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Growing Beans: A How-To Guide

Staple and comfort food icon, the bean has been playing an essential role in the survival of people and animals since ancient times. Evidence has been unearthed that old-world legumes (len­tils, peas, broad beans, chick peas and soybeans) have been used as food for more than 10,000 years in eastern Asia. Caches of lentils have been found in Egyptian tombs, signifying the reverence paid to this plant. Jason Ladock in “His­tory of Legumes: Man’s Use of Legumes” on healthguidance.org writes that today “Legumes are second only to the cereal grasses as sources of human food and ani­mal forage.”

Lima bean vine.

Why are legumes so popular? Le­gumes, members of the bean or Fabaceae plant family have many significant at­tributes. An important source of protein and fiber, beans also are high in iron, potassium and magnesium. They are easy to grow, and when dry, many beans can be stored for long periods of time without losing viability if they are kept in a cool, dry, dark environment. Besides the food nutrient benefits, the USDA Soil Quality Institute reports that beans have an ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen, with the help of symbiotic Rhizobia bacteria living in their roots, and supply up to 90 percent of their own nitrogen.

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Supplying Nitrogen: Tap into Nature

Human activity is affecting planet Earth to such an extent that natural scientists are naming this time the beginning of a new geological age/epoch called Anthropocene (the recent age of man) and ending what was the Holocene epoch (about 17,000 years ago to present).

We are no longer observers of nature, but significant influencers of what is happening to nature. The sheer weight of humans and their livestock is now bigger than the Earth’s wild animal population. Our activities are rapidly increasing the amount of CO2 in the air. That is an established fact, the effect of which is the only thing in dispute, i.e. will it get warmer or cooler and will we be wetter or dryer?

The temporary warmth is obvious in the Arctic. Although growers usually help to absorb CO2 by growing crops, their improper handling of crop residue or improper feeding of livestock can add the CO2 back into the air. However, farming’s bigger polluting effect concerns nitrogen.

Plants have always used N from the air by a variety of natural methods. Now the rate we are taking N out of the air is 50 percent higher than what nature has done for millions of years. Most of this industrially created N is now used for fertilizer. This industrial process was originally used to make munitions prior to World War I.

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