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Lupines: Cultivating Them in Your Home Garden

For generations, lupines have been part of our agricultural legacy. Learn how to grow these legumes in your own garden.

by BioGrow

Lupines are legumes that have always been part of our farming tradition. The lupine plant has been cultivated in the Mediterranean Basin and the Middle East by ancient civilizations. It was particularly grown by the Romans, for whom lupines were an integral part of their diet. There are various botanical species of this plant, many of which are also found in the wild. Concerning cultivation, the preferred species is the white lupine (Lupinus albus), from which the well-known grain legumes are derived. These legumes are fascinating as they can be used both as human food and in animal husbandry to produce feed. Additionally, they are employed in organic farming as an excellent fertilizer for citrus fruits.

In this article, after describing the botanical characteristics of lupines, we’ll delve into how to cultivate these plants in our home garden.

Botanical Identification of Lupines and Various Existing Species

The Lupinus species belongs to the botanical family of Leguminosae (or Fabaceae).
It’s a plant that also grows in the wild, and the most well-known species are:

  • White, Lupinus albus
  • Blue, Lupinus angustifolius
  • Yellow, Lupinus luteus

The species of Lupins
In Italy, the most cultivated species is the white lupine, especially in the southern regions such as Calabria, Lazio, Puglia, and Campania.
Lupines are renowned for their hardiness. They have a remarkable ability to adapt even to the most challenging and poor soils.
Like other legumes we’ve encountered (fava beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts), lupines are soil-improving plants, both in terms of structure and fertility. They are used for crop rotation and natural fertilization, which are among their primary agricultural functions.

Botanical Characteristics of Lupines

The white lupine is an annual plant with an upright posture and a stem height that can exceed 1.5 meters. It has a robust, deep-rooting system capable of reaching great depths even in the hardest soils. The roots host numerous globular nodules. These are produced by the bacteria genus Rhizobium, responsible for fixing atmospheric nitrogen in the soil in a form easily assimilated by plants. The stem, which is thick and sturdy, has few pubescent branches. The leaves are alternately arranged, possessing long petioles, and have 5 to 9 leaflets. These leaflets are ovate-lanceolate, glabrous on the upper surface, and velvety on the lower side. The flowers of this lupine species are white, showy, and large. They are clustered in large racemes on the terminal part of the stem and secondary branches. They are hermaphroditic, and fertilization is autogamous. After fertilization, the lupine plant produces numerous pods. These are quite long, erect, attached to the raceme axis, and flattened in shape. Each pod contains from 3 to 6 seeds. The seeds, or lupines, are white-yellowish in color, lens-shaped, and can have a diameter of up to 15 mm.

How to Cultivate Lupines

Environmental and Soil Requirements

Lupin leaves and flowersThe white lupine is a hardy species, with excellent resistance to both frost and heat. For this reason, especially in the South, it’s usually sown in autumn, between October and December. In the northern regions, with harsher and rainy winters, it can be sown in spring, between late March and early April. In this case, maturity will be later, towards the end of summer. The lupine prefers soils with a slightly acidic pH but also adapts well to moderately alkaline ones. It doesn’t tolerate waterlogged soils that hinder root growth. Given the nitrogen-fixing capacity of lupines, no organic fertilization is required for the soil, neither pre-seeding nor during vegetative growth. Soil tillage can be done with plowing, and the surface soil can remain coarse, not too refined.

Sowing Lupine

Lupin seedsSowing lupine can be done directly in the soil using the post-hole technique. It’s enough to place two seeds per hole at about 2 cm deep.
The sowing can be dense, keeping a distance of 30 cm between rows and 20 cm between each plant in the row. This ensures uniform vegetative coverage and maximum productivity.
Seed availability offers several options. Firstly, you can approach agricultural consortia or local retailers who usually have dry seeds available.
There are lupine seeds that give rise to multicolored hybrid varieties, making the plant an excellent ornamental. You can find seeds of this kind here.

Cultivation Care and Lupine Harvest

Lupine plants do not require particular cultivation care during their growth. If the sowing has been dense, there’s no need to remove weeds, as the plant will have taken over. Irrigation is necessary only sporadically, during prolonged periods of drought, especially if the sowing took place in spring. The stem is sturdy and doesn’t require artificial supports. Harvesting generally takes place in June-July, but in the case of spring sowing, it can even extend to late September.

Biological Anti-Parasitic Defense

Attacks by parasites do not greatly concern lupine plants. In spring, attention should be paid to the presence of black aphids. These can be controlled by using natural macerates, such as nettle and garlic. In case of severe infestations, soft potash soap can be used. Regarding the fungal diseases that can damage lupine, there are root rots such as Fusarium, Rhizoctonia solani, and Phythium debaryanum. These fungal diseases are favored by waterlogged and asphyxiated soils. Prevention involves favoring water drainage as much as possible.

Food Uses of Lupine

Lupins in brine

Lupins in brine

Firstly, it’s important to emphasize that lupine cannot be consumed immediately after harvesting and raw because they contain alkaloids that are toxic to humans in high concentrations. The seeds, among other things, are very bitter, so they need to be “cured.” This means they undergo a lengthy preparation before consumption, which serves to sweeten them. The preparation involves several changes of fresh running water and boiling in salted water. Prepared this way, they are seasoned with oil and salt, but the simplest way to consume them is without seasoning, as a small snack. In the market, you can find pasteurized lupine in vacuum-sealed trays, preserved with brine. A traditional use involves roasting the seeds and using lupine as a coffee substitute. Another classic food use is with dry lupine for flour production. This is mixed with other cereals for baking or used to enrich other food products like cheeses, spreads etc. Lupines, like other legumes, are rich in proteins, minerals, and vitamins. They are highly recommended for diabetic individuals.

Other Uses of Lupine

A very interesting use of lupine is in zootechnics and agriculture. In the former, the flour is used as feed, excellent for supplementing the protein diet of livestock. In organic farming, ground lupines serve as an excellent natural fertilizer, especially recommended for lemon, other citrus fruits, and generally acidophilic plants (mimosa, blueberry, geraniums etc).
On a domestic scale, the fertilizer made with lupines can be an excellent solution to plant nutrition problems.

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