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How to save and store heirloom garden seed, especially bean seed is extremely easy. If you've read anything on my website, you know I'm a huge believer in heirloom gardening. Just one of the many benefits of heirloom gardening is your ability to save the seed from year to year, saving you money and making you more self-sustainable. (Check out my podcast Intro to Heirloom Gardening to find out while you'll love them as much as I do)
Our Tarheel green beans have been passed down in my family for over 100 years and I'm so excited that I've been able to pass them along to you guys in my annual spring giveaway. And I got a little giddy when some of the winners emailed me to say they'd enjoyed them so much they wanted to know how to save the seed.
The first thing to know about seed saving is you can only save the seed from heirloom plants. So this tutorial is on the assumption you've got good old-fashioned heirloom plants.
Beans, for the most part, don't cross pollinate so they're the simplest seed to save. To save the seed, allow some of the pods on all of your plants to mature past the eating point. Let the bean inside the pod get large. The bean will turn from green to white and become limp and rubbery. This is good for seed saving!
I also think for the amount of space they take up, they're the most prolific plant in my garden. From just two rows, I got enough beans to can 80 pints of green beans. I had enough shelled beans to can 3 quarts of white beans. And the remainder is for seed. I don't know any other plant that can be harvested in two ways and with such a large yield.
Depending upon your weather, allow the beans to stay on the vine until they're shriveled, dry, and brittle. If you're going to get a frost or the wet season has moved in, then let them mature as long as possible. If a rain storm is coming in, pull up the vine and hang upside down in a dry place for a few weeks to give the beans more time to mature and dry.
Shell the beans from the pod. Place the beans on a cookie sheet with a rim, leaving enough space that they don't touch one another and air can circulate around them. Check every three days for any seeds that may be molding. Throw them away.
Make sure you choose beans from multiple plants. You never want to save seed from only one plant, diversity is best. Choose the plants that are the healthiest and show the traits you desire. If a plant is sickly, doesn't produce much, or has some other malady, don't save any seed from it. Always save double what you think you'll need. If the weather changes after you plant or some other unseen problem, you'll have enough to replant. Trust me on this, I had to plant three times one year, more is better.
Once they are completely dried, store them in a glass jar in a cool dark place. To tell if they're dried, try to nick it with your fingernail. It shouldn't leave a mark. Depending upon how dry your beans were to begin with, and the humidity level where you live, this can take a few days up to a few months.
Some folks store their's in the freezer, but the year I tried this, not a one came up. It might have been the weather conditions, but I'm not chancing again. I don't like to replant. 🙂 My father sometimes just tosses the shriveled pods in a five gallon bucket and stores them in their laundry room if they run out of time to shell them all. I prefer to shell and dry mine as shelled beans to save room. Plus, I've eliminated the chance of them molding inside the pod or some bug getting into them when they're stored in glass.
Properly stored, bean seed will stay viable for at least three years, most times, many more. Be sure to mark each year on the container you store your seed in so you rotate it, always using the oldest first.
Some seeds require a process called fermentation, here's How to Save Heirloom Tomato Seeds.
Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.