By: PAUL McKAY
Many years ago, November arrived and in absolute panic I went running to my neighbours to ask what I should be planting. I had spent all summer long weeding, harvesting and eating: the winter arrived and I thought that was it – back to the supermarket until spring.
Then I looked up from the sunbed and noticed activity all around. Everyone who was still able to walk was beavering away, toiling the soil. I obviously needed advice. I soon learned that up here in Monchique, if people grow nothing else they always grow favas!
Favas, fava beans or broad beans, call them what you will, Hannibal Lector’s chosen accompaniment to some gently sautéed liver and a glass of chianti are the staple winter crop of the Algarve.
They are one of the few crops that if planted at the correct time, can be ignored for the next four months and returned to in April for harvesting. They grow quickly enough to suppress weeds, they receive enough water from the winter rain, generate an intoxicating aroma when in flower, ensuring insect pollination and only call for any attention when they need to be eaten.
What’s more, they actually benefit the vegetable plot by fixing nitrogen into the soil. Fava beans are the original win-win crop!
How to grow broad beans
The beans for planting can be saved from the year before or purchased at any of the Algarve weekly markets or in agricultural stores. Below is what I have tended to do and it has always worked well.
You need to choose a site that receives plenty of winter sunshine and has averagely fertile soil.
Dig the ground over well and level into shallow trenches, with the centre of each trench about 4cm from the next.
Soak the soil on a warm sunny morning, prod a hole about 5cm deep, and drop a bean in. Plant beans each at about 10cm from its neighbour. I notice many of my neighbours give a bigger gap but drop two beans in each hole and let them grow like this, I guess each plant helps support the other.
If there is a prolonged dry period you may need to water, otherwise do nothing more until harvest time.
Harvesting English style
Keep an eye on the pods growing on the plant. When they begin to swell, pick them at this immature stage. The fresh green bean should be removed from the pod and cooked in the same way as garden peas.
Leave the pods on the plant to reach maturity when the pods become quite hard and shiny. Then collect them all, take the beans from the pod and allow them to dry in the sun. They can then be cooked in the same way as other dried beans.
Once the beans have been harvested, the plants can be dug back into the ground where they will rot down to enrich the soil.