Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the health benefits of including soy and soybeans into your diet. But have you ever thought of growing your own soybeans?
The domestication of the soybean (Glycine max) probably originated in China around 1100 BC, or maybe even a little earlier. It wasn’t until much later that the beans made it to Europe, and serious production of soybeans in the U. S. didn’t begin until the 1940s. Prior to that, starting in the 1880s, some American farmers did grow them for livestock forage. Today, they are the second largest agricultural crop in the U.S., after corn, and our number one agricultural export.
The soybeans of today are much different from their viny, narrow-leafed ancestors. Domestic soybeans are nearly ten times as large as their wild cousins, and contain considerably more oil, which makes up more than 1/6 of their total weight.
There aren’t a lot of people growing soybeans in their gardens. Although there are many genetically modified types out there, you can still get wonderful, organic varieties from many seed companies. Nutritionally, soybeans are a good choice because of their incredibly high protein content, approaching an astonishing 40 percent. They also contain all of the essential amino acids and lots of vitamins and minerals. And, they taste good. As an added bonus, growing soybeans can even improve your soil.
Some varieties you may want to try include a green-seeded variety called Envy. This is one of the shortest of the short-season varieties, taking only 75 days to bear. Black Jet takes a little longer, but is great for black bean soups. Butterbeans, which are touted as heavy-yeilders, and are said to be exceptionally tasty.
Planting directions for soybeans are pretty much the same as for any bush bean. Plant seeds an inch or so deep, in rows about 2 1/3 feet apart. You don’t have to sow thickly as most of your seeds will germinate. Your plants will grow about 2 1/2 feet tall, and will have a sublime green color, which is especially pleasing when they are covered with dew. Save a portion of your harvest for replanting, and you’ll never need to buy seed again.
Harvest the beans when they are fully-grown and ripe. Feel the beans inside of the pods. If they are firm but not hard, they should be ripe. You should harvest the soybeans before the pods turn yellow. You could test the beans by picking a few pods, boiling them for five minutes, and then running them under cold water to cool immediately. Pop the soybeans out of the pod and taste them. If they taste good, they’re ready to harvest.
Soybeans have a nuttier flavor than other beans. Use them anywhere you would use shelled or dried beans. I like to throw a bunch in the pot when I’m cooking down tomatoes for spaghetti sauce. Try substituting black soybeans for the chickpeas in your favorite hummus. In Japan, they are often cooked right in the pod. In fact, it’s easier to shell them if they are cooked first. The pods are fuzzy, tough, and not edible like string beans.
One good use for soybeans is to make your own soymilk right in the blender. Just clean the soybeans and soak them for around 12 hours. Heat briefly and remove as many of the seed skins as possible; don’t worry if you don’t get them all. Seed skin removal can be greatly facilitated by flushing the beans with cold water. Grind a pound of beans with a quart of water in the blender, and then filter through cheesecloth. You can use the leftover solids in bread, or mix it into your pet’s food. Boil your soymilk for about five minutes and it will last for three days in your fridge. It’s great for fruit smoothies and extremely nutritious. Enjoy!