For the past five years, I have expanded my vegetable garden by as much as my spade could turn over. I’m now bringing in a decent amount of fresh produce in the summer, with more ripening in early fall, giving me enough to put some away for the first few colder months. There’s nothing quite as satisfying and nourishing as feeding your family what you’ve grown just steps from your kitchen table. But, I thought, I’m only making a dent in one food group. I wanted to be able to grow a complete meal.
I adopted a small flock of hens. Within no time, we had a lovely mutually beneficial relationship going: I fed them, and they fed us. Perfect farmhouse symbiosis: organic feed and kitchen scraps for them; incredibly rich, yellow yoked eggs for us. But huevoes rancheros, one of my favorite breakfasts, also calls for beans. So, I planted black turtle beans.
Copying a gardening technique practiced by Native Americans, I planted a “three sisters” garden. Beans went around the base of the developing corn stalks, which wound their way up as the stalks grew. The cornstalks offered a convenient trellis for the beans, while the beans provided nitrogen for the corn. Encircling the duo, I planted squash, whose course, prickly vines helped deter animals from snacking on the corn and beans.
Beans, best known for their notable fiber content (one cup provides between 9 to 13 grams), are also a great source of plant protein, complex carbohydrates, folate and iron, as well as at least eight different phytonutrients which contribute to their dark color (in the case of black beans), and indicate the presence of valuable antioxidants.
By the end of the summer, my bean plants were mature, the pods were full-grown and starting to dry, and I crawled in to harvest the beautiful, garden-grown black beans. I had grown my own protein.
As thoroughly satisfying as that was, I was disappointed to see that my numerous rows of black bean plants amounted to merely a pint-sized jar of dried beans – hardly enough to feed a mostly vegetarian family of four until next year at this time.
I’ll have to grow many more next summer and look into growing grains, but for now we’re digging into a hot bowl of home-grown sweet potato and black bean soup.