Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Dried Bean Overview

Beans are a favorite food of mine. I'm not talking the green variety either. I like green beans, but I love dried beans. Sadly without being able to eat tomatoes and peppers, many of my favorite dishes are off the menu- chili, black bean soup, burritos, charro beans, bean dip. But I still love them in things like Gallo Pinto, bean burgers, and many kinds of salads and soups. I'm still working on expanding my repertoire of bean dishes without the nightshade crops, but it is hard since they are such a natural pairing.

Beans last almost indefinably though as they age they take longer and longer to cook. After soaking, dried beans take about two hours to cook if you buy your beans from the store. Sometimes they never get that nice tender feel without even more cooking. My beans take about half that time. I've yet to have a batch take longer than an hour even when they were a year old. The beans that I grow tend to be heirlooms that you can't find in most stores. In our neck of the woods we do have one bean farm (Baer's Best Beans) that grows dried beans and they have all sorts of old heirlooms that they sell. In fact three of the six kinds of beans that I grew this year came from them. I don't know how well beans from a regular store would germinate, but their beans germinate just fine.

I'm going to go through the beans that I grew this year. I'm going to list them in order of the yield that they produce.

Tarbais Alaric

Tarbais is a pole bean that is grown in France. It is the quintessential cassoulet bean. It almost disappeared because as a pole bean it has to be hand picked. But Jean-Marc B├ędouret and some friends saved the bean and brought it back into commercial production. I planted my first Tarbais last year. It was the best producer that year, and it continues that trend this year. I gave it four square feet and a trellis six feet tall. It shared the trellis with my Kentucky Wonder green beans. This plant is more aggressive. It would be nice to have a spot to give this one a trellis of its own. Though my other pole beans got very diseased as the season progressed (pretty normal here), this one resisted the diseases better. It is a late producer and can only produce one flush of beans each year, which is fine since that flush is so large. Its yield was 0.36 pounds per square foot. Last year the yield was 0.37 lbs/sqft. I got the bean from the SSE yearbook.

Trail of Tears

Cherokee Trail of Tears is the second best producer and also a pole bean. Last year it was right up with Tarbais, but this year it didn't have time to get its second flush out this year. Last year it did. As you might expect from its name it is an old Native American bean that was brought with the Cherokees on their forced march away from their homelands. The bean grows very vigorously. I always joke that it is an alien with world domination on its mind. It can easily take over its neighbors given the chance. I gave the plants 8 sqft of growing space. Its yield was 0.27 lbs/sqft. Last year it was 0.37 lbs/sqft. I got this bean from the Ottawa gardener (Veggie Patch Reimagined) years ago. I've since given it away to dozens of other gardeners. It is a truly wonderful bean.

The above beans were the only pole dried beans I grew. Pole beans are always more productive than bush beans. Both are tried and true varieties in my garden. This year I was trying a few bush beans, which I hadn't done in a couple of years. Bush beans are easier since they don't require a trellis to construct. But they are also harder. Picking bush beans is a real pain in the back. Literally. For pole beans most of the beans are higher up so they are easy to pick. I do require a small stool for the highest, but I keep one in the garden so that is no problem.

Yellow Eye

Two of my choices in bush beans are New England heirlooms. Both are known as the best beans for making baked beans. Which one you choose depends upon where you are from. Yellow eye is typically a Maine bean, though other areas of New England also use the bean. Bean growers in the area say there are a lot of strains of this bean. The one I got was from Baer's Best Beans. They are located in the Peabody/Beverly area which is pretty close to me. Even though this bean is a New England bean, you can't find it in the regular stores in the Boston area. You have to go to specialty shops to find it. I have this bean 12 square feet of growing space. It yielded 0.15 lbs/sqft.

Tiger's Eye

Tiger's Eye bean is an heirloom from South America. I've read Argentina, Chili, and Peru. So take your pick. I've grown this bean once before. That year I found the yield wanting. But I also found the texture to be much more creamy than any other bean I've ever had. So it would be good for a variety of recipes. Though I warm you those pretty markings disappear when you cook it. This was the earliest of all the beans. I was picking these in July. I give it just 6 square feet of growing space because I only had 25 seeds. When I decide to not grow a variety I occasionally keep a small amount just in case I change my mind. I figured I might since I love the texture of this bean so much. It yielded 0.10 lbs/sqft. The bean was originally obtained from Dan from the Urban Veggie Garden Blog.

Jacob's Cattle

Myth has it that Jacob's Cattle beans were originally cultivated by the Passamaquoddy tribe located in Maine. If you are to find a local heirloom bean for sale in the Boston area in your typical supermarket, it would be this bean but still don't count on it. It has been a favorite for baked beans for centuries here. I gave it 12 sqft of growing space and it yielded 0,09 lbs/sqft. The beans came from Baer's Best Beans.


Calypso (aka Yin Yang) beans are a very old heirloom from the Caribbean. I know little about them. I picked them because they are pretty (OK maybe not the best way to choose but I do use my jars of beans as decoration in the dining room). I gave them 12 sqft of growing space and they yielded 0.06 lbs/sqft. So they are the lowest yielding beans in the bunch. That being said they did have a bad spot by the fence. That spot doesn't get nearly as much sun and their yield probably reflects that. The beans came from Baer's Best Beans. BTW if you live in the area and want to buy local beans from them, they sell in some farmers markets, but you can get them year round at Wilson's Farm in Lexington or Russo's in Watertown.

Zinnia, Beans, Peas

I was smart this year. I packed up some of the beans for next year's planting. One year I ate all of one variety. Whoops. Luckily Granny came to my rescue. I'd sent her some in a previous year and she had grown them and had some to give back. Next year I think I'm going to grow only three types (yeah right). I'm going to try to do a rotation in an 4'x 8' bed from spring crops to Tiger's Eye. And one from Tiger's Eye to fall crops. I won't eat any of my Tiger's Eye beans this year and save them all for planting next year. I do love those beans. And I think since they are so quick I can get away with this. Since they will only take a bed for half a year, their yield will be closer to 0.2 lbs/sqft that way. Not as good as pole beans. But still decent. I'm going to grow two 4'x 8' beds in pole beans. One will be exclusively devoted to my beloved Trail of Tears. One will be split with Tarbais and Kentucky Wonder green beans. I've avoided putting a whole bed into pole beans before because they shade each other. Usually I run them along the back of another bed. But I'm going to try next year to see if it will work. I'm hoping.

For now my beans decorate my dining room. They will slowly disappear as they are eaten. Since growing dried beans isn't a normal garden veggie, I get a lot of questions about it. The reason most people don't grow them is that it takes a lot of space to get a pound of beans. My garden typically yields a little over a pound per square foot of space. Beans don't do better than 1/3 of that. Beans also don't cost all that much, so their value per square foot is low. In New England dried beans can be a problem to grow. Some years we get a lot of rain and drizzle when they are harvested. I do lose beans to the pod mildewing. But overall I do pretty well if I pay attention to the weather forecast. Some years the pods never dry because the humidity is too high and the weather too wet and I have to gauge when to pick them and dry them inside. I always remove them from the pod then. The pod is brown and dead and won't give the beans anything but a better spot to mildew. I like to grow them because I love dried beans. Now I have plenty of space for them. But even at my last garden where I didn't have room to grow all my veggies during the season, I still reserved room for some. Not all that I would eat in a year, but some. I also like that it is something easy to preserve that I can eat in the winter. When my garden is buried in snow I like to be able cook a meal from something I grew. So dried beans aren't for everyone. But they are an easy crop to grow. They are one of my 'plant them and forget them' crops. I only have to worry come harvest time.


  1. I only planted Good Mother Stallard beans for drying this year. I grew them because I tasted them and fell in love. I haven't done all the scientific weighing and calculating of amount per square foot for any of my beans.

    But I do love beans. Thank you so much for this post. It is food for thought for me.

  2. I have such fond childhood memories of autumn evenings spent shelling dried beans with my family (runner beans, as I think I mentioned in my comment on your last post). One of the many things I really miss about having a "real" garden. Although I'm sure it is possible to grow a decent amount beans on a balcony - I just have to figure out how!

  3. Great post Daphne, would love to hear of any good veggie bean burger recipe if you have one?

    1. I posted mine here

  4. I've been waiting for this post. From my three plants of Trail of Tears I've got about 8oz of dry beans, and about 4ox of green shelled beans.
    Not bad from 3 plants planted in July!

    Next year I'm planning on a much bigger planting, and a few more varieties.

  5. Spectacular! Each photo I looked at I said to myself, that's the prettiest bean. I too love dried beans but dont grow your variety. They are such a great way of making the harvest last over winter and a handy decorative item as well.

  6. Thanks for the great information! I would like to try growing some beans for drying in the future and this is very helpful!

  7. Thanks for sharing the information. Now I must decide what I want to grow since I have limited space, winter homework.

  8. Daphne, thank you for commenting on my blog post that you liked Tiger Eye beans so much that you grow them despite their less than stellar rate of return.

    I ordered some from Seed Savers Exchange. They listed them as some they sell for eating. Today I cooked them and they really are divine. Thanks for letting me know about them.