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8 April 2009

Loving legumes

Green beans and peas growing together.
All photos will enlarge if you click on them.

Legumes - peas and beans - are very versatile and valuable crops. Different varieties of legumes can be grown in hot or cold climates, they're quite easy to grow, the seeds are large so saving seeds isn't difficult and both peas and beans can be eaten fresh or dry. I see them as an excellent backyard crop because you can feast on them fresh as they grow through the season, but if you have too many (and you will) they can be blanched and frozen, canned with a pressure canner or, my favourite, dried and stored in the cupboard. I don't have a pressure canner so when we have too many beans or peas, they're either frozen or dried outside, with no special equipment, and stored in the pantry.

If you have a problem growing peas or beans it will usually be in the first week. Both seeds do not like being wet and they don't like being transplanted, so sow directly into the ground, when all chance of frost has passed. Sow your seeds into moist, not wet, soil, when you know it won't rain for a few days. Apart from that, you might get a bit of rust in very humid weather, otherwise they'll probably grow quite well for you. If your season is short, grow dwarf beans or snow peas, they take less time to grow to maturity. Do not grow either peas or beans near onions, leeks or garlic, they're not good companions.

Snow peas.

There are so many different varieties of peas and beans it's difficult to know which to grow. So if you're not sure, decide what you want to use the legumes for and go from there. For example, if you want fresh green beans there are a large variety available. We tend to plant Blue Lake or Lazy Housewife beans if we want a climbing green bean, and dwarf beans for a delicious green bean that doesn't take long to mature and doesn't need staking. All those beans are fine as a fresh bean and for drying, but the Lazy Housewife bean dries really well. So I guess my preference for a good all round bean is Lazy Housewife. Be aware though that it will need a study support - if you grow beans well, the vine and the growing beans become very heavy.

Beans newly germinated and starting to attach to their supports.

In most soils, legumes fix atmospheric nitrogen in the soil. Which means it processes the nitrogen in the atmosphere and stores it in the roots, where it eventually moves into the soil. So when your crops have been harvested, cut the vines off and leave the roots in the ground. You can plant any nitrogen loving plant - like spinach, lettuce or chard, as a companion plant or a follow up crop.

Madagascar beans.

Peas are always a favourite here. I love peas and often eat them raw in the garden. We plant a lovely snow pea called Oregon Sugar, our green peas are usually Telephone peas; both these peas are climbers and need strong support to grown on. We also grow pigeon peas. These are a large bush/small tree pea that will grow well in drought conditions. When dried, the peas can be used to make pea soup, but when they're green you can eat them like a fresh cooked pea. Chickens love pigeon peas and so do parrots. When we have pigeon peas growing here the King parrots send out the message that "peas are on at the Hetzels!" and they come to eat in the late afternoon. We love seeing them eating our peas because so much of their natural habitat has been "developed", we're happy to help them find food they like.

Green and yellow split peas, chick peas and poppy seeds in the front row.

If you want to store beans or peas in the pantry, wait until they go brown on the vine, if there is chance of rain or snow, pick them all and lay them in a sheltered position until they go brown and crack open. Make sure they're all completely dry before storing in a glass jar in the pantry. For the best nutrition, use your dried legumes within three months. You can still use them after that but the nutrition in them will lessen unless you can seal them in a pack with no air. You can also freeze dried legumes.

Madagascar beans are the wall of beans in the top middle of this photo, green beans and peas are growing alongside.

If you have no room nor the time, to garden, you can buy a wide variety of dried beans and peas very cheaply. They make a good substitute for meat, because when you combine legumes with a grain - baked beans on toast or cracked wheat salad with green beans, they are a complete protein.

My favourite dry pea recipe is pea and ham soup. I think I could live on that and never want for anything else. We have recently come back to eating a little bit of meat after many years of not eating it. The reason we now eat meat is for the natural gelatine and enzymes in some meat. This meat tends to need long slow cooking, just like the recipe for pea and ham soup.

Pea and ham soup
Ham bone or ham hock
Salt and pepper
700 grams (1½ lb) yellow and/or green split peas
Two large onions - chopped
Two carrots - sliced
Two sticks celery - chopped
One bay leaf

If possible, soak the peas in plain water overnight. Add all the ingredients to a large stockpot, filling it almost to the top with water. Bring to the boil, then simmer with the lid on, for two hours. Remove the bone from the soup, continue to cook the soup while the soup bone cools down. When it's cool enough to handle, take the meat off the bone, cut it into smaller pieces and add to the soup. The peas will have dissolved to make a thick soup. Test for seasoning, add more if necessary - it tends to need a fair bit, but remember it is a large amount of soup. Remove the bay leaf and serve.

If you have chickens, give them the soup bone to pick on, they'll love you for it.


General information about legumes - storage, types etc.
Green bean recipes.
Vegetarian bean recipes.
Bean basics
Photos and uses for various beans.
Photos and uses for various peas.
Pea recipes.
Chick pea curry.
Two pea salad.
Plump pea dumplings.
Storage life of dried foods.


  1. I love Legumes too!
    Thanks for the quick and easy links, we should all be paying you to do the research for us. Makes life a lot easier around here. Hope you have a great day.

  2. Hi Rhonda,

    I can't wait till I have a proper garden to plant out some peas and beans. Can you tell me anything about growing chick peas and kidney beans. Do you plant and dry them or do you buy them from the shop. I'm not to sure about these two and as we use the tinned ones fairly often I think it would be nice to grow our own. I also used to love just eating them fresh and from the garden.

    Blessings Gail

  3. Great post! Our peas here in West Virginia are just coming up out of the ground, we are hoping for a lot as my picky 4 year old loves them! Love the new setup of your blog, thanks for the great resource!

  4. I love to sprout a few green lentils at a time(A tablespoon) and use them with everything...very easy to do and I eat them at least twice a day....very nutritious too. And we LOVE homemade baked beans and soups.
    Thank you :)

    Sue Caissy

  5. I love that huge rainwater tank in the first photo, can anyone recommend a source in the states on the east coast? The closest I've found is Texas and it's a fortune to ship to Va. Thanx

  6. Hi Rhonda Jean,
    We too Love legumes.Cook them often!
    I see you have violets.I made violet jelly ,if you'd like to check it out on my April 3rd post.
    Have a great wk.

  7. None of our peas made it to the pot last year. The kids and I picked them every afternoon then would sit around the rabbit cage eating them while feeding the rabbit the empty pods lol

  8. Your garden is so lovely. I love seeing plants of all kinds growing. Vegetables and fruits can often be just as lovely as flowers. I want to have a good garden, but it will not be happening this year. I will just have to plan for next year. Thanks for sharing your pictures

  9. Rhonda:

    Thanks for this post. We are getting ready to plant our heirloom seeds and I am excited about some of our choices in the peas and legume area.


  10. Dear Rhonda,
    first thing at 05.30h in the morning I’m sitting down with a cup of tea, cat on my lap,
    enjoying your blog, it’s so helpful in many ways!

    Lots of love. Have a nice day.

    Claudia from Germany

  11. Good Evening Rhonda,
    Number one son brought a lovely ham hock yesterday ready for me to make soup tomorrow. My granddaughter eat all the peas last year right out of the garden, we never got to cook any of them. Sowing lots more this year.


  12. What a timely post, I have bought several lots of pea and bean seeds this year and I've probably been overwatering them so far (oops) We eat a mostly vegetarian diet so your tips on drying them will definitely help us eat more frugally come autumn!!

    Loving the new look although I miss the picture of the garden gate, is it still here somewhere?

    Maxine x

  13. Hi Rhonda,

    I was diagnosed with high cholesterol and rather than using pills I'm trying to control my cholesterol by changing my diet. My doctor has given me six months to reduce it. Turns out fiber is a great way to reduce cholesterol and legumes are super high in fiber.
    What I do now is cook up some beans once or twice a week and keep them in the fridge. I add them to soup and salads as a substitute for meat, eggs and cheese, all high in cholesterol. They are filling, good for you, cheap and really tasty.


  14. I live in an apartment and desperately wanted to grow peas so I could stir fry the greens (MY FAVORITE. I tried in pots and that didn't work. Your blog has inspired me to grow something at my parents house. I know my kids will love it and it will give my parents something to call me about...everyother hour..;) Your blog is an inspiration. I am so glad I found it today!! I'll be checking for new posts daily.

  15. Hi, New digs are so different it takes me a minute to feel at home.

    Say a query for you please...
    Why would my cabbage be bolting?
    I have one that is begining to show it is ready to form a mass center plant the others are forming the most beautiful flowers. I thought perhaps they are to close together.
    Any ideas?
    Thank you.
    You must be getting so excited at the wedding , your yard is amazing, they will never forget what you and Hanno are doing for them.

  16. Hello everyone.

    Gail, I buy my dried chick peas and we don't eat kidney beans, we generally eat the dried lazy housewife or I buy dried navy beans.

    Thanks Lib, I'll be over there soon.

    Maxine, the garden gate photo - it's our chook run gate, is here somewhere I'll put it up when I find it again.

    Donetta, cabbages usually bolt when the weather is too warm for them, but I doubt that is true where you are.


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