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The Environmental Impact of Beans and Legumes: How Nitrogen Fixation Can Benefit Your Garden and the Planet

14 March 2024
The Environmental Impact of Beans and Legumes: How Nitrogen Fixation Can Benefit Your Garden and the Planet

If you're looking for vegan-friendly protein sources that are affordable, widely available, and easy to grow, look no further than beans and legumes. Not only are these perfectly filling and delicious, but there is evidence that shows that they can be beneficial for good health and longevity. Author and entrepreneur Dan Buettner, who has spent decades visiting and reporting about communities where people get to live past 100 years, told CNN that beans and legumes are part of the daily diet in these parts of the world. Buettner adds that the longest living family in the world, who reside in Sardinia, start their day with minestrone, which is a bean and chickpea-rich soup. He also revealed that soybeans may be the secret to Okinawans’ longevity as their second most consumed staple is tofu, which is made from the aforementioned legume.

Apart from helping people to live healthier and longer lives, beans and legumes are also popular among environmentalists as they're good for the planet in so many ways. Here's what you need to know about the environmental impact of beans and legumes, and how these protein and nitrogen-rich foods can benefit your garden and the planet.

Beans and Legumes Use Less Land Than Conventional Protein Sources

The way people use land can affect air and water quality, climate, wildlife habitat, and human health, among others. This is why some companies, such as Google and Blue Cross Blue Shield, are becoming more aware of unsustainable land use practices, such as random urbanisation and illegal logging and mining. To help save the earth, they've begun addressing this issue by creating workplace gardens at their respective headquarters. Moreover, they're also invested in commercial landscaping techniques to extend the life of their greenery and avoid waste. Doing all of these things enables these companies to offset their carbon footprint and improve their land use.

Another way to improve land use is by using less of it since using less land enables you to conserve water and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, most of the world's land is being used to meet the global protein supply, with 77 percent of the world's agricultural land being utilised to raise pigs, cattle, and chickens for human consumption. In contrast, only 23 percent of land is used to grow plants for food, and more than 60 percent of these plants provide protein. This is why people are encouraged to grow pulses like beans and lentils, since these give more protein while using less land compared to conventional protein sources like beef, pig meat, or lamb.

They Naturally Improve Soil Quality

Gardeners and farmers often rely on chemical fertilisers to improve their soil quality and ensure a bountiful harvest. This is because most fertilisers are enriched with nitrogen, which is essential to aid plants’ growth, nutrient absorption, and other biological processes such as photosynthesis. However, synthetic fertilisers may harm aquatic life and contribute to greenhouse gas levels. Moreover, they can be harmful to humans and animals as some fertilisers can be highly toxic.

For a natural alternative to fertiliser, consider planting some beans and peas in your garden. These absorb atmospheric nitrogen from the air, then convert it into ammonium nitrogen before releasing it into the soil. A lot of common food crops, such as broccoli, peppers, and lettuce, can benefit from ammonium nitrogen-rich soil. For optimum soil enrichment, plant beans and legumes alongside other veggies, and harvest them in the green or fresh stage.

They Can Grow Anywhere

Perhaps one of the best things about growing beans and legumes is that they can thrive almost anywhere, except in places with extreme temperatures. They can be grown in gardens, but they can also survive in high altitudes and near coastal areas. Since some varieties can thrive in poor soil and hot climates, scientists are able to see the possibility of creating new varieties that may withstand even tougher soil and weather conditions. This means that by planting beans and legumes, future generations may be able to make it through a famine brought about by climate change. And since beans and legumes require less water than other plants, this makes them good alternative crops during water shortages or droughts.

Beans and legumes are not just beneficial for staving off hunger, but they're also good for the earth. Plant your favourite pulses in your garden today to do your part to save the planet.

By Jennifer East

Jennifer East is a travel journalist turned freelance writer with a passion for all things green. She lives for her garden and spends as much time as possible out there. She lives with her husband and three children, two dogs and twelve chickens.