No I’m not adding to my home menagerie, these are all varieties of dried beans I volunteered to help harvest on the weekend (I’ve already harvested most of my own bean crop). The day was actually a seed saving workshop put on by the local seed library covering growing, harvesting and processing beans for seeds (and food). The beans belonged to Rebecca Jehn, a local seed producer growing a wide variety of dried beans, the farm was Northbrook Farm, a beautiful location.
Rebecca walked us through the process of how she harvests dried beans – pulling up the entire plant then plucking each pod off by cradling the pod in your palm then closing your fingers around the pod before pulling it free of the plant – so if the pod bursts open, as dried bean pods tend to, the beans would just be in your hand and not scattered in the dirt. Each pod got tossed into a large paper grocery bag and later spread out to dry until brittle.
Next came the threshing box – a plywood box with sides slightly smaller than a door (alternately a heavy tarp would work as well). Along the bottom of the box strips of wood were nailed down in a herringbone-like pattern to provide texture. A bag of bean pods were spread out in the box and we took turns donning the crocs-of-cleanliness (designated for only this task, not mucking out the chicken coop) and stomping on the beans. With our weight, most of the pods would break open and spill their beans. We then used compressed air to blow out the pod remnants, the beans and chaff that remained were dumped into a bucket.
From a high height, the bucket of beans and chaff was poured into another bucket in front of a fan. All the little bean pod bits got blown away, while the beans, because they are heavier, landed in the second bucket.
Next, the beans were put onto a screen that allowed any last bits of non-bean matter to fall through, this included the too-small-to-bother-with malformed beans. Spread out like that it was also easy to pick out any damaged, split or discoloured beans and discard them.
All that was left was beautiful dried beans – and there were so many different types of ogle over – agate pinto really intrigued me with its pretty white and brown markings. I loved the opportunity to just run my hands through so many different types (and it was nice to learn that I’m not the only one who likes to do that).
This is not how I cleaned my beans, partly because I harvested them a bit early and they were only ’leathery’ as opposed to ‘brittle’. I spread them out on our living room floor and we watched TV, drank beer and opened each one by hand. I really didn’t mind my way, however if I do scale up the amount I grow I’m now armed with knowledge to clean them in bulk.
One of the more important things I learned is that my attention to separating by bean varieties is not really necessary for what I’m trying to do. Rebecca grows her beans in long rows – one variety follows another in a single row and different varieties are in adjacent rows. Yes, occasional crossing happens which can add the the genetic diversity and if the resulting bean is significantly different than expected it can be removed. I’ve been obsessively picking over my beans removing any that is sub-par, so removing oddballs would be no big deal especially since it would mean I could grow more different bean varieties.