Friday, December 21, 2018

Dry beans -- worth it or not?

Last week, when I covered the harvest from the garden this past year, I made some quasi-disparaging remarks about the volume of dried beans and whether growing dried beans is worth the garden space. I'd like to add to that.

What I said was this:
Prepper gardeners are almost obsessively focused on dried beans, with good reason. They pack a mighty punch in term of protein and nutrition. But they're not without their drawbacks.

Dried beans have a low yield when compared to other crops. From one tire, I can harvest 30 ears of corn, or 15 lbs. of potatoes, or 15 lbs. of carrots. But I'll only get eight ounces of dried beans.

For us, dried beans will only ever be an "overflow" crop, something to plant if I have spare room. That's because we have other protein sources -- chickens, eggs, beef, and eventually nuts. If beans are your only source of protein in a prepper-gardening situation, then yes, plant a lot. Just be aware of their low yield.

They're also labor-intensive. Sure, you can stuff the dried pods in a pillowcase and stomp around on it (highly recommended), but don't think for a minute that technique will dislodge every last bean. In fact, I've discovered it only dislodges about half the beans. There's no getting around the need to hand-pick through the stomped pods to maximize the harvest.
Our attitude toward beans is this: Beans are a field crop for a reason, since they take a bit of room to grow and have low yield. They're also cheap and easy to store, so buying is better than growing. Yet for a long-term (prepper) solution, this wasn't necessarily what people wanted to hear.

So here's my experience. I spent several days shelling the dried beans.

It was laborious, but not unpleasant. Kinda like doing puzzles, which I love doing. The thing is, I had no idea what my final yield would be.

As it turned out, I ended up with 13.25 lbs. of dried beans from 20 tires, or 0.66 lb. of beans (a bit over 10 ounces) per tire.

This came out to two gallons.

When compared to the 15 pounds of carrots or potatoes I can get from a tire, this quantity seems pathetically small.

Yet I can't forget, dried beans swell to three times their volume when cooked. So now, I can see those two gallons of dried beans and envision six gallons of cooked beans. That's a lot of beans.

So I'm officially revising my prepper gardening recommendations. Growing dried beans on a small scale is, indeed, worth it. We have a lot of horizontal space but not much vertical space, so bush beans are our choice. Those with space constraints have the option to grow pole beans. Either way, they're a worthwhile contribution for every prepper garden, but only a part. Like anything else, beans should be part of a balanced whole.


  1. Something else, purchased beans have been sprayed with who-knows-what.

  2. We grow dried beans as space allows , but the yield per space used is low as you say .We would rather eat our dried beans instead of the sprayed -commercial beans available for purchase .We try our best to stay away from chemicalized foods as much as possible . We do however have some store bought beans in our long term storage .

  3. Beans and legumes in general are a solution to problems you have yet to encounter: the necessity of crop rotation and the need to improve soil nitrogen levels.

    The beans are a bonus harvest when you're actually planting to improve soil quality in certain spots where you've had problems in the past.

    So instead of thinking of beans as a waste of time and a low-yield crop, look at the low-yield spots in your tire crop gallery and plant those spots with beans next year.

    Also, it's worth thinking about what you need to help the nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the soil maintain the soil over the winter. You don't want to over-do this because some plants will not produce much of anything if there's too much nitrogen in the soil -- strawberries are notoriously bad when it comes to this.

    As for cooking beans, I generally hate messing about with beans, but the flavours can be fantastic especially in Latin American dishes. An Instant Pot or some other kind of safe-to-use programmable pressure cooker makes relatively fast work of otherwise time consuming beans.

    The biggest thing I don't like about Instant Pot is that they don't make a dual-voltage model that I can use in the US and in the UK.

  4. If you have limited resources for raising (including feed)for livestock, even small ones like chickens and rabbits,then beans look even better for a long term plan.

    Consider the Native Indians of the desert SW of America. They had all the space in the world, but nearly no water to grow enough crops for themselves AND crops to feed animals.

    Beans, along with a serving of corn or other grain, provides a lot of protein and can be grown on marginal ground with minimum water. No plowing or digging is necessary, just scratch up the ground enough to give the seed an inch of cover. The plants don't even mind a bit of grass or weed for neighbors.

    It's true that growing beans is no great deal for modern American preppers in cost of labor. But it's a great idea to keep your knowledge and practice in doing it just in case the need should arise. And if all else fails, you can cast them to grow in your livestock pastures and let the critters eat them, increasing their protein intake, therefor improving their muscle mass.

  5. I do hope that I am right in that the 20 tires were the small passenger size and not the bigger tractor tires?

  6. I agree that beans are labor intensive! I buy beans at the farmer's market usually from the Mennonite sellers, who don't use pesticides on their gardens. But if push comes to shove, I can grow them, but right now I have other veges with higher priorities.

  7. We dedicate fencing in our garden for running vines of butter beans. We leave them to dry, harvest, shell, put in zip locks and freeze. One cup of dried beans swell to provide four servings. We burn off the vines the next growing season and replant from the last harvest. Dried beans leave room for the canned green beans, tomatoes, salsa, jams, peas.....

  8. 2 years ago we planted 2 50' rows of red kidneys. I think we got about a gallon and a half. This was a test to see what we could do with them. In a smaller garden I don't think its worth it. For long term SHTF when you have more room (read as plant all the front yards in the neighborhood) it may be worth it to grow and store in good weather, use in bad. But for current purposes not worth giving up the 200' for the volume of other crops we can put back.

  9. Here in TX beans and Black eye peas are the staple , they grow in poor ground where corn needs fertile soil , potatoes grow well but keeping them is the problem , thrashing beans is easier than barley or wheat , at my age i fill a burlap bag and drive over it with the pickup a few times then winnow them on a windy day . age makes ya look for the easy way .

  10. For what it's worth, you may want to double check on storage for dried beans. I know from experience that the beans stored in glass jars soon become too hard to cook and eat. I had to throw all of mine away.

  11. Its CHRISTMAS and all i get from you is Dry Beans. Bah Humbug!!! Hope you have a Joyous Christmas and thanks for sharing your life with us all year. Julia

  12. Merry Christmas from the Common Cents family to yours! ( The Christmas Story included )

  13. There are ways to deal with old beans that won't soften through normal cooking: pressure cooking is the easiest. I have some old pintos that I can only make tender that way. Another option is cooking, then freezing--that may or may not work.