If you want to make your mark on sustainable eating then growing your own beans is the way to do it
I rattle a glass jar of black beans and take the last handful out to plant again. This has been my routine for some years – saving the last handful of good beans to start the whole process again. If you truly want to make your mark on sustainable eating, then growing your own beans is the way to do it.
Packed full of protein, potassium (a single serving offers up the same amount as a serving of cow’s milk), as well as other important micronutrients such as magnesium, folate, iron and zinc, as well as fibre, making them a low GI food, they are very good for you. They’re also good for the environment: their nitrogen-fixing roots leave the soil in good health. And they take up a fraction of the space you may need for other staples, such as pumpkins or potatoes, meaning they are ideal for growing in small areas.
Beans can be sown now till about mid-June. I prefer to sow direct, but if mice and slugs are an issue, you may choose to start them off in trays. I make broad drills and scatter the seeds along them, aiming for about 20cm between plants. I often sow dwarf varieties in between other crops, under kales or sweetcorn, and in between slower-growing cabbages. I sow two seeds per station and weed out the weaker one.
Dry beans do need to be soaked, preferably overnight, before cooking. You may find that your homegrown ones cook much quicker than those bought in shops, which I think are often stale or old. There’s a world of flavour beyond the ubiquitous kidney bean; robust beans that hold their bite; or soft and fluffy ones that melt in the mouth. If beans give you indigestion, try discarding the water they soaked in before cooking or add the herb summer savory to your dishes, famed for aiding digestion this way. But the truth is, the more beans you eat, the less you’ll find this an issue, as your gut flora will adapt.
For dwarf beans that grow to 30-45cm high, try Black Coco, Jersey Grex and Beefy Resilient Grex (as the name suggests, they really do taste meaty) all from Brown Envelope Seeds in Ireland, or Real Seeds Catalogue’s Jacobs Cattle Gold. These beans are good for stews, chillies, quesadillas and burritos. For climbing varieties, try the runner bean Greek Gigantes, which produces huge white beans perfect for baking in a savoury tomato sauce, or Lazy Housewife for buttery white french beans, ideal for cassoulets.