Seed Saving: Beans
My garden always has a few bush bean plants, even when it's just a tiny container garden tucked into a small balcony.
I've had a few failures - some of the climbing varieties gave me only a couple of pods before dying from powdery mildew. My last attempt with a purple bush variety was overrun with red spider mites. I certainly didn't save any of those seeds - not at all disease or pest resistant!
But the yellow and green bush varieties have always been prolific producers.
Buying new packets of seeds each season can eat into my gardening budget, so I like to save as many seeds as possible. And beans are definitely the easiest type of seed to save for the next season!
Easy to grow varieties
Tender green beans, tossed with a little garlic and lemon juice after a quick steam - for me, that's the taste of summer. But I love all types.
Edamame (soy), steamed and tossed with a touch of salt, some pepper and a few red chili pepper flakes - the perfect healthy snack.
Buttery yellow wax beans, creamy broad beans (fava), butter and lima beans, and stringless bush beans (snap) - all deliciously healthy, and all wonderfully easy to grow.
Whether they were heirloom varieties, organic or 'standard' seed packets, I have successfully saved the seeds and used them in the next season.
The only times I had to buy new bean seeds, were when my plants were overrun with diseases/pests (once), when one particular climbing variety produced almost nothing before dying of powdery mildew, when I wanted to try a new variety, or when I moved countries - because there are usually rules against importing seeds from overseas.
Saving bean seeds
- Choose the healthiest plants, disease and pest free if possible. Don't save any seeds from plants with spider mites or powdery mildew, both because the seeds will not be in good condition, and because those varieties are obviously not so hardy.
- Let a few pods get really large and fat - you want them to fully mature and then dry while they are still on the plant. This can take up to a month after ripening to an 'eat me now' stage.
- When the pod is dry, brown and probably very wrinkly, and the dried seeds rattle inside, snip the pods from the vine, crack them open carefully (don't stick your fingernails into the seeds inside), and take out the seeds.
- Leave the seeds to dry a little more on a plate or paper, out of their pod. Throw out any seeds that have been damaged.
- Pack the smoothest, healthiest and largest seeds into paper envelopes. Discard any bean seeds that are broken, shriveled, or very small - they will probably not sprout healthy plants.
What's your favorite type of bean?
Saving hybrid seeds
You can collect seeds from hybrid plants or from beans that have cross-pollinated.
However, you may not get the same variety as you planted this time, a good number of beans might not ripen to harvest, or the healthiness and disease resistance of the plants may not be as good in the following season.
But that shouldn't stop you from trying - many times saving hybrid or cross-pollinated bean seeds works perfectly!
Easier bean collection, for busy seed savers
Thank you to LongTimeMother for her suggestion!
- Cut the branch with the drying pods, and place them in a large paper bag, labelled with the bean type.
- Hang in a dry area, with plenty of air movement until the pods and branches have thoroughly dried out.
- When you have time, remove the pods from the branches, crack the pods, and keep the seeds in the bag until fully dry.
- When dry, simply fold the bag down, and store!
Seed saving tips
Mature dried pods of some varieties will pop open to explosively disperse their seeds. Check the pods as they dry, and collect them before they shatter - don't keep any bean seeds that have been laying on the moist ground.
Collect old and ripe pods on dry days - you don't want much moisture on the pods as this might make the seeds rot.
You can store the seeds inside their pods, but I find that whole dried pods take up too much extra space in my 'seed' box.
Which seed was which?
Don't forget to note on the envelope which variety the seeds are from, and include any planting information, as well as the date on which you collected them.
On the other hand, it's rather fun seeing which varieties appear from which seeds - I forgot to label my envelopes one year, it was quite a variety guessing game!
Bean seeds are usually viable for 2-3 years if kept in cool, dark, dry and pest-free conditions.
One or two silica gel packets keep my seed 'shoe'-box nice and dry. Be careful to keep these away from young children and pets - silica gel desiccant must not be eaten!
Late winter is when I start planning my little balcony garden. Check on your seed collection during winter, before you start your spring planning, to make sure weevils haven't discovered your seeds, and also that the box remains dry. It's tragic when you lose a whole collection kept in a spot that got too damp.
Save peas for the next season too!
You can save green pea, sweet pea and sugar snap pea seeds the same way.
Simply let a few pea pods fully mature and dry on the vine, then store the dried pea seeds in envelopes in a cool and dry place until the next season.
As with beans, select only the healthiest of plants and pods, and throw out any seeds that look damaged.
Do you save bean seeds each year
Seed saving articles
- How to Store Seeds
A great description of the various equipment and methods needed for saving and storing seeds from your garden, plus a few reasons why you should!
- Make Seed Tapes: A Better Way to Sow Seeds
If you have a bit more spare time, and are feeling crafty, why not make some seed tapes with your dried seeds. This isn't necessary (or easy to do) for bean seeds, but useful when your saved seeds are smaller.
A complete guide to saving vegetable seeds
Seed saving resources
- The Seed Savers Exchange, based in North America, is one of the best places to swap and buy heirloom vegetable, herb, spice and fruit seeds.
- Seed Savers, a collection of local groups throughout Australia and New Zealand, has a free introduction on seed saving (117 different plants), as well as a more detailed reference, and of course, a seed exchange network.
- The excellent GardenWeb forums has a seed saving section, where you can find information about saving the more hard-to-find varieties.
- The International Seed Saving Institute provides a free and good basic seeds saving guide.
- There is a Bean Project in Germany at the Ökologisches Bildungszentrum München, requesting people to save their seeds, especially of heritage varieties.
Are you a seed saver?
Do you have any bean or seed saving stories (or nightmares)?
Let us know in the comments below!