Grow your own pulses!

Most people I meet nowadays are very much in approval of home gardens—if they don’t have one themselve87485475s, they tell me how they wish they did, or sheepishly why they don’t.  But even very skilled home gardeners who produce really good vegetables scoff or think I’m crazy when I talk about growing grains or pulses in a garden plot.

I don’t have much experience with grains—I’ve helped folks tie sheaves of rye and I’ve cooked plenty with wheat berries that the farm I work on harvested just before I arrived here—but I look forward to sowing seed into a portion of my future yard and having it grow tall and beautiful.  Pulses, on the other hand, I’m working with right now, and I must say, they are extremely easy to grow for anyone used to growing vegetables.

I have a small plot of lentils, chickpeas, and mung beans that have started growing prodigiously; I sowed them in rows just as I would snap beans as soon as I was confident that there would be no more frost.  I planted my lentils at two inches apart, which means that I will need to trellis them to ensure sufficient airflow; had I planted them closer to five inches apart I would not even need to expend that effort.

Meanwhile I have a fairly large “3 sisters” patch, where I planted field corn in hills two feet apart.  During the first weeding and side-dressing of the field corn, I sowed beans (black beans, pinto beans, and a few fun heirloom varieties) and squash seeds and hoed them in as I was incorporating the compost and chopping down weeds.  These beans are coming up well and will help keep moisture in the field once they bush out a little bit more.

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Lentil Plant

The final question is:  how do you harvest them?  The most important thing to think about is moisture.  Ideally, you will harvest dry beans once the plant has completely dried out.  You can then smash the pods (underfoot, if you’d like) and winnow using a fan (or the wind if you’ve found a lucky day) to blow away the chaff.  If the weather isn’t cooperating with you, though, and it prevents the pods from drying out, you may need to pull up the plant early and hang it upside-down in a dry place to make sure that the beans are completely dry before you winnow them.

Right now is a wonderful time to explore home-scale production of foods besides vegetables—there’s no reason to scoff!  Every gardener can try growing lentils for a delicious soup or curry, or chickpeas for hummus (can you say “yum”?), or dry beans for any number of delicious and protein-filled foods.  Growing them is no harder than growing a snap bean, but it adds an extra degree of variety and flavor to your garden!