Use the Whole Bean Plant

With our unpredictable weather I have seen the wisdom in learning how to use as much of a garden plant as possible at different stages of growth. We’ve had snow until the third week of June and a killing frost as early as August 21st. You can’t predict what Mother Nature will do except keep us on our toes.

So knowing how to use your plants to their fullest is wise if you want to live in an area as challenging as Wyoming or hard times means you need it for survival.  And even in good times using plants to their fullest is a way of showing respect and gratitude much as the Native Americans did in the days of old.

I’ve tried thirteen varieties of dried beans a few at a time and through many experimental summers with variable weather conditions, the school of hard knocks has taught me a great deal.

  • If you simply want green beans then you can plant seeds closer together and rows closer too. The shade helps keep the beans at the green stage slowing development because it cools the soil. Not a good idea with dried bean varieties though. You want rapid development, lots of air circulation, and warmth to dry them.
  • Dragon’s Tongue is a bean that is suitable at all stages, green, shelled, and dried and I thought I’d hit the jackpot with them. But I’ve never been able to get them to the dried bean stage so they for us are not self-sufficient. I’ve really tried since our family loves the flavor of them raw. Canned it looks washed out and pale but taste good. We order in seed and grow them now and then keeping in mind their limitations in our area.
  • Even though the seed catalogue says 85 days, make sure what stage they are referring to – green, shell, or dried. A…nd don’t believe it. Hours of daylight, (our sun goes down early being so close to tall mountains), cold summer nights, and a short growing season changes everything. I’ve learned to count on it taking longer that the catalogue states. And though two types say the same amount of days to maturity, it means in someone else’s garden, not mine. There are extremely few who make the dried stage in our cool conditions. I almost gave up.

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  • My Ireland Creek beans always develop the fastest to dried bean stage in part because the plants have fewer leaves meaning greater circulation and heat penetration. Spacing the rows further apart than for green beans helps them to develop and dry faster too. Ireland Creek’s yield is lower but is the one dried bean I can count on. This is Ireland Creek  photoed at the same time as the Cranberry below.

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This year I tried a variety of Cranberry bean that had a very large yield in comparison to Ireland Creek. It had five to six beans in a pod, a medium sized bean and high yield. It was the high yield that set them apart. Though there was plenty of dried beans, there also were other beans at various stages. It set me to thinking about what I could  do with them and not waste.

I pick dried beans off the plants when they become leathery and leave them in the kitchen to finish drying as I have nowhere for the plants to hang.  Which way do you do it?

Some beans were small and just getting started so I tasted one— stringy but with a lovely green bean flavor. Hm… what could I do with them? I dried some, just enough to do a small experiment. I plan on powdering them and putting them in a cream soup or in a vegetable soup with tomatoes. Should be good and the stringiness problem solved. Now the ones that the seeds are swollen in but not at the dried stage, I’m still thinking about.

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These beans I found the green green one at the bottom of the picture was hard to shell and the bean small so they were best fed to the livestock in modest amounts for now until I figure out something else for them. The beans with seeds swelled giving them a very lumpy appearance, like the redder bean, third one from the bottom, I shelled and canned. I mashed and fried a quart of them making re-fried beans to the kid’s delight. The deep purple colored ones the pod is turning leathery and thin, those I shelled and finished drying in the kitchen.

I’ve also learned that:

  • Longitude as well as altitude makes a big difference. My sister gave me some scarlet runners that they love and she was sure would do well for me. She has about the same growing season length and very close to the same altitude. Bu…t being a bit further south gives her warmer days and nights. They only made the shell stage for me. The beans were huge but the yield per plant rather low in my climate.
  • The length of the pods and number of beans inside are a big deal when you can only raise a small amount. That ruled out black beans besides they couldn’t cut our weather conditions. I had only a few make it. The beans themselves were also small and the pod short.

Kidneys have six to seven large beans per pod but just can’t hack our weather. I tried and tried with these because I love them so. Keep in mind that these beans are very very toxic if eaten raw so cook thoroughly. Don’t feed them to the stock. Other beans do not have nearly as high a level of Phytohaemagglutnin in them so are not a problem. Cooking alleviates most of the toxin.

With all my experimenting with dried beans and variety after variety not reaching the dried bean stage, I learned to can and freeze dried beans at the shell stage. I’ve come to realize that I need to get more from the garden or I will be often calling it a failure.

With this in mind, I dried some cranberry beans at the early green bean stage when frost was forecast. They should be a wonderful addition to a cream soup, or a vegetable stew with tomatoes. It will help to naturally thicken it, add flavor, and nutrients. If I love it, I will do far more next year. I’m sure we will have some that just don’t make the dried stage. But what about those pods who have a swelled bean inside so past the green bean stage but not quite big enough for the shelled bean stage? Would they too taste like a green bean cooked or dried? An experiment for next year.

What else can you do with your beans? For me I feed the plant in small amounts – green plants as a little treat and yellow plants in a big larger amounts as they are less gassy at that stage. Beef go wild over them along with the bean pods shelled at the shell and dried bean stage.

Dried beans can be fed to livestock too except not Kidneys. Dried beans are far more palatable if ground for stock so I’d mix them in with grain in small amounts.

And last but not least of course you save dried beans for seed for the next year. Having done all this, I’d say you will have gotten the most from your labors.

 

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