Over time we learned that planting a winter cover crop has many benefits to garden production that includes soil improvement and weed control while attracting beneficial insects that help pollination and feed on the "bad bugs." There are a variety of cover crops (including beans, peas, clover or grasses), but whatever we choose must be planted in October so they can be replaced in early spring with those bountiful summer vegetables.
Currently we're harvesting our forest of fava beans by incorporating them into the soil where they'll break down and release nutrients into our veggie garden plots. This “green manure” adds valuable nitrogen and organic matter for healthier vegetable plants that will follow. For now, we'll leave the cuttings on top of the soil to prevent weeds while they slowly decompose, but soon we'll dig them in before planting the new vegetables.
Either bell beans or fava beans do a great job of enriching the soil, and sometimes they're called "broad beans" or "horse beans." The bell beans (Vicia faba) are a smaller-seeded fava and a bit cheaper. But the added benefit of favas is the tasty bean that can be picked and shelled for the table, so planting a mixture of beans and peas is a good idea.
Both varieties of favas are native to Africa and south Asia where they have neen a staple diet for centuries and extensively cultivated. So why not here? And besides, harvest time can be lots of fun for a four-year-old who gets real enjoyment from wandering through and getting lost in the fava forest. Where's Ava?