Buttery and delicious, edamame beans are an easy-to-grow crop for a home vegetable garden. Also known as soybeans, the compact plants of edamame produce a generous harvest of bright green pods filled with two to three nutritious beans. Bags of frozen edamame are available in supermarkets, but the flavor of fresh picked homegrown edamame just can’t be beat. Keep reading to learn more about growing edamame.
Why should you consider growing edamame?
Edamame (Glycine max) is the name given to the young pods of the soybean plant. They’re also called green soybeans. The pods are inedible, but the beans within have a creamy texture and pea-like flavor. Edamame is a legume and related to lima beans, peas, and snap beans.
There are a lot of reasons for growing edamame in your garden. For me, the biggest one is ease of cultivation. This is a very low-maintenance crop and has growing needs similar to those of bush beans. You can direct seed, no need to fuss with indoor seed starting, and the productive plants yield a heavy crop of fuzzy pods. Inside each of those pods are 2 to 3 protein-packed beans.
Plant edamame in late spring in a garden bed that offers full sun, at least 6 hours of direct light each day. The plants grow fine in soils with average fertility and I like to enrich the soil with an inch of compost before planting. If your soil is poor I’d also recommend adding a slow release organic vegetable fertilizer to the bed when you plant. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers which promote lush leafy growth, but can impact pod production.
Another step is to treat the seeds with a natural soybean inoculant to promote healthy plant growth, dense root formation, and higher yields. I often use bacteria inoculants when planting legumes like peas, beans, and soybeans. Be sure to buy a soybean-specific inoculant and follow the directions on the package.
Soybeans can be planted in containers, elevated planters, or growing systems like Vegepods if garden space is limited. I plant my edamame crop in my raised vegetable beds, usually growing a 4 by 8 foot patch. This produces enough edamame beans for a handful of meals as well as several bags to freeze for winter.
Growing edamame from seed
It’s easy to grow edamame from seed. Like bush beans, this is a frost tender vegetable and can’t be planted until the risk of frost has passed in spring and the soil has warmed to at least 65 F (18 C). Planting in cold wet soil can cause soybean seeds to rot so don’t try to rush edamame into the garden. In short season regions, you can give Mother Nature a helping hand by pre-warming the soil before planting. Lay a sheet of black or clear plastic on top of the bed leaving it in place for 7 to 10 days. Remove when you’re ready to sow the seeds.
When the growing conditions are right, sow seeds by planting them 1 to 1 1/2 inches deep and 2 to 3 inches apart. If there is a danger of frost after planting, cover the bed with a lightweight row cover. Thin the seedlings to 4 to 6 inches apart once they’re growing well. Space rows 18 to 24 inches apart. For an extended harvest, plant a second crop 3 to 4 weeks later.
Caring for edamame plants
As noted above, edamame plants are a low-maintenance crop. I pay attention to soil moisture and water deeply each week if there has been no rain. Drought-stressed plants yield fewer pods, so providing regular irrigation is essential to a generous harvest. You may wish to mulch the plants with straw or shredded leaves to help the soil retain moisture. I also fertilize edamame plants 6 to 8 weeks from seeding, giving them a dose of a liquid organic fish or kelp fertilizer.
Soybean plants are relatively compact and grow 18 to 30 inches tall, depending on the variety. They form strong, bushy plants and don’t typically require staking. Their dense foliage is also handy for shading the soil and reducing weed growth. If you do spot weeds, pull them as they appear so they don’t complete with your edamame plants for light, water, and nutrients.
When to harvest edamame
It’s time to start harvesting edamame when the pods are 2 to 3 inches long, plump, and bright green in color. If they’ve started to turn yellow, you’ve waited too long. I harvest ripe pods every day or two over a period of 2 to 3 weeks. Don’t pull or tug the pods from the plants. Carefully snap them off with your fingers or use garden snips.
At the end of the season I don’t pull my edamame plants from the garden, but instead clip the stems off at soil level with garden snips or hand pruners. Because soybeans are legumes, they fix atmospheric nitrogen and enrich the soil. Leaving the roots in the garden to break down makes that nitrogen available to future crops.
There are several ways to enjoy homegrown edamame. I love to place a plate on the table during dinner so everyone can help themselves to the delicious beans. We also eat them as a snack and in salads. My go-to cooking method is to steam or boil the pods for 4 to 5 minutes. Once cooked, the drained pods are placed on a plate and sprinkled with salt. Using your teeth, squeeze the green beans from the pods. They pop out easily and have a creamy, buttery texture.
Extra garden edamame are frozen for winter meals. Before freezing, I blanch the pods in boiling salted water for 3 minutes and then transfer them to an ice bath. The drained pods are placed in freezer bags and immediately placed in a deep freeze. When we want to cook them, I steam or boil the frozen pods for 4 to 5 minutes before serving.
Common pests and diseases when growing edamame
Edamame is a low care crop but there are a few issues to consider. Aphids are perhaps the most common pest, and you can easily dislodge them from the plants with a jet of water from a hose. I also encourage predatory insects in my vegetable garden by including plants with small flowers like sweet alyssum and dill. Like fellow legumes peas and beans, edamame plants are also susceptible to deer and rabbits. I keep these critters out of my garden with a fence, but you can also cover soybean plants with hoops and a sheet of insect netting or a lightweight row cover.
There are also a few diseases that can affect soybeans. White mold spreads in cool, damp conditions and greatly affects yield. Space plants properly and practice crop rotation. Also stay out of the soybean patch during wet weather. Anthracnose stem blight causes brownish blotches to form on the stems of the plants and also impacts yield. This disease is more common in the warm, wet weather of late summer.
Edamame varieties to grow in your garden
When I first started growing edamame there were only one or two varieties available through seed catalogs. Now, there are many. Below you’ll find more information on some of my favorite edamame varieties to grow in a home garden.
- Envy (75 days) – For years Envy was the only edamame variety I grew because it was easily available and well adapted to northern regions like mine. The plants are early to mature and grow a tidy 2 feet tall. It’s also a great variety for smaller spaces like containers or raised bed planters. Envy is reliable and the buttery beans are delicious.
- Chiba (75 days) – Chiba is another early maturing variety. The compact, upright plants grow 30 inches tall and bear a good crop of pods. Most pods are about 2 1/2 inches long and contain 3 large green beans.
- Midori Giant (80 days) – I’ve been growing Midori Giant for the past few years and it’s quickly become a standout! This variety is beloved for its large yields and nutty flavored beans. It’s relatively early to mature with about 90% of the pods containing 3 beans. The plants grow around 30” tall and are very well branched to maximize yield.
- Jet Black (80 days) – Unlike most edamame I grow in my garden which have bright green skins, the beans of Jet Black have thin black skins. They also have a great taste and set a large number of pods. Expect 2 to 3 beans per pod from this unique variety. The plants grow about 2 feet tall.
- Shirofumi (80 days) – This mid to late season variety produces 2 1/2 to 3 foot tall plants that yield 2 to 3 plump, buttery beans per pod. You’ll occasionally even find pods with 4 beans! The plants crop over 2 to 3 weeks.
For more information on growing legumes like edamame, be sure to check out these articles:
- How to grow green beans
- Growing black beans
- Pole versus runner beans
- Learn how to grow pea shoots and sprouts
Are you considering growing edamame in your vegetable garden?