Pulses bring the garden alive

I’m trying to grow as much of the food we need in our backyard garden and have found that it is relatively easy to grow enough vegetables for a year, with a bit of strategic in-season eating and freezing or preserving the excess.

Foraging chestnuts, walnuts and hazelnuts adds extra carbohydrates and good oils.

Protein is the problem for backyard growing. Beans are the solution. Humans have been cultivating beans in the Americas for 6000-8000 years. Peas and broad beans were originally cultivated in Asia.

Beans are easy to grow, easy to store, filling and protein enriched, so it is not surprising that an early human traveller would ask for some seeds to take home after eating a delicious and satisfying meal of unfamiliar beans in a foreign land. So beans have spread throughout the world and most cultures have a classic bean dish, for example baked beans in the US, feijoada in Brazil, cassoulet in France, Irio in Kenya.

If you have only eaten dried beans from a supermarket, which have been stored for possibly years, or canned kidney beans, the flavour of home grown beans is a revelation. I grew some lovely small caramel coloured beans with brown speckles that I have not found a name for but they have been grown in my family for many years, so I would call them an heirloom variety (other people inherit silver cutlery and mahogany furniture, I inherit beans). When they are cooked their flavour and texture is creamy and delicious. They taste so much better than you would expect beans to taste, and are too good to be buried in a strong flavoured sauce.

Another really nice bean I have grown is a white runner bean, which is a prolific producer of prize winning long pods, and huge white beans. I cook them with chorizo sausages and tomatoes and they are just so rich and buttery. The plant has the added bonus of being perennial, and will just pop up again when conditions are ready for it.

Growing these beans and enjoying eating them so much got me wondering what else was out there, so I have been hunting out special varieties of beans bred specifically for their dried seeds, rather than their green pods.

I’ve planted a rainbow of bean varieties already this season, mostly sourced from the Koanga Institute, but I got them in the ground too early and they were mostly frosted. It was a bit of a disaster. I am waiting now until I can be sure there will be no more frosts before planting another batch of seeds (climate change is making this much harder to judge).

Subsistence farmers always kept back two years worth of seed if they could, as insurance against crop failure. I can see the point of this now, especially when I am growing rare heritage varieties.

I like growing runner beans and pole beans because they take up little space on the ground but can produce masses of pods in a couple of metres of height supported by bamboo tepees. I leave the plants to dry out where they are at the end of the season, then pull off all the bean pods and shell out the beans. You have to be absolutely sure the beans are dry before storing them in an airtight jar.

Always keep enough to grow next season and plenty extra, because anything can happen, and usually does.

Beans being beans, they are famous for always having the last word ... flatulence. But don’t let a little gas put you off.

 - Hilary Rowley is a frugal, foraging foodie from Waitati. Each week in this column, one of a panel of writers addresses issues of sustainability.


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