Growing your own pulses
by Daphne Lambert
Pulses are dried beans and peas and have been an essential part of the human diet for centuries. Historically, dried beans and peas were staples in the diet of most people in the British Isles, but fell out of favour 100 years ago when we started to eat meat and dairy on a much more regular basis.
Beans and peas are a good source of plant based protein. They are a rich source of fibre and resistant starch so nourish the gut microbiome. In addition they are a climate friendly crop; legume flowers attract beneficial insects, and because a legume plant has the ability to obtain much of its nitrogen through partnerships with soil-dwelling bacteria, beans and peas remove fewer nutrients from the soil compared with most other crops. For all these reasons they are making a comeback in the British diet with growing number of commercial crops but you could also grow your own.
Dried beans and peas store easily and last for ages. Stocking your larder with a selection of pulses is an excellent way to help ensure you have something to eat and share whatever shock befalls our food systems.
How to grow
Beans like warm conditions (55°F) especially during germination and early growth. Ensure all chance of frost has passed before sowing outside. If you raise plants indoors handle very carefully when you transplant. Peas are more tolerant of cooler weather, but never sow into cold, wet soil, warm the soil with cloches before sowing and protect seedlings with horticultural fleece. Some broad bean cultivars can be sown in sheltered sites in autumn but the main sowing period is March and April. Supports should always be in place before sowing or planting out. Supports can be as simple or elaborate as you like, but whilst beans will easily twine their way up a pole peas will also need lateral support. Wigwams are a really good choice for beans especially if your garden is windy. Both beans and peas will grow successfully in tubs full of fertile soil.
How to harvest & store
Beans and peas for drying are harvested when they are fully mature within their pods. You can pick dried-out pods as they appear, taking them inside to a dry place to continue drying. It’s probably easier to harvest in one go but rather than uprooting the entire plants, cut them off at the base of the stems leaving the root system in place. As these roots rot down, the nitrogen from these nitrogen fixing plants will be returned to the soil. A lot depends on the weather if the temperature is cooling off rapidly and it's wet, bring the vines indoors in good time and hang them up somewhere warm and dry to finish drying. At the very latest bring them in before any chance of frost. When the shells are dry pod the beans, spread out flat and allow to dry for a further 2 weeks in a warm airy spot before storing in an airtight container. Store in the larder or a cool dry place. With the right storage, your seeds should remain viable for at least the next two years. If you vacuum seal the dried beans or peas, they can last even longer. But it is worth noting that cooking these pulses will take much longer, and they may not taste as good, if they are kept really long term.
** Remember always save some of your seeds to grow the following year **
How to enjoy
Download a recipe book here
Where to buy
Selection of rare and heirloom beans
Borlotti french bean
Czar - runner bean