Vegetables

Growing Dried Beans

Planning vegetable production at the Jardins du Bassin Louise is far from being done on the corner of a table. Several months before the start of the season, I enter a long and exciting process of dreaming up the next season. It’s really a time I love. I go through seed catalogs, discover new varieties, I’m totally absorbed. I have to plan the crops, yes, but also the different varieties, the quantities, the rotations, the sowings and the tasks involved. It’s like creating a choreography. I always try to have the whole thing finished by Christmas, which includes buying the seeds.

As you can see, this game plan sets the pace for the season. I adopted this method to structure myself, yes, but also because I know full well that there will be dozens of unforeseen events and changes that I hadn’t thought of. We work with living things, so adaptation is part of my daily routine.

Gardening With the Unforeseen

Well, once again this year I was taken by surprise by an unforeseen event. My production was planned for the 36 containers and the greenhouse, but I hadn’t touched the 12 extra containers that had an undefined destiny. At the end of March, I learned that we could grow them! Needless to say, I had no idea what to put in them. The end of March may still seem early in the season to some, but I’ve already been planting for a while. What could I possibly put in there? Increase the quantities of what’s already planned, get rid of old seeds, try something out of the ordinary?

Chickpeas are growing! Photo : Les Urbainculteurs

Sow the Seeds of Discovery

I found the last option very interesting. One of the main thrusts of our urban farm is to develop a demonstration area where we can try out a variety of productions. In this case, why not try something completely different?

I looked through the seeds available at the office and came across several varieties of dried beans, even chickpeas. Bingo! I’d found something to pique curiosity about. I was happy because I’d never done this before. I also knew that the civic involvement volunteers working with us would be really intrigued.

But be warned, my experiment didn’t cover all 12 bins; I concentrated on 2 50-foot bins to start with. The others were filled with other finds!

Testing Ground

We tried Hopi Black beans, Henderson bush lima beans, different varieties of soybeans donated by a volunteer, and Black Kabouli chickpeas. Each variety has its own specific spacing, but overall I have to say it was pretty easy. Vermicompost and fertilization at sowing, then we fertilized once in the summer.

Some damage was caused by Japanese beetles, but for the rest, we just watched the plants grow. Everyone was intrigued and eager to see the results. Here are a few of the things we learned over the course of the season.

A Few Observations

Chickpeas

The chickpea plants were aesthetically wonderful. The delicate foliage was a real eye-catcher for many. We harvested the chickpeas when the pods were dry on the plant. What a surprise to find that the chickpea made individual pods. Yes, there was only one pea, sometimes two per pod. You can imagine how long it took to shell all that! Despite all the hard work, it was a great experience.

Chickpeas in their pods. Photo : Les Urbainculteurs
Shelled chickpeas. Photo : Les Urbainculteurs

Beans

The Hopi Black beans produced the highest yields. They dried quickly on the plants and it was easy to see when they were ready for harvest. They climbed a bit, so we staked them in season. Hulling was easier (though very time-consuming) as there are several kernels per pod.

Black beans and pods. Photo : Les Urbainculteurs

Soybeans

The soybeans were very productive, but in the end we decided to harvest them fresh. This allowed us to have an earlier harvest, so we could enjoy them in season rather than during the winter months. When the pods became well dented, defined by the formed bean, we harvested them.

Lima Beans

I have to say that the lima beans were the ones I found a little disappointing. The plants have remained small and very few pods have formed. At the time of writing, very few beans have dried on the plants. The harvest is therefore very meagre unfortunately.

Uneven maturity of lima beans. Photo : Les Urbainculteurs
Dried lima beans. Photo : Les Urbainculteurs

The learning process

Some will tell me that all this took an enormous amount of time for little result. It’s true that the final quantity of dried beans produced versus the space and especially the time needed to shell them isn’t worth the effort, but the fact remains that we’ve had a lot of fun discovering all this. I don’t think a family could be self-sufficient for an entire winter with our small production, but is that any reason not to try it? To my surprise, no one had done this kind of test before. We became aware of the space needed to produce something substantial, and of the need to mechanize the process on a large scale. No kidding, I don’t look at my legumes the same way anymore!

Psst! If you’ve got any dried beans left over next year, you can sow them!

The delicate foliage of chickpeas. Photo: Les Urbainculteurs

Marie-Andrée is the urban farm manager and a trainer at Urbainculteurs, where she has been working since 2015. She plans and supervises the production of Jardins du bassin Louise, an urban vegetable farm with a social and educational vocation. Outstanding at teaching, she also co-hosts the podcast Mâche-patate and is one of the main trainers of the Urbainculteurs online training course. Les Urbainculteurs is a non-profit organization, based in Quebec since 2009. Their mission: to develop and promote a productive, accessible and responsible urban agriculture for the benefit of organizations and individuals, in order to increase food security, improve our living environments and promote an ecological transition.

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