A bowl of beans ready for washing and blanching.
We don't have cows, goats, chickens, or any other livestock
... but we do raise protein! Our crop of the valuable
nutrient comes from our garden . . . in the form of green
soybeans for eating and freezing.
However, before you go out and plant your own plot of meat
substitute, you should be aware that there are two types of
soybeans grown in this country: a field variety that's used
for livestock fodder, oil, and industrial products . . .
and vegetable soybeans, which are bred for flavor.
It's the latter type of legume, of course, that you'll want
to grow for table use.
The Choice Grows
Years ago—when we planted our first healthful.
money-saving protein crop—the few catalogs that
included the seed usually labeled soybeans as "novelty"
vegetables. Nowadays, though, many folks have discovered
(as the Chinese did over 2,000 years ago) the value of growing soybeans as people food, and most seed companies
offer a number of varieties listed under "vegetable" or
When you're ready to select the type of soy you want to
plant, keep in mind that the crop will require an average
of three months of warm weather to mature. Therefore, if
you live in a cold climate, you should seek out an
early-ripening breed. I can't of course know which soybean
variety will grow best in your area, but—after
experimenting with several kinds—I can say that the
cultural tips in the seed catalogs have proved to be pretty
Having faced the fact that frosts sometimes appear sooner
than expected on our Wisconsin farm, we started planting
two or three soybean varieties "just in case." So far, the
precaution hasn't been a necessary one . . . as all our
crops have ripened before winter set in. On the other hand,
by growing a number of different types, we've been able to
make sure that our beans don't all mature at the same time
... which allows us to put them up in smaller batches.
Plant 'Em Properly
Plan to purchase one pound of seed for every 150 feet of
garden row, and—at the same time—buy
nitrogen-fixing bacteria (also called a "seed inoculant")
to help them along. (Some inoculants will specify that they
should be used for soybeans, while other mixtures are
designed to aid the growth of any one of several kinds of
legumes. The proper bacteria, when present in the soil,
help the beans to absorb nitrogen from the air and store it
in their root nodules ... a process that not only aids
plant growth and bean production, but also improves the
In order to get an early start on your crop, sow the seed
as soon after the last expected frost as you can. (Soybeans
are somewhat hardier than snap beans, so we usually plant
them a week earlier than the more common crop.)
And, although the nutrient-packed vegetables will grow in
any ordinary nonacid soil, the plot should be
thoroughly cultivated. If the ground is
already well-nourished, don't fertilize it further, because
too many nutrients can actually retard the growth
of soybeans. If, however. the area hasn't been enriched in
the past, the addition of such organic matter as
well-rotted manure or compost will improve the yield.
Just before planting, dampen the bean seeds with water and
mix in the nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Then place the seeds
1 1/2 inches deep in rows two feet apart, and thin the
seedlings—which will grow very much like bush snap
beans—to four inches apart.
Rabbits and Weeds
Although we've never had a crop failure that was due to our
choice of variety, we have learned a couple of lessons the
For example, we discovered that this otherwise remarkably
pest-free vegetation does have some mortal foes: rabbits!
The first time we grew soybeans, the ravenous little beasts
ate the emerging crop before we even realized what was
happening! Now, we simply put up a temporary fence around
the bean patch before the plants sprout, as a routine part
of our protein-growing procedure.
We learned our second lesson one spring when we went out of
town just as the small plants were coming up. Upon
returning, we saw that weeds had just about choked out our
garden, and only a few bean plants remained.
Be sure, therefore, to keep the young soybeans weed-free,
at least until they're big enough to stand on their own and
shade out the competition. From then on, they'll grow quite
nicely with very little attention from you.
Puttin' 'Em Away
If you plan to use the soybeans green and freeze them, as
we do, they'll be ready to harvest when the pods become
plump in late summer. Don't put off the pickin' and
processin' task, though, because the pods and plants turn
from bright green to yellow in only a few days. Once that
"change" occurs, your beans will be too mature to freeze.
In my opinion, the easiest way to pick the pods is simply
to pull the plants up or cut them off with pruning shears
at ground level, depending on how easy it is (or isn't) to
get the roots out of your soil. Then you and your family
(or whoever else you enlist to help) can pick a comfortable
spot to do the pod pluckin'.
When you have a big pan full, wash the pods and blanch them
to aid in the removal of the beans. (If you don't have a
blanching kettle, just fill any large pot with enough hot
water to cover the legumes.
Bring the liquid to a rolling boil . . . put in your
harvest . . . allow the kettle to return to a full boil . .
. and then blanch the pods for five minutes.)
Meanwhile, fill your sink or another large pot with very
cold water, and—when the boiling time is
up—immerse the steaming vegetables in the cold bath
... adding more water, if necessary, to cool them
completely. Let the pods remain in the chilly soak for
another five minutes.
Removing the beans from their hulls is easy: All you have
to do is squeeze the seeds out over a bowl or pan. If
youngsters help, they'll probably soon discover
that—when you squish the pods just right—you
can "shoot" the beans a great distance. (Let 'em have a bit
of fun at first, and the tads will probably accomplish the
rest of the job very quickly and efficiently. Ever since my
daughters were quite small, they've really enjoyed taking
over this chore.)
Next, transfer the shelled beans to freezer containers,
leaving an inch or so of "head room." Then seal, label, and
freeze 'em ... and transfer the empty hulls to your compost
Although green soybeans contain only about one-third as
much protein as the dried variety, they're still higher in
this essential nutrient than any other vegetable . . . and
their succulent, nut-like flavor makes 'em the most
palatable, nutritious low-starch garden produce around.
Furthermore, besides containing vitamin C (which dried
soybeans don't), the green edibles are also richer in
vitamin A than are the dried legumes.
I find the tasty morsels ideal for use as a meat
extender . . . that is, I merely use less meat and
add soybeans to my recipes for soup, stew, etc.
(This same technique can be employed when preparing
hamburgers, meatloaf, and almost any casserole that calls
for ground meat.) The remarkable vegetable can also be used
as a side dish all by itself.
So why not grow protein in your garden this year?
Then, after you've used up your first soybean
crop—probably in a variety of ways that I've never
even dreamed of—you'll want to plan to plant even
more next season!