You’ve probably seen frozen edamame beans in the supermarket, but did you know that you can quickly grow your fresh edamame at home?
In this edamame growing guide, our experts show you exactly the right conditions for a healthy crop while explaining what edamame is.
Also, we’ll go over common pests and problems, as well as harvesting and cooking tips and tricks.
What is edamame?
Simply put, edamame are soybeans. Sometimes referred to as either edamame beans or edamame peas, they have become an iconic legume that we associate with fresh, healthy and flavorful Asian dishes — and more!
Initially, however, the word had a more specific meaning. Edamame (枝豆) is a Japanese word used to refer to dishes made from young soybeans, usually enclosed in their pods. Soy is used in Japanese cooking in many shapes and forms, from soy sauce to tofu, which is why, even today, edamame is still mostly used to refer to cooked soybean pods.
As soybeans became more and more popular in Western countries, edamame came to be used in reference to the soy plant’s raw, green beans. You will often come across edamame being used to refer to the plant itself, especially in growing guides such as this one.
Edamame vs Soybean
So then, what is the difference between edamame and soybeans? Although they are technically the same plant, the main thing that sets them apart is harvesting and their uses. Edamame looks similar to snap peas, is harvested when young, sold either in pods or as shelled edamame (also known as mukimame), and is cooked without much processing.
Meanwhile, soybeans are often allowed to mature and harden before being picked, and they resemble dried beans in appearance. It’s the soybeans that are later processed and turned into tofu, soy sauce, oil, soy paste, or vegetarian alternatives to meat or milk.
Where does edamame come from?
The name ‘edamame’ comes from Japan, yet soybeans are widely used and cultivated worldwide. The soy plant is native to eastern Asia, and it’s a member of the Fabaceae family, a group of plants commonly known as legumes. Soy is related to beans, peas, chickpeas, and even peanuts and trees such as acacia, or ornamental flowers like lupine.
The Latin name for edamame and soybean is Glycine max. These plants look very similar to beans, producing the same type of leaves, and small, light purple flowers. Soy plants usually grow between 2 and 3 feet tall (60cm to 90cm) and rarely need a trellis or skating. In autumn, the plants produce abundant clusters of green pods covered in a light fuzz, attached to the leaves’ base.
If you have an outdoor garden, we can bet that you’ve already grown beans and peas at least once.
Why not step up your gardening game by adding this tasty and exotic legume to your list? In this guide, we’ll show you how to grow your soybeans and enjoy fresh edamame whenever the mood takes you.
A guide to growing edamame
The best way to grow edamame is from seeds, which are typically sold as soybeans.
Picking the right variety is essential, as different beans have different uses: some are used for flour or for making tofu, while black soybeans are better for drying. For edamame, look for the green soybean varieties.
Edamame typically takes 70 to 90 days from sowing before they’re ready to be harvested. They are also very sensitive to frost, so planting them outdoors needs to be timed correctly. To give you a head start, we recommend getting them sprout indoors and transplanting them outside in late spring.
Here’s what you’ll need.
1. Germinating edamame beans
To save time when growing edamame, start by germinating them inside. This technique will also give you more control over the growing temperatures, especially the temperature and soil moisture.
Edamame needs around 70°F (21°C) to germinate, and plenty of light. It is also sensitive to too much water, which can cause the bean to rot before it has had a chance to sprout a seedling.
Check how many soy seeds you have per packet and prepare a germination pot for each one. We prefer using compostable seedling pots, which also make transplanting easier without damaging the roots. Pick a pot that’s 2 inches (5 cm) tall and fill it with compost, then place the seed in the middle and cover with a layer of soil about a finger deep. Avoid sowing cracked or scarred edamame seeds, as they will not germinate.
You don’t need to soak the seeds before sowing. Just provide them with enough water once planted. Use a spray bottle to mist the pots daily, ensuring that the soil is moist but not soggy.
– When to transplant edamame?
Edamame seeds take around 7 days to sprout. They are very similar to bean or pea seedlings and produce large, heart-shaped leaves even when they’re small. Once you have at least 4 leaves per seedling, you can start planning to transplant them to your garden.
2. Growing edamame outdoors
Start by preparing the soil for your edamame. This legume grows best in rich, loamy soils, with a pH ranging from 6.0 to 7.0.
Avoid planting them in clay-heavy soils, as this can stunt their growth and even cause root rot if the water isn’t allowed to drain properly. Use soil amendments such as peat moss or bark if needed.
– Do you need fertilizer for edamame beans?
Soy is similar to beans and other legumes in the fact that it fixates nitrogen in the soil. This is excellent news because, unlike other vegetables, you don’t need to provide your soy plants with fertilizer throughout the year.
However, it also means that you need to prepare a nutrient-rich substrate for the young plants to grow into before providing their nitrogen. Make sure to incorporate compost or other organic nutrients into the soil before sowing.
– Location and temperature
Edamame needs plenty of sun, and thrive in temperatures ranging from 68°F (20°C) to 86°F (30°C). They are a perfect warm climate crop, so pick a part of your garden where they get lots of direct sun. Plant your edamame seeds outdoors in late spring, when the temperatures stay at a minimum of 70°F (21°C) throughout the day.
If you’ve germinated your seeds indoors, you have a head start of at least two weeks and can harvest them much sooner. Both seeds and seedlings need plenty of space, so plant them at least 1 foot (30 cm) apart. Edamame can grow as tall as 3 feet (90 cm), and even though it doesn’t need a trellis, it will appreciate having lots of room to spread out.
Water your edamame regularly, especially after sowing, when the plants start flowering, and once the seed pods start maturing.
Avoid overwatering, as this can cause root rot and other pathogens, which will kill the plants. Aim to water the plants when the first top inch of the soil is dry, and add a layer of mulch to the plant’s base to retain moisture.
– Ensuring continuous edamame
Edamame only produces one crop per plant. To enjoy a continuous harvest throughout the year, we recommend sowing seeds several times. A great practice is to start several seedling batches one week apart, for an entire month.
If you live somewhere with warm temperatures lasting well into late autumn and you’re sowing early cultivars, you can extend this to two months.
3. Edamame pests and problems
Edamame and soy plants encounter the same kinds of pests and problems as peas and beans. Caterpillars, snails, slugs and the bean beetle will chew the leaves, while aphids can damage the younger stems and leaves by sucking the sap. You might also notice discoloration in the leaves caused by fungal infections, such as powdery mildew or bean rust.
Using chemicals such as pesticides or insecticides can help you protect your edamame crop. However, we don’t recommend them. They will often negatively impact beneficial insects living in your garden and can also have an ill effect on your health. There are many natural, organic ways to combat pests, which are better for you and the environment.
Here are our tips for the most common edamame pests.
– Slugs, caterpillars and beetles
Manually pick these insects and bugs whenever you see them crawling on the leaves of your edamame plants. Prepare a bucket of soapy water or a water and insecticidal soap mix, and discard them in there. If you spend 5 to 10 minutes each day routinely inspecting your crop, you can stay on top of them without having to use harmful chemicals.
Dislodge large groups of aphids from your plants with a jet of water from your garden hose. You can also use Ladybug larvae to keep their population under control, as these small bugs are the aphids’ natural predators.
– Rust and mildew
The most common causes of fungal infections such as powdery mildew or bean rust are:
- too much moisture
- poor air circulation
- not enough light
If you find any leaves on your edamame plants with red or white spots, cut them off with gardening scissors, and dispose of them away from the plants, to prevent further spread.
Water your soy plants in the morning, from the top, to wash off any spores from the leaves. Prepare an organic antifungal solution by mixing 1 teaspoon of baking soda in 1 quart (1 liter) of water and spray it on both the leaves’ top and bottom.
Given that they fix nitrogen in the soil, soy plants create a rich substrate that is very inviting for weeds. The easiest way to get rid of them is to manually remove them, taking care to pull out the weeds’ roots from the soil.
However, take care not to remove the weeds too aggressively, as this can disturb the roots of your edamame plant. You can also apply a layer of mulch at the bottom of the plants, which helps retain moisture and keep weeds under control.
4. When to pick edamame
Edamame are usually harvested in early autumn, although the weather, variety of soybean, and the time of sowing also have an impact. You can pick types of edamame as early as 75 days after sowing, while others can take as long as 150 days. Check the manufacturer’s specifications on each seed packet to see what to expect.
– Picking edamame properly
The easiest way to tell if edamame pods are ready for picking is if they’re at least 2 inches (5 cm) long, bright green, with round, well-shaped beans inside. Using a pair of garden scissors, cut the stems on the seed pods to remove them from the plant.
Do not tear them with your hands, as this can damage the plant. Usually, all seed pods are removed from the same plant at the same time.
– When is it too late to harvest edamame?
Edamame with a yellowing seed pod is still good for harvesting, although they will have a starchy taste and texture compared to the young, green ones. In general, soy plants will start shedding their leaves as the seed pods mature. If you notice that your plants have plenty of pods but are beginning to lose a lot of leaves, that could be a sign that you’ve postponed harvesting your edamame for too long.
Each edamame pod has two or four seeds. Once harvested, store your edamame inside the pods, either in the fridge or blanched and kept in the freezer.
How to cook with edamame
Edamame are tasty, nutritious, and have numerous health benefits. They are rich in protein, making an excellent alternative to meat in vegetarian and vegan diets. The seeds also contain fibers, minerals such as magnesium, potassium and phosphorus, and vitamins A, B, C and K.
What do edamame beans taste like?
Edamame tastes sweet and mildly nutty and quite similar to beans, but with a firmer consistency when compared to peas. Edamame beans should always be cooked, as eating them raw can cause digestive problems. This applies to both edamame served in their pods, as well as the shelled and frozen versions you can find in stores.
What are the best ways to cook edamame?
The easiest and tastiest way to cook edamame is the traditional Japanese way. Boil or steam the whole pods for 5 minutes, then sprinkle with salt and serve. Pop the beans in your mouth and discard the shells, as the light fuzz covering them and the tough texture makes them difficult to eat.
If you find it more comfortable, you can also remove the shells before cooking. Shelled edamame are called mukimame in Japan, and they make a tasty and colorful addition to dishes such as fried rice, stir-fries, soups, salads, Hawaiian-style poke bowls, and even humus.
What can you substitute edamame with?
The best substitutes for edamame are sugar snap peas, lima beans, or fava beans. If you’re looking for an alternative that comes in a pod, you can swap edamame for Japanese green beans or snow peas, both of which can be enjoyed without shelling.
Edamame are not only delicious but are also very good for you. Plus, they’re easy to grow at home, which means you can be creating stunning Asian dishes with authentic ingredients.
Let’s recap the basics.
- Edamame and soybeans are the same thing, but edamame are harvested while young, and you can eat them fresh, while soybeans are typically harvested later, then processed or dried.
- Edamame are related to other legumes such as beans, peas and peanuts, and can often be grown in similar peas conditions.
- It’s best to grow edamame in well-draining soils as a warm-weather crop, remembering to water regularly and allowing them plenty of space to spread out. Unlike beans and peas, they don’t generally require a trellis to support their growth.
- Try to harvest all the edamame pods in one go once they’re bright green and around 2″ long.
Growing edamame in your garden is a fantastic project that is easy to get started on and can yield incredibly delicious results. So, why not get started today?