Wild Gourd Farm

Organic Gardening in St. Louis City

Category Archives: Seed Saving

Growing Black Beans

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We’ve been growing dried beans for several years now. They store well and provide us with an easy source of protein. I like growing dried beans because of their dual uses; with the right varieties, you end up with at least two distinct harvests- an early harvest of green beans and a later harvest of dried beans when the seeds are mature. In the past we’ve grown Bolita beans (a type of pinto bean from Baker Creek), this Trail of Tears black bean, a type of cowpea, and even garbanzo beans (though they were less successful in our climate).

This year we only planted one teepee trellis of Trail of Tears black beans we had saved from last year. It’s a pole bean variety, so it likes to climb. We constructed a simple teepee out of dried bamboo and twine and planted about 20 black beans around the base. As you can see in the photo to the left, taken in late July, the vines completely overtook the trellis.

All green beans can be grown out to produce dried beans, and all dried bean varieties can also be eaten as green beans. The trick is finding the right combination- some are great only as immature green bean pods and some are only good as dried beans, with the pods too stringy or woody to enjoy early in the season. We like this variety of black bean because it produces early, immature pods that are tender enough to be eaten as green beans as well as a hefty harvest of dried black beans. This year we grew Kentucky Wonder and Dragon Tongue beans as green beans and allowed most of these black beans to dry.

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If you’ve ever grown green beans, you know there’s a short window for harvesting before the beans in the pods get too big, and consequently too tough to eat. To save dried bean seeds (this includes saving seeds for green bean varieties), you want to allow the beans to fully mature and dry on the vine. For us, this took until late August.

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Beans are ready to harvest when the pods are completely dry- when they crack instead of bending when you try to open them. You can test a few and take a look at the beans, if they feel hard and look like fully-formed beans you’re ready to go. If they feel soft at all, let them mature a little longer.

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If you time it out right, you can get another flush of beans before it gets too cold. Some of our black bean vines are just starting to put out new flowers, so we’ll probably get a handful of green beans out of it. There probably won’t be time to let them grow and dry on the vine before frost kills it off.

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I harvested our black beans last week, and Eric and I slowly shelled them day by day. It can be a tedious task, opening each pod individually, though if they’re dry enough you can shake them in a paper bag to dislodge a lot of the beans. Even with careful hand-shelling, you still end up with some debris, or chaff, which we easily winnowed away by pouring the beans slowly from one container into a large sifter in a slight breeze. The beans poured down while the lighter chaff floated off in the wind. The sifter allowed us to further separate out the beans from the smaller particles.

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From one teepee trellis we got about 3 cups of black beans. That won’t last us through the winter, but it’s a good start. Definitely planning on growing a lot more next year!

Saving Spicy Salad Seeds

We try to harvest and save seeds from everything we grow. Last fall we enclosed one of our raised beds at our community garden. It was the first hoop house we built, and we planted a bunch of mesclun lettuce mix, spicy greens mix, spinach, and kale. We loved being able to harvest salads throughout the winter (like this one on January 30, 2011).

The greens grew like crazy in the early spring when they were enclosed and had a head start when we opened the hoop house after the last frost. They began to bolt and produce flowers and seed pods earlier this summer.

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By now, we’ve let the plants dry out so we can harvest seeds.

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uprooting plants

Last week we uprooted the dried plants and shook them upside-down into a large paper bag to dislodge the seed pods. Then Eric sifted the seeds out of the pods in small batches in a steamer basket.

 Included in the mix are: tatsoi, mustard greens, arugula, garden cress, red russian kale, endive, and other spicy greens.seeds!

Oddly enough, we happened to find this large seed sifting apparatus at a garage sale the very next day. We’re looking forward to using it!