The All-American Vegetable

For inexpensive, easy-to-grow nutrition, look no further than the humble bean.

By William Woys Weaver

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If you have never grown beans before, begin with easy short-season hybrid beans, especially bush types (see “Recommended Beans,” opposite). Once you get the hang of it, move on to more challenging varieties—then keep going until you’ve experienced the humble bean’s huge range of colors, textures, and flavors.

Drying Legumes The technique for drying beans is the same for both food and future seed stock. The process is relatively straightforward: Allow the beans to ripen on the plants until the pods are dry and brittle. This encourages the beans to draw all the remaining nutrients from the plants, thus increasing both nutritional value and rates of germination. Once the bean pods are dry, harvest them and spread them in wooden trays or shallow boxes. Allow them to continue drying in a cool room with good air circulation for 1 to 2 weeks.

When the pods are thoroughly dry and brittle, remove the beans by rolling the pods in your hands or crushing them with your fingers. Once the beans are separated from their pods, sort through the seeds and discard any that are shriveled or off-color; these will neither germinate nor cook well.

Select only the most perfect beans for seed stock and store them in airtight jars in a cool, dark closet. Label and date the seed; it will remain viable for up to 5 years. Beans reserved for food can also be stored in airtight jars. If moths appear to be a problem, both seed and food stock can be stored in the freezer. Freezing does not hurt seed stock, but once thawed, the beans must be planted, because refreezing will greatly reduce germination. Freezing will extend the viability of beans to as long as 10 years.

If fall weather proves cool and rainy while the beans are drying on the vines, or if a hard frost is looming, pull up the vines by the roots, tie them in bundles, and hang them upside down from the ceiling of a garage or shed until the pods are dry. Most should ripen properly. Any beans that are green and not fully developed can be separated from the rest at shelling. Immature shelled beans can be cooked like peas or added to fall pickles.

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