Sierra Club Magazine had a fantastic article this month on some unique edibles to grow in your garden (click on the image of the edible to see the details). On the list was fava beans, figs, kumquats, small eggplants, and hardy kiwi. In zone 4, figs and kumquats will need a container and be transferred inside during the winter, but the fava beans, eggplants, and hardy kiwi are very doable.
I am a huge fan of edamame (young soybeans), and it sounds like fava beans are pretty similar when you harvest them young. Based on that above article, and some other reading I’ve done online, the plants are very productive, and have been cultivated for centuries. The plants are very cold-hardy, and as I perused some online seed catalogs I found that some varietals of fava bean are hardy down to 15°F! In fact, fava beans do better in cool conditions, and it may even get too hot for them here, too soon. Crazy, huh? It seems like the hardier varieties might be ideal to plant as early as March…and they might be a good plant very late in the season, like in September. NPR has an article describing the process to prepare fava beans for eating. After calling many of the local gardening stores, I finally bought some fava beans seeds at Bachman’s. Although there’s no sign of the plants above the ground, I took a peak at one of them yesterday and it is definitely germinating. Hooray! Does anyone out there have experience with fava beans?
I had never heard of hardy kiwi before this season, and I’ve noticed a few garden centers are carrying them this year. With a fenced-in backyard, vining plants are doable and so I might have to consider it (even though I have a slight allergy to tropical kiwi…my guests can have them if I can’t!). The Wikipedia article suggests that cats are known for destroying the plants, however, because they are super-attracted to the scent of it. We do have a few cats in the neighborhood, so that is something to seriously consider. The Friends School Plant Sale will be carrying hardy kiwi this year! Keep in mind you need both a male and female plant to get fruit, and UMN Extension wrote an article about growing hardy kiwi, and says it takes a couple years for them to start fruiting.