The garlic has just begun its sun salutations. Bouquets of fava bean leaves are catching the spring rains as they emerge on sturdy stems. The promise of these two early summer delicacies is just coming into leaf, but already it’s blooming in my mind. What awaits is a rich, savory saute of succulent beans and fiery garlic in butter and oil.
So it’s a little early yet, but I’ll share one of my favorite recipes:
Fava Beans in Spring Garlic
4 handfuls of fava bean pods (pick when the pods begin to droop on the plant; use immediately, as the bean’s sugars will turn to starch in 1-2 days)
2 heads spring garlic (pull while tops are fully green and perhaps 12 inches high; choose plants that have ended up overly close to their neighbors, thus enabling the adjacent plant to fully develop its bulb)
3 T olive oil
3 T butter
Shell the beans, and drop the bean seeds all at once into a pan of boiling water (enough to cover). Swirl and cook for a very short time, perhaps 30 seconds, until the beans begin to turn brighter green. Use a sieve to quickly remove the beans and drop them into a bowl of icy water to stop the cooking.
As the beans cool, pluck them from the water and pinch off their rubbery outer skin. It will be loose and easily removed, the bean slippery within. Use a knife to cut a slot in the skin if necessary to pop the bean out. Discard the skins and reserve the beans to dry.
Rinse and trim the garlic. Discard the outer green leaves. The young garlic bulb will not have differentiated cloves, and you will use the entire thing, plus some of the greens. Roughly chop the garlic into half-inch chunks.
Warm the olive oil in a saute pan to medium heat and add the garlic to the sizzling oil. Cook the garlic for a minute or so, tossing regularly, until limp and giving off a pungent odor.
Add the fava beans. Add the butter. As the butter melts, stir to coat the favas. Reduce heat if sizzling and cook for up to five minutes, testing the beans for doneness. When the beans have softened and can easily be speared with a fork, remove from heat.
Sprinkle with sea salt and eat immediately. Serves 2 people.
Worth waiting for
I love this recipe for its simplicity, and its fresh taste of spring. In fact, watching these plants develop is one of the joys of the spring season.
Young garlic, pulled before the bulb has had a chance to differentiate into cloves, has an onionlike texture and a flavor that is equal parts spiciness and grassiness.
Fresh fava beans, freed from their tough, grey seed coats, seem to be equal parts sugar and substance. Once cooked, they retain a meaty toothsomeness like the interior of a firm baked potato, but with only a light starchiness.
It’s too soon to be whipping up this recipe, but I mentioned it in my column in the current issue of Edible Seattle. (If you’ve come to this site because of the column, thank you for supporting that fine magazine!) You might not have these two crops growing in your garden right now. Plan to grow them next year, and this spring, look for fresh favas and young garlic at your local farmers market. The dish is worth the wait.
Grab that sliver of sunlight between showers and get out into the garden. Fleece up and tidy the shed on a rainy day. Scratch out some thoughts on next year, with notes on this year’s successes and duds.
There are some November tasks for us Maritime Northwest gardeners. But this season is also a time to take it easy and practice “slow gardening.” Moving at slug speed on these chilly wet days seems most appropriate.
Granted a glorious Sunday afternoon last weekend, I rallied to rake out the last open space in my vegetable beds and plant garlic. Three varieties, six rows, 48 cloves. That should keep us in spicy sautés for most of next year.
The rest of the open space got filled up with favas. I had a box full of the thumbnail-sized beans saved from last spring’s harvest. They sat for six months waiting for this occasion, so I could no longer deny them their special purpose: Get under the soil and send up next year’s crop!
Favas are one of the few vegetables whose seed will sprout in our chilly November soil. Garlic, of course, needs a little chilling to trigger its emergence. I’ll see the fava shoots in a few weeks, but the garlic won’t poke through the straw mulch until January. It always warms my heart to see it during that coldest month, just as I am starting to notice the days lengthening beyond the solstice. Another season beginning.
A few more tasks that are getting some slow action on these short November days:
Sorting the bees. Yes, you read that right. I’ve had a box of Orchard Mason bees wrapped loosely in a mesh bag on my basement shelf since I brought them in in early fall. Now it is time for them to be transferred to the refrigerator for the winter.
The task is simple and rewarding. First, I open the stacked grid that holds the bee nesting tubes, paper sleeves in which they laid their eggs and mudded up the holes. I pull out the paper tubes and carefully peel them open to reveal the bees in their cocoons. (Since the eggs were laid in the spring, the eggs have hatched, the bee larvae have eaten the pollen deposits left with their eggs, and the larvae spun their little cocoons.)
Along with the bees in those tubes are a couple of interlopers that need to be removed. Spiders have laid their eggs in some of the tubes. No big deal, except I don’t really want those hatching on my basement shelves.
More concerning are the mites: hundreds of mites have glommed on to the bee cocoons. If left with the cocoons, they would attack the bees when they emerged, and decimate the population.
Fortunately, right now the mites and the bees are pretty dormant, so as I pull the cocoons away from the paper tubes, I brush off all the mites.
The clean cocoons are then counted and stored in a plastic bottle inside a plastic bag in my refrigerator. The bottle has some vents cut in the lid, and the plastic bag contains a damp paper towel that I’ll refresh from time to time. Refrigerators are low-humidity places, and my bee cocoons need a bit of moisture to survive.
Weeding the beds. Winter weeds grow more slowly, but so do your vegetable plants. And with less nutrition available in the soil, your winter vegetables don’t want the competition from weed roots. I clear a space at least a few inches around the base of each winter veggie. I also run the fork along the edges of the raised beds and pull out any grass that is encroaching. It seems to really spread if left to take hold over the winter.
Some of the less harmful, more beautiful weeds like viola tricolor (Johnny Jump-up) get left in the beds between the plants. They can be good filler to shield the bed from winter rains, and I can use the flowers to brighten up my winter salads.
Mulching the fall and overwintering veggies. After I weed, I try to tuck in some straw or other light mulch around the base of the plants.
This provides a number of benefits:
And it looks nice!
Servicing the watering devices. I garden in a mostly mild winter climate, but sometimes we’ll get a hard freeze or a week of snow, so I need to protect against freeze damage.
First, I make sure my drip irrigation system is drained to avoid having the pipes burst. (Water is one of the few things that expands when it freezes.) I also check the downspouts and gutters to make sure there’s nothing clogging up the system that fills my water catchment. I clean and store my ceramic bird bath so it doesn’t crack. Finally, draining the hoses and storing them in the garage each winter will help them last many more years.
I appreciate the slower gardening days of winter. I can review some of these tasks as I peer through a rain-streaked window, looking to the western sky for that actionable opening of blue.
Your summer crops are coming out of the garden now, and finally there is space available to put in some winter vegetables. But alas, the nursery shelves are bare and the days are getting too short and cool for anything to germinate, right? Well, no.
Late September and through October is the perfect time to get some overwintering beans and peas started, while putting in a lot of edible alliums that will spice up your meals next summer.
Get an early start on your spring peas by planting them now. A row of bush peas sown now will get a couple of sets of leaves before winter, and then will need a cloche or cold frame to protect them. In early spring, pull away the cover and they will take off, providing you peas well ahead of the spring plantings. Try Sugar Ann or Cascadia, snap peas, or Oregon Sugar Pod II, a snow pea.
Fava beans are one of my go-to winter plants. I often put them in where my tomatoes
or peppers have been. If you keep your late=season or cherry tomato plants alive for that last gasp of fall fruit, favas might be the only thing that will sprout once you finally pull them out.
Fava beans can be planted throughout October and into November for a May or June harvest. I love the large-seeded varieties like Aquadulce or Broad Windsor for eating, but I also plant a smaller-seeded type as a cover crop.
Once they’ve gotten a good start and are a few inches high, favas should not need any special protection in the winter. An exception is if the weather turns sharply cold unexpectedly. A freak early frost can turn beans to mush; if you see it
coming, throw floating row cover over the plants to protect them.
The cover type will be cut down just as they are starting to flower in spring, having protected your garden bed from the winter rains and even nurtured it a bit by adding nitrogen through a process that fixates it on their roots.
Onions, garlic and other alliums are also planted in late fall in the Maritime garden.
Transplant starts of Walla Walla or other sweet bulbing varieties in October, for a harvest about June. Bunching onions, or those desired for scallions, can be started now and thinned as needed.
The Egyptian Walking Onion is a unique topsetting variety that will give you green onions twice a year and self-sow its bulblets near the parent plant.
Shallots and garlic are divided and planted in late October, for harvests that will start in mid-June, depending upon the varieties.
For all the alliums, I dig in a lot of compost when planting, then cover the bed loosely with a straw mulch for the winter. Seeing garlic shoots emerge from the straw mulch is one of the most hopeful signs in the garden in January.