Wednesday 8 May 2019

Legumes For Self-Sufficiency

If you were having to grow enough to feed yourself then I think one of the most important crops would be legumes. There are certainly others that are just as important, but these would be pretty high up the list.

Start them young - few jobs make me happier than sowing beans with little people!
Basically you can always find either peas or beans that will grow well in your climate and location. Some are better for drought, some over winter providing cover, some crop early, some are great in pots and containers, some good for storage, some good for fresh use, etc.

They are also a plant that provides a reliable and predictable harvest. Very important when working out the quantities that you'd need to feed you and your family. They also require less in the way of inputs than some other crops.

The sheer number of properties of different legumes is amazing. As you might have read last week, this year I have eight types of pea in, two drying, one for edible stems, one for mange tout, one for fresh peas, one for pots and two to increase the number of seeds I have. Even the drying ones are completely different, one dwarf and one tall so they suit different locations on my homestead.

These are a bean for drying called Dutch Brown.
We all love our fresh peas but having crops that you know will store well was an essential part of growing food in the past. The UK went through periods where along with grains, dried peas were some of the main staples, before the days of potatoes. Not very interesting food but it kept them alive in the harder times. Pease pudding being a daily food for some.

Having a cupboard full of these dried goods, that they knew would store well, safe from mould and pests, would be the best form of insurance over winter and into the hungry gap a family could have.

A yellow dwarf french bean that tastes amazing called Minidor, for cooking and eating fresh. 
That's why it's such an essential crop for people who plan to grow what they need.

There is one group that I do wonder about sometimes and I know I've mentioned this before when I've talked about Seed Vaults (I had some major negative fallout from this post a while ago) that preppers sometimes buy. The number of peas and beans these kits contain is normally tiny compared with what you'd actually need.

I've been trying to learn to be self-sufficient for nearly 20 years now and it's only now that I think I could potentially provide all our food (in a good year) for my family. But the number of seeds you need for different things are very important and it's important to have them stored ready.

Jar fulls of beans  and peas are needed, not packet fulls. 
With peas and beans for drying you'd need jars full, not packets full.

When I buy a new variety, normally the first year is to test it and hopefully save the seed so I can grow lots more in a future year. A packet will do if you're growing for fresh beans for a few months in the summer but as soon as you start looking to preserve them and drying beans its amazing how much of an area and the seed you'd need to provide you with what you'll want for winter use.

Beans for drying are a good example here, the brown dutch in the picture above is said to provide you with 500g of beans per square meter, but with the 30 seeds I received in a packet you'll have to build your own numbers to sow them thick enough first.

There are plenty of seed companies that sell the numbers you need at a reasonable price however. For a good numbers of seeds in a packet, normally sold by weight, check out Moles Seeds, kings or any others that supply seeds for allotments and market gardens (feed stores often have them as well). The only downside to this is they might be more commercially available types rather than some of the heritage ones which might suit your purpose or location better.

Another great thing about legumes is they are pretty straight forward to save seeds from to build your own stocks. With some exceptions (broad beans and runner beans) they won't cross easily meaning even in a modest garden you can save the seed from your peas and french beans without denting your harvest too much.

I love harvesting the pods to continue drying hung in the shed, or sticking whole plants in the car on a hot day to dry out (much to my wife's annoyance) knowing that I can either eat them or sow them again to provide next years crop. And podding or shelling them with my wife and children sat out on the patio is one of life's simple pleasures.

So when looking at storing what you'd need to grow for self-sufficiency, don't skimp on the peas or the beans. Chances are you'd need a lot of them and a number of varieties to suit different purposes.

Start growing them now and work out what ones would work well for you, your soil, climate and location. then If you can, save them yourself every year so they adapt to where you live and provide you with a better crop over time.


  1. I have a very small garden but I always grow some legumes. Runner beans especially look great in the flower garden (pretty and adding height) but I've also got French beans in there. I'm not growing broad beans this year but when I have I have again mixed them in with the flowers.

    1. Broad beans are one of my favourite things, trouble so it's only me that'll eat them!
      I agree that many beans and peas are just at home in the flower garden. Runner beans were first brought over for their flowers.

  2. Very timely! I'm just getting ready to plant some beans myself! I don't have a handy handsome helper like you have, unfortunately. Maybe I should recruit my granddaughters. :)

    1. I think beans are one of the most fun things to plant. My daughter sleeps with three under her pillow at the moment. Her magic beans.


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