Letter Re: Raising Beans

This week we have been overrun. Not by looters, but by beans. We really look forward to our first spring green vegetables, which are green beans.  After raising green beans for generations on our farm, we have decided that “Contenders” is the very best variety for us. They come up the best, and produce the largest quantity of long slender green beans per plant. We haven’t saved any seeds from this variety, until this year. If you have read one of my previous posts, you will know why. After the great drought of 2011, all the stores in our area had few seed if any. We learned to be better prepared.  We also planted pinto beans, yellow wax beans, black beans, and Anasazi beans. All the bean seeds for the pinto, black, and Anasazi came from the grocery store shelves. So, if you have a favorite bean, that you can’t find at a feed store or garden center, go to the grocery store. They are usually cheaper. If you buy extra seed for the future, be sure to store with a little diatomaceous earth. The stores rotate their stock so you won’t buy dried beans with weevils.

These types of plants don’t require as much fertilizer as corn or potatoes. I used 13-13-13 for these. These plants can’t tolerate commercial fertilizer in the row when planted, however they do well with manure when it’s mixed with the soil. Commercial fertilizer must be added later during the first cultivation pass to be most effective. Here’s why. When a bean sprouts, the root comes out of the center of the seed and pushes the seed halves upward thru the soil. They make the first two leaves on the plant. If these leaves are “burned” by the commercial fertilizer, they die and you have a stem with no leaves, which dies. All of these beans are planted about a week after our corn is planted. These plants like cool spring weather best. As we approach the summer solstice, these plants grow faster each day. They should be planted ¼” deep.

Our goal in planting these beans was to harvest them as dry seeds for planting or eating after boiling in water with seasoning. This would save the work of shelling and canning the beans in jars. Storing this way, rather than putting in the freezer, keeps them safe from loss of electrical power. It would also save the cost of energy to can and the cost of jars and lids plus greatly reduce the storage space.

After we picked just the dry beans from just two rows, we decided that we would need to change our harvest plans. As I’m approaching 60 years of age and currently having back issues along with my wife (except for the age), a change of plans was a must. Our solution was to pull up the beans, stack in small piles, and then load them onto a trailer to bring to our home.
I discovered some unexpected benefits during this process. (Caution: Do not pull up more than you can pick off in one or two days. The ripe beans will go thru a “heat” phase if stacked too thick and sprout in the shell. The whole stack of beans will go thru a process similar to “spontaneous combustion” as they dry. They will generate their own heat. Spread them out thinly out of direct sunlight.)
1) The beans are pulled and stacked and loaded much faster than they could be picked over several times.
2) The beans can be picked under a shade tree or barn sitting down, rather than bent over in 90 deg. heat and 95% humidity. (I live in the southern U.S.)
3) This method of harvest immediately clears the rows, where the next crop can be immediately planted. This prevents weeds and grass from taking over the row and consuming the nutrients left in the soil. This saves fuel and work and the time needed to eliminate the grass before planting the next crop. It also reduces soil compaction from discing and provides the “just planted” crop more time to grow before the coming fall or frost.
4) Elderly or incapacitated people can do the picking.
5) The largest part of the harvest can be done inside a secure perimeter and safety in a worst case scenario (your retreat fence).
6) In a worse case scenario in the future, a security escort is not needed for multiple picking times.

As we picked the beans, we learned to separate the beans out as “dried”, “mature, ready to shell” or “snaps”. The dry beans were spread in the sun on metal surfaces to dry. I discovered that I was not prepared for this. I remembered that my dad used burlap sacks. In the 1960’s we always had plenty because all our feed came in them. Not today, everything comes in paper or Tyvek bags. However, I have found some 23×36 bags at Amazon.com.

I believe that this item should be added to your “Lists of Lists”. They are a necessity for drying bean and pea seeds. Once the beans are placed in these sacks they are easily moved from night storage to day drying and back to night time storage. The bags have a loose weave which aids ventilation and the evaporation of moisture. There was usually a row of these lying on my father’s metal barn roof during the summer months. Once the beans are dry and start to “rattle” in the sacks they are dry enough to shell. You can then take an axe handle or broom handle and beat and rotate the sacks of beans. This will make most of the beans fall from the shells making them easy to sort or shell out the beans to store as I mentioned above,
We shelled the mature green beans and canned in glass jars for storage. We stir fried the “snaps” to eat fresh and bagged a few for the freezer to eat soon. We also canned many jars of green snap beans. The abundant rain in our region caused some of the plants to produce as much as 40 beans per plant. It also caused the beans that dried on the vine to sprout in the shells. This makes them unacceptable for planting, but you can still cook and eat them if they are not decayed or let your chickens eat them. We planted 9 of these 200 foot rows. This was way too many for two people to pick. We have shared many with the neighborhood widow (charity). Planting this many in the future will make our group independent of the outside world as far as beans are concerned. You will have the first of the three “B’s”.This is a good goal. – M.E.R.

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