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Grow. Share. Prepare.: Beans are magical. Here’s how to grow them

Staff Writer
Austin 360
Beans can be grown in your garden and dried. Sustainable Food Center

Beans are one of the longest-cultivated plants across the world, adding flavor, texture and nutrients to traditional recipes. Growing dry beans is easy, and if you enjoy hands-on processing, it can be quite rewarding. Many bean varieties are grown as dry beans and stored to eat, or used as seed for the next season.

Beans are warm season crops and grow best in full sun and well-drained, fertile soil. Plant your first crop of beans a week or two after the date of the last expected frost. In Central Texas, due to its warm climate, dry beans can be planted in late spring or early summer for a fall harvest. Plant most bush bean types 3 inches to 6 inches apart in rows 2 feet to 2½ feet apart. Bush beans usually don’t need a support unless planted in a windy area, in which case using twigs or a strong cord wrapped around stakes set at the row ends or corners of the bed will suffice. It is best to harvest during a dry time of year, usually late summer and fall. Too much rain and humidity can cause not-quite-dry pods to rot before beans are ready to pick and process.

Harvest pods off of the plant when they have become dry and tan in color. Depending on the variety, the pods might turn other colors or even become patterned. It is good to leave the pods on the plant as long as possible; you can even let the plant itself start to die before harvesting. Make sure you harvest before a period of rain. If you have to harvest after rain, pull up the plants and hang them upside-down until the pods have dried out. After harvesting the dry pods from the plant, it is important to lay them out to dry longer. Dry the pods on a wire rack or a shelf with newspaper in a dry location. Allow the pods to dry for at least seven days.

Now comes the fun part: shelling! Although rewarding, this part of the process can be time-consuming. Here is a trick to make the shelling process easier: Place the dried pods in a pillowcase or bag, hold the open end closed with your hand and let out some of that pent-up aggression by shaking the pillowcase. The beans themselves won’t be harmed and what was going to be hours or maybe days of shelling by hand will now be a few minutes of rummaging for little treasures in a pile of dry shells.

Right when you thought you were ready to start enjoying the beans of your labor, more drying time is in your future. Let the shelled beans dry in open containers for two more weeks, giving them an occasional stir. After two weeks, store beans in airtight containers in a dark and dry location. Recommended varieties for Central Texas include: adzuki, black, fava, garbanzo, great northern white, kidney, Lima, mung, pinto, bird’s egg, scarlet runner and soldier beans.

Here are Sustainable Food Center’s The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre recommendations for cooking dry beans:

1. Remove beans that are broken or shriveled, and any pebbles or debris. Rinse beans.

2. Place beans in a pot with enough water to cover them by 3 inches. Use either of these methods:

Soaking Method: Soak beans for eight hours or overnight. Drain and rinse beans, then cook using the method below.

Preboiling Method: Bring beans and water to a boil. Turn off heat, cover and set aside for an hour. Drain and rinse beans, then cook using the method below.

3. Discard soaking/boiling water. Cover beans by 3 inches to 4 inches of fresh water in a large pot. Onion and garlic can be added to flavor the beans. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and slightly simmer until beans are done. Beans are done when you can easily smash a bean between your tongue and the roof of your mouth. For most beans, this should take about one to two hours. Note: Lentils do not need to be presoaked.

4. Season beans with spices about 30 minutes before they are done cooking. Adding seasonings too early can cause the flavors to break down. Add the following ingredients after the beans cook: lemon juice, olive oil, vinegar, soy sauce, fresh herbs, salt and pepper.

Tip: Cooked beans can be frozen. Place beans in one or two cup portions in plastic bags or containers and freeze for up to a year.

Grow. Share. Prepare. is compiled by Sustainable Food Center, sustainablefoodcenter.org.