In square-foot gardens, space is a premium. There’s simply no space to waste on dwindling crops, or those that just aren’t experiencing their best season. Knowing what to plant when is key, as is knowing what grows well in soil recently vacated by another plant.
Beans are a near perfect crop. They:
- restore nitrogen to soil;
- are relatively pest free;
- grow all summer and into fall in USDA climate zone 7 gardens;
- make good teepees to play under; and
- can be used as living shade covers for things like radish, spinach, and lettuce.
In spring, I like to interplant peas, beats, radishes, and lettuce. The peas climb an A-frame trellis, protecting the shorter crops beneath. Once the spring peas are finished, I replace them with crowder peas, black-eyed peas, and ‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’, and ‘Kentucky Wonder’ green beans. A 1-inch layer of organic mulch ensures adequate moisture and restores any missing nutrients to the soil.
The pole beans are ready to harvest by mid-summer, and if left to their own devices, will dry on the vine. My post on the Mother Earth News real food blog goes into more detail on how and when to harvest both fresh and dried beans. Saving even a few handfuls will go a long way you’re craving a hearty winter soup or stew.
Once the beans are ripped from the soil in late September or early October, the nitrogen robbed by earlier crops has been replenished. In go the hardy winter crops: carrots, kale, radish, turnip, kohlrabi, and mustard. All of those hardy roots and greens need a few good bean dishes to round them out.
Not only are dry beans easy to harvest and store, they’re packed with protein, folate, iron, and calcium. The greens that pair so well with beans in winter dishes are full of antioxidants and vitamins A and K. Throw in some carrots for the beta-carotine and B-6, and you’ll feel like a new person in no time.
Thanksgiving is the perfect time to pull out dried beans.This simple, low-fat, home-cooked soup makes a meal in itself. In preparation for the holiday, here’s my family recipe for Turkey Bean Soup:
1 1/2 cups dried beans
4 carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
3 turnips, diced
2 cups chopped kale
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 T. fresh sage, chopped, or 1 t. dried sage
2 quarts chicken broth
1-2 lbs. leftover turkey
1 T. olive oil
1 t. cumin
- Place the beans in a large non-reactive pot and cover with 8 cups of water. Soak for 8 hours, or overnight.
- Drain the beans completely before making the soup
- Heat the oil in a pan and add the diced vegetables. Sautee until they begin to soften, about 5-7 minutes
- Add the vegetables, herbs, spices, chicken broth and beans to a large crockpot and cook on low heat for 7-8 hours. A crockpot is not essential, but slow-cooking ensures the best flavor, in my opinion.