How to thresh dry beans
If you grow beans for drying in the garden, harvest time is here. Dried beans are ready for harvest as soon as the pods turn completely dry and begin to crack open. After the dried pods are harvested, you’ll need to thresh and store the beans for later use.
Threshing is the act of removing the individual beans from the pod. While it might seem easy, it isn’t; especially if you are threshing a lot of pods. Large farms use machinery for this job, but home gardeners often have to complete the task by hand.
Because we want to use the beans for cooking, they must be harvested before the pods fully open and the seeds drop to the ground. If you wait too long, the beans will be wasted. If you don’t wait long enough, the pods will still be green and the seeds will be too immature for long-term storage.
There are several different ways to thresh dry beans. If you’re just growing a few plants, pluck the dry pods from the plants, crack them open, and use your thumb to push the beans out of their pods. If you’re growing a large crop, hand threshing like this will take too much time.
Here are two other ways to thresh a larger bean harvest.
Begin by harvesting the dried bean pods on a dry day, preferably after an extended period of dry weather. Put the pods into brown paper grocery bags, placing about eight cups of the pods in each bag. Let the pods sit in the bags for 3 to 4 weeks, stirring them around inside the bag with your hands every few days. After that time, the pods should be very crunchy. If they aren’t, return them to the bags and check again in a week or two.
Technique 1: When the bean pods are completely dry, spread a clean tarp out on a flat patio or deck. Empty the bags full of bean pods out onto half of the tarp. Fold the empty half of the tarp over the bean pods. Make sure there are no pods close to the edge of the tarp.
Walk or jump around on the folded tarp. As you do so, the seedpods crack open and the hard, dried seeds come out of their husks. The bean seeds themselves are very hard, so they will not be crushed as you walk around on the tarp. The brittle, dried pods easily crumble open.
Technique 2: For this method, use an empty woven plastic feed bag that holds about 35 pounds of black-oil sunflower seed.
Transfer the dried pods from the paper grocery bags into the empty birdseed bag, filling it about halfway. Tie the bag closed, removing as much air as possible. Once closed, stomp on the bag or smack it repeatedly into a hard surface. It will take a few dozen good smacks to separate the beans from their shells. Again, this will not hurt the dried beans, only remove them from the brittle outer pods.
Regardless of how you decide to thresh your dry beans, you’ll need to winnow off the crushed husks. For this task, I set an oscillating fan up next to the mixture of beans and crushed husks and use my hands to shuffle around the beans and pod fragments as the fan moves over them. The wind from the fan easily whisks away the pieces of pod while leaving the heavier beans behind. Then I sweep the beans to the center of the tarp and collect them for storage.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to [email protected] or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.