There are many ways to streamline your garden planting year-after-year, but one of the most effective methods is to save seeds from your favorite veggies of years past to replant each season. Tomatoes, peppers, peas, and beans are among those varieties that are the easiest to harvest seeds from for replanting.
When it comes to beans, the seeds to save are actually the beans themselves. When you grow beans for drying (and subsequently cook with), you allow the pods to turn brown and dry on the vine before harvesting. The same basic principle holds true for preparing them for replanting. To prepare and save seeds from snap beans, string beans, wax beans, kidney beans, and more, follow these easy tips.
Choose Which Beans to Save
When deciding which bean varietals to preserve and save for replanting, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, save only beans that are open-pollinated or heirloom varieties. They come true from seed, meaning you'll be sure the beans are the same quality as the plant you saved the seeds from. Saving seeds from hybrid beans is not a sure thing—the beans you get as a result can often be different from those produced by the original plant.
Note that once you start letting the pods dry so that you can save the seeds, the plant will stop producing. You may want to set aside a few plants to be your "seed saving stock" and keep the rest of your plants producing as long as possible so you don't lose out on your harvest. This is less important if you're growing bush beans, which produce a harvest all at the same time anyway but a good thing to keep in mind if you're growing pole beans.
Additionally, try to avoid planting two different varieties of beans side by side in your garden. Though bean blossoms self-pollinate, varieties can cross if they are planted in very close proximity. One way to try to avoid crossing via bees or other pollinating insects is to be sure that there are plenty of other flowers planted nearby to attract pollinators, making them more likely to ignore your bean blossoms. If that is not possible, try bagging each blossom in a spun polyester fabric bag (though that is time consuming) or building screen cages over beds of bush beans to isolate them. The best option, though, is to just grow only one variety at a time if your goal is to save seed.
Preserve the Bean Seeds
Beans should be kept on the plant until they are fully ripe and beginning to brown. You'll notice that the pod also becomes dry and kind of crunchy—if you were to shake it, you may even hear the dried-out beans rattle inside. At this point, you can either pick the dried pods individually from the plant when they are ready or pull up the entire plant right before a frost and harvest the pods that way. If you choose to pull up the entire plant, hang it in a sheltered location (such as a garage or basement) and the pods will continue maturing for a while.
Clean Your Bean Seeds
There are several methods you can use to remove the beans from their pods. For an efficient (and stress-relieving) method, you can utilize a feed sack or pillowcase to clean your beans. To do so, place all of the pods inside the case, then repeatedly hit it against a hard surface, like the floor, a wall, or a fence. Doing so will dislodge the beans from their pods, allowing you to separate the two, saving the beans for replanting and composting the pod debris.
Another method for cleaning your beans is by laying them out on a tarp or sheet in a single layer. To separate the beans from the pods, walk all over them (really!), allowing them to crunch underfoot, which will crush the pods but not the beans. If all else fails (or you just prefer to keep your hands busy), you can always process by hand by simply opening the pods and removing the beans. This may be the easiest method if you don't have a large harvest to clean and don't want to break out a bunch of accessories to do so.
Store the Bean Seeds
Once cleaned, you can put your beans in an air-tight container, making sure to separate different varieties into different containers or into various paper bags within the same storage container. Keep your beans in a cool, dry place that boasts temperatures ranging from 32 degrees Fahrenheit to 41 degrees Fahrenheit—a refrigerator or unheated basement would be the ideal spot. Your beans will remain viable for approximately four years after harvest and are ready to plant in the coming season if you so desire.