UN declares 2016 International Year of Pulses

The United Nations declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses. Pulses are legume crops harvested for their dry seed. High in protein and fiber and low in fat, many people worldwide use them as an alternative or supplement to meat. They include dried peas, beans and lentils. Pulses you’ve probably already tried include garbanzo beans (chickpeas), kidney beans, navy beans, pinto beans, black-eyed peas and pink or green lentils. They are common in many international dishes, such as lentils in Indian Dal or hummus (chickpeas) in Mediterranean-style fare, but they also appear in typical American eats as well – think navy beans in old-fashioned pork and beans.

Worldwide, pulses contribute enormously to food security. Lack of protein and calories are responsible for malnutrition in many developing countries. Pulses provide an affordable source of these essential dietary elements and can be grown as cash crops by smallholder farmers, who can use the excess harvest to feed their family and community. Growing pulses also reduces food waste, a major contributor to food insecurity. Because pulses are shelf-stable, they can be stored to provide food for the family during leaner years. Many pulses are drought-resistant and can be grown in arid climates with erratic precipitation and poor soils. Pulses, in collaboration with soil bacteria, fix their own nitrogen, so they require less fertilization and can improve the quality of the soil in which they are grown.

It’s not hard to grow pulses. Find a space that receives at least 6 hours of full sun per day, and prepare the plot by digging in aged compost to a depth of 6 inches. Also work in a complete fertilizer at a rate of 1 pound per 100 square feet of area. No additional fertilization during growth is necessary and may inhibit pod production.

Beans are warm-season crops, so sow your seeds when the soil temperature is above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Sow seeds 2 to 3 inches apart in rows 18 inches wide.  Sow seeds every 14 days until the end of June for a continuous harvest. Keep the soil moist but not wet, and use an organic mulch to prevent evaporation as temperatures warm. Check soil moisture regularly as flowers and pods are developing because water is most important during this time. Don’t overwater or allow soils to remain saturated as this can promote root diseases. Beans should be harvested when pods are yellow and dry. Days-to-maturity range from 70 to 110 from time of seedling emergence, depending on the variety.

Most garden pea varieties can also be harvested as dry peas, but peas are cool-season crops, so wait until July to plant them. Good dry bean varieties for our region include kidney, Great Northern, pinto, black bean and black-eyed pea (actually a bean). If you’re looking for color, try an heirloom variety. Heirloom seeds have been handed down for generations, hand-selected by gardeners for particular traits. My favorites include Calypso beans, with black and white markings that look like Yin-Yang symbols; Turkey Craw beans that are brown with tan flecks; and Hidatsa Shield beans that were used in the original “Three Sisters” plantings. Dried beans and peas are seeds, so they can also be harvested and saved for future planting.

Heidi Kratsch is the landscape horticulture specialist with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Interested in saving seeds from your garden? Attend the “Grow Your Own, Nevada!” Seed Saving class, held 6-8 p.m. on May 26. Sign up online at www.growyourownnevada.com. Garden questions? Contact a Master Gardener at 775-336-0265 or mastergardeners@unce.unr.edu.