A Place for Pulses

Amanda Rofe

Soya Beans ( Glycine max )

In May this year (2008) I grew Thompson & Morgan’s Ustie soya beans. Having pre-soaked them overnight, I sowed some in pots in the polytunnel and two rows in the ground outside. The seeds in the pots came up first and were planted out but it is too much work to bother with again and not really necessary. The seeds in the ground were slow to germinate until a heavy thunderstorm hit the region. Then they really took off. They were grown very close together and didn’t need any support. By the beginning of August these hairy tight little pods were fully formed and had taken just over three months to mature. By the beginning of September the plants were going yellow and the leaves were beginning to fall off. At this point I cut the plants off at the base, leaving the roots in the ground, and hung them up in large bunches in the shed to fully dry out.

Mr Ray G. Whisker in his 1977 edition of The Soybean Grow & Cook Book says never sow before the second or third week of May, which corresponds with my experience. Also that it is crucial to produce beans from locally produced seed so I’ll definitely be saving enough for next year’s crop. Soya beans don’t like a long day length during their flowering period or cool temperatures but the majority do become tolerant of these conditions after several years which makes saving your own seed an important consideration. He says that the beans need warmth during their July flowering period and moisture during their early pod-set growth stage, that they do well on poor soil and added nitrogen is not necessary as the plants extract most from the atmosphere.

What happened to Mr Whisker and his wife? By 1975, working from their home in suburban East Molesey, Surrey they had evaluated around 200 varieties of soya beans and strains from 18 countries. In addition to this they had several types of wild soya beans and cultivated strains of their own. Where did all the different varieties of their lovely beans go? These are what we need to be growing now!

In early August I began eating some of the fresh green soya beans. I cooked my own ‘edamame’ (ay-duh-mah-may) by boiling the pods for about 15 minutes and then shelling by hand when cool. They were a good flavour and very filling. By September some of the beans had yellowed and partially dried so I finished them off in the dehydrator. I then used the dried beans to make a batch of soya milk in the electric soya milk maker. The milk turned out much the same as I usually make, using the round dried bean, but never as good as what I buy!

In Japan the name edamame is used to describe a large sweet variety of soya beans picked young and green. The beans are usually salted, cooked in their pods and eaten by pulling them out with your teeth! The name edamame is also used in the West to describe the cooked dish. Robin Williams from Nama Yasai, Japanese vegetable growers in Sussex, grows edamame but says climate and price make it prohibitive. Frozen imports are less than a quarter of the price it costs them to produce and last year’s crop was abandoned because of too little sunshine and warmth.

Chickpeas ( Cicerarietinum )

In June I planted out a mug of surplus chickpea sprouts in a shallow drill. They came up within a few weeks and grew steadily throughout the summer. In August they produced white flowers and soft green pods containing two strange curly little embryonic chick peas. A shamefully small return for such a fat hairy pod! Chickpeas require a sunny position and four to six months growing season. In coastal areas they might rot in the pod before maturity. I grew them in Hastings many years ago and the immature seed did indeed rot in the pod. I am further inland now, in Tonbridge, Kent and although it has been damp here there is no sign of rot. By the last week of September I decided to lift the plants and hang them to dry in the shed. The chickpeas themselves were healthy and mature although rather small in size.

Green Lentils ( Lens culinaris )

In June I also decided to grow some of Suma’s Organic Green Lentils. After an overnight soak in water, I placed the swollen seed in a shallow drill and they came up with little effort after a few weeks. A rather delicate plant, they continued producing tiny white flowers from the middle of July until the middle of September. From what I’ve read they too seem to be hardy and easy to grow although the plants are much finer and more sprawling than chickpeas. By the end of September the flowers had turned into small round green pods but hadn’t filled out properly and may not mature now. This was undoubtedly my fault and, like the chickpeas, they would probably fare better from an earlier planting.

Problems ( Difficultatium!)

There were no signs of pests or diseases on any of the pulses. Slugs might be a problem for emerging seedlings but were ruthlessly removed. The heavy clay soil is fed with my own compost once or twice a year and lightly mulched with grass cuttings from March to October. I’ve had no other inputs for two years.

I shall definitely be growing more chick peas, green lentils and soya beans, simply because they seem to grow fairly well here and these I use them a lot. I have grown other beans such as Borlotti and Cannellini, and I did get more beans for my efforts, but I never normally eat these so found myself not using them! The overwhelming complaint about soya beans seems to be the small return of beans per plant but I still prefer them because of their incredible nutritional value and versatility.