Growing Tails

Beans, beans, the magical fruit. I love beans. Not just for their unending versatility in the kitchen as a food product, but for all the joy they bring in the garden as well. I’ve always had good luck growing beans and I remember as a second grader building teepees in the garden with my father in the late spring, and reading books in the late-summer shade provided by the mass of trefoil leaves and beans tying the poles together. They’re easy to grow; they’re good for the soil; they can be snacked on raw in the garden or dried for use in the winter. And to top it off when it comes to saving the seeds for planting next year’s crop, they’re probably the easiest thing going.

The major variety we grow in our garden is called Potawatomi – a pole lima bean – named after the Potawatomi Indians of southern Michigan and later Wisconsin. I acquired these seeds almost a decade ago through the Seed Savers Yearbook from a woman who actually lived in Michigan. (I’ve no clue of this line’s heritage before that; but for a more detailed account of the beans check this out.)

When it comes to food you can grow in your garden, I dare say beans are one of the top crops. The harvests are some of the most bountiful as the plants will continue to put forth new pods as you pick the maturing pods. For us, we can even get two harvests of dry beans thanks to an extra long growing season. On top of a large harvest, beans are a great source of protein, especially from the garden. And did I mention they’re super easy to preserve? If you pick them green they make awesome pickles or they can be blanched and frozen for later use. If you choose to let them dry, they can easily last all winter and even longer if you decide to keep them in the freezer.

Unfortunately, much like oats, dry beans contain an elevated level of phytic acid which hinders the bodies ability to absorb certain nutrients. However, in the same way that soaking oats and allowing them to ferment reduces the amount of phytic acid, soaking beans does the same thing. A good soak of the beans allows some of the phytic acid to be removed, but to really remove the phytic acid, you ought to let them sprout.

Sprouting beans before you eat them may sound daunting, but it’s really quite simple.

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Two cups of beans at the beginning of the soak.

(You can even buy a kit with seeds from Amazon.) More often than not, we use our Potawatomi Limas for sprouting, but sometimes, we’ll find some store bought dried beans on our hands. Depending on the age of the beans and how they’ve been stored, they will still sprout, though, older beans will take longer and sometimes may not sprout at all. Fresh dried beans from the garden will sprout in a day or two, some store bought beans will take three or four days before they start making tails.

There are a variety of ways to sprout beans, though I’ve found

mid soak
Just about done soaking, they’ve almost doubled in volume.

the easiest to utilize a half-gallon mason jar. I start out by soaking the beans for 12-24 hours. Once they’ve sat and expanded, I’ll drain the water and cover the mouth of the jar with a coffee filter and a canning jar band. This allows for some air flow, but keeps potential flies and other things out. With the top of the jar semi-sealed, I lay the jar on it’s side someplace warm – in the winter this is on the wood stove hearth, in the summer it’s anywhere on the counter. (Ideal bean germination temps are in the high sixties-low seventies.) Then every six hours (or more frequently if I can remember); I fill the jar with tepid water, shake the beans around and then drain it. It is important to keep the beans clean and moist. (You don’t want to use hot water as it may kill the beans depending on your water heater temperature, and if you use cold water, you’ll slow the sprouting process a shade.)

full soak
Done sprouting, the jar is full!

Technically, when beans have sprouted about half an inch, you’re done, though I like to let mine get a little longer. As they get longer, the actual seed-coats may start to develop into the first leaves – cotyledons – and then you’ve got a sprout with some greenery. This is tougher to do with big beans, but can certainly be done with some of your smaller beans and peas.

Soaking the beans not only helps to change the nutrition profile for the better, but it makes cooking time a whole lot shorter. No hour plus boils or water changes. You can even eat some of the smaller bean sprouts raw, though I wouldn’t recommend it for the larger beans. You’ll notice as they cook, some of the beans will slough their coating. You can remove the coatings as they float to the top of the pot or you can just cook them in. Your call. Sprouting beans is a fairly simple task, and with semi-fresh beans, it’s a fairly consistent venture. I know some folks complain that it’s time consuming, but the time put into rinsing probably adds up to the time it takes to cook non-sprouted beans. It’s definitely a worthy experiment, so give it a go!

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