The Magic of Dry Beans
There is booming interest in what our great grandmothers called dried shell beans. The kind that often require soaking and long cooking times, a process that has been passed up in favor of pre-cooked, canned beans. Canned beans can be a substitute for kidney or pinto beans you soak and cook yourself. But you will never experience heirloom beans, like Hidatsa Shield beans or Hidatsa Red in a supermarket can. Nor will a can of supermarket beans compliment your fall decor like a mason jar filled with an array of colorful beans of every color, size and pattern. And they are so EASY to store!
Dry beans are popping up at farmers markets, food coops, menus, school and home gardens… and of course seed catalogs. Check out Pinterest for loads of fall decorating ideas using dry beans, peas, and popcorn as vase fillers, knife blocks, pencil holders, hot pads and candle holders. These attractive heirlooms can make the switch from decorative elements to the dinner plate in a diversity of recipes such as soup, chili, sauces, bean humus, veggies burgers, or as a simple side dish, cooked firm with a butter coating.
Beans are in the legume family, Fabaceae. They "fix" atmospheric nitrogen in nodules on their roots through a relationship with the soil-dwelling bacterium, Rhizobium. These bacteria colonize the roots, helping extract nitrogen from the air and making it available to the plant for growth and better yields. Many soils in our region have adequate populations of Rhizobium to form the beneficial relationship with beans. However, you can insure their presence by purchasing powdered Rhizobium inoculum and treating the seeds before planting. A good source of organic legume inoculum is Fedco Seeds in Maine. [Click here to visit their website.] Just add a little of the powder to the seed packet and shake right before planting.
You will be amazed at how fun it is to grow these rewarding plants. Beans should be planted once the soil has warmed. In our region this is usually late May, sometimes early June. If planted in cold soil, beans seeds may rot before germinating and the plants will grow very slowly.
Make sure you check if your bean variety is a bush or pole beans. Bush bean seed should be sown in single or double rows, with seeds three to four inches apart and rows two to three feet apart. A good rule of thumb is the larger the seed, the more space between plants. For pole beans you can plant next to a fence suitable for climbing, make a simple trellis of six-foot stakes and twine, or set up a teepee of bamboo poles or long branches. Plant seeds in a row in front of the trellis.
Our favorite method for trellising pole beans is to plant a living fence, using Red Kaoliang sorghum as a companion plant. Just plant the bean and sorghum seed next to each other in the row in a one on one ratio. Seeds should be planted three to four inches apart. Vertical gardening at its finest and most beautiful!
Many dry beans can be picked early as snap beans, or as green shell beans (shelling the immature dry beans while they are still in the milky stage). Or you can leave them to dry on the vine and complete the formation of dry beans. But the fun doesn’t stop there. Pick the dry beans while enjoying the fall sunshine. Tie them in an old curtain sheer or some netted fabric and hang them in a dry, shady, well ventilated place to thoroughly dry.
When the pod shells are dry and brittle, drop them into an 18 gallon rough tote or large trash can and stomp them, crushing the pods and releasing the beans. Place a piece of carpet under your stomping container to absorb some of the force and prevent cracking. Who needs a gym; this is a FREE and PRODUCTIVE workout. Play your favorite dance music during this step!
Shimmy the container back and forth, causing the empty pods to rise to the top. Skim the pods off, checking for any stray beans that did not shell out. You can also screen the beans over a wire mesh or hardware cloth with big enough screen size to allow the beans to drop through, while screening out any remaining pods.
On a breezy day, winnow the chaff out of the beans. In the absence of enough wind, use a box fan to create a more even air stream; you can place two together if you need extra wind. The beans will drop through the airstream into a rough tote or box and the chaff will blow away, leaving the beans nice and clean. [You catch watch a very short YouTube clip (22 seconds) on this step here]. Hand pick any discolored or split beans. Once your beans are dry and clean, store them in a sealed container, such as a mason jar on a kitchen shelf.
Beans are high in complex carbohydrates, folic acid, iron and fiber! Pairing beans with grains, like hummus and pita bread, provides a complete protein with full array of amino acids. Soaking for 8 to 12 hours softens the beans, allowing them to cook faster and improving their digestibility. Rinse the beans intermittently while soaking and while cooking to remove the gas-causing enzymes in the beans. The longer you soak them, the more you rinse, and the more beans you include in your diet, the better you will be able to digest them! If you are not accustomed to eating beans, add them to your diet slowly, a little at a time to help your body adjust to this high fiber food.
Learn more by accessing the NDSU Extension Service publication, "All About Beans" by Julie Garden Robinson. She shares nutrition, health benefits, information on preparation and use in menus, including some fantastic recipes, two of which are included in the Recipe Corner below.
It’s never too soon to start planning next year’s garden and dry beans should be part of your garden plan. Many of the dry beans originate from warmer locales, such as South Africa, and require long growing seasons. It is important to pay attention to days to maturity. The Hidatsa Shield bean and Hidatsa Red bean originated along the Missouri River Valley, grown by the Hidatsa people. These beans will mature in 85 to 90 days, as will our own Dakota Bumble bean. It is important to match the bean you plan to raise to your growing zone. A good rule of thumb is, if you can grow winter squash, you can grow dry beans. So that means most of us “can do!"
You can find more great recipes like these in Julie Garden Robinson's NDSU Extension Publication,
"All About Beans."
Substitute the CANNED beans in these recipes with your own
homegrown dry beans for better flavor and less salt!
COME VISIT WITH US
at the Pride of Dakota Holiday Showcase Events.
We were in Grand Forks last week! Here are the remaining dates and locations.
We would love to see you there!
For those of you who missed it...
View photographs taken during an held on our farm in August,
sponsored by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Services (MOSES)
and the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society (NPSAS).
Photos are courtesy of Adam Long. Thank you!