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Garden Wise: Gardening with legumes

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A field of peas on Tuesday, June 14, 2016, in Hansen.

Legumes are a very important crop to include in the garden for the nutrition that they can provide us as well as the benefits that they can provide our soils and other plants. You see, legumes are a natural nitrogen fixer in the soil. These plants have nodules on their roots that combine with a certain bacterium found in soil that can take atmospheric nitrogen and convert it to the plant-available form. Even after these plants have been removed from the garden, their work with nitrogen fixation in the soil continues to provide the next crop in the rotation with this available nitrogen, whether it is the same season or the next. These plants can also be planted along with our heavy nitrogen feeder crop corn. Legumes require rotation in the garden to keep diseases and insects from affecting the plants if they are planted in the same spot. If you are looking for an organic fertilizer option for your garden, then a rotation of legumes throughout your garden will provide that for you. Plus, you can eat the fruit of the plants and not have to rely on synthetic fertilizers.

So, who are these legumes? They are peas and beans. Other legume crops that are not typically grown in gardens are alfalfa, clovers and peanuts. Let’s look at how to successfully grow beans and peas.

Beans require a spot that can provide full-sun and fertile well-drained soil that has organic matter incorporated. Seeds can be planted when soil temperatures have reached 60 degrees or higher. They will do best planted one inch deep, 2-3 inches apart in rows spaced 18-24 inches apart. Bush beans can be planted as a succession planting for a continuous crop throughout the growing season by planting every 14-21 days through mid-July. There are three types of beans that can be planted in the garden; bush, pole and dry. Bush varieties do not require trellising or support. Pole varieties are vining plants and will require some type of support or trellising. I have had good success and easy picking of pole varieties by growing them vertically up wire fencing and cattle panels. Another option is to plant them next to your corn as the vines will climb the corn stalks. This is a good way to help supply nutrients to the corn but can make picking the beans difficult as the vines will jump to additional corn stalks and can become a tangled mess. Dry varieties are grown to shell. There are a number of garden dry bean varieties that do well in our area but be advised that you will need to do cleaning and the shelling.

Here are a few tips for growing and harvesting beans. Beans are warm-season crops and will only grow and germinate well when soil and air temperatures are above 60 degrees. They do best when they receive regular watering while growing and it is critical during flowering and pod growth. Bush beans will flower and fruit for two or three weeks. Pole beans will flower and fruit for five or six weeks. Healthy plants will produce between 7-12 pounds of fruit per 10 feet of row. Beans are high in fiber and low in calories and also a good source of vitamin C.

Peas require a spot that can provide full-sun and a fertile well-drained soil that has organic matter incorporated. Seeds can be planted when the soil temperatures have reached 40 degrees or higher. They will do best planted ½ to 1 inch deep, 1-2 inches apart in rows spaced 12-24 inches apart. Peas are a cool-season crop and do not tolerate hot temperatures. They can be planted until mid-April. You can also do a double crop and plant them in the fall around the end of August to the first of September for a late-season crop.

Here are a few tips for growing and harvesting peas. Peas do not do well when air and soil temperatures exceed 80 degrees. They require regular watering throughout their growth. Peas do better when the soil is allowed to dry to half of the available water before watering again. Harvest period for peas will last about three or four weeks. Healthy plants can produce 2-3 pounds of shelled peas per 10 feet of row. Peas are a good source of protein, iron and fiber.

So, give yourself and your garden a healthy boost by incorporating legumes into your garden.

Garden Wise is presented by the Magic Valley Master Gardener Association. We will try to answer questions of general interest submitted by the community. Email questions to


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