The bean harvest

Our eight bean varieties from the 2022 harvest.

Here we are, dear friends, and yet again I’m singing songs of love and devotion to beans – specifically our own 2022 harvest! My total and complete adoration of dried beans is no secret. Not only are beans one of the most inexpensive yet nutritious whole foods available, but as nitrogen-fixing legumes they actually improve soil. They grow well in our tricky high-plains desert environment, they don’t require much water and they’re very low-maintenance. There can hardly be a better edible crop to grow! Plus, as the world gradually starts to realize that a meat-centric diet for nine billion people simply won’t work, beans (and other nutritious legumes and pulses) will become ever more important as plant-based proteins. We’d like to get ahead of that curve and start cultivating more edible legumes on our farm, for both our own health and our soils, so this year we planted a test crop.

The bean rows in late spring, prepared with stakes, support line and irrigation.

Last fall, we dropped the marker in and plowed five new rows west of the raspberry patch, each about twenty feet long. Add rebar, braided baling twine, $17 of drip irrigation tubing and we had a new bean plot. Oh! Don’t forget the hours of digging, removal of large rocks, and addition of animal manure to enrich the soil. This area of our farm hasn’t been planted in who knows how long, so amendments and enrichment are definitely a must. In mid-June I planted eight different bean varieties, some from local seedstock and others that I’ve saved over the years in our seed bank. All were bush (rather than pole) beans; most were types that I hadn’t planted before. I was so excited to grow our own long-keeping plant-based protein source!

The bean plants in early September, just starting to yellow.

I definitely noticed extensive variation in germination rates on the varieties I planted; some of my seed beans were at least seven or eight years old, and I didn’t get stellar germination rates off these. I replanted some portions of the rows two or three times to make sure I effectively used all the available planting space; this did improve yield but also meant that rows contained different varieties – which means I still have a lot of sorting to do!

Last year’s scarlet runner beans; notice how the pods are dry and brown.

All of these beans were intentionally grown for dry beans, so we didn’t start harvesting until the pods were ‘rattle-dry,’ crisp and papery. Starting in mid-September we began running the rows every couple of days to collect the dried pods; the beans matured at different times so some days we harvested a lot and others only a few pods. We pulled everything that was fully mature prior to our hard freeze two weeks ago; some plants still had unripe pods, so I left these as an experiment. Now that we have another stretch of cool, dry weather, these beans may continue to mature and dry. As with any long-term storage crop, it is imperative that all moisture is removed before storing, otherwise the beans will mold and rot. All told, we harvested about twenty-two pounds of dry beans off our five rows with some varieties yielding far more than others, as is true of most heirlooms. Read on to learn about the individual beans!

Yellow Eye

Also called Maine Yellow Eye, these are a classic small New England bean, traditionally used for Boston baked beans and other similar cold weather dishes. The yield was pretty stellar on these and we’ll likely these plant again.

Tiger’s Eye

This seedstock was older and a bit of a gamble, but the beans are so beautiful that I couldn’t resist. Tiger’s Eye are a kidney-shaped bean, likely originating in Chile or Argentina. They’re not often seen outside of specialty growers, and although the yield wasn’t great, now I have newer seedstock for future plantings which will likely improve production substantially.

Peregion

These beans are a bit of a mystery; they’re likely Peregion, but the coloration presented differently than in previous crops. These have a creamy off-white background with definite black stripes; prior crops have offered a more pinkish background. Nevertheless, these were a fill-in crop for areas where germination of other varieties failed, and they produced abundantly. This one is definitely staying in our rotation.

Jacob’s Cattle

These Jacob’s Cattle kidney beans are another older variety that didn’t offer high yields. As with Tiger’s Eye, though, the beans are gorgeous and I’m happy to have fresh seedstock for future planting.

Golden Anasazi

These were a gift from a local grower and I’m ecstatic to have these in our seed bank; they’re a variation on the more well-known Anasazi bean, which are a mottled burgundy and white. They’re similar in appearance to the Yellow Eye beans, although these have a paler golden hue and more color than white – but sorting these definitely requires careful concentration! Note that certain Indigenous groups consider the word ‘Anasazi’ to be derogatory and disrespectful; there is also quite a lot of controversy around the bean’s apocryphal origin (supposedly found in Indigenous ruins in New Mexico in the early 1970s) and the (white) trademarking of a native bean. This is a delicious bean but obviously needs a rebranding. Maybe we should rename this the Palomino bean, since those horses traditionally have yellow coats and white tails?

Orca, Calypso or Vaquero

These might well be my very favorite beans we grew, even though there aren’t enough to eat – only just enough to replant next year! These gorgeous, plump, black and white beans go by many names, including Orca (obviously), Calypso (less obvious) and Vaquero (cowboy). I only had a few old beans for planting, and the germination on these was absolutely abysmal, but now I have enough for a full row next year, and I’ll expand from there. I know these will be amazing in a grilled corn salad!

Dutch Yellow or Hopi Yellow

One tricky thing about growing beans and keeping breeding lines true is that names often vary from place to place…or certain beans may just be passed down, with no names at all. These beans were given to me as Dutch Yellow, but I’ve never been able to satisfactorily trace that genealogy. More likely they’re Hopi Yellow, which would be appropriate from a geographical sense. An interesting observation about these beans: they produced abundantly, but some are smaller and properly round, while others are larger and have a more squared-off shape. Preliminary research indicates the smaller, rounder beans are the true heirlooms, and the square beans are a result of unintentional hybridizing, as might happen with any open-pollinated crops. I’ll read more on this, but am likely to eat the larger beans and save the smaller beans for seedstock in the hopes of cultivating a true heirloom line.

Aztec White

There are hundreds of varieties of dry white beans, including Navy, Tarbais and Marcella; we’re partial to these small, creamy, high-yielding Aztec Whites, from the same local grower who gave us some of our other seedstock so well-suited for our environment. Final tallies haven’t been made for each individual variety, but these were likely our best producer this year. White beans are flavorful and versatile and easy to grow; if you want to experiment with growing your own dry beans, start here!

We are so pleased with this season’s harvest, and are already planning to expand our bean plantings next year; I’m definitely adding garbanzos and black-eye beans to the plan. It’s utterly thrilling to grow long-keeping storage crops that improve our soils and offer us great nutrition! Do you grow dry beans? Do you have any favorite varieties? Please share!

P.S. We’re in the (very) early stages of planning a Colorado Bean Club, similar to Rancho Gordo‘s. If this is something you might be interested in – no binding commitment required, of course – let us know!

Cooking with dried beans

My love for beans knows no bounds. They’re cheap, filling, easily available, simple to cook, packed with nutrition and utterly delicious. Seriously, what more could you want? There’s a good reason rice and beans are the staple food for well more than half the world’s population.

I’m on a personal mission to encourage people to cook dried beans, rather than canned. Look, I’m a big fan of having a well-stocked pantry, and if storing a couple of cans of black beans or chickpeas in yours means you’re more likely to whip up a quick soup or homemade hummus, then I’m all for it. But for sheer value and flavor, you can’t beat dried beans. They’re way cheaper, they’re not difficult to cook and they really don’t take more time – you just need to plan in advance. There are a lot of fairly strong opinions on how to cook dried beans, so if you already have a way that works well for your household, keep it. I’m here to tell you how I do it and why, but ultimately it doesn’t matter to me how you prepare your dried beans, just that you do.

bean stripes 01 sml

Apparently we have quite a few different dried beans in our pantry.

Spoiler alert (and controversial bean-cooking tip alert, too): I cook all of my beans the exact same way, in a slow cooker (also commonly known as a Crock-Pot). And I no longer soak the beans in advance. Plus, I salt them at the beginning. That’s right, friends: I don’t soak my beans. And I salt before they’ve started cooking. I have spent years and years cooking dried beans, and I’ve tried every method: simmering on the stove, pressure cooker and on and on, and I’m personally convinced that the slow cooker, with its incredibly gentle simmer and moist, low-heat environment, is perfect for beans. And I get to skip the soaking step, too. (I don’t have an InstaPot, and I’m not going to buy one, but if you have it and you like it, then use it for beans.)

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