Thursday, 9 August 2018


By the term "shelling-beans" I mean the type of bean that you grow not for their pods, but for the beans inside them. When mature, the pods are dried and then split open or "shelled". The beans keep very well and are traditionally stored for use during the Winter when fresh vegetables are scarcer.

On Tuesday I harvested my shelling beans. The timing of this was dictated largely by the weather forecast. After weeks and weeks of hot dry weather, we had been promised a few days of slightly cooler temperatures and some light rain. My beans were definitely mature, and many of the pods were already dry, so I felt that rain might not do them any good - in fact the pods might split open, causing me to lose the beans. So, for better or for worse, I picked the beans.

This year I have two types. The first is "Cherokee Trail Of Tears", which have been growing up a wigwam of 7ft bamboo canes on my Courtmoor Avenue plot. With the prolonged hot dry weather, the bean plants have struggled, and I think they have matured a lot earlier than they would have done if we had had more rain. By this first week of August they had lost almost all their leaves.

However, there was still a fair few pods, particularly up at the tops of the plants, and the lack of leaves made the pods much easier to see.

The pods begin their life being green, but as they mature they change colour, though not always to the same colour. Some go pink, some go purple, some are very speckly, some are quite plain, but in the end they all dry to a buff / brown colour.

I took my big harvesting-basket with me for this task and when I had finished picking the Cherokee beans it was already half full.

I then moved to the second type of bean, which are the "Tunny" beans. They have been growing up 8ft bamboo poles incorporated in my main bean-support contraption. In this next photo you can see them between the Cherokees' wigwam and the much-greener Runner Beans, with the red flowers.

Again, I found that a large proportion of the bean-pods were high up on the plants. I don't know why this is. Perhaps the higher-up flowers were more visible / accessible to the bees and therefore the pollination rate was better??

The pods of this type of bean look very knobbly, because the beans inside are very prominent.

When I had picked all of this type, my basket was about two-thirds full.

Of course, when the pods are shelled, the beans inside will occupy a much smaller space - there will probably be less than 500g all told. Still, there is something deeply satisfying about this type of bean - especially when you can lift out your little stash of them in January or February and use them to make a nice warming soup or stew!

Not all these pods are completely dry, so I plan to give them a few days either outside in the sun, or (if it's rainy) indoors in the airing-cupboard, before I start shelling them. However, just for this post, here's a sneak preview of what each type looks like...

Black = Cherokee Trail Of Tears, Pink/white = Tunny


  1. Those pink and white Tunny beans are VERY attractive! I haven't heard of Tunny beans before, will have to look them up now. I grew Cherokee Trail of Tears the year before last and was very disappointed in the harvest. Perhaps I should have grown more plants. But, like you, found that the plants lost their leaves by late summer and all the beans were at the top - and, if I remember correctly, so were the snails!!

    1. Yes, the Cherokee beans are definitely small plants. I had 14 of them growing up that wigwam, yet the crop was still very modest.

  2. We don’t grow shelling beans. How long do they keep?

  3. One year I had runner beans that grew on to the 'dry bean' stage and we shelled them. They were quite nice but not enough to bother again!

  4. I've always read that beans tend to germinate inside of their shells, so they don't normally cross breed. I'm not an expert, though. My beans are all mostly up top of the plants, too, so must just be the way they grow.

  5. Oh, this kind of beans brings back childhood memories! My paternal grandparents lived on a farm in the Virginia area of the Appalachian mountains in the US. Grandma used to grow what she called 'shelly' beans like this. When she harvested them, we'd sit on the front porch (in the shade) and sew them with long strings and big needles into drying strands. She'd hang those behind her wood stove so they'd finish drying and then 'put them by.' They were delicious brewed up in the winter months!
    :) Linda

    1. That's very interesting, Linda. It's nice to hear stories of how things were done in the old days!


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