For those of us who grow dried beans in the garden, harvest time is upon us. Once the pods turn dry and begin to crack open, it’s time to pick, thresh and store them for winter use. Learning how to thresh dry beans is not a difficult task, but it’s one that can be made easier if you use one of the two bean-threshing methods below.
What Is Bean Threshing?
Threshing is the act of removing the individual beans from the pod husk, a task that requires a good bit of muscle. If left outdoors on the plant, the pods will continue to dry and the beans will drop to the soil, naturally propagating the plant. But, because we want to harvest the beans for consumption, they must be harvested before the pods fully open and the seeds are lost.
How To Thresh Dry Beans
There are many different ways to thresh dry beans. If you’re just growing a few plants, it’s easy enough to pluck the dry pods from the plants, crack them open, and use your thumb to scoot the beans out of their pods. But, if you’re growing a large crop, that’s not how to thresh dry beans. Hand-threshing so many beans would gobble up a ton of precious time. Instead, I prefer to use one of the two methods of threshing dried beans you’ll find below.
For both methods, allow the bean pods to turn brown and almost fully dry. As soon as some of the beans begin to crack open, pull them from the plants. Try to perform this task on a dry day, after a period of dry weather. Put the pods into brown paper grocery bags, placing about eight cups of the pods in each bag. Let them sit in the bags, stirring them around inside the bag with your hands every few days, for about three to four weeks before using one of the following two methods to thresh them. The pods should be very “crispy” before you attempt to separate the beans from the pods. If they aren’t, return them to the bags and check again in a week or two.
Method 1: The Tarp Method Of Bean Threshing
When the bean pods are fully dry, spread a clean tarp out on a flat, sturdy surface. We use our concrete patio. Empty all the grocery bags full of bean pods on half of the tarp. Fold the empty half of the tarp over the beans so they’re fully covered. Make sure no pods are near the edge of the tarp.
Now it’s time to put some music on and dance on top of the tarp; it’s a great job for grown-ups and kids alike. As you stomp on the tarp, the seedpods beneath your feet will crack open and the hard, dried seeds will be free of their husks. The bean seeds themselves are very hard, so don’t be afraid of squishing them as you thresh the beans. The dried husks, however, are more brittle and will easily crumble open.
Method 2: The Bag Method Of Bean Threshing
For this method, instead of using a tarp, I use a repurposed birdseed bag to thresh the beans. I like to use one of those woven plastic feed bags that holds about 35 pounds of black-oil sunflower seed.
Simply transfer the dried pods from the paper grocery bags into the empty birdseed bag, filling it about halfway. Tie the bag closed, pressing out as much air as possible before sealing it. Once it’s closed you can either stomp on the enclosed seed pods as mentioned above or pick up the bag and smack it repeatedly into a fence post, wall or other hard surface. Flinging the bag of beans to thresh them is great aggression therapy—and good exercise. It will take a few dozen good smacks to separate the beans from their shells, but it works well.
Winnowing Dried Beans
No matter which way you thresh your dry beans, winnowing is the next step. This involves separating the crushed husks from the seeds, usually using the power of the wind. Though you can winnow by putting a few cups of the crushed husks and beans into a basket and tossing the basket’s contents up into the air repeatedly, letting the breeze blow away the chaff, there is an easier way.
I place an oscillating fan 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.
How To Store Dried Beans
After gathering the beans, spread them out on a flat surface in a cool, dry room for another week or so. Once they’re fully dry, pack the beans into screw-top jars, plastic lidded containers or other air-proof vessels. Label them carefully and store the containers of beans in a cool, dry room.