Loving legumes

8 April 2009

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.