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Processing shelling beans from my garden

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Here is how I process my home grown beans.

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For the last couple years I have been growing a large number of heirloom shelling beans from different species but mostly phaseolus vulgaris. This is a fun and rewarding garden project that is easy even for novice gardeners.

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Every year I set up my bean patch in a different part of the garden. Here you can see a U shape with bamboos and a steel slug barrier. Lots of hay on the ground to keep weeds from germinating. This is very fun to plan, setup and watch grow provided you manage to keep birds and slugs off the seedlings. My ground is heavy clay so some years I had germination problems but now I pregerminate in little pots and add compost to help the roots grow before they do the heaving clay digging.

But if you grow enough you'll end up with a glut at the end of the year. This is exactly what I want since by saving these extra beans I can extend their window of eatability for several years. And they look pretty in my glass jars and you can use them in many different ways.

If you harvest beans fresh during the growing year (say in August) you can shell them one by one. But for those beans saved for winter time, there is one way used by most gardeners who have done it more than once.

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At the end of the growing season you cut bush beans (those that grow on the ground) at ground level so that no earth comes when you pull them. Climbing or pole beans you just remove as best you can and place in some netting. Then just hang them in some cool and dry place until sort of December. As soon as the shells ar hard enough to break when you squeeze them, place a bundle of beans (one sort only!) in a trash or fabric bag. Put the bag on some soft ground and trample it, turning the bag from time to time, until all beans are loose from their shells.

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Then put the whole thing in a box or basket and shake until the beans fall mostly to the bottom.

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Remove the larger bits of shells from the top...

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...then let the beans fall down in as small a stream as you manage to, and winnow with the box lid or let the wind do it...

Do this a couple time to remove all the dust and small bits...

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... and presto! you get 99% clean beans.

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Growing my own beans is the first time I understood why all indian legumes recipe begin by "Start by picking your beans". For this process fails to eliminate small stones whose weight is similar to the dried beans. You get them when you wash the beans...

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... and finally soak them to rehydrate and speed up the cooking.


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I just got a notification that you were posting again! So happy to see it! Are you familiar with Rancho Gordo Beans? They are based in Napa California and have been very instrumental in bringing heirloom beans from North America back into broader production. Their beans are really delicious.
  • FX's answer→ Hello Christine, thanks for visiting! Yes I have their books about beans and recipe, but this year I only grow italian beans. But I once grew some of their varieties and also Carol Deppe's

From the beginning to the end it is a pleasure to see you growing, harvesting and using beans. The photos are great. We grow manly the French bush beans as they do best in our subtropical climate. I cook a lot with dried beans, mainly I use Italian beans which I buy, but would like to try again to grow my own to dry.
  • FX's answer→ Thanks Titania! I think there are lots of shelling beans that work in warmer climates if you look for them, maybe you could try Phaseolus acutifolius for instance. But to me so far both Tarbais and Borlotti are best tasting!

  • #5
  • Comment by John-Christopher
Why ave you placed flower pots on the top of some of the poles in the peapatch?
  • FX's answer→ John-Christopher, those pots are both makeshift festoons and they serve as labels (I write the name of the variety on them). The last people who gardened here were Dutch and they saved every single terracotta pot they got when they bought plants in. I have more than 1000 and nobody wants them, so there is quite a pressure to find ways to upcycle them as we say nowadays.

  • #7
  • Comment by Nan
Welcome back FX!  Love this tutorial. I agree with Christine's comment. I buy Rancho Gordo beans, especially those that are rather difficult to find elsewhere, like Tarbais.  Nan
  • FX's answer→ Ah well the Tarbais are not too hard to find here in Europe but I got all sorts of funny beans from America such as Carole Deppe's Beefy Resilient Grex and Gaucho. I also got tons from Terroir Seeds and Biaugerme and Kokopelli such as Midnight Black Turtle, Flageolet Chevrier, Jaune de Chine, Haricot Mas, Rattlesnake beans. But Tarbais was one of the best tasting.

  • #9
  • Comment by marie
Wonderful article! makes me want to grow again after many years of just buying beans. When I go to the amazing Monterey Market in Berkeley, CA they have tons of heirloom varieties of beans. I picked up a few on a recent trip and had fun making pasta e fagioli with them just to try something different!
Can you tell me more about the steel slug barrier? We have a slug problem here-does it stop them from climbing over?
  • FX's answer→ Oh yes I love pasta e fagioli too! Now for the slugs if you can live with the ugliness of the steel, they are just flat steel plates with the top folded 45 degrees. As long as you remove the slugs already inside (check out the big brain on Francois here!) and make sure plants growing directly outside do not offer bridges for slugs to climb over that little fence, then they work 100%. I researched this and tested it, it is really total slug protection. But some years I don't use it and only use little slug pellets instead (depending on the area you will grow in it is too cumbersome to set up for only a few months due to rotation). This year I put plastic slug collars around the pumpkins and doubled the seeds for the beans. "Sow one of the crow, one for the rat, one to rot and one to grow".

Beans in a jar are so pretty! And after the first time your teeth meet a tiny pebble, you become very serious about picking over the dried beans before cooking, right?
I grow a couple of rows of beans every year, and although I know some varieties are advertised specifically for drying, I'm inclined to think that any bean left to dry in the pod becomes a shell bean (or "shelly bean" as I've been taught to call them), and any shelly bean picked young enough can be enjoyed steamed, pod and all. But maybe I just haven't tried enough bean varieties to know better? I grow mostly heirloom varieties from the eastern US, and yellow and green French filet beans.
  • FX's answer→ Indeed they look gorgeous in their jars! I think Borlottis are really better fresh than dried but dry some anway.

  • #13
  • Comment by tim
Tumble-dryer trick for drying beans in their shells:

After harvesting, put beanpods straight into a pillowcase (or similar - a gauze bag would be even better) & tie the top securely. Put into tumble dryer that is set to max for an hour!

Hey presto, beans are now perfecly dry (no more mouldy beans) and when you open the pillowcase you will find that the tumble action has shaken most of the beans out of their pods.

  • FX's answer→ Tim, thanks this is a really fun trick and it sounds like it could really work. I'll see if I can try it at home with some other beans I have, just don't want to introduce dirt in the machine, I think a couple plastic bags + some heavy ball would be safer.

Woah cool! I've never seen the process of processing beans  but this is really cool. Thanks for posting this
  • #16
  • Comment by Ches
Hey FX! Great to have you back! It's great to have some new articles to read from you.

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