Days to germination: 10 to 20 days
Days to harvest: 80 to 100 days
Light requirements: Full sun
Water requirements: Regular watering
Soil: Well-drained and fertile, with added inoculant
Container: Grows well in containers
Dry beans are the class of beans that you shell from their pods, and usually dry before use. These different from the long green beens that you harvest, edible pod and all. Kidney beans and black beans are two popular types of dry beans, though they are not the only ones. Dry beans are also sometimes called shell beans.
Most dry beans are grown in bush form, but you can also get some vining “pole” types as well.
Given that they are dried hard when harvested, these kinds of beans are never eaten raw. When cooked, dry beans are an excellent source of protein, which isn’t very common among garden vegetables. Beans also provide you with a lot of fiber, and minerals like magnesium, calcium and iron.
Kidney beans are actually quite toxic if eaten raw, so don’t get tempted to eat a few right off the plant.
Starting from Seed
Dry bean plants do not transplant well, so they are typically planted directly into the garden as seeds. They don’t like the cold, so you will have to plant them out a week after your last frost date. The soil will need to be at least 70F for decent germination.
You can space your plants fairly close together, around 3 to 4 inches apart. Sow a few seeds at each point, then thin down to the best seedling after they sprout.
As you are planting the seeds, mix them with a generous helping of inoculant. Inoculant is a product you can buy at the gardening store, which helps your seedlings develop better by improving their nitrogen-fixing capabilities. It’s generally just looked at as one of the special quirks when growing beans. You can forgo this step if you wish. Inoculant isn’t considered a “chemical additive” and it’s perfectly natural.
Bush beans don’t usually need any support, but if you are growing beans that grow in long vines, you will need a pole or trellis. Put that in place for your plants right at seeding time. Trying to put pole in place after the plants are growing will do more harm than good.
Beans make their own nitrogen so you should only use a low-nitrogen formula if you are fertilizing your plants. Too much nitrogen will make leafy plants with no bean pods. If you are going to use manure, only use well-aged material for the same reason.
Water fairly regularly, but plants can handle dry periods with no real ill effects.
Don’t disturb the soil around your plants, particularly when weeding the bean patch. The roots are quite shallow and can be harmed by too much activity. Mulch is a better way to get rid of the weeds so that you don’t have to upset the sol. Once the plants grow and get bushy, their broad leaves usually help to shade out any weeds.
You can grow dry beans in containers, but you will need several plants to get a reasonable harvest which may make it impractical to have so many pots. Either bush or pole beans will grow in containers, though the bush varieties work best.
Each plant can go in its own 12-inch container, or you can cluster a few together in larger pots. Pole beans need less space though you’ll need a trellis for them.
Pests and Diseases
Dry bean plants can get bean rust, which will look like rusty-brown patches on the leaves. It’s a fungus infection that can be treated with commercial fungicides as long as you see the problem soon enough.
Many different insects will make a meal of your bean leaves, including bean beetles, flea beetles and leafhoppers. Pick them off the leaves when you see them, and spray your plants often with a natural insecticide to keep them off. If you find any eggs laid under the leaves, cut the leaves off and dispose of them.
Tiny aphids can harm your plant by sucking the fluids out of the stems, though it takes a lot of insects to really do any damage. The bigger risk is that they can spread disease like bean mosaic virus. Most varieties of dry beans are resistant to mosaic, but you still want to keep your aphid population to a minimum. Spray the leaves with pyrethrin insecticide sprays, and you can even let loose a population of live ladybugs. The ladybugs prey on the aphids, for a very natural solution.
Harvest and Storage
Once the pods have just started to brown, stop watering the plants to speed up the drying process.
With most vegetable plants, you want to get your harvest taken in before the plants go off to seed. Dry beans are the exact opposite. Unfortunately, it also means the plant will stop producing new pods once the seeds are mature. This results in a smaller harvest compared to green beans where you pick the pods off before maturity.
You want to wait until the pods have completely browned, and you can hear the dry beans inside rattle when shaken. Then just crack open the pods for your bean harvest. For large crops, you can just pick all the dried pods and break them up in a bucket or even a pillow case. Then sift out the beans from the pieces of pod debris.
If frost is looming in the fall, and your beans aren’t fully dry yet, you can still salvage your beans. You can either pull up the entire plant, and hang it somewhere to dry where its protected from the frost. Inside the house, or just in a shed would be fine. Alternatively, snip off all the still-drying pods and lay them out somewhere well ventilated in the house to finish drying.
Your exact yield per plant will vary greatly by the weather and which variety of bean you are growing. Most families use roughly 6 to 8 bean plants per person.
Once your beans are thoroughly dry (biting one shouldn’t make a dent in the bean), they are ideal for long-term storage. In an air-tight container, you can store well-dried beans for up to 2 years.