“We love growing soybeans,” says Michael Peterson of Madison, Wisconsin. “They are
wonderful. That’s the reason to grow them — because you love to eat them.”
Peterson and his wife grow soybeans so they can snack on the tender young beans, which are
known as edamame. They first experienced steamed or parboiled edamame in Japan, served in a
bowl, sprinkled with sea salt. The beans are served in the pod: you put the whole pod between
your teeth, and as you pull it out the beans pop into your mouth. “It’s like green popcorn, in
a way,” Peterson says. “It has the same compulsive quality — they are really great finger
Back home in Madison, they planted soybeans in their garden in early summer, after the soil
had warmed up, and harvested them while they were still green and tender. They are an easy
crop, Peterson says. If you can grow bush beans, you can grow soybeans. The plants tolerate
heat, and they’re bushy enough to shade the soil around them, which helps conserve moisture in
the soil. Peterson grows his soybeans in raised beds, and mulches with straw.
Soybean plants produce many pods per plant, and they will be ready to harvest all at once,
usually in about 10 weeks. Harvest when the pods are plump and green. Tasting a bean in the
garden is not a good way to judge ripeness, because raw beans are tough and even a little
bitter, but after they are cooked, “they’re like a little nut,” Peterson says.
Unless you’re planning to parboil and then freeze them (they can be reheated later), it’s
best to stagger the sowing time, planting a row or two and then planting again a week or 10
days later. Staggered plantings allow you to harvest over a longer period of time.
“They’re a very forgiving crop,” Peterson says. “Easy to grow, and easy to enjoy.”