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How to Grow Dry Beans

Beans dry red bean podsDry or dried beans–also called shell beans–are beans grown to full maturity and left in their pods to dry before being shelled and stored for later use. Dried beans can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to a year or more. (These beans also can be harvested at the green, shelling stage–when seeds are still tender–and eaten before they dry. Often these beans are called “shuckies.”) Many beans that can be eaten fresh and immature also can be grown to maturity and dried.

Beans are a tender annual best planted early in the season as soon as the frost has passed. Sow beans in the garden just after the average date of the last frost in spring. To get an early start on the season, sow beans indoors as early as 3 or 4 weeks before the average last frost date in spring for transplanting into the garden a week or two after the last frost. Beans will grow in the garden until the first frost in fall. But they will not set pods in temperatures above 80°F. Beans for shelling are sometimes harvested after the first frost, well after plants have dropped their leaves.

Description. Dry beans or shell beans are beans grown to full maturity, usually harvested in fall after the pods have matured and the leaves of the plant have dried and fallen. Beans grow either as bushes or vines. The size and color of pods and seeds can vary. Pods can be 3 or 4 inches to 12 to 14 inches long at maturity and vary in color during the growing season: green, yellow, purple, and speckled. Leaves are commonly composed of three leaflets and flowers are pale yellow or white. Beans for shelling commonly grow on bushes that are to 2 or 3 feet tall; some are pole beans that can grow to 8 feet tall or more. Dry beans require from 70 to 120 days to reach harvest.

Yield. Grow 4 to 8 bean plants per each household member.

Site. Grow beans in full sun. Beans will grow in partial shade but the harvest will not be full. Beans prefer loose, well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Beans prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.8. Prepare planting beds in advance by working in plenty of aged compost. Avoid planting beans where soil nitrogen is high or where green manure crops have just grown; these beans will produce green foliage but few beans.

Planting time. Beans are a tender annual that grow best in temperatures between 50° and 85°F. Beans will not set pods in temperatures above 80°F. Sow beans in the garden just after the average date of the last frost in spring when the soil temperature has warmed. The optimal growing soil temperature for beans is 60° to 85°F. Start beans indoors as early as 3 or 4 weeks before the average last frost date in spring for transplanting into the garden a week or two after the last frost. Start beans indoors in a biodegradable peat or paper pot that can be set whole into the garden so as not to disturb plant roots. Beans can continue in the garden until the first frost in fall. Dry beans are allowed to stay on the plant until leaves have fallen and pods have dried and withered.

Planting and spacing. Sow beans 1 to 1½ inch deep. Plant bush beans 3 to 4 inches apart; set rows 18 to 24 inches apart. Plant pole beans 4 to 6 inches apart; set rows 30 to 36 inches apart. Set poles, stakes, or supports in place at planting time. Pole beans also can be planted in inverted hills–5 or 6 seeds to a hill; space hills 40 inches apart. Thin strong seedlings from 4 to 6 inches apart. Remove weaker seedlings by cutting them off at soil level with a scissors being careful not to disturb the roots of other seedlings. Bean can be crowded; they will use each other for support.

Water and feeding. Grow beans in soil that is evenly moist. Bean seeds may crack and germinate poorly if the soil moisture is too high at sowing. Do not soak seeds in advance of planting and do not over-water after sowing. Keep the soil evenly moist during flowering and pod formation. Rain or overhead irrigation during flowering can cause flowers and small pods to fall off. Once the soil temperature averages greater than 60°F, mulch to conserve moisture.

Beans are best fertilized with aged garden compost; they do not require extra nitrogen. Beans set up a mutual exchange with soil microorganisms called nitrogen-fixing bacteria which produce the soil nitrogen beans require. Avoid using green manures or nitrogen-rich fertilizers.

Companion plants. Bush beans: celery, corn, cucumbers, potatoes, rosemary, strawberries, summer savory. Pole beans: corn, rosemary, summer savory, scarlet runner beans, sunflowers. Do not plant beans with onions, beets, or kohlrabi.

Care. Cultivate around beans carefully to avoid disturbing the shallow root system. Do not handle beans when they are wet; this may spread fungus spores. Set poles, stakes, or trellises in place before planting pole beans. Select supports that are tall enough for the variety being grown. Rotate beans to plots where lettuce, squash, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, or collards have grown in the past year or two.

Container growing. Dry beans are not a practical choice for container growing. They require a long season and many plants for a full harvest. Bush beans can be grown in containers, but you may need several containers for a practical harvest. Beans will grow in 8-inch containers.

Pests. Beans can be attacked by aphids, bean beetles, flea beetles, leafhoppers and mites. Aphids, leafhoppers, and mites can be sprayed away with a blast of water from the hose or controlled with insecticidal soap. Look for eggs and infestations and crush them between your fingers and thumb. Pinch out and remove large infestations. Aphids can spread bean mosaic virus. Keep the garden clean and free of debris so that pests can not harbor or over-winter in the garden.

Diseases. Beans are susceptible to blight, mosaic, and anthracnose. Plant disease-resistant varieties. Keep the garden clean and free of debris. Avoid handling plants when they are wet so as not to spread fungal spores. Removed diseased plants; put them in a paper bag and throw them away. Beans are susceptible to many soil-borne diseases; rotating beans so that they do not grow in the same location more than every three years will reduce soil-borne diseases.

Harvest. Dry beans will be ready for harvest 70 to 120 after sowing when plants have matured and leaves have turned brown or fallen. To test for harvest, bite a couple of seeds; if they will hardly dent they are dry and ready for harvest. Harvest pods when they are completely dry. If pods have withered but are still moist, pick them and then spread them on a flat screen or surface in a warm, protected place where they can thoroughly dry. Plant also can be taken up whole and hung upside down to dry. Pods that are fully dry will split open to reveal the dried beans. Dry beans can be shelled by threshing in a burlap sack or by hand.

Varieties. There are many types of dry or shell beans. Horticultural beans or French flageolets are a type of dry bean usually eaten in the green-shell stage. Other dry or shell beans include cranberry, Great Northern, pinto, and red kidney.

Fava or English broadbean shell beans: Aquadulce Very Long Pod (90 days); Broad Long Pod (85 days); Express (71 days); Imperial Green Longpod (84 days); Sweet Lorraine (90 days); Windsor Long Pod (65 days).

Horticultural shell beans: Dwarf Horticultural (65 days); French Horticultural (64-90 days); Horticultural Shell (85 days); Speckled Bale (75 days); Tongue of Fire (70 days).

Soybean shell beans: Black Jet (104 days); Envy (75 days); Hakucho Early (95 days); Prize (85-105 days).

Kidney shell beans: Aztec Red Kidney (90 days); Cannelone Bean (70-90 days); Dark Red Kidney (95 days); Red Kidney (95-100 days); White Kidney (100 days).

Other shell beans: Adzuki (90-125 days); Anasazi (90 days); Black Bean (90 days); Borlotto (68 days); Cannellini (75 days); Flageolet (65-100 days); Garbanzo (65-100 days); Improved Pinto (90 days); Midnight Black Turtle (85-104 days); Mung (120 days); Pink Bean (85 days); Pinto (90 days); Red Mexican (85 days); Rice Bean (85 days); Soldier (85 days); Urdi Black Gram (85 days).

Navy shell beans: Navy (85-95 days).

Red, purple, cranberry shell beans: Cranberry Bean (60 days); Jacobs Cattle (65-85 days); Mexican Red Bean (85 days) Montezuma (95 days); Speckled Cranberry Egg (65 days); Vermont Cranberry (60-90 days).

White shell beans: Cannellini (80 days); Great White Northern (90 days).

Storing and preserving. Dried shelled beans can be stored in a cool, dry place for 10 to 12 months. Place well dried beans in a capped, airtight jar or in a fabric bag with good air circulation.

Common name. Dry bean, dried bean, shell bean, pinto bean, navy bean, horticultural bean, flageolet

Botanical name. Phaseolus vulgaris and species

Origin. South Mexico, Central America

Grow 80 vegetables: THE KITCHEN GARDEN GROWERS’ GUIDE

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47 Comments

  1. I got a whole lot of information from reading this but my mom said that my grandma use to freeze her horticulture beans. she said that she shelled them and just put them in bags and froze them. when she was ready to use them she would take them out and rinse them and they were ready to cook. Is this even true?

    • To freeze shelled beans wash them, then boil them for 2 minutes or steam them for 3 minutes, let them cool, pack them in a container, and freeze.

      Unshelled snap beans can be frozen for use later. Wash the beans in cool water then let them sit and drain in colander. Cut them to the length you want then blanch them (boil them for a few minutes), let them cool and then freeze.

    • The speckled bale bean does not seem to be available from any seed houses presently. It has been a popular choice in the Pacific Northwest–Oregon and Washington. Perhaps the Master Gardeners in Washington State could track this seed down for us.

      • Interesting…. Yes, sounds good!
        I had never heard of them, yet a friend said he remembers his dad growing these… he loved them so much he too, wants to grow them, although has not been able to find any seeds…. I’m a mega internet researcher, so I told him “if they are out there… I’ll find them”… I’ll keep on… and check out WA
        Thank you so much for your time!

    • Do you know the name of the beans you want to grow? If not, plant them a half inch deep in seed starting soil and when they are 6 inches tall transplant them in to your garden and grow them on as you would other beans.

  2. Actually it’s best to plant beans directly into the soil; they can sulk for a while or even die if they’re transplanted. This season I transplanted some black beans because I absolutely had to, and while most are healthy and productive, some died.

  3. Hi – question, I planted purple pole beans and had too many. Now I have a lot of old, bulging pods on the vines. If I leave them til the leave drop can I harvest them and use them as i would other dry beans?

  4. My son’s kidney bean plants from school are growing very well indoors. When should we start hardening them off to transplant outdoors in the Pacific NW?

    • Beans can suffer a burn to the leaves on cold nights. Set them in the garden after nighttime temperatures move to the high 50sF or cover them with horticultural cloth at night.

    • Beans that have naturally dried in the pod on the bush or vine can be used as seed beans. Be sure that the seed you save is open-pollinated and not hybrid seed–that way your next crop will grow true.

    • Beans should be harvested if frost is threatening. The flavor will be compromised and the beans can become mealy if they are hit by a hard frost.

      • Thanks! I did cut the plants and hung the stalks (upside down) for drying. No hard frost yet (3-4*C) so far. I think we are getting a warm week so I should make it. Very lucky as first below zero is usually around now – eastern Canada. Enjoyed growing the beans, I’ll try some different varieties next year.

  5. My beans dried on the vine. When I picked them I noticed black spots on the outside. Does this sound like possibly a mold or fungus problem? Some of the beans inside look fine, but some have dark spots others have a reddish orange color. How do I know if they are safe?

    • The black spots on the bean shells is likely the start of fungal growth. Cull through the beans and remove those that are broken or cracked or appear moldy.

    • No, you should allow beans seeds to dry before sowing them. Depending upon the outdoor temperature bean seeds can take a few weeks to a month or so to dry–best to give them several weeks. Keep in mind only open-pollinated seed will grow true; seed from hybrids will not.

  6. I planted and grew good mother stallard beans but I think I’ve harvested them too soon. The pods were not dry and the beans were plump, some are tinged with green. Still safe to cook and eat?

    • Beans that have been hanging on the vine drying but are not completely dry when they are shucked should not be stored green. They should be allowed to totally dry. If the beans have been harvested green and sat awhile (not in an airtight container) make sure they have not been compromised by mold or mildew. Dried beans and partially dried beans will not cook at the same rate.

    • To purchase seed near where you live check with a local or regional seed grower or a nearby garden center or nursery for sources. You can also contact an agronomist at a nearby college or university or the local government agriculture office.

  7. I have two bush bush bean varieties that are grown for dried beans: Vermont Cranberry and Krimson. I have been moderately successful at saving beans from both of them, but still have beans that rot because they are touching the wet ground. How does one prevent rot for dried beans grown on bush plants? I ask this as well for my fresh bush beans: Top Crop and Blue Lake. I like to save my own seeds. I live in southern Michigan that tends to have a decent amount of rain when the pods need to dry.

    • Keep the foliage and pods from touching the ground. Place a sturdy stake at each end of the row, and if the row is long, place intermediate stakes along the row. Tie sturdy garden twine to one end post at about 12 inches above the soil and run it down the row looping two or three times around each intermediate stake. Draw the twine tight against the plants. Repeat this down the other side of the row drawing the plants in and up. As the plants grow, repeat this again as 20 or 24 inches above the soil. This is often called the “Florida weave”. An alternative, if you have just a few bean plants is to grow each one in a tomato cage–which will keep the foliage and pods up off the soil.

      • I like this idea. It is economical and practical. I will only need to make sure the plants are laid towards the twine so the pods do not touch the ground. I might put two twines at 6 and 12 inches above the ground. Another solution that my brain has been dwelling on is a long term investment/solution. I thought of cutting up my abundance of welded wire fence into two foot wide pieces. I would bend them into semi-acute “V”s that I could lay my bean plant on top of so they would be propped up. This is not economically feasible if I were to grow a huge amount of them. I also could use the abundance of welded wire fence to grow pole beans instead. From your experience, do pole beans produce more per sq ft.? I expect they do. I will still grow the bush bean as well, since I want to keep propagating the plants that I have saved seeds for years.

        • Pole beans harvested green will produce more per square foot if you harvest the beans regularly; the plants will keep producing green beans until harvest time. For dried beans, pole beans will also likely out-produce bush beans if the bean vines are given plenty of room to spread, flower, and produce pods. If you plan to dry the pods grown on pole bean plants, you will grow only one crop and not harvest regularly.

  8. Can I grow Red Kidney, Black Coco and Rockwell bush beans interspersed in my corn rows? I use a soaker hose for watering once or twice a week. Thank you!

    • Yes, you can interplant the bush beans with corn. They will likely finish their harvest before the corn. An old planting combination is corn, pole beans and squash–called The Three Sisters. The beans grow up the corn stalks and the squash runs across the ground as a living mulch.

  9. Just a question I haven’t seen an answer to anywhere… Can green bean varieties like Kentucky Blue also been used as dry beans? If so, what are they like? Taste, etc?

    • Yes, Kentucky Blue Beans can be left on the plant to grow plump and then harvested and dried. They have a full bean flavor when baked.

  10. I planted horticulture beans for the first times this year and the pods are black spotted . The inside beans are dry and look good. The only disease I can find that’s even close to looking like this is Anthracnose but nothing tells me if it’s safe to eat.

    • You should avoid eating beans or other vegetables infected with a fungal disease such as anthracnose. Be sure to place the plants and debris in the trash; clean up the garden bed; the fungal spores can overwinter in the garden and infect plants again next year.

  11. 1. Can beans be dried OUT of their pods?
    2. Can dried beans be used for planting next season as well as for cooking (like dried beans that you find in the grocery store?
    Thank you!

    • If you are going to use the seed for cooking or save them for next season to plant, let the seed dry in the pod on the vine. Once the pods are b brittle they can be threshed–separating the seeds from the pods.

  12. Hi. I’m a first-time gardener and thought my black beans were dry enough when I stored them but a few of them have some small mold spots on them. Is there a way to salvage the rest of them? My thought was to dry them out in a really low oven to kill anything remaining off of them. Or do I need to sacrifice my harvest? Thanks in advance!

    • The beans that do not have mold can be further dried at room temperature. Set them away from direct sunlight to continue drying. Spread them out on tray in a single layer.

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