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I’m making chili with beans I grew myself and tomatoes we canned last summer, plus a few odds and ends from the fridge. There’s something very satisfying about cooking with produce that you put up yourself – and eating the meal will be all the sweeter.

Growing dried beans is really easy, although it takes a decent amount of land to get any amount of food out of it. Last summer I grew bush beans in half to two-thirds of a four-by-eight-foot plot in the community garden and I got about a litre of dried beans out of it. Not enough to live off, but I think they’re fun to grow. They also added enough nitrogen to the soil that the neighbouring tomato plant was happy and green.

I bought a mixed packet of beans from Salt Spring Seeds, which I didn’t even use up – the mixed pack is a good option if you don’t have a lot of growing space, or you could share some different kinds with a friend. Salt Spring Seeds is a great source of heirloom food plants and they’ve got some interesting ones, like quinoa and amaranth, and tons of kinds of tomatoes. The beans pretty much grew themselves, especially with all the rain we got last summer. You can let the pods dry on the plants and harvest them then, but I picked them earlier as I didn’t want them to go mouldy. I removed them from the pods and let them dry on cookie sheets before putting them in a jar.

This is actually the first time I’ve cooked with them, which is terrible but goes to show how busy I’ve been this winter. What I noticed first was how big they got when I soaked them overnight. Then when I cooked them, they held their shape much better than purchased beans tend to. I’m inclined to believe the urban myth (has anyone ever verified it?) that dried beans from stores have been sitting around for years.

I kept all my varieties of beans mixed up but for this year I might pick a variety and stick with it. Now, to browse around the Salt Spring Seeds catalogue…

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