Growing and Harvesting Dry Beans

Dry Beans, clockwise from top: Calypso, Jacob's Gold Cattle, Jacob's Cattle, Black Valentine, Mayflower
Dry Beans, clockwise from top: Calypso, Jacob's Gold Cattle, Jacob's Cattle, Black Valentine, Mayflower

One of my garden experiments this year was growing dry beans.  Most of the “survival seed” packs have a variety of beans in them.  I had five different kinds of dry bean seeds in addition to my usual favorite green bean varieties, so had plenty of beans growing in the garden this year.  The dry bean varieties I planted were Calypso, Jacob’s Gold Cattle Bean, Jacob’s Cattle Bean, Black Valentine, and Mayflower.  I also planted Blue Lake Bush Beans and Royalty Purple Pod Beans just for eating.

Growing dry beans is relatively simple.  You plant the beans as you would any other bean plant, in beds or rows, providing support if it is a climbing variety, then water them and wait.  The plants will grow beans that can be eaten as green beans when they are young, or if left on the plant, will get larger, turn yellow/brown, dry and be ready to be shelled for dry beans.  Funny thing is that all beans will turn into dry beans if you don’t pick them, some varieties are just better for eating dry than others.  The varieties of seed I had were all billed as non-hybrid or heirloom varieties.  But here’s an interesting fact: pretty much all beans are non-hybrid as they pollinate themselves before their flower opens.  Now you know.  So those Kentucky Blue Lake been seeds you have will produce more Kentucky Blue Lake bean seeds if you let them.  They do not need to be separated from other bean varieties by any distance or hand pollinated to maintain purity, so it is possible to plant a number of different bean varieties next to each other and still harvest pure seed from each variety without any extra effort on your part.  Which is what we did.

Jacob's Cattle Bean
Jacob's Cattle Bean

The first variety of dry beans I planted were the Jacob’s Cattle Bean.  I put these in the ground just after Mother’s Day which is about as early as I want to risk planting anything here.  They are a bush bean plant and each plant produced heavily.  I picked the first round of dry beans from these plants in August, and got another picking before the end of the garden season.  I didn’t like this variety for green beans–there was a fine line between when the beans were too small and when they got too tough.  They produced really well as dry beans, though.  I planted approximately 80 seeds and got just over 4 lbs of dry beans by the end of the season.

Jacob's Gold Cattle Bean
Jacob's Gold Cattle Bean

I also planted Jacob’s Gold Cattle Bean, another bush variety which produced similar results as the Jacob’s Cattle Bean, except the beans were white and mustard yellow instead of white and maroon.  These were also not very good as green beans.  I planted these about 3 weeks after the original cattle beans, and only got one picking out of them resulting in just under 2 lbs of dry beans.  Both the original and the gold cattle beans had strong shells that were easy to open and get the beans out of when they were dry.

Mayflower Bean
Mayflower Bean

The third variety was the Mayflower Bean.  This is reportedly the same variety that came over on the Mayflower with the Pilgrims, and if it was, I can see why they struggled with having enough to eat.  The Mayflower bean is a climbing bean, so I planted it alongside my corn so it had something to climb.  These plants didn’t produce nearly as well as the cattle bean varieties.  They had 1-4 beans per vine with an average of 1-6 bean seeds per pod.  They are a smaller bean than the cattle beans also, so this resulted in about a ziplock sandwich baggie full of beans from the same number of original bean seeds.  Pretty poor production.  Now, it could be my watering system, or my soil, or something like that, so your results may vary. ;)

Black Valentine Bean
Black Valentine Bean

The fourth variety we tried was the Black Valentine Bean.  This is a bush bean that was a heavy producer.  The beans were long and thin with 6-9 beans per pod.  These were really tender and good as a green bean.  When the bean dried it had a weak shell that was somewhat difficult to break open and get the beans out since it just wanted to break everywhere instead of snapping open nicely.

Black Valentine Bean
Calypso Bean

The final variety of dry bean we planted was the Calypso Bean.  This bean is really neat looking, half black and half white.

The kids called it a cow bean and my husband said it looks like a killer whale.  It is also a bush bean and produced very well.  These are a little “fatter” bean than the other varieties we grew.  They weren’t very good as green beans as they also had a tough shell, but were easy to shell when they dried.

We planted the Black Valentine and Calypso beans later than the Jacob’s Gold Cattle bean, so we only had a handful of dry beans from each variety when we expected the first hard frost.  There were still a lot of green and yellow stage beans on the plants, so the day before the freeze was expected we pulled the plants by the roots and put them in our shop so they could continue drying.  You could hang them if you wanted to go through the trouble of hanging a bunch of bean plants, but we just piled them in the wheelbarrow and on the floor of the shop.  We brought them out when it was warm to help them dry faster.  Over the next 4 weeks, all of the beans that were on the plants dried and we were able to get dry beans from them, resulting in similar yields as we got from the Gold Cattle Bean.  As much as we moved those plants around, I’m counting on stray bean plants popping up all over our property next spring.

Shelling the beans is easy, but time consuming.  I set the kids on it a few times and took beans to soccer games and shelled while I watched the games (yep, with a little practice, you too can shell dry beans without looking at them).  I still have a few in sacks waiting to be shelled.  After the beans are all dry and shelled, they should be stored in the freezer for 5 days to prevent weevil damage.

Now here’s the analysis of growing dry beans.  I planted quite a few bean plants (about 80 of each variety), and only ended up with 10-12 lbs of dry beans from the whole adventure.  I’m glad I wasn’t depending on these results to feed my family for the next year–keep in mind that out of that 10-12 lbs of beans I’d need to save some for seed.  I’m glad I grew them and I plan on eating each kind and planting the ones I like again next year, and maybe trying some other varieties.  They were a great kid garden project–the kids really enjoyed picking, shelling, and sorting the “special beans”.  But for the majority of the beans in my food storage, I’ll stick to buying beans in bulk or in cans.  They’re cheap and easy that way.

10 Replies to “Growing and Harvesting Dry Beans”

  1. Excellent stuff. We haven't grown any beans at our house here yet, I'm going to have to try next year.

    About how much space did those bush beans take when full grown? We always had climbing beans growing up, as far as I can remember.

  2. I wish I could grow ANY beans in my location. Something ate the plants to the ground every time I planted them! Oddly enough in our previous house – one street over from this one – we had no problems with raiding animals. Which means it's either the bunnies or the very fat woodchuck doing the bean plant eating.

    Good thing bunnies and woodchucks would be Good Eats if necessary!

    Frondly, Fern

  3. Jayce, I plant the bean plants about 4-5 inches apart in rows about 6-8 inches apart from each other in the garden bed. The plants get 12-15″ tall and spread into each other a bit. Climbing beans are great if you have something for them to climb which I haven't figured out here yet, so bush beans work pretty well for me.

    Fern–gardening is crazy like that, isn't it? I thought this may not work too well in very humid climates either (especially the pull the plant and hang it dry part).

  4. We always just put all of the dry pods on a tarp or sheet and folded the sheet over and jumped on it to free the dry bean seeds. Then you can pull off most of the dry waste and winnow out the chaff and you should just have dry bean seeds.

  5. We always just put all of the dry pods on a tarp or sheet and folded the sheet over and jumped on it to free the dry bean seeds. Then you can pull off most of the dry waste and winnow out the chaff and you should just have dry bean seeds.

  6. What an adventure! our forebears sure worked hard for whatever they got to eat. I heard some people were re enacting the handcart trek some people having strokes and heat exhaustion- this is better. One of my grandmothers made spaghetti by hand, had an outdoor kitchen in summer, and did her laundry in a pot heated on an outdoor fire with her sisters. Growing heirloom beans sure made me feel our great grandmothers could really relate to the adventure. Best to you-
    I just picked up 90 pounds of steuben yellow eye, 30 pounds each of Black Valentine, Yellow Indian Woman Bean, 4 largest lima (Christmas Lima, &3 others) Mix, Orca, and 8 Bean Soup Blend, 30 pounds of Autumn Lentil mix (5 kinds of lentils), 15 pound of Purple Sticky Rice & 5 pounds of Black Wild Rice,
    & two kinds of wheat (small amounts as I only use a cup a day.) It was a small adventure compared to yours. Last year I bought 60 varieties of beans (in 2 lb bags) and began an experiment cooking them all. This year I went back after agonizing (they're so interesting) and bought my favorite (yellow indian woman, a Swedish bean kept from pioneer times in Montana) and Steuben yellow eye-
    Pacific Food and Grain is 45 minutes away on the highway.

    Did you get pictures of your children working in your bean field? Possibly you could publish a journal /log of reconnecting with this part of history.

    Thank you for posting this WONDERFUL adventure, amazing yield variation and having such courage & sense of humor. -Ruth D. Williams

  7. Thank you for your article. I am a bean grower in Oregon – six kinds this year. I really want to try the Jacob's Gold now.

  8. Ruth – impressive!

    I grew Soldier beans (dry, bush, white with reddish “soldier” design) this year – very pleased with the production on them. Also grew Cherokee Trail of Tears (dry black bean, climbing) which was not so prolific but a gorgeous shiny black bean. The Royal Burgundy was my favorite green bean (actually purple, but turns green when cooked) and had high production.

    The kicker? I put these seeds in the ground July 8th. They grew with tremendous speed and did very well in our dry climate. (Tooele-zone 5)

  9. I need dried green beanpods to complete  a diabetes remedy from a lovely 
    book by Maria Treben ” God’s Pharmacy” and have exhausted google searches….I could use a good source or sugestion. If anyone knows where I could get this item< I would really appreciate it…. Thanks…

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