Green Beans, easily the second most common plant people add to their vegetable garden after they plant their tomatoes.

I was no different. Until this year.

Residing in the northern Minnesota Zone 4, if I desire to extend my harvest through the rest of the year and by that, I mean anytime between October and late April, I must find some way to store it. As our kids grew older, the need to grow and store more of our own food became very apparent. So, after many years of gardening, I dove head first into learning the art of food preservation.

Living in a modernish house, in town, and not having a proper root cellar, or the skills involved in cold storing root vegetables, I resorted to pressure canning and freezing nearly everything. Skills that I still use today, though not to the same excess.

Green Beans, a crop that grows quickly and abundantly, lined my cellar and freezer each fall. I felt so accomplished. I never needed to buy vegetables at the store again! I know, I laugh at the thought now too. The first year, we ate most of them. Year two, we did the same, but I added carrots to the line up now and then. By year three, we probably ate 20 of the 100 pints I put up for winter.

You get where I’m going with this?

We very quickly realized we don’t eat a whole lot of green beans.

Last summer, I grew the same amount of green beans. However, besides what we ate fresh, I hardly canned any, and the rest we gave in bulk to those who did desire to put up green beans for winter. As the end of the season arrived, I remembered a time years back when the weather was cool and I spent the day picking dried beans from a trellis.

I sat down later and shelled those dried beans, totally in awestruck at the sight of these beautiful seeds. Opening each pod was like opening a Christmas present. Running my fingers through the bowl of them brought me as much joy as a bowl of jellybeans would have brought to the five year old me.

Why when we eat so many dried beans had I stopped growing these beautiful things?

Oh yeah, that’s right. I stopped growing them because I needed the space to grow all those green beans we weren’t eating.

So, this year when planning out the garden, I planted less varieties of fresh eating beans and more varieties of shelling and dried beans. I lined the outside of our garden with fencing to keep the rabbits out and not wanting to waste that space, we grow pole varieties of beans and flowers on them. We also use a few of these bean towers and would highly recommend them to anyone looking to add some vertical growing space. Total I had about 120 feet worth of shelling beans planted. Now, this may seem like a lot, but this was spread out between a couple gardens and tucked in wherever I found something to grow them on. Most people, if planned well could grow quite a bit of drying beans in the space they already have.

Now, if you’ll remember, we and by we, I mean the entire country, had one heck of a spring. Most of these shelling and drying beans were planted a month later than normal and on a ‘normal’ year I already plant late by most people’s standards. I debated about even putting them in, but they add such beauty that even if I didn’t reap a harvest they would bring me great joy throughout the season. Their lives wouldn’t be wasted.

Change your perspective, rethink your expectations. A good life lesson.

Never have I been so grateful for a harvest. Even with the shortened growing season, I was able to harvest enough beans to can 258 pints of beans. We purchase organic beans at the store and pay on average 2 dollars a can. So, if you figure this in dollars, we grew 516 dollars of shelling and dried beans.

Wow.

The seed to plant these beans cost me $25 which means simply by planting a few seeds in the ground, watering them once to get them started, and hoping for the best; I saved our family nearly 500 dollars’ worth of groceries. Not to mention these are beans we will actually eat.

What varieties did I grow?

Here’s a list of the varieties I grew. Each one will link to where I purchased mine from so you can read up on them a bit more. No point in me retyping all that information. When looking them over, I highly recommend reading the comments. They are a wealth of information from people all over the country, experiencing different growing conditions. All of these varieties are staples that I plan on growing every year. Three of the varieties, Good Mother Stallard, Slippery Silks and Cherokee Trail of Tears, will be available for purchase through my seed store this year.

Good Mother Stallard

Cherokee Trail of Tears

Christmas Pole Lima

Scarlet Runner

Sunset Runner

Slippery Silks

There are a couple varieties that did not produce much for me. One, Haricot Tarbais, I will try again as it produced beautiful beans but only a handful. Rabbits ate most of these plants before they were six inches tall, as they did most of my other beans, and I didn’t have enough seed to replant them. Henderson’s Bush Lima Bean I may plant again. However, it went in the ground the same time as all my other beans, grew in the same conditions yet didn’t produce a crop in time for me to harvest. That being said, given a couple more weeks the pods would have matured a bit more and it looked to be a large crop.  So, if I am able to get the seeds planted soon enough, I will plant this one again.

Adding more varieties for 2020.

For the up coming growing season, I plan on adding a handful of new varieties to the mix, dedicating even more of my traditional green bean space to them. It should be said that most varieties of shelling and drying beans you can eat young as green beans if you wish. However, if you’re hoping for a large harvest of shelling beans, you need to leave plenty on the plant to mature in time before your first frost. Added to my seed collection for 2020:

Alabama Blackeyed Butter Bean

Jackson Wonder Bush Lima

Borlotto Di Vigevano Nano

Rattlesnake Pole Bean

Mitchell Family Cream Pea Cowpea

Blue Goose Cowpea

California Blackeye Pea Cowpea

White Whippoorwill Cowpea

Kelvedon Marvel Runner

Painted Lady Improved Runner

Tiger’s Eye

Black Coated Runner

One of my favorite things about this simple crop is how little it demands of my time.

Plant the seed and give them something to grow on. Never once do I water them after the initial watering in of the seed. Unlike the green bean, I don’t need to pick them until the very end of the season. Occasionally, if we have a lot of rain and there are loads of dry pods on the vine, I will pick the dry pods so they don’t mold and so the other pods mature faster.  The best part? I can lay these beans out on cardboard, paper bags, boxes…. whatever we have on hand, and shell them out when I have time.

There is absolutely no rush to get them processed before they go bad. I wait until I have a bit of time in the evening, make myself a warm drink, pop on a movie and shell dried beans. It’s a lovely break from the chaos of the harvest season.

So, what do you do once they’re shelled?

Simply place the beans in flat bowls and leave them on the kitchen table for them to dry fully before putting them in jars or bags to store for the winter. Once in a while, when walking by, I run my fingers through them to bring those from the bottom to the top.

At the end of the season, just before the first frost, go out and harvest any pods that have a filled-out bean inside whether they are dry or not. If the pods are not dry, take the next day or two and shell out all those beans and freeze them. If you don’t shell them right away, they mold leaving them unusable. You don’t have to pick what’s left, but why wouldn’t you want to? It seems such a shame to leave them on the vine to die.

For what it’s worth, growing drying/shelling beans feeds my soul.

If you love to be romanced by your garden, as I do, throw a few of these in. Even if you don’t have enough space to grow them in a large quantity, the simple joy it brings to your soul opening up the pod to reveal the beauty inside, is worth the small amount of space they ask of you.

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