Vegan Veg: Success with soya
By: Lonnie and Richard Morris
This month our vegan duo turn their attention to that most versatile of crops – soya beans – and explain how to grow, prepare and cook them.
Soya beans are a vital crop originating in South East Asia. They are used in every conceivable way. The most significant properties of the soya bean are that they are high in protein and used in producing oils. The vegetative parts of the plants are used for animal feeds and various parts of the plant are also used in the production of everything from glue to flour to printing inks.
For us, as a food crop, they are incredibly important and the reason that it’s such a good idea to grow one’s own is that so much of what we consume is genetically modified. This has meant that the largest company growing soya beans has been able to use glyphosate plentifully on the land as the soya bean crop is resistant to it. The alternative to crops grown like this is the organic method and this is likely to involve the use of animal products, which as vegans we want to avoid, but cannot get away from. Most of us probably consume soya products on a daily basis; however, if we grow our own, at least we can eat some that are free from these things. Growing a field full would be my ideal but growing just a couple of rows for using fresh is probably within more people’s grasp.
Soya beans are useful in the vegan diet as they can be used in so many ways. We use soya to make soya milk, cheese, margarine, cream, tofu (used in savoury dishes and for desserts such as soya cheesecake) and, if you like the idea (I don’t), meat substitutes.
There are other plants that give us ‘milk’ and many are readily available in our supermarkets. These include rice, wheat and various nuts but none is as useful nor as versatile as the wonderful soya bean. Factory farmed cows are fed soya as a staple. As a vegan I’d sooner we used the soya ourselves and stopped using cows for milk. After all it’s healthier for us (it is said to reduce cholesterol, prevent cancers, counteract the harmful effects on women of raised oestrogen and decrease the risks associated with menopause such as osteoporosis).
Soya beans need a long, warm summer although there are a couple of varieties suited to our climate. They can be propagated under cover applying heat to help them along. Their hard shell benefits from scarifying (rubbing with coarse sandpaper) but warmth and moisture also helps them germinate. Start them off in spring, it is a bit late now to sow but worth trying a few (if reading this in early June). If starting indoors in the warm I grow them in guttering so as not to disturb their roots when planting out. Otherwise grow in pots and place in a propagator at about 20-25ºC (68-77ºF).
Some people sow directly outside once the soil has warmed up but germination can be erratic.
Plant your seedlings out about 15cm (6in) apart in rows about 45cm (18in) apart once the risk of frost has passed. They need little support as they don’t grow tall but they do require plenty of moisture and good airflow to minimise the likelihood of fungal infections. They are otherwise not a problem in terms of pests or diseases. Water well on planting, mulch the area and that’s about it.
Soya beans are self-pollinating and will grow rapidly in a warm summer.
When the pods are growing, they need increased watering. They flower and produce short hairy pods when the day length shortens to about 14 hours and can be harvested unripe (edamame plants) for use in salad dishes or left to mature on the plant for storage and later use.
Varieties and where to find them
There are four varieties available in the UK. ‘Ustie’ is a variety that suits our climate as it matures more quickly. ‘Black Jet’ withstands slightly lower temperatures. ‘Envy’ is a heavy cropper, but the unripe beans are not as palatable. ‘Elena’ is most commonly available. Seeds are sold by a number of outlets such as Thompson & Morgan and DT Brown. However, if you are online, moreveg.co.uk offers ‘Elena’ and is the only one I’ve found this year actually stating that it is not genetically modified.
The seedcoat can be rubbed with fine sandpaper (scarified) to help water penetrate after sowing, but do not damage the embryo plant inside.
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