I’m not a vegetarian but I do love dried beans, so last summer I set out to grow a few different varieties and try all that home-grown bean-cuisine had to offer. It turns out there was quite a bit I didn’t know about growing and cooking the perfect bean. Dried beans are a relatively easy crop for the home gardener and although they are inexpensive to buy at the store, the home grown version was a revelation in flavor and freshness.
Here are the 10 interesting things about growing and cooking with dried beans.
1. Plant seeds when the soil is well warmed in late spring / early summer and space bush beans 6 inches apart and climbing beans 10 inches apart. If the soil is too cool when you sow the seed the beans will sit and use all their energy stores, leaving nothing left to grow with when the soil warms up.
2. Beans take less energy and water to grow and improve soil health. Because they fix nitrogen from the air into the soil, they require less artificial fertiliser, and they grow well in dry conditions, using half the amount of water required to produce animal proteins.
3. Annual heirloom beans are self-fertile and rarely cross, so don’t eat them all — a few dried beans are perfect for saving to grow again the following season. Perennial runner beans and broad beans are not self-fertile so stagger plantings of different varieties.
4. For storing as dried beans, let the pods mature until they start to yellow and wither. If the weather is dry, you can leave them on the vine until the seeds rattle inside crispy brown pods. If you are going to get rain, harvest the pods when they start to yellow and dry them on racks inside.
5. The United Nations has declared 2016 "The Year of the Pulse" to celebrate and promote the consumption of beans, lentils and peas around the globe and their website has some wonderful recipe ideas to try.
6. They are low in fat and high in fibre and protein. Just half a cup of lentils will give you the same protein as 2 cups of rice.
7. Beans make you feel full for longer, releasing energy slowly as your body breaks down the complex carbs rather than the quick energy hit you get from simple carbs in sugars.
8. Dried beans triple in size during soaking and cooking, so what looks like a meager harvest from your garden actually goes a long way in your kitchen.
9. Soaking dried beans reduces cooking time. Discarding the soaking liquid and cooking in fresh water may reduce flatulence, but some say this is a load of hot air and loses flavor in the bean. I tried both and didn’t notice an appreciable difference!
10. Even dried beans have a “best-before” date. Over two years old and dried beans can lose their creamy texture and be hard to cook. I compared some freshly dried red kidney beans from my garden with some store bought dried red kidney beans and there was no comparison. The fresh dried beans cooked up to a beautiful creamy texture while the store bought beans took twice as long to cook and were still tough.
I’ve enjoyed making bean refried beans, baked beans, French cassoulet and bean soups with my harvest. When planning your next summer garden, consider making room to grow some shell-out bean varieties to liven up your winter menu.