Growing Soybeans: Information On Soybeans In The Garden

Growing Soybeans: Information On Soybeans In The Garden

By: Amy Grant

An ancient crop of the Orient, soybeans (Glycine max ‘Edamame’) are just beginning to become an established staple of the Western world. While it’s not the most commonly planted crop in home gardens, many people are taking to growing soybeans in fields and reaping in the health benefits these crops provide.

Information on Soybeans

Soybean plants have been harvested for more than 5,000 years, but only in the last 250 years or so have Westerners become aware of their enormous nutritional benefits. Wild soybean plants can still be found in China and are beginning to find a place in gardens throughout Asia, Europe and the Americas.

Soja max, the Latin nomenclature comes from the Chinese word ‘sou’, which is derived from the word ‘soi‘ or soy. However, soybean plants are so revered in the Orient that there are over 50 names for this extremely important crop!

Soy bean plants have been written about as early as the old Chinese ‘Materia Medica’ circa 2900-2800 B.C. However, it doesn’t appear in any European records until A.D. 1712, after its discovery by a German explorer in Japan during the years 1691 and 1692. Soybean plant history in the United States is disputable, but certainly by 1804 the plant had been introduced in eastern areas of the U.S. and more fully after an 1854 Japanese expedition by a Commodore Perry. Still, the popularity of soybeans in the Americas was limited to its use as a field crop even as recently as the 1900’s.

How to Grow Soybeans

Soybean plants are fairly easy to grow — about as easy as bush beans and planted much the same way. Growing soybeans can occur when soil temperatures are 50 F. (10 C.) or so, but more ideally at 77 F. (25 C.). When growing soybeans, don’t rush planting as cold soil temperatures will keep the seed from germinating and stagger planting times for a continuous harvest.

Soybean plants at maturation are quite large (2 feet (0.5 m.) tall), so when planting soybeans, be aware that they are not a crop to attempt in a small garden space.

Make rows 2-2 ½ feet (0.5 to 1 m.) apart in the garden with 2-3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm.) between plants when planting soybeans. Sow seeds 1 inch (2.5 cm.) deep and 2 inches (5 cm.) apart. Be patient; germination and maturation periods for soybeans are longer than most other crops.

Growing Soybean Problems

  • Don’t sow soybean seeds when the field or garden is overly wet, as cyst nematode and sudden death syndrome may affect the growth potential.
  • Low soil temperatures will prevent germination of the soybean plant or cause root rotting pathogens to flourish.
  • In addition, planting soybeans too early may also contribute to high populations of bean leaf beetle infestations.

Harvesting Soybeans

Soybean plants are harvested when the pods (edamame) are still an immature green, prior to any yellowing of the pod. Once the pod turns yellow, the quality and flavor of the soybean is compromised.

Pick by hand from the soybean plant, or pull the entire plant from the soil and then remove pods.

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5 Steps to Grow High-Yield Soybeans

If crops were pro football players, corn would be the all-pro quarterback, while soybeans would be the benchwarmers. Typically, corn receives all the glory, while soybeans are shunted aside.

It doesn’t have to be that way. “Put some effort into them!” says Joel Wipperfurth, a WinField United ag technology applications lead. With proper management, soybeans can brim bins with plentiful yields as does corn.

That’s the approach that Dan Arkels of Peru, Illinois, takes. In 2014, he won the Illinois Soybean Association yield contest with a 104-bushel-per-acre yield.

“That year, my normal production soybeans averaged 70 bushels (per acre),” he says. “So, I drew a line between what I spent on growing 70-bushel beans and 104-bushel beans.”

He sold soybeans at around $10 per bushel that year, which enabled him to glean an extra $340 per acre in gross revenues on the 30-acre plot of contest soybeans. The extra $340 in gross revenues he gleaned dwarfed the money he spent on inputs to glean the extra 34-bushel-per-acre yield.

Granted, much still hinges on the weather. A droughty August can nix some of the extra input and strategy benefits.

“If you have a good stretch of weather that will take beans the distance, it’s worth spending money on them,” says Arkels.

Here are five of the steps Arkels takes to aim for high soybean yields.

1. Drainage

“My soils are black, tight, and deep Muscatine-Sable type of soils,” he says. This makes for excellent water-holding capacity, although drainage is a must.

“I always try to put contest beans on well-drained fields, because drainage is a big part of high yields,” he says. Well-drained soils enable soybeans to start well and deter diseases.

2. Variety selection

“When I look at variety selection, the most important thing to me is plant health,” he says. “I look at resistance to SCN (soybean cyst nematode), SDS (sudden death syndrome), and white mold.

“I also look at full-season products for my area,” he says. On contest beans, he’s planted maturity group 3.4 soybeans. By flowering late into the season, more pods and potentially higher yields result, he says.

3. Early planting

Aiming to plant soybeans early in mid-April leverages the increased flowering period that full-season varieties have. “A soybean plant is light-sensitive, and it will flower as late as the season allows,” he says.

4. Supply nitrogen.

“I feel a soybean plant is able to fix its own nitrogen (N) right up to 80 bushels per acre in my area,” Arkels says. “If you want to grow over 80-bushel beans, you have to provide soybeans some form of nitrogen.”

He normally combines 50 pounds per acre of 32% N and an N inhibitor with a preplant herbicide. Soybeans often go through a two- to three-week “ugly” phase early in the season, where they are yellowed and stunted. The weed-and-feed application helps plants nix the ugly phase and develop an excellent root system packed with N-fixing nodules, he says.

After that, all N is foliar-applied, with contest soybeans receiving at least two foliar applications of N. Multiple applications of a fungicide are also key, he says. In contest fields, he will apply up to three fungicide applications during the reproductive phase, which are often combined with foliar N.

Conventional soybean fields typically don’t receive as many applications, but the concept remains. “The N feeds the plant, while the fungicide keeps the plant healthy,” says Arkels. “If you can’t keep a plant healthy, it will not produce.”

Sufficient potassium (K) levels are also needed. “Demand for potash in soybeans is astronomically high in a high-yield environment,” Arkels says.

Foliar applications are keyed by tissue tests. “I send tissue tests to the lab, and the report tells me if I’m short on N, P (phosphorus), K, and micronutrients,” he says. This allows Arkels the opportunity to correct deficiencies, mainly K and micronutrients like boron, copper, manganese and magnesium.

5. Weed management

Using residual preemergence herbicides is key. “It’s amazing what a good job a pre can do managing weeds,” says Arkels. “That is the biggest answer for managing resistant weeds. A pre holds weeds back until I come back with a postemergence herbicide.”

Slashing seedbank weeds is also key, says Wipperfurth. He says 50% of waterhemp seeds are viable nine days after flowering. Rouging and removing waterhemp plants from a field before harvest prevents weed seeds from sprouting in future years.

How to Grow Soybeans

Last Updated: April 1, 2019 References Approved

This article was co-authored by Andrew Carberry, MPH. Andrew Carberry has been working in food systems since 2008. He has a Masters in Public Health Nutrition and Public Health Planning and Administration from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

There are 15 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

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Soybeans are an edible legume that are very nutritious, as they are high in protein, calcium, fiber, iron, magnesium, and other vitamins and minerals. Soybeans are also very versatile, as they can be cooked, fermented, dried, and turned into products like milk, flour, tofu, and more. Soy is a huge crop for many commercial farmers, but it can also be grown in your own backyard as long as you get a good three to five months of warm weather.


Before seedbed preparation it is advisable to clear all forms of vegetation from the field. Land may be prepared by hand hoe or animal-drawn ploughs or tractor. Single ploughing and harrowing is recommended for preparing a suitable soybean garden.

An ideal soybean seedbed should comprise fertile loam soils that are loose and well aerated to ensure rapid germination and seedling emergence which reduces weed pressure. A fine seed bed also provides adequate moisture and optimum temperature (above 21oC).

Farmers must avoid tight, high clay soils since these soils are generally low in humus, are imbalanced in nutrients and act as barriers to seedling emergence.

Harvesting and Storing Soybeans

Harvest. For green shell beans, harvest soybeans when pods are green, full, and plump, usually 2 to 3 inches (5-7cm) long, about half mature. Soybeans for shelling and fresh use are ready for harvest 45 to 65 days after sowing. Dry soybeans require 100 or more days to reach harvest. Soybeans reach maturity at the same time pull the whole plant and hang it upside down to dry. Shell dry beans once the pods are fully dry.

Note: Soybeans should not be eaten raw they contain trypsin inhibitor which prevents the digestion of proteins. Blanch green soybeans in boiling water for a couple of minutes and then plunge them into an ice-water bath. Boil sprouted beans for at least 5 minutes before eating.

Storing. Green shelled or unshelled soybeans will keep in the refrigerator for up one week. Shelled soybeans can be frozen, canned or dried. To make shelling easier, drop pods into boiling water for a minute. Dried, shelled soybeans can be stored in a cool, dry place for 10 to 12 months.

Varieties. There are more than 10,000 soybean cultivars. Green-seed cultivars are considered the most tender and best flavored. Black-seeded beans are used for drying. Yellow-seed beans are used to make soy milk and flour. Select a cultivar suited to your growing region check with the nearby agricultural extension for recommendations.

Common name. Soybean

Botanical name. Glycine max

Originally from East Asia, edamame is relatively new to North American gardens—especially to home gardeners. Here’s how to plant and grow edamame in your garden!

Edamame is the name given to the immature soybean pod. Once edamame pods mature, harden, and dry, they are used to make soy milk and tofu. Edamame is usually steamed in water and then eaten by squeezing the beans out of its pod, popping directly into the mouth.


  • Edamame requires a long growing season.
  • Like bush beans, edamame grows from 1 to 3 feet tall and does not typically require staking.
  • Plant in full sun in compost-enriched, well-drained soil when temperatures reach at least 60°F.
  • Set seeds 1 to 2 inches deep, 2 to 4 inches apart, in rows 2 feet apart.
  • Stagger the sowing time. Plant again about 10 days after the first sowing for a second harvest.
  • Thin seedlings to 6 inches apart when the plants are 4 inches tall.
  • Apply mulch to control weeds and maintain moisture.
  • Water regularly throughout the season and especially after flowers and pods appear.
  • Weed shallowly to avoid disturbing the edamame plants’ roots.



  • Edamame pods are ready to harvest when they are 2 to 3 inches long, bright green and plump. Snap or cut the pods off the plant. Do not tear the plant.
  • Store fresh edamame in an airtight container or a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
  • Blanched edamame can be frozen shelled or in the pods.
  • Harvest dry soybeans when the plant and leaves are dry and brown and the seeds inside the pods rattle. Pull up the plants and hang them in a dark and dry area until the pods are completely dry.
  • Store dried beans in an airtight container in a dark, cool and dry location.

Recommended Varieties

  • ‘Agate’: Early producer. Known for its buttery flavor.
  • ‘Owens’: Small beans, high yield.
  • ‘Envy’: A short-season favorite.
  • ‘Manitoba Brown’: Adapted to northern climates. Rich taste.
  • ‘Black Jet’: The medium-size beans are green when fresh and black when dry. Recommended for its rich flavor.

Wit & Wisdom

  • During the Civil War, soldiers used dried soybeans as “coffee berries” to brew “coffee.”
  • Edamame is a complete protein source. It is the only vegetable that contains all nine essential amino acids.


Cooking Notes

How to Eat Edamame

Boil the pods in salted water, about five to six minutes until tender.

Or, steam your edamame by placing an inch of water in a pot and bring it to a boil. Place the edamame in a steam basket or colander and cover the pot for five to ten minutes. Then salt as desired.

Once cooled enough, raise the edamame pod to your lips, squeeze the bean out of its salted pod, and pop it directly into the mouth!

Enjoy as a healthy snack. Or, add shelled edamame to salads, rice, pasta, and other dishes it adds flavor, a bright green color, and low-fat protein.


Crop yield depends on the variety of seed cultivated and agronomic practices .An average yield 7 to 25 tons/acre can be expected.

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