By Jan Riggenbach
Soybeans in farmers' fields have been growing for weeks, but it's not too late to plant soybeans in your garden. The difference: Instead of the dried, field-type beans farmers grow, gardeners are after green soybeans in the fresh shell stage.
Called edamame when green soybeans are boiled fresh in their pods in salted water for five to six minutes, it's a fine high-protein snack. Just pop the beans out of their shells like peanuts. They taste surprisingly sweet and crunchy.
You can also use fresh soybeans as a green vegetable, like you would green peas or lima beans.
The first time I grew soybeans for edamame, I made the mistake of not checking often enough to catch the green pods as soon as they had plump beans inside. Once the pods begin to yellow, I discovered, the flavor turns quickly from sweet and nutty to starchy. They can go from prime shape to over-the-hill in just a day or two.
A first planting of soybeans can go in about the same time as tomatoes. When planting in July, you'll need an early variety such as Envy, Early Hakucho, or Green Pearl. You can expect to harvest any of these in about two months.
If you haven't tried green soybeans before and aren't sure you'd like them, you might be able to find some for sale now at farmers' markets. Try to sample several different kinds, because there is a definite difference in flavor among varieties. Some think the longer-season varieties taste best, while others claim that black soybeans have the richest flavor of all.
Soybeans are as easy to grow as bush beans. Most varieties grow about two feet tall, though some dwarfs are only half as tall. To get your beans off to a quick start, soak the seeds in water overnight before planting. Like other beans and peas, they will benefit from legume inoculant applied before planting.
Rabbits love all beans, but they seem to love soybeans most of all. If you have rabbits in your neighborhood, you may have to erect a fence or other barrier to fend off the bunnies.
If you can't keep up with the harvest, soybeans are easy to freeze in their pods. Boil them for four minutes, then plunge them into ice water to cool them off. Freeze them in serving-sized portions. When you're ready to eat them, just boil the frozen pods two to three minutes, then slip the beans out of the pods and use them as if they were fresh.
There's still time to plant a host of other vegetables if you have additional space. Beets, broccoli, bush beans, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, kale, kohlrabi, sugar snap peas, and summer squash are some to plant now for fall harvest. Add compost before planting to replenish the soil.