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How to Grow Dry Beans

Beans dry red bean pods1

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


Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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