There are two main types of beans you’ll find in your regular garden, pole beans and bush beans, more commonly called green beans. The main difference between these two is the growing style you use as harvesting beans is the same process. Pole beans grow in a vining fashion and require trellises or stakes to stay upright and bush beans don’t require any support. Bush beans are a little less maintenance, but pole beans are more disease-resistant while producing a larger crop per plant. We’ll go over how to harvest, dry, and use beans below.
Harvesting beans is an ongoing process once they start to ripen, and you’ll find yourself with a host of beans all at one time.
Dry beans get harvested when they rattle in the pod when you move them. Pull up the plant by hand and hang it from the roots. Traditionally, bean plants were lashed to a five to seven-foot pole. When you’re harvesting beans, you can harvest up to five acres of beans by hand and any more will require harvesting equipment attached to your tractor.
Dry beans require threshing or getting the beans out of the pod. For small amounts, you can squeeze the pods open by hand to do this. A more traditional method of harvesting beans is to hold the whole plant by the roots and bang it against the inside of a barrel. For more than roughly a half-acre of beans, you may want to invest in threshing equipment to take care of this process.
Once you finish threshing, you have to clean and soft your beans. For small amounts, you can take on this project by hand using a hairdryer and screen to blow off debris. An air compressor works well if you have it too. You can feed split beans to farm animals. For larger crops, you can purchase a seed cleaner.
If your beans are soft, and you can bite one to see, you want to keep drying them until they firm to the bite before moving them to storage. Freezing beans before you store them will kill any potential insects such as the bean weevil.
Harvesting Shell Beans for Pods
Shell beans, like black, fava, and kidney beans, are something you can harvest just like you would snap beans and eat them in the same way. The best time for harvesting beans in this category to eat like snap beans is while they’re tender and young before the seeds inside are visible when you look at the pods.
Harvesting Shell Beans as Tender Beans
While it’s common for harvesting beans in this category to dry, you don’t necessarily have to wait for them to dry out before you can enjoy eating them. Harvesting beans to dry when they are ‘green’ or tender is okay. The best time to pick beans for this method is after the beans are visible when you look at them but before the pod dries out. If you pick your beans this way, you want to thoroughly cook the beans, because a lot of the shells have chemicals that cause gas. This chemical will break down as you cook the beans.
Harvesting Green Beans
When it comes to harvesting beans, as with many things in life, bigger isn’t necessarily better. This is especially true for many vegetables you can grow in your garden, including beans. For example, if you wait to pick your zucchini and allow it to grow to the size of your arm, you’ll find that it comes with seeds that are roughly the size of jelly beans. They may also be stringy.
While you may like to get a good look at those enormous pumpkins or other overgrown vegetables, you should note that most overlarge vegetables won’t be good to eat. The larger your vegetables grow, the tougher they can be, and who wants to take several minutes to chew your green beans?
For most vegetables, tender and young are the key words to keep in mind for your summer garden, and all of those pole or bush beans you have growing follow the same rule. Once you notice small beans appearing on the plants, keep a close eye on them. They tend to grow very quickly, and they can become far too big very quickly.
Timing your green bean harvest is critical as they can quickly grow too large, and this makes them tougher to eat.
How to Know if Your Beans are Ready to Harvest
There are a few quick things you can look at to figure out if you’re harvesting beans too early, too late, or right on time. These things include:
- Your beans should be lean but full and very firm to the touch.
- The beans below are too big and you can easily see at a glance that the seeds are large.
- Avoid waiting too long to pick your beans when the seeds are bulging and the bean is stringy.
You want to get a nice lean green bean when you’re harvesting beans. It should be firm instead of squishy and soft, and it shouldn’t have overgrown seeds. Ideally, your bean will have a very uniform thickness from end to end to help ensure it’s less tough and stringy. This also makes them easier to cook, freeze, or can.
How to Pick Green Beans
Picking green beans is an easy process due to how visible they are, no matter if you grow bush beans or pole beans. To pick them, all you’ll have to do is:
- Grasp the top of the beans and look for the little stem that connects the main vine to each bean. Break off hte bean at the stem point.
- You don’t want to cause any damage to the plant or the vine, so watch out that you don’t pull too hard on the bean before it’s been broken off. This could cause your vine to come off your trellis, or you could pull the bush bean plant out of the ground.
Fill up a bowl full of your beans and cook them up for your next meal. There are dozens of different ways you can prepare fresh green beans, and we’ll go over a few recipes later on in this post.
How to Keep Green Beans Fresh
Anyone who loves fresh green beans knows that the freshest snap, string, wax, or haricot verts start showing up in May and produce their beans in the early autumn months. They join a host of other vegetables sprouting, growing, ripening, and ending up on tables all over the world, and they’re one of the most popular vegetables in the United States.
Learning how to keep your fresh green beans tender and firm can help you transform the way you approach healthy eating as a whole while reducing food waste at the same time.
Start with Freshly Picked Beans
When it comes to your vegetables, fresh is always better. Farmers markets and roadside produce stands usually feature freshly picked green beans to give you farm-to-table eating, but this may not be feasible for you. Modern grocery stores take steps to keep their vegetables refrigerated and protected from the hot sun, and this makes them a viable option if you don’t have time or the means to go right to the source to get your green beans.
The important thing is being able to tell how fresh the green beans are in the store before you scoop them into a bag and take them home. You want to carefully inspect the beans for any signs of rot like bruises, dings, or brown discoloration. These clues tell you that the beans have been off the stalk too long or improperly stored. Check and see if they have a firm texture and a clean snapping sound when you break them apart. You also don’t want to see the seeds bulging against the shell or feel any slime when you touch them. Once you get fresh beans, you should:
Keep Your Beans Cold from the Start
A critical part of harvesting beans is learning how to store them. No matter if you’re picking beans in your garden or buying from the local grocery store or farmer’s market, you want to keep them cold. Get them into your refrigerator as soon as you can. Unless you plan to use them straight away, they’ll need to be prepared for cold storage. Keep your beans whole and don’t wash them because any moisture can lead to mold growth.
Store your beans in a plastic bag or in an airtight lidded container, after you remove as much air as you can. You should also put them in the crisper drawer in your refrigerator, put them in there with a higher humidity level and a paper towel to absorb any moisture. When you store them properly in the cold in a container or plastic bag, they should last up to a week. Once you cook them in your favorite recipe, you should store them the same way and make a point to eat them within five days. Make sure that you refrigerate them within a few hours because bacteria grows quickly at room temperature.
Freeze Fresh Green Beans to Make Them Last Longer
The larger summer bounties of green beans can be very overwhelming if you can’t eat them quickly enough. However, there’s no need to scramble to give them to family or throw them out. You can freeze them, and freezing green beans is a great way to preserve the fresh flavor and texture, and it also works to pack in the vitamins in the pods. A single cup of uncooked green beans will give you a boost of vitamins A, C, K, and fiber.
You do want to rinse your green beans in cool water before you freeze them, and you should carefully trim off the stems with a sharp pair of scissors and peel away any strings. Blanch your green beans by boiling them in hot water for two to four minutes, based on the size of the beans, followed by submerging them in an ice bath to stop the cooking process. This will help your beans retain the firm texture that you’ll appreciate when it’s time to use them a few months down the road. Be sure to label your beans with the date and store them in freezer-safe bowls, bags, or jars.
It’s important that you keep your green beans cool as this can help preserve them and ward off mold growth or rot.
How to Prep and Cook Your Green Beans
When you finish harvesting beans, you have to know how to prep and cook them correctly to get that nice texture and taste. Green beans, including the pods, can be eaten raw. However, they’re usually served cooked and will work with almost any cooking method, from blanching to steaming, pickling, and sauteing and baking.
Just like with any other type of vegetable, you want to give them a thorough rinse before you’re ready to cook with them. Trim the stem end where the vine and bean connected as it is too tough to eat and it doesn’t look appealing. You can also trim the other end, but it’s perfectly edible, so this is optional. There was a fibrous string that ran along the seam of your beans, but it’s now been bred out.
Once you finish trimming your green beans, you want to give them a quick once over and look for any damaged, brown sections on the pods. You can cut them off if you see any. If you see that the beans inside of the pods have turned brown, you can discard it or toss it into your compost pile. Leave your beans whole, slice them thinly, or chop them into segments to give a very elegant, bite-sized addition to your dishes.
Green beans work well with different preparations. Steam or blanch them before you toss them in some butter and herbs to give a simple summer side dish, or you can use the beans as a salad base. They work well if you use them directly in casseroles, stir fries, or soups. If you’re going to make pasta, add chopped green beans to the pot a few minutes before your pasta is done, and then you can dress it with your favorite pesto for a quick meal. You can even batter and deep fry your green beans.
The key to keeping the bright green coloring of your beans, no matter how you decide to cook them, is to keep the cooking time as short as possible. They usually need no more than seven minutes to get tender but crisp. Purple types of beans will turn green when you cook them, so don’t worry if you see them changing colors.
How To Make Dried Green Bean
Once you’ve finished harvesting beans, and if you can’t eat all of them right away, you can dry them and save them safely for months. To do so, you’ll need a few pieces of equipment and some time.
- Sturdy string in 2-3 foot pieces
- Darning or a large sewing needle
- 2 lbs. of garden string beans
Step 1—Pick Your Beans
Get to harvesting beans when they’re in that tender and snappy stage as these are the ones that tend to rehydrate better. This version of dried green beans originally used “greasy beans”. This was a family of heirloom green beans with shiny, smooth pods. However, any non-fuzzy, sturdy green bean type will work and dry well. A good heirloom variety is best if you can get it as they have thicker skin and larger beans.
Step 2—Prepare Your Beans
Rinse your beans and thoroughly dry them. Snap off all of the stem ends and leave the other pointed tip intact. You can then leave them whole or cut them in half, whichever you prefer.
Step 4—Stitch Your Beans
Thread your needle with the string to make two or three-foot long ropes. Tie a bean to the end to act as an anchor and then thread through the middle of each green bean. You’ll slide it down the string and space each bean slightly apart for them to dry properly.
Step 5 —Hang the Beans to Dry
Hang your strings of beans somewhere to dry, like on the back porch, in an unused room, panty, or in your kitchen out of the way. Hanging them above a wood stove or out in a smokehouse will impart a smoky taste to your beans. Some people find that hanging their strings of green beans in a dark, dry, cool place will dehydrate them beest, and others like to hang them out in the sun. The most important consideration with your placement is that they get good air circulation and lower humidity to avoid spoilage.
Allow your beans to dry until there is no moisture left, and this may take two months or more, depending on your climate and air circulation. Dried beans will shrink down and become brittle and leathery. If they rattle when you shake them, this is an indicator that they’re probably done.
Don’t let the resemblance of old shoelaces deter you. This method of very slowly dehydrating your green beans will bring out some unexpected flavors. Once you have cooked them and eaten them, you’ll find that this drying method gives you a very meaty texture and deep flavor profile.
Storing Your Dried Green Beans
Once you finish drying them, you can unstring the beans and store them in an airtight container or jar. You can also toss them in some salt and store them, string and all, in a pillowcase, flour sake, or paper bag. Adding dried pepper to your sack can help deter insects too. Store them in a dry, cool place until you’re ready to eat them. They should last months like this or longer, and this makes them a great addition to your fall and winter pantry.
Cooking Dried Green Beans
When you’re ready to cook these green beans, make sure to give yourself a decent amount of time. The beans will need time to rehydrate and get tender, but the cooking process is very slow to give you the best flavor and broth. Two pounds of dried green beans will feed a family of four as a side dish.
Drying your green beans is a process, but they can extend the life by months very easily.
Appalachian-Style Green Beans
If you’re ready to cook the green beans you dried in the previous section, this simple but tasty recipe will help you use them up and make a great side dish for your meals.
- 1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
- 2 inches square salt bacon, bacon grease, ham hock, or oil of your choice
- Dried green beans
Wash your dried green beans in a colander. Put a pan or pot with just enough water to cover the beans and allow them to soak overnight. The next morning, you want to pour the water off and rinse the beans thoroughly. Put them in a larger pot with a lid that fits tightly. Add salt, three cups of water, and oil or seasoning meat. Cook it over medium heat for about three hours, making sure that you check for doneness after a few hours and adding more water as needed.
After the beans are fully cooked, add pepper, salt, or a pinch of sugar to taste. Dried beans tend to swell up as you cook them, so be careful how much you cook at once. A little goes a very long way, and the cooking liquid will improve if you let it simmer after you remove the beans.
Sauteing or Steaming Green beans
String, snap, or green beans are all names for bush or pole beans that grow in early fall or in the spring. You’ll find bush and pole beans in yellow, green, and purple colors. Haricots verts are the thinner, smaller French variety that you can also cook using this method if you cut the cooking time in half. Buy or get fresh green beans for these cooking methods and avoid canned or frozen as they’re already partially cooked. Be sure to rinse off your green beans and remove the stem before you cook them.
Option One: Sauté
Sautéing your green beans achieves two things. The first thing is that it quickly removes some of the moisture trapped in the beans, concentrating the flavor while improving the snap. Sautéing will also heat the pan so the water you add during the second step will quickly turn into steam and cook your beans all of the way through.
Option Two: Steam
Adding a small amount of water to your hot pan of green beans will create steam, and you can capture this steam with the lid and use it to gently finish off the beans. Steaming the green beans is better than boiling them because it prevents the beans from overcooking while keeping the vibrant green coloring.
Mix It Up
A nice recipe for green beans features red pepper flakes, garlic, and olive oil as seasoning agents for your beans, but youc an easily swap them out to customize the flavor profile. Ginger, sesame oil, and Chinese five spice also works well, or you can swap out the olive oil for butter, brown it, and let it get a nutty flavor. You can also add slivered almonds instead of red pepper flakes at the end.
Harvesting beans is a quick and easy process that doesn’t require a huge amount of work as long as the timing is right. Once you harvest them, you have multiple ways you can cook and store them to make your harvest last well into the winter months.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.