black turtle

How to Harvest Black Beans

Black Turtle beans are some of my favorite beans to grow. Not only are they easy, but oh-so-delicious when combined with onions, oregano, garlic and olive oil. Very similar to black bean soup, I love this mix of cooked beans and rice–a definite “must eat” in our household.

black beans for dinner

Growing black beans requires warm weather and a mild fertilizer and that’s about it. For your first batch, you can order an organic black turtle bean online (or other variety). Plant bean seeds (bean and seed are the same thing) about an inch deep and water well.  In a month your bean pods will form and in two months, you’ll be looking to harvest!

But how do you know when your black beans are ready? I mean, these are what we call “shelling” beans, which means we don’t eat the pod as a whole–like we do with pole beans or garden peas. We have to open the pods, remove the beans and dry them.

black beans at maturity

With this variety of black bean it’s a no-brainer. When your pod turns a beautiful deep eggplant color, your beans are ready to harvest.

“What happens if I’m on vacation and I miss the peak harvest?” More

Beans – Easy to Grow, Good for the Heart!

Red beans, black beans, Lima beans, Garbanzo beans (reminds me of Dr. Seuss), boy, do we have beans!  Healthy beans, especially black beans and kidneys.  Add them to soup, chili, or try my recipe for black beans, best served with chicken and yellow rice.  And be prepared to try a variety of recipes, because not only are these good for you, they’re probably one of the easiest plants to grow.  Top of my list in importance.

While growing, you can tell them apart by their blossoms and bush formation.  Black beans have beautiful purple blossoms. 

Kidney beans have white.

Limas also have white flowers, but their growth habit is more bush — less vine — fanning out from the ground in a nice stable “triangle” of sorts.  No need to stake or trellis Lima beans, but a must for kidney and black beans.

Garbanzo beans are wholly different.  They have petite flowers and large oval-shaped pods (the others are long, traditional style pods).  Garbanzo leaves also form small ovals, while the others tend toward the heart-shaped.

Harvesting beans is simple, performed when the pods turn color from green to tan – lavender in the case of black beans.  Coincidence their blossoms are purple?  Normally I would pluck ready pods from the bush, encouraging more growth, but in the case of my kidney beans, I pulled the entire plant from the ground.  They hit a dry patch in the watering schedule (corn was too tall for my sprinkler to reach over). 

Next up, the business of shelling.   When done in batches it’s an easy task, best performed poolside with a glass of ice-cold rosemary lemonade while watching the kids swim.  I’m an avid multi-tasker.  You can allow them to dry in pod (even while still on plant), or shell them at once.  Just pinch the ends, split open the pod, and remove the beans.

Once shelled, set the beans on a plate or shallow dish and allow to dry completely before closing in an air-tight container for storage.  If you don’t give them ample time to dry out, they will become moldy and icky.  Gross, really.  And totally ruined. 

We learned this the hard way last fall.  Very sad day when your entire batch of black beans is lost.   So be sure to let them dry.   Give them a few days and you’ll see them shrink and “seal” themselves with a nice hard coating for dry storage.

Limas are a different story.  For long-term storage, you’ll need to freeze them.  To do this, you have to blanch them first.  Toss them into a pot of boiling water for about two minutes (a minute if they’re small) then immediately submerse them in a bowl of ice water.  After about a minute or so, remove them from the water, pat dry (or set between paper towels) and pop them into a freezer container.  Finito!

Now you have beans to last you through next season’s harvest.  Provided you planted enough.  That calculation is a trick in itself!

To give you an idea, I planted one row of each bean, two plants wide, about 40 feet long.  While it sounds like a lot, it’ll probably yield about 20-30 servings of beans.  I’m approximating, mind you, but it’s within the ball park.  But since my family loves beans, come fall, I already have plans to expand.  Chili, soup, you name it, they’ll eat it!

P.S.  Don’t forget that beans contain lectin phytohaemagglutinin.   It’s a toxic compound, most concentrated in the kidney bean.  When eaten raw, soaked for an insufficient amount of time, or even cooked for long hours on too low a heat setting, it can cause some bad things to happen to your body, ie. stomach pains, cramps — perhaps even more severe abdominal issues — so beware and be safe!

Sustainability!

Almost.   My son and I prepared our first batch of black beans for dinner.   We followed the traditional method of soaking before cooking.   Actually, we boiled them for 2 minutes first, and then soaked them for about six hours.   And if we hadn’t been so excited about cooking our first batch of beans, we would have realized our mistake.

“We need one cup of beans,” I told him, to which he vigorously responded by dumping the entire container of beans into the measuring cup.   “No, no!” I exclaimed as beans scattered across the floor.   “Make a funnel with your hands, like this–” whereby I demonstrated how to guide the beans into the awaiting cup.

He dipped his head into the container with the remaining beans, peering at them closely.  “What do we do with these?”

Spying the small amount, I decided, “Aw…go ahead and add them.   We can put more water in the pot, no problem!”

We were so excited at the prospect of preparing our own garden’s beans for dinner, we thought of nothing else as we turned up the heat and watched our babies come to a boil.

“Do we have to have chicken, Mom?”

I gazed down into my seven-year-old’s eyes, eyes flowing with disappointment and replied,  “But you love chicken and yellow rice with black beans.”   (It really is delicious — see for yourself on my recipe section)  “It’s one of your favorites.”

“No,” he shook his head.   “I don’t like chicken anymore.  Or yellow rice.”   He made a so-so gesture with his hand.  “I kinda prefer white.”

“Anymore?  Since when?  Thursday?”   (I swear, my kids are more finnicky than cats.)

“Since whenever,” he said, as though I were unable to comprehend this simple concept.

Suddenly, caught between his changing appetite and the likelihood of whether or not I had white rice in the pantry, it dawned on me as I stared at the pot of boiling beans.  “Oh no!”   

Alarmed, he asked, “What happened, Mom?”

I turned to him and couldn’t help but laugh.  “We forgot to save some beans!”

“So?  It’s okay.  We can eat them all tonight.”  (Sweet love child that he is, he doesn’t like it when I’m upset.   Unless of course, he’s the cause.

“No, baby.”  I shook my head and smiled.  “We forgot to save some for re-planting in the garden.”

Apprehension lit up in his eyes.  “Oh…”  he said.  His gaze flashed to the hot pot of beans.   “What will we do?”

In the old days, this is where the black and white movie takes a horribly sad turn.   Uncle Ed and Aunt Mary are forlorn.  No beans to plant?  Ethel May is stricken.    What ever will we do?

Nowadays?  We go online and order more beans!  That’s what we do.

And be grateful for the ability.  A mistake like this on the prairie could have jeopardized the family’s survival, but not today, so if you’re like me and LOVE black beans, hurry!  Now is the time for planting.  Black beans are easy to grow, easy to harvest and easy to shell.  Why, even a kid could do it!  (And does, in our family.)  Beans are one of the easiest plants to sustain in your garden, so long as you remember your goal of sustainability and save some for the dirt!

p.s.  I would have taken pictures of our lovely batch of beans, but we were much too excited to even think of a photo shoot.

Black turtle? But I thought we were talking beans!

We are!  Black beans!  And lots of them!

What a great day it is when you stroll out to your garden and discover your black beans are producing at the rate of rabbits!  Forget your first batch acted like turtles and moped around at a snail’s pace.  Forget your disappointment when you learned the hard way to thoroughly dry a bean before you go tossing it into the pot (hint: don’t shell them, immediately seal them in an airtight plastic container, shelve them in a dark spot in your pantry and expect to eat them – trust me, it only leads to heartache). 

Why, forget the past.  It’s a new day and a new harvest!  So get your fingers peeling and your salsa shaking ’cause it’s time to dance!  Really, black beans are an awesome bean to grow.  Granted, they’re not the first that comes to mind when planting a garden in Central Florida, but I ask, why not?  We have the perfect climate.  I mean, when you think of black beans, you think of Cuba, right?  Puerto Rico, Miami, South America…all warm and sunny exotic locales, just like my home here in rural Central Florida.  As a big fan of latin cuisine myself, I thought back to my first rule of gardening:  what do I want to grow?  What do I want to eat, is the real question!  And me, I love black beans!black bean and blossom

In learning to grow these beauties, I learned a few interesting things.  First and foremost, when you endure the labor to deliver these babes, make sure you know what to do – and what not to do – once you get them home.  Peel them, admire them, place them in a comfortable container, but don’t go and seal it all safe and secure.  Not unless you want to come home one day, carried away with dreams of how you’ll prepare your first batch of homegrown black beans, only to discover they’re covered in mold!  Or fungus.  Not properly schooled in the differences between these two horrific intruders, I couldn’t tell you which smothered the life out of my beans, but one of them did.  And it was devastating.  Explain that to your six-year-old when he learns of your debacle.  And it’s the only bean he’ll eat.  Yep.  Pulled my hair out on that one.

So take it from me – let them air out a while.  Like a fine bottle of red wine, let them breathe.  Place them on a plate, an open bowl, maybe in a paper bag, but whatever you do, don’t seal off their air supply because when first peeled, these beans are moist and apparently stay moist for quite some time.  How long, I couldn’t tell you.  Not yet, anyway.  This new batch is only my second, so I’m guarding them with my life.  Though…the fact they are my second batch is good news, indeed.  Better, when you learn the plants which produced these gems, grew from beans I was able to salvage from my initial harvest.  A step toward sustainability – achieved!

And it’s not a difficult process, at all.  If you can grow a pole bean, you can grow black beans.  (Sorry Arctic Amigos, but you’ll have to barter with your friends south of the border – these pups are sensitive to frost)  You’ll note the pods look fairly similar, with long slender bodies, rounded in all the right places, but unlike pole beans, it’s easy to know when to pick them.  They change color.   Handy, isn’t it?  First, they take on a nice lavender shade, an early sign you can pluck away, but if you miss this stage, don’t fret, you can still harvest them, only they’ll be a bit on the dry side when you open them.  And who cares?  These beans are meant to be dried.  So what if they take the initiative and begin the process on the vine?

blk beans ready

Word to the wise:  don’t eat them as you pick them.  I know you’re excited about your first harvest – they’re black beans, for goodness sake!  But another fascinating fact I learned along the way was that these beans contain – get ready – contain lectin phytohaemagglutinin.   It’s a toxic compound found in beans, most concentrated in the kidney bean.  When eaten raw, soaked for an insufficient amount of time, or even cooked for long hours on too low a heat setting, it can cause some bad things to happen to your body.   When I researched black beans, the same warning popped up for them, which alarmed me, because I’m that gal in the garden, poppin the produce in my mouth BEFORE it makes it to the kitchen sink.  Remember – my veggies are grown without the assistance of dangerous pesticides so I’m not real worried about ingesting nasty chemicals and the like (who knew the bean itself could be the problem?!).  So take heed, stay on the safe side while crouched in your bean rows — make sure you soak, soak, boil, boil and then eat.   And enjoy! 

Check out my recipe pages for serving suggestions.