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Ask a Master Gardener: Branch out and add edamame to your garden list

by Peter Sutter | November 5, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

I hope you have been enjoying those nice days we've had; they pop up every now and then so it is wise to take advantage of them when they show up. I always feel like there is more to do before bad weather sets in, but I don't think any is on the radar. Speaking of bad weather, when it dose hit, that is a great time to start your list for next year's garden.

One thing I am going to put on my list this year is edamame, the green, immature form of garden soybeans. These are not to be confused with field soybeans. Garden variety soybeans have seeds that are larger, milder tasting, more tender and easier to digest. Best of all, they contain a lower percentage of gas-producing starches; now that's what I look for in a bean.

There are some good reasons to give edamame a try next year. Soy foods, as we are learning, have many health benefits. Along with being a great source of quality protein and vitamin E, soy foods contain isoflavones, which could play a role in reducing the risk of heart attack, osteoporosis, breast cancer and prostate cancer.

I planted some edamame several years ago, but it did not come up so I think it might have been bad seed. I'm not sure where (or who) it came from so I thought I would try again with some "purchased" seed.

Of course, like all vegetables, edamame will do better with some compost or fertilizer mixed in the soil before planting. Plant the seeds about 1-11/2 inches deep and 6 inches apart when all threat of frost is gone and the soil is warm. Edamame plants can get rather bushy, so space your rows at about 2 feet apart. Because soybeans are short-day plants, they are not good candidates for succession planting. This means all soybeans that a gardener intends to plant need to be planted in early to mid-May.

All soybeans, including edamame, are legumes that host beneficial nitrogen-fixing bacteria on their roots. Since it is easy to grow in our warm Mid-Missouri summers, extra seeds would make a good short term cover crop to add some nitrogen in to your soil.

Harvesting edamame pods for fresh eating takes a little finesse, but it is similar to picking peas for shelling. Watch for the pods to start swelling. Once this starts, it's a good idea to check your plants every couple of days to monitor their progress. This is important because they can quickly over-ripen and become starchy. When the beans are fully formed and almost touching each other in the pods, open a few of the fattest pods to see if the beans are fully formed and taste a few of them raw. They should be mildly sweet and tender without any starchiness.

The beans can either be shelled and added to soups and salads or boiled in salt water and served in their pods for a nutritious snack.

If you let the beans ripen completely on the plant, similar to field soybeans, the dried beans can be used much like other dried beans or they can be roasted and eaten alone. The dried beans can also be saved for planting next year.

Edamame is a Japanese word that means "beans on a branch." I hope you will "branch" out and plant some this spring.

Happy garden list making!

Peter Sutter is a lifelong gardening enthusiast and a participant in the MU Extension's Callaway County Master Gardener program. Gardening questions can be sent to [email protected]

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