Grow beans for drying in the UK and you can take home growing to the next level. Often, in the UK, we focus on growing and eating beans as a green vegetable. But growing beans to dry for use as a pulse is something UK growers should also certainly consider.
Why Should You Grow Beans For Drying?
Growing beans for drying provides a pulse, and as you may well already be aware, pulses are an important part of a healthy diet.
Pulses are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family. They grow in pods and come in a wide range of shapes sizes and colours. While all pulses are legumes, not all legumes are pulses.
The term ‘pulses’ is used only to apply to crops that are harvested for their dry grains. Crops harvested while they are still green are not classified as pulses – so that excludes green beans and green peas harvested before full maturity.
There are many reasons to grow and eat them. To name a few:
- Eating pulses can help you cut meat consumption and reduce your negative impact.
- Pulses are an eco-friendly protein source which can help cut greenhouse gases.
- They help maintain and improve the soil when used in interplanting and crop rotation.
- They can be more water-wise choices than other protein sources.
- Pulses are also great for our health, and can help keep us at a healthy weight. They also reduce our risks of a number of diseases and chronic health problems.
But why, specifically, should we grow them in our own gardens? Eating more pulses in general is a good idea – but growing your own (or sourcing them locally right here in the UK) is even better.
Most of the pulses we tend to eat on a regular basis here in the UK are imported. Commonly eaten pulses include:
- Navy beans (used to make typical tinned baked beans).
- Chickpeas (used to make hummus and in other recipes).
- Lentils (often used in curries, soups and other favourite world-cuisine dishes).
Of course, importing these crops means that they come with a carbon cost associated with transportation. The more we can eat local, seasonal produce, the more we can cut our carbon footprints and reduce our negative impact on planet and people.
Which Beans Are Good For Drying?
Drying or shelling beans in a range of different varieties can also be grown successfully here in the UK and there are many cultivars that are said to be particular useful for dried beans.
You might try, for example:
- Jacob’s Cattle Gold (Bush bean)
- French bean Borlotto Lingua Di Fuoco
- A range of ‘Haricot’ French bean varieties – e.g. ‘Blue Lake’ etc..
- Czar Runner Beans (not just for the green pods but also for beans like butter beans for drying)
- Greek Gigantes (a runner bean specifically bred for its large, buttery seeds).
- Fagiolo di Spagna (Phaseolus lunatus) (Butter beans)
However, what you might not realise is that all broad beans (Vicia faba), most types of green or French beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), and runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) can be left to mature and harvested when the beans within the pods are fully mature, rather than being harvested earlier as a green vegetable.
How To Grow Beans For Drying
Growing beans for shelling, drying and using as a pulse requires more or less exactly the same process as growing beans for use as green vegetables, or for beans shelled and eaten while they are immature (like broad beans).
So to grow beans for drying, you don’t need anything special. If you have grown beans for other uses before, then you can certainly achieve this goal. The only difference between growing beans for green vegetables and growing beans for drying as a pulse is the timing of the harvest.
You Will Need:
- Seeds of the beans you wish to grow.
- A suitable growing area. (This can certainly be achieved outdoors in many parts of the UK, but in wetter areas and where the season is shorter, a polytunnel can make the job a lot easier.)
- Support structures for the beans. The support needed will depend on the type of beans you are growing. But typically, beans are grown on wigwams made from bamboo canes or long branches, or on a trellis or other support structure.
Step-By-Step Guide to Grow Beans For Drying
- First, prepare your growing areas and decide which beans to grow, and where. (Remember that beans grown for drying will remain in place through the whole of the growing season.)
- Place support structures for your beans.
- Next, simply sow the beans indoors, or directly into your garden or polytunnel in spring as you usually would when growing them for green vegetables and immature shelled beans. Because you need the beans to reach maturity, you need as long a growing season as possible – so start your beans as early as you can.
- Care for the beans as you usually would, watering and tending the plants to make sure no problems arise. Remain vigilant as pests may get to maturing beans before you do.
- But don’t harvest little and often to prolong a green bean or runner bean harvest – hold off harvesting altogether and wait for the bean seeds within to ripen and mature fully.
When To Pick Beans For Drying
Beans for drying are harvested when they fully mature within their pods. You will not harvest until the pods are brown and dry, and the seeds are coming loose and rattling inside. Cut off the dried pods from the plants, and bring them indoors for processing.
Rather than uprooting the entire plants, cut them off at the base of the stems leaving the root system in place. As these roots rot down, the nitrogen from these nitrogen fixing plants will be returned to the soil. You can also simply leave the plants themselves on the soil surface to rot down. Or you can simply add the stems and leaves of the plants to your composting system.
Ensuring Beans are Fully Dry
Though the beans should be left to dry as much as possible on the plants, to store them safely, the beans need to be completely dried before they are stored.
Shell the beans, removing them from their pods. The dried pods can of course be added to your composting system.
Spread the beans out on trays or plates, ideally with some space between each one. Make sure there is reasonable air flow as this will help them to dry out. It should also help to avoid any issues with rot or moulds.
Leave them in a well-ventilated place, out of direct sunlight, for a month or so to completely dry. Give them a shake to turn them and move them around a little every now and then. This will help to ensure that they dry evenly, and do not remain moist where in contact with whatever they are placed on.
When the pulses are fully dry, they will be shrunken slightly, and will be lighter. When they are fully dry, they can be packed away by around early December.
Storing Dried Beans
Store some of your beans separately for seed for next year if you wish. The rest, which you plan to use for winter eating, seal into airtight containers. Glass jars with sealing lids can be ideal for this purpose, but there are a range of other receptacles that you could use.
Keep them in a dry, cool (but not frosty) place. With the right storage, your seeds should remain viable for at least the next two years. If you vacuum seal the dried beans or peas, they can last even longer. But it is worth noting that cooking these pulses will take much longer, and they may not taste as good, if they are kept really long term.
It is typically best to plan to use dried beans within a year or so.
How To Use Dry Beans
If you are used to eating beans and peas fresh or from cans, then one downside that you may not realise that dried beans will take a long time to cook.
Drying means makes a lot of sense because you can store them easily, and they will last for a long time. But you do need to bear in mind that you will need to soak and boil them before using them in your recipes.
Different beans and peas that have been dried will have difficult cooking times. But generally speaking, it will be best to soak your pulses overnight. And then boil them for 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the variety. How long they need to soften will also depend on how long they have been stored, and of course on how soft you need them to be for the recipe in question.
Of course, you can make your own baked beans, or use beans in a wide range of recipes like soups, stews, casseroles, chillis and more…
Another idea for storage (and convenience) is to invest in a pressure canner, which will allow you to store cooked dried beans in jars in a way that keeps them shelf stable and means that you can simply and safely grab a jar and use it just as you would a can of beans from a store.
Pressure canning beans and having these on hand makes it a lot more convenient for you to use and cook with the beans that you have grown.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.