Saving Bean Seeds

As I started this post, I realized I haven’t shared much about our bean production this year. That kind of surprised me since we grow 100-150 lbs of beans a year and spend a good part of September cleaning bean seeds.

Why don’t we catch up and first look at

  • different types of bean seed
  • and harvesting beans.

Then we can talk about cleaning beans seeds by

  • threshing
  • winnowing
  • screening

These are the same steps we use to clean brassica seeds, but the process is slightly different because of the size and weight of the beans.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF BEAN SEEDS

Stating there are different types of beans seeds can mean different things:

  • It could refer to species. We do grow four main bean species: Phaseolus coccineus (runner beans), Vigna angularis (adzuki beans), Glycine Max (soybean), and Phaseolus vulgaris (the common bean).
  • It could refer to variety names: Black Turtle,  Painted Lady, Provider, and many more
  • It could refer to color, flavor or use.

But when you’re saving seed the main distinction is whether the bean is primarily used as a dry bean, or as a fresh snap bean.

  • Snap bean varieties  have sweet pods that are less fibrous than dry bean pods. As these sweet pods mature, they tightly wrap themselves around the beans inside. These wrinkled pods resist shattering and are quite difficult to clean.
  • Dry bean varieties have starchy pods that don’t wrinkle as they mature. When the pod is dry, a good tap will split the pod open spilling the beans.

The following photos demonstrate how we harvested and cleaned Black Coco beans – a dry bean. The same methods work for snap beans but take more time. For small batches of snap beans, it can be easiest to just shell them by hand.

HARVESTING BEANS

Beans are ready when the pods look white and papery.

We cut the whole plant with secateurs, stuff them in bins and bring them to the greenhouse to dry. This usually happens during the first 3 weeks of September.

If most of the pods have yet to mature, we pick individual dry pods by hand so they won’t be exposed inclement weather. This is usually the case for pod beans and snap beans.

THRESHING BEANS

When the pods have thoroughly dried, we use people power to get the beans out of the pods and off the plants.

This can be done by bashing the plants against the side of a bin.

Or by getting ready for the tap dancing competition.

As the pods shatter we remove the empty plants and put them in the wheelbarrow. We pour the bin contents into buckets.

We wind up with a number of buckets that look like they are full of dust, sticks and bits of leaves.

WINNOWING BEANS

When we clean light little seeds (such as brassicas), we winnow indoors where we can control the wind with fans. With heavy seeds (such as beans), we happily work outside, pouring beans from container to container.

Look at those beans go!

We winnow a few buckets into a bin.

Then winnow a few more times from bin to bin. This removes  most of  the chaff.

SCREENING BEANS

Next we pour the beans through screens.

First we use a 1/2″ screen. This removes large pieces of stems and pod pieces. After screening once, we’ll often winnow another time.

Then we use a smaller screen.

The beans don’t fit through this 1/4″ screens. Smaller pieces fall pass into the bin below.

This step removes stones and shriveled beans that would be too heavy to winnow out

We winnow the beans again and to remove any remaining big light pieces. This leaves a bunch of nice beans mixed with objects of similar size and  weight (including rocks and shriveled germinated beans).

FINAL CLEANING

During the winter, I spread the beans out on cookie sheets and pick out bad beans and stones by hand. I do this over a couple of weeks while listening to the radio (the CBC is a constant seed cleaning companion).

——

Fred and I will be attending the Guelph Organic Conference from January 27-30. We will be giving a course on crop planning for vegetable growers. I will also be on a panel on farm financial sustainability and Fred will give a talk on running a cooperative farm.

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8 responses to “Saving Bean Seeds

  1. Nice photos! I’m training up for next year’s harvest with weekly tap dance classes. Let me know if you ever need an extra pair of stompin’ feet.

  2. Great post – you covered a lot of ground.
    I’ve always been a little befuddled by the varied nomenclature used to describe beans. I guess it depends on what your purposes are, as you stated.
    You’re methods just go to show that there are many ways to skin a cat – or process seeds of a given type. I’m surprised that your use of ‘ambient wind flow’ is adequate to remove chaff and detritus. Why not use a fan for a more dependable (& controllable) source of airflow? Are you doing it outside to avoid the dust, which can be nasty? I’ve found that winnowing large quantities of beans indoors is not a great idea, because of the airborne mould which can incite quite a fit of respiratory distress.
    When you ‘bring them to the greenhouse to dry’, are they spread on mesh or hung like garlic? I grew a goodly crop of Black Coco as well (15 Lbs after sorting), and at harvest time, pulled them root and all, bundled in groups of a dozen or so, and hung them wherever protected space could be found woodshed, equipment shed etc. After they got dry and crispy, I removed all the pods and then stuffed them in feed sacks, bound the sacks closed, and did the ‘twist and shout’ -emphasizing the twist part of the footwork because that really seems to dislodge the seeds from the pods. Because I didn’t have lots of plant material (just pods), a couple of fan winnowings did the trick to yield remarkably clean seed. No screening required. Of course there’s no easy way around the tedium of sorting the beans by hand – you just have to resign yourself to the Zen of bean sorting!

    I would love to see a post on lettuce seed cleaning sometime in the future.

  3. Pingback: 10 Steps For Getting Seed As Clean As Possible | Going to Seed

  4. Any tips on cleaning beans in the winter? We just got 40lbs of mixed dried beans still in their pods and we’re wondering how to deal with them without turning the house into a disaster area! Also, I’m worried that stomping on them might break them…I can see from the pics that you use stomping as a strategy, but I’m wondering if this works better for certain types of beans? Thanks :) Genevieve

    • Hi Genevieve,

      Stomping and winnowing beans is definitely the quickest way to clean them but is not the best way to tidy up your living room for guests. If you can winnow outside, you should have a minimal mess to deal with.

      (This works best with dry beans varieties as snap bean varieties don’t shatter readily. I will be posting shortly about cleaning radish seeds and I use the same level of aggressiveness in snap bean seed cleaning as I with radishes.)

      The cleanest way to deal with beans in your house is to shell them by hand. If the pods are on the plants, first strip them off the plants and collect them in bowls or bins. Next find a good movie or turn on the radio and take out a couple empty bowls.

      I set myself up with a bowl of full pods to my left, a bowl to receive beans on my lap, and a bowl to my right to receive the spent pods. I grab a handful of pods in my left hand, open them with my thumb popping the beans in the bowl, then transfer the empty pods to my right hand. When the pods in hand are empty I toss them in the discard bowl and grab another handful.

      It’ll probably take one person 5-10 hours to clean 40lbs of beans. It goes a lot quicker if you have some friends over.

      Good luck and tell me how you do wind up cleaning them!
      Dan

  5. Thanks! I’ll let you know what we end up doing. I think we’re going the ‘bean -shucking-party’ direction!

  6. Pingback: A Second Year Going to Seed | Going to Seed

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