5 - 6 T). Grain rations are also supplemented with rolled beans.

My overall observations and the results of feed tests have been positive. With no early frost worries, favas mean early planting, and early harvesting. Although I haven't tried it, I think they would make a good cover crop after spring grains, in combination with oil radish or rye perhaps. So far I've used them after corn and grain, and before winter wheat. Favas can be grown without chemicals. The seed isn't expensive. No processing of the bean is required other than rolling or putting through a hammermill. They have an amino acid balance that compliments small grains. When measured on its own, favalage for the silo provided 17% protein on a D.M. basis. It was mixed with 2nd cut alfalfa this past year, where the `wet' favalage and dry alfalfa work well together. The beans themselves provide a 1:4 Ca:Phos ratio and low soluble protein, around the 30% mark.

I would be grateful for any advice to improve what I've done. I'm also willing to be of help to anyone interested in seed to multiply out for themselves.


By David Walton

R.R. #1, Chatsworth N0H 1G0 (519) 794-3159

Last spring I met Simon DeBoer at the Walkerton OMAF office, while attending an environmental plan workshop. Simon mentioned that he grew faba beans. We talked a bit about them. As I thought about it more, I decided I would like to grow some, so I called Simon and got some seed from him.

I planted by beans on April 30 and harvested them on Sept. 13. The advantage of faba beans is that they can be planted as early as you can work the land, and harvested by late August. I could have planted earlier and also harvested earlier. They must be planted at about 160 lbs./acre. They grow thickly and are quite vigorous, and manage to out-compete the weeds. All summer they provided a very good stand with only a very few mustard plants showing through. Part of the field had a twitch problem and this hurt the beans some. They were shorter, and their yield was much lower there. Where there wasn't much twitch, the beans were 5' tall and yielded quite heavily. My overall yield was probably just under 1 tonne/acre, but I am sure that you could get the 2 tonnes/acre that Simon got with his first crop.

Faba beans are very hard and can therefore be harvested when some are still green without damaging many beans. They can be swathed or straight combined. One big advantage over other types of beans is that the bottom pods are at least a foot from the ground. A couple of heavy rainstorms put part of the field down some, but they weren't flat on the ground. They have stalks that are as much as 1/2", but this mass of material goes through the combine easily.

I intend to grow a lot more faba beans next year because they make a good protein source for feed, and give the soil a good boost of nitrogen. I will probably plant them after 2 years of grain, and follow them with 1 or 2 years of grain.

Copyright 1993 Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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