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Separating the beans from the chaff

October 29, 2009


Growing dry beans in our area is as touch and go as field corn.  While we have a long mild growing season, the heat units needed for these crops are sorely lacking.  But, in keeping with my local seed preserving interest, I have been happy to keep growing a dry bunch bean that has been a staple in our cool mountain region since the 1880’s.  No one on our farm grew these beans that I knew of, but tasting them frequently at potlucks, convinced me I needed to try it.  The seed I got had been handed down through the original family who had kept the variety going, but they moved west of Portland, in the banana belt, so to speak, and grown the beans there for many decades.  So I had my work cut out for me, reselecting for higher elevation and a shorter season.  Each year I have been selecting seeds from plants that have the highest percentage of dry pods before the fall rains begin.  Now I have a pretty predictable crop.  With at least two-thirds of the plants exhibiting dry pods by mid-September.  The rest are suitable for shelly beans, but I am after a staple crop that stores without any preserving needed, just a dry storage area.

100_9767A drizzly day in July.

The the two rows to the right are the dry beans.  I planted two 100′ rows with the expectation of harvesting approximately 8 – 10 pounds of dry beans per 100′.  We garden dry land, so the rows are on 4′ spacing with 5″ spacing between the plants in the row.  By September when it was time to begin harvesting the first dry pods, there was hardly any room between the rows.  Starting in early September, I picked all the dry pods from one entire row, and 1/3 of the second row, and stored these in the house for threshing later.  We received a short spell of rain and then went back to a two-week stretch of dry weather.  Busy with other more pressing harvests, I pulled the last of the plants just before the next bout of rain.  These are drying down in the barn.

This past weekend was sunny and bright, and a perfect time to thresh the first beans I had picked along with my pole bean seed for green beans.  Since I am only dealing with home garden/ pantry stocking quantities, I use a low tech approach to threshing my beans.  It’s so low tech it even bores the dogs!

100_1765.1“Please not the beans again… .”

100_1842“Wake me up when something exciting happens.”The bean pods are very sharp when they are dry, so I used a woven plastic feed bag, so as not to lose any of the precious beans.  I filled the bag half full, and proceeded to walk on the beans much like I did with my rutabaga seeds.

Disclaimer:  No beans were harmed in the making of this video.

After the “threshing” I shake the bag, the heavy beans make their way to the bottom and the chaff floats to the top.  This shaking also wakes up the sleeping dogs.


I found it easiest to pull out the empty beans pods while the whole mess was still in the bag.  Pulling out the empty pods and transfering them to a wheelbarrow to keep my work area clean was very effective.


I then dumped the sack of threshed beans onto a paper feed bag that I had slit open to make a large piece of clean paper on which to sort the beans.  A few stubborn pods remained and had to be shelled by hand.


This went fairly fast – light easy work on a rare sunny day.  Because I had picked these pods from the plants, I really didn’t have much in the way of chaff to winnow from the seeds.


The wheelbarrow loads of bean pods were added to the deep bedding in the nearby loafing shed – a great source of free carbon for the compost.


Before transferring the beans to a sack for transport to the house, I just lightly blew the remaining chaff away.  Pretty simple for home garden scale.  For market garden scale threshing check out Josh’s trial here:


An hours work, yielded 17.5 pounds of beans.  I won’t have my final yield total until I thresh the pods that are still attached to the vines.  All in all, as far as calories go, potatoes are far easier to grow and yield many more pounds of food in the same space, my 100′ potato rows yielded approximately 125 pounds of potatoes.  However, diversity in the garden is important, and I also feel like I need to keep this variety going, since it was staple vegetable that was brought here by the area’s pioneers.

This post is also a part of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday.  The posts are always very informative during the week, but Fight Back Friday is a free-for-all of recipes and information.  Check it out.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. localnourishment permalink
    October 29, 2009 6:28 am

    Looks like work for a 10-year-old. Or me. I work about like a 10-year-old.

    I bought a bunch of beans very similar in color to these at the farmer’s market and, silly me, shelled them by hand like peas. It was enjoyable enough for a sunny afternoon on the porch and felt so farmer-y. Now, if I’d known about the sack trick I could have really felt farmer-y! And dancing on the sack would have been much better exercise! I learn something every time you post.

  2. October 29, 2009 6:40 am

    Did you mention the type of bean? I’ll have to try some dried beans “NEXT YEAR”! Dance on!

  3. October 29, 2009 7:06 am

    So lovely – I bet they make a great soup!

  4. October 29, 2009 7:23 am

    I’ve been shelling the dry beans from this year too, but your method is way more time effective than mine! We grew 5 varieties to see which would do best in our garden. It seems that hutterites it is (from a local seed company). That said, while I haven’t weighed them yet, I think we’ll be lucky if our entire harvest is more than 3 pounds. So far we’ve gotten about a pint jar full each of 3 varieties (slightly more of the hutterites and less of the calypso).

    Any chance of snagging some seed from you? I think your climate is close enough to ours that we’d have success… 🙂

  5. October 29, 2009 8:09 am

    A lot of work for those dogs 🙂 more work for you. I think I’ll stick to growing spuds and buying a bag of beans. I can’t grow them at any rate………….for which I think I’m grateful 😉

  6. October 29, 2009 9:28 am

    You are amazing. I have rubbed the beans out by hand but the feet work better.

    The beans are nice and fat and healthy looking. I grew two bean varieties for the University of Kentucky this year and had a great time doing it.


  7. October 29, 2009 9:50 pm

    Great post, as always. Those look a lot like the Boston Favorites we grew this year, our highest yielding dry bean. I’m surprised that you don’t get dry pods earlier. We’re also up at 1000′, although our South aspect might help, and the lack of cool air draining from higher (I suppose we’re also on the West Side which is a bit of a banana belt). We ended up pulling most plants, which were fully dry, in August.

  8. October 30, 2009 7:57 am

    great tip on the bean dancing! potatoes may be an easier source of calories, but from what I can see, beans are a much better source of nutrition. but maybe that doesn’t matter so much when most of your food is high-quality home grown.

    cold and rainy here in MI. farmers had a tough time getting their beans in – too wet in the fields.

  9. Deb permalink
    January 17, 2010 4:12 pm

    that looks a lot like what we in the south call “October beans,I plant them every year and don’t let them dry,instead can them , but will probably let them dry too.. I really am enjoy your website and pictures. I love gardening, you give me lots of ideas to decide what to plant..

  10. Charlie Tucker permalink
    December 26, 2016 9:36 am

    I see this is an old post, but thought I would share what I’ve been doing.
    some 30 years ago, my Dad found a tenderpod stringless bush bean that has GREAT taste. Mom started french cutting and freezing them instead of canning and even though I never cared much for frozen beans, these tasted great, fresh, frozen or canned.
    A couple years after he first got these, the store where he bought them closed up, so he saved his own seed for many years. Since Dad passed in 2009, my brothers and I have kept these beans going, sharing seed with many family members.
    Today I decided I needed to shell some I picked in September to give to a nephew that is in the area for Christmas. He lives near Houston, and we don’t get to see him and his family but for Christmas, if they make the trip to N Illinois.
    I was just searching the web for a better way to shell some beans( cause my fingers are sore) and I found this page.
    I have just the bag to use, a cat food bag will be put to use to finish what I have here to shell.


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