Although legumes are normally thought of as a summer crop, they store really well so it's certainly possible to eat them all year round. This guide is about growing though and it's certainly possible to grow and eat members of the legume family every month of the year, provided you are prepared to substitute the pea/bean for the leaves in winter!
This guide will introduce the main types of legume that we grow, when we grow them and why and then I provide a month by month growing guide that details, what we sow, plant and harvest each month.
Legumes are such a tasty, nourishing and versatile crop, this is a very exciting chapter to be writing.
By tradition most gardeners will just be eating peas in spring/summer and beans in summer and autumn, but we think they deserve a broader role in your diet. In this chapter I'm going to talk only about eating legumes fresh, in the chapter on storage and meal planning I will briefly mention freezing and drying, but we do so little of this I don't want you to get your hopes up!
This guide should be read in conjunction with the more detailed guide to growing peas.
We love mangetout peas, partly because we are too lazy to shell peas, partly because we don't like waste, partly because we get to eat peas early but mainly because they are so sweet and crunchy at a time when crunchy and sweet are so hard to come by. We harvest our first pods in May, at the same time as the early strawberries and the two make up my breakfast most days in spring.
When the video above was made I was even considering only growing mangetout, but since then I've been convinced to grow just a few shelling peas and sugarsnaps!
Peas and early strawberries for breakfast in May
We start our fist batch in mid January and plant them out in February as soon as space comes free. I have two favourite locations, along the back of a cold-frame (lettuces in front) where they grow protected until April, or at the back of a low tunnel where they can grow taller.
In both cases I take their covers off some time in April, put in supports and let them go and go they do, delivering a first harvest only a month later. They last well too, certainly until our March sown batch are ready.
We don't tend to grow them in summer though, they are a cool weather crop and by then there's so many alternatives.
I'm gradually moving away from crops that grow over-winter but aren't harvested over-winter, especially if they are fast growing. Peas come into that category, but they are so welcome in spring that we do grow them nice an early.
We grow sugar snap peas the same way as mangetout, sometimes in the same bed, one row of each, for all of the same reasons.
Pea shoots take up too much space, but they do look nice in spring
We've tried pea shoots as an early crop, maturing a month before we have pods, but we grow less of them now. The shoots are not as sweet as they are in late spring and in winter we find it much easier to grow them on the windowsill in trays, we start them every few weeks and we get about three crops off each tray, before the quality declines. We do still grow them in the ground for harvest in mid-late spring, just before we plant climbing beans in the same bed.