Monday, March 30, 2015

A Pulse in the Garden by Rebecca Anderson

Photo by Rebecca Anderson
I was reading an article recently about changes in the global human diet. While this is a topic for volumes of blog articles, there was one specific word that kept catching my eye. Pulse. "Many cultures have traditionally relied on pulse-based diets."  "World-wide consumption of pulses have declined in recent decades."  I'm accustomed to using the word pulse in relation to the cardiovascular system, but I wasn't sure about its botanical definition. That led to a little research.

A pulse, in a nutritional and botanical sense, is a legume that's seeds are used as food. The main types of pulses are dry beans (Phaseolus spp.), dry peas (Pisum spp.), and lentils (Lens culinaris). They are important nutritionally due to having high protein and fiber content while also being low in fat. Agriculturally they fix nitrogen, improving soil as they grow. The United Nations has even designated 2016 as the International Year of Pulses to draw attention to this important class of plants.

I did grow pulses in my garden a couple of years ago, without even realizing it. I bought a couple of packages of heirloom dry beans to try. While yields weren't as good as I had hoped, I did get some beautiful beans. I tried leaving the pods on the bean plant until everything was completely dry and ended up with  losses to rodents and pods splitting and dropping beans on the ground. When I add pulses to my garden next time, I'm going to try harvesting the entire plant just before it's completely dry and bringing it inside to hang until fully dry.  Dry beans are also sensitive to soil salinity and require an adequate phosphorus level. I'll update my soil test, too, so I've got the best possible conditions before planting.

I've never eaten the dry beans I grew. They're just too pretty and I only have a handful, so I enjoy them by admiring them. However, local grocery stores have been carrying more heirloom varieties of dry beans recently including the red and white speckled Anasazi beans and the yellow canary or Mayacoba beans. Dry beans are easy to prepare. Start by rinsing and sorting out any rocks and shriveled beans. Then soak in water overnight. Drain off the soaking water and rinse then cook on low on the stovetop or in a crockpot until tender. The length of time varies by variety. I usually start with 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low with the crockpot.  I generally add salt and what ever else I feel like: roasted chiles, bay leaf, Turkish paprika, carrots, onions...  The possibilities are endless.

If you'd like to grow pulses in your garden, you can learn more about their cultural requirements in the CSU fact sheet Fertilizing Dry Beans.  Even if your garden doesn't have a space for growing some dry beans, add a pulse-based dish to your menu this week. They're good for you!