Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Unusual Legumes

by Charlie Nardozzi

One of the fun parts of gardening is experimenting. While most gardeners are familiar with legumes such as beans and peas, most don't realize there are a whole host of other legumes that they can grow and enjoy.

Now is the perfect time to plant some of the heat-loving unusual legumes such as yard long beans, Southern peas, and edamame. You'll have to wait until the cooler fall weather to plant the snow peas, though. While yard long beans and peas can be eaten raw right out of the garden or cooked, Southern peas and edamame are best in stir-fries, stews, and casseroles. Try some new recipes and amaze your family and friends with the great flavor of these legumes.

Here's some descriptions and details for growing these legumes.

Yard Long Beans

Yard long beans, also known as asparagus peas, are vigorous, vining natives of Southeast Asia. They're related to Southern peas, and in fact, if you let the seeds mature in the pod, you can harvest and prepare them as you would Southern peas. However, yard long beans are best eaten like a green bean. The beans are either green or red, depending on the variety, and can grow to 3 feet long, but they're most tender when harvested at 18 inches long. Like other pole beans, yard long beans produce regular, small harvests over the course of the growing season.

Plant yard long beans in well-drained soil amended with compost. Sow seed once the soil has warmed to at least 60F. These vines are vigorous and strong, so construct a sturdy trellis for support.

Southern Peas

Southern peas, or cowpeas, were introduced to the Americas from Africa through the slave trade. They originally were grown as animal fodder and as a green manure, but many selections have become popular in Southern cuisines.

The most widely grown Southern peas are black-eyed, cream, and crowder peas. Crowder peas are so-named because the seeds seem crowded together in their pods. Cream peas generally have smooth pods filled with small white or light-colored peas. They have the mildest flavor. Black-eyed peas have a black spot, but variations will have yellow, pink, or red "eyes".

Southern peas grow well in the same soil conditions and air temperatures as other beans. The plants grow in bush or semi-vining forms, depending on the variety, but rarely need a trellis. Harvest the pods in the "green stage": when the seeds have filled out the pods but before they fully mature. You can tell when to harvest by squeezing the pods — pick them when they're firm.

Here are some varieties to try.

'California Blackeye #5 ' - This is one of the most popular Southern pea varieties. It features 6- to 8-inch-long pods on drought-resistant, semi-vining plants.

'Elite' - This variety is one of the most productive cream-type peas available. Bush plants produce 7-inch-long pods with cream-colored seeds.

'Mississippi Purple' - This large seeded brown crowder pea has reddish-purple pods on a bushy plant. The pods mature quickly over a short period of time.

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