Gardening may not be the priciest of hobbies, but it's never a bad idea to save a few bucks where you can—and saving seeds each year is one way to do that. Open-pollinated, non-hybrid beans are one of the easiest seeds to save, making them the best option to start with if you're new to preserving seeds from year to year. Beans rarely cross-pollinate, so even if you haven't gone through the process of isolating your beans to maintain purity, you can still save the seeds and be confident that you'll end up with the same type of bean you grew this year.
Double-Check Your Plant
Be sure you're growing a non-hybrid seed. Hybrids are labeled as such on the seed packet. A hybrid bean won't come true from seed, so if you want to be sure you'll get exactly what you planted this year, make sure you're saving seed from non-hybrid plants. Additionally, save seeds only from healthy, vigorous plants, rather than any plants that are weak or diseased.
Allow the Pods to Mature Fully
Let the bean pods mature fully on the plant. As they do, the seeds will fill out the pod, which will begin to turn yellow and brown as it dries out. You want the pods to be fully dried out, a process can take up to four to six weeks.
Collect the Bean Pods
Once the bean pods are fully dried, harvest them from the vine. The pods will feel papery, and you should be able to hear the seeds rattle inside when you shake the pod.
Dry the Pods Again
Arrange the pods in a single layer on a tray and place them in a well-ventilated indoor location. Allow the pods to dry for at least two weeks, and then test them out by pressing the pod with your fingernail. If your nail leave a dent in the pod, they're not dry enough yet.
Shell and Store the Seeds
Once dry, shell the seeds from the pods and collect them in an airtight container. Put the container in the freezer for a week to kill any potential weevil eggs, then store it in a cool, dark location. The bean seeds can last up to four years in storage.
Seed Germination Test
Before you plant the bean seeds the following year, test them to make sure that they'll grow.
Wet a Paper Towel
Moisten a paper towel, then squeeze out the extra water, so it's damp but not soaked or dripping. Spread out the paper towel on a clean surface, and then fold it in half.
Spread out the Seeds
Select 10 seeds from your collection, and then spread them out on half of the paper towel. Don't let the seeds touch each other.
Fold and Store
Sandwich the seeds by folding the paper towel over it. Gently press down to ensure that the seeds are in contact with the wet paper towel. Put the paper towel and seeds into a zipper sandwich bag and seed it, and then place the bag in a warm location. Make sure it's not in direct sunlight.
Check the Seeds
Three days later, check to see if the seeds have sprouted. If they haven't yet, check again in another three days; however, any seeds that are likely to germinate will typically do so in two to three days. Re-dampen the paper towel if it has dried out.
Calculate the Germination Rate
Count the number of seeds that have germinated to determine the percentage. If 8 out of 10 seeds sprouted, you have an 80 percent germination rate. If your germination rate is less than 50%, you probably won't have luck growing bean crops with your saved seeds, so you should invest in new seeds for the year.