16 Vegan Protein Sources that You Can Grow in Your Backyard
One of the criticisms I’ve heard about vegan homesteading is that you just can’t live off vegetables. To be honest I totally get where they’re coming from. I read about a vegetarian homestead whose diet consisted mostly of oatmeal and salads. Nuh uh. I may love my veggies but that just ain’t gunna cut it around here. Not for this hungry farmer.
That’s why for all you hungry homesteadin’ hippies I’ve written this list. Next time someone asks you how you can get enough protein, be vegan, and live off the land you’ll have an answer.
Most sources I’ve read (both Vegan leaning and not) conclude that the average adult should consume about 55 grams of protein per day.
On average beans have about 15 grams of protein per cup (cooked). There’s really limitless varieties to grow and ways to include them in your diet. We grow some and currently also buy them in bulk. Some of our favorite recipes are enchiladas with homemade re-fried beans, minestrone soup, and pasta with tomatoes, white beans, and spinach.
Beans are an extremely productive crop, are great for beginner gardeners, and are easy to harvest and store. There are two main types of beans to consider when planning your garden, bush beans and pole beans. Both are easy to grow but pole beans are vining and need a trellis to climb. Alternatively you can use the “three sisters” method or something similar and start corn or other tall sturdy plant earlier and allow the beans to climb them.
For dry beans you want the pods to fully mature and go brown and dry before harvest. Even then they still may need more drying. We hang the entire plants upside down on our porch to finish drying and shell them later after the growing the season when we have more time.
Stone Axe Herbals has a neat article about 7 heirloom bean varieties you can find here.
These guys get a terrible rap for no good reason! Okay well there’s a reason I can think of. Like many big crops in the US today soybeans have been genetically modified so that they’re “round-up ready” and are put in literally all processed food. So those soybeans you do want to avoid. Corn is like that too though and that doesn’t mean all corn is bad, does it?
Solution: grow your own. We grew organic envy soybeans and they were delicious! Soy beans are full of protein. Raw soybeans pack a whopping 68 grams per cup. Plus there’s so many ways to eat them. If you grow your own soybeans you can learn to make soy milk, tempeh, tofu, eat them fresh as edemame, or roast them to add to granola, trail mix, or eat as a snack.
Growing soybeans is about as easy as dry beans. They’re bush type so you can grow them in rows or a raised bed without the need for a trellis. Plus like dry beans they’re legumes so they add nitrogen to the soil.
You can read about how to grow soybeans from Mother Earth News here.
Peanut buttah! Need I say more. Peanuts have 38 grams of protein per cup and peanuts mean peanut butter.
Another legume on the list peanuts will add nutrients to your garden. To grow them you’ll need to live in an area with a fairly long growing season (they do great here in West Virginia) and purchase seed from a reputable company (you cannot plant those peanuts in the jars). We chose to grow Carlille’s Virginia purchased from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Your peanut seed will probably need to be shelled but be careful to keep the paper husk within the shell intact.
Interestingly peanuts actually form in the ground. The plant puts out runners that grow into the ground forming the peanuts. Peanuts are ready to harvest when the leaves begin to yellow and die back in the fall. You can also check by digging a few. If they husks are still white and and the peanuts don’t fully fill them they’re not ready.
Learn how to grow them with this article from Rodale’s Organic Life.
Sunflower seeds make a tasty snack and crunchy topping with a nice protein boost. Sunflower seeds contain about 29 grams of protein per cup. We eat them plain, roasted, and toss them in on top of our baked vegan mac n’ cheese and salads. We also share them with the sanctuary residents of course and someday we hope to get an oil press and make sunflower oil too!
Sunflowers are amazing plants. Each sunflower head is actually made up of 1000 to 2000 individual flowers. Crazy right? Sunflowers are also a stunning feature in any garden and have always sold well for us at the farm stand. Anyway though they’re super easy to grow and their are hundreds of varieties to choose from. Some are more productive seed wise of course. A few of my favorites for snacking include the Rostov, Mongolian Giant, and Hopi Dye Sunflower varieties.
For additional information on growing sunflowers see this article from Rodale’s Organic Life.
This is a broad category but nut trees are a great option for almost any homestead. Many nurseries can be found locally or online and offer a variety of nuts including pecans, black and english walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, chestnuts, and hickory. Some nurseries offer dwarf options for smaller properties. Keep in mind thought that any dwarf tree will offer less production than its standard size counterpart. If you choose to order online you’ll most likely be purchasing bare root trees. Check out our Ultimate Guide to Buying Bare Root Trees and Plants.
Nuts range anywhere from 9 to 20 grams of protein per cup depending on the variety. They are more than just snack food and can be used in a variety of meals. If you grow enough you can experiment with homemade nut milks and cheeses. We’ll be planting all of these varieties at our new homestead here in West Virginia except for hickory which already grows in our forests.
Quinoa or Amaranth
Both Quinoa and Amaranth grow like weeds. You can eat the seeds and leaves and both are highly nutritious. The seeds contain about 8 grams of protein per cup. You may choose one or the other depending on your location. Quinoa prefers cooler climates and amaranth is better adapted to warmer areas.
Quinoa is often used to replace rice or other grains in many recipes but I’ve also seen it in some pretty unique recipes. Personally I cannot wait to try this recipe for quinoa vegan taco meat from the Minimalist Baker.
For more advice on everything quinoa and amaranth check out this guide from Salt Spring Seeds.
This year we’re experimenting with growing hard red winter wheat. Not only is it great for my addiction to all things gluteny it also contains about 20 grams of protein per cup (that’s just plain raw wheat berries). Obviously growing your own wheat is infinitely useful cooking wise but the straw is also an excellent garden mulch. For our garden plan we mulch all of your pathways and around any large plants.
For more on growing wheat check out this article from Mother Earth News.
We’ve never actually harvested buckwheat but we’ve grown a lot of it as a cover crop. I guess it’s about time we harvested some as one cup of cooked buckwheat contains 6 grams of protein and it has a plethora of other health benefits. Like quinoa, buckwheat is often used in place of cooked grains like oats, rice, or barley or can be ground into flour. Buckwheat pancakes anyone?
Buckwheat also has the added benefit of being super easy to grow even in extremely poor soil conditions which is exactly why it’s an excellent cover crop.
Check out this Buckwheat Information from Cornell University.
Chickpeas or Garbanzo Beans
Hummus is as popular in this household as peanut butter. It’s super easy to make at home not to mention all the other ways you can use chickpeas. One of our personal favorites is to toss them in with rice, steamed veggies, and curry sauce.
Growing chickpeas is similar to many other legumes. They grow on oblong pods on 18 inch tall bushy plants. They require about 100 days to grow to maturity and are not a fan of cool weather. I have never personally grown chickpeas but I’ve heard they’re a pretty easy to grow and extremely productive crop. If you’re serious hummus fans like we are they may be well worth your while.
For more growing tips check out this Harvest to Table article.
Shell peas and split peas are actually from the same plant they’re just harvested at different stages of maturity. When harvested early in the year as shell peas they contain about 8 grams of protein per cup. Cooked split peas on the other hand have around 16 grams of protein per cup.
We typically harvest ours as shell peas and they’re are very high on my list of favorite garden plants. Planting peas is one of the first things I do in the spring and have never gotten over their simple beauty. I enjoy creamed peas (using a vegan milk of course) served over fresh baby potatoes. It never gets old.
While peas are hardy and simple to grow if you have any trouble you may find this Mother Earth News Article helpful.
Pumpkin & Squash Seeds
Most pumpkin and squash seeds taste pretty much the same and are absolutely delicious roasted plus they offer about 12 grams of protein per cup. Okay this is not the most practical if it’s the only reason you’re growing these plants. Most winter squashes and pumpkins take up quite a bit of garden space but for us they’re totally worth it anyway. We cook a winter squash like Red Kuri or Waltham’s Butternut for dinner or make pumpkin puree and roast the seeds for tomorrow’s snack.
If you’re garden is tight on space we tried this bush type variety of Table Queen from Southern Exposure and really liked it. It has good flavor in a small package and doesn’t vine all over the garden like our other squashes. Alternatively you can use vining to your advantage to shade out weeds as in the three sisters method. Just plant your pumpkins/squash under another tall crop.
You’ll find tips for growing winter squash from Harvest to Table here.
I was first introduced to these little wonders reading Born to Run. In the book chia seeds are soaked in water or other beverage and then drank. They are great for sustained energy and contain almost 5 grams of protein in just 1 oz. While I totally love them soaked in Kombucha a lot of people say the texture is too much. Imagine drinking frog eggs or tapioca pudding. Never fear though there are other totally awesome ways to enjoy chia seeds. I like to use them as a topping for homemade bagels, they can be added to granola recipes, or tossed on toast or salads.
Growing chia is fairly easy though it does mature into large plants.
A wonderful article that discusses everything from the planting, to harvest, to eating of chia seeds can be found here.
Obviously not everyone can grow these guys in their backyard – yet. However if you’re one of the lucky ones these seeds are well worth it. Just one tablespoon of hemp seeds contains over 5 grams of protein and they’re loaded with other nutrients. Hemp seeds are another seed that can be incorporated into a lot of existing recipes, think breads, granola bars, smoothies, and salads.
If you want to grow hemp you’ll need to check with your state’s regulations. There are currently 14 states that allow the production of industrial hemp. Some like our beloved West Virginia currently require a permit process.
For more hemp information I found this article helpful.
Sesame seeds contain 1.6 grams of protein per tablespoon. They also provide healthy fats important to a vegan diet. My personal favorite ways to incorporate sesame seeds are sprinkled on top of homemade everything bagels, thrown in a stir fry, and in the form of tahini. As I mentioned above we’re big hummus eaters and tahini just adds that special something. I also make our version of goddess dressing using a few tablespoons of tahini.
Similar to growing chia seeds, sesame is a fairly large plant. To grow sesame you will also have to start plants indoors and then transplant them out for best results.
We’ve haven’t tried growing any yet but this article from Heirloom Organics seems like a good guide.
Lentils are totally underrated. We love these guys especially in shepard’s pie with our easy vegan gravy. They also have a ton of protein with 18 grams per cup (cooked).
Lentils are also pretty awesome to grow. They’re legumes so they add nitrogen to your garden. Also much like peas they love cool weather and can be planted 2-3 weeks before your areas last frost. I love planting early crops when it’s still real chilly out. There’s something magical about the first garden days. You will have to wait 80-110 days to harvest mature lentils though. Like dry beans they have to be thoroughly matured and dried before harvest.
If you decide to grow lentils check out this neat little article from Heirloom Organics.
Growing what? If you’re not quite the permaculture, hippy extraordinaire (yet) you may not have heard about this. I know I’ve never tried it and it still seems a little odd. I definitely want to try though. There are many different algae varieties you can cultivate but I chose to focus on Spirulina because I’ve heard the most about it. Spirulina contains for 4 grams of protein in a single tablespoon, woah.
That’s not the best part though. The best part is that you can even grow spirulina in your apartment. Many people choose to grow it in a clean fish tank. How cool is that? It can be used fresh or dried (it’s dried powder in the above photo). Anyway I’ll let some actual pros tell you more about it.
You’ll find more information here.
Not all of these will work for every growing situation but no matter where you live you should find at least one item you can produce to help lessen your dependency on the grocery store.
You can proudly say no animals were harmed in the making of this homesteader.
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