Let’s talk about saving bean seeds. This spring, we broke ground on a large area in our pasture, an area Angus jokingly referred to as the R&D garden. We used the area for sprawling plants such as sweet potatoes, and to isolate a few plants to save seed for next year. Unfortunately, there was just too much shade from the tree-lined driveway for it to be a successful garden, but I’m not bitter. Okay, I am a little bitter, but the bright spot is that the black-eyed pea seed produced enough viable plants to harvest my seed stock again.
Legumes are very possibly the easiest seed in the garden to save and I increasingly believe it’s a necessary skill; let me tell you why. My family ALWAYS grew Kentucky Wonder white half-runners in our garden. ALWAYS. Back to my childhood (and beyond) that was OUR bean and we planted it with great success season after season. Beginning 5-6 years ago, crops began failing. Not just for me, but across our county, for both commercial growers and backyard gardeners. It didn’t seem to matter whether it was a hot season, cool season, wet or dry, you couldn’t grow a dependable crop of half-runners to save your life. So as I was shopping for seed this spring at our local farm store, I mentioned to the attendant that I needed to try a new variety of beans because I hadn’t had any luck recently with my old variety and she replied succinctly “They’ve been tinkering with the seeds for 10 years. If you want a good crop, you’ll have to save seeds for yourself.” I tell you, my head whipped around like it was on a swivel. The lady selling seeds was telling me to save my own so I didn’t need to depend on hers. That was telling for me. So this season, our goal is to save enough seed stock from our black-eyed peas and green beans to plant our garden next year. Let me tell you why it’s an important goal for any backyard gardener:
- It’s cost effective. It costs nothing but a few minutes of your time at the end of the season to save pea or bean seeds.
- It requires minimal-to-no labor on your part. Just let the plants stand until the bean pods are dry and then strip the pods off as you pull up the dead plants, which is what you’d do anyway.
- You’re protecting a dwindling resource. It has been estimated that we’ve lost 90%+ of our seed species as a result of not saving seeds ourselves.
- You’ll know the quality of seed you’re planting. You don’t have to wonder about the age or condition of the seed, whether it had been treated with chemicals or tinkered with genetically.
So you can see there’s no reason NOT to save seeds. Our grandparents did it for millennia before commercial seed production became the standard and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t pick up where they left off! There are only a few very, very basic steps to saving bean and pea seeds. Here we go!
- You have to allow the seeds to fully mature on the plant. You can’t pick them young and count on them to mature, it won’t happen! The pods should be brown/grey, dry and brittle and begin to split open before you pick them.
- Healthy plants only! If you have a plant that looks funky, wilted or off-color, don’t harvest seed from it. If it’s a diseased plant, it’s very possible the seed is carrying the same disease and can cause problems next season.
- Pick on a hot, dry day.
- Remove the seeds from the pods immediately. If you keep them in the pods, you may set up mold, fungus or any number of undesirable conditions. Discard any seeds that look off; discolored, shriveled, misshapen, bug-eaten.
- Spread the seeds on a newspaper-lined tray or even the racks from a dehydrator. What’s important is that you allow plenty of room for air-flow so the seeds can dry completely. Allow a week or more for drying time.
- Once dry, place the seeds in a glass jar or plastic bag, label clearly and store in a cool, dark, dry environment.
That’s it, my friends. It couldn’t get any simpler! It may be too late for many of you this year, but I’m issuing the challenge for next year to all my backyard-gardening friends: try your hand at saving legume seeds and update us the following year. I’d love to know how successful you are at creating your own seed stock. Til next time—