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Growing dry beans

Dry edible beans, or field beans, come in a wide variety of market classes, including kidney bean, navy bean, pinto bean, and black bean. These beans, although differing in the size and coloring of the seed, are all just different types of a single species, Phaseolus vulgaris L. Originally domesticated in Central and South America over 7000 years ago, dry beans moved their way northward through Mexico and spread across most of the continental U.S. These beans were commonly grown with corn, and sometimes squash.
Beans prefer warm weather and should not be grown in cooler climates. These crops should be grown in sites receiving full sun in well-drained, fertilized soil. Preparing the soil with compost and manure before planting is highly recommended. Beans should not be planted until all danger of frost has passed, usually about a week after the last frost in spring. Most beans combine well with other crops that are grown in the garden; for more successful results growing beans, you’ll need to choose the proper variety and follow the growing requirements that are suited to your particular area. Dry beans usually take longer to mature and are best when grown in warmer climates. Navy beans are the most commonly grown dry bean.
Most dry beans require at least 90 to 100 days to mature, provided limiting factors don’t impede growth. A May 15 planting should be ready to harvest in September, a June 15 planting in mid-October. Once the beans have matured and the leaves are well yellowed, a light frost won’t hurt but a hard freeze will damage beans which still have too high a water content. Beans have restricted root systems. They grow best in nearly neutral soils of good fertility and do not always respond well to fertilizer.
Beans should not be grown more than once, or twice at most, on the same land without other crops being grown in rotation. Rotations help control weeds, discourage diseases, protect soil from erosion, reduce insect populations, and rejuvenate soil organic matter–a valuable source of nitrogen. Beans may be rotated with most any kind of crop, but grass-legume combinations (sod crops) are the only ones that really accumulate much organic nitrogen. All row crops, including beans, cause destruction of organic matter. Three or more years of beans result in a serious soil deterioration.
Dry beans are grown in rows to match the type of equipment available for planting, cultivation, and harvest. Maximum yields are obtained from broadcast planting where the ground is completely covered by the crop. Beans need adequate moisture; water bean plants about once a week or more frequently during dry weather. The use of organic mulches, such as straw, grass clippings, or composted leaves will help to retain moisture and control weeds. Beans grow best in a loose, friable, well-aerated soil. Avoid crusting of the surface especially at seedling emergence time because beans must push their big cotyledons through the soil (as opposed to corn which pushes through only a spear-pointed shoot).
Sow seeds outdoors after all threat of frost has passed and the soil temperature has reached at least 55 degrees F. Seeds should be an inch deep and two to three inches apart in rows three to four feet apart. Make sure beans get about an inch of water a week, a little more when pods are developing. Don’t overwater, though – too much water causes more damage than too little.
Leave dry beans on the plant until the seeds are hard and the pods dry. Dry beans should not be harvested until they are thoroughly matured and the beans become hard. Bite one to determine hardness. You will barely be able to dent a bean of proper dryness. Harvesting when soft invites molding. To help avoid this, let beans cure for 3 days after pulling. Or put them on a scaffold under cover for 2 to 3 weeks before threshing. Threshing may be done anytime after the pods are crisp and the beans are firm or hard to bite.
Pull dry beans by hand and place the bunches upside down with the roots in the air for 2 to 3 days. Just let them air dry throughly, before putting them in an airtight container. It is a very good idea to ‘Pasturize’ your harvest by putting it in the deep freeze for a few days. As long as the beans are dry this won’t hurt them, and it will kill the eggs of any insect pests that might remain after harvest. If you are afraid they might not be dry enough, freeze a few of them first, and see if it goes okay. If you are saving them for seed, you may wish to germination test the seeds from your freeze test.

Problems: Wet soils early in the season delay planting. Too much rain at any time, or poor soil drainage, will lead to root rots. Hot humid weather will lead to the devastating leaf blight diseases. Rainy weather after the pods have dried or during harvest will cause serious molding problems.

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