Use Your Bean Plant to Its Full Potential

Are Green, Shelling, and Dried beans three separate types of beans? The answer is yes, and no. They can be all three in one bean variety like Dragon’s Tongue but most often a bean does just 1 or 2 stages really well. Yes, green, shelled, and dried are simply stages in which a bean goes through in growth.

Fresh Green Beans – With fresh beans you eat the pod which is the unripe fruit.

Therefor the seeds inside are small, the pods tender, and not stringy. The pod has a different flavor than the seeds and it is the bean varieties that the pod is most desirable that you eat unripe. They can be yellow wax, purple, or green but no matter, the pod is what you are after. In my observation of bush beans, 17 varieties, the pods destined for eating of the pod have a round shape, the dried beans flat. This might is not true in all varieties but I’d wager for most. Mother Nature only allows me to experiment with  bush varieties but those tried and suited for green beans, when dried, have a seed that’s been blander in flavor. That does not mean that if I have a bumper crop of them that I don’t mix them with dried bean varieties in soup.  Waste not! Or grind the seeds and use in homemade breads, soups, taco shells, or noodles.

Shelling Beans – They are grown to eat the edible seed at a softer stage than dried.

The pod is usually thicker and stringy so not tasty at the unripe stage. With a shelling bean you can pop the shell open with a pinch and run your finger down inside much like you do shelling peas. Knowing when the seeds inside has swollen proficiently is the tricky part.


You don’t want them really green in color which is the fresh stage like the one on the bottom in the picture. You want them like the fourth one up, engorged seeds and the pod starting to turn dry and lighter in color. It takes a bit of experimentation to know what is just right so pick a few at different stages in the garden and see. The upper most pod is the dried stage.


The green one on the bottom is too soon to pick because the seeds are small. The ones at the top of the picture too late. The pods having grown dry and leathery and the seeds inside already to the dried bean stage and falling out. This would is Ireland Creek beans which I get extremely few shell stage ones.

Having tried 12 varieties of dried beans in my garden and trying them at various stages, I’ve discovered that some bean types are much harder to shell the seeds out of than others at the shelling stage but easy when they reach the dried stage. This is one reason certain beans are more popular shelling beans and they taste good. Got to have taste good. They typically cook faster than the dried beans which seems pretty logical.

Nutritionally, shell beans are similar to dried beans. They are often steamed, fried, or put in soups. I’ve cooked them when fresh picked, frozen them, and canned them.

What if you are buying them. Shelling beans should be just a bit dried out when you buy them. Too green and too fresh and the seeds inside are too small and immature. Look for pods that are starting to dry but have green stem ends.

I’ve read that with pole beans you get a larger number of beans in a smaller space but they take 10 to 15 days longer on average to grow than bush beans. Often 10 to 15 days is just too much. Our wind also dries the tops out of any tall vegetables if it hasn’t already mowed them over and that includes corn. Pole beans come in many of the same varieties as bush so use what works best for you.

I grew Vermont Cranberry bush beans last summer and when a killing frost threatened, I had harvested a great many dried beans as I pick the pods individually as they reach the dried stage. There there fewer shelling stage beans and quite a few at the fresh stage too. If only we had a longer growing season I’d have had a bumper crop of dried. The fresh stage was too stringy to just eat fresh so what was I to do. I dehydrated them the green flat pods and turned them to powder to flavor soups, taco shells, and noodles, a lovely boost of nutrition.

Shelled beans canned make a lovely re-fried bean, mix with spices and fried breakfast sausage stirred together. Add shredded lettuce, tomato, shredded cheese, and sour cream on top and you have a divine bean dip for corn tortilla chips. One quick go to meal our granddaughters love. If I am in a hurry and have freezer room, I freeze some to. Blanch for 2 minutes, quickly cool, and pop in zip lock bags. It doesn’t get any easier.


Kennearly Beans

Dried Beans – At this stage you either save for seed or re-hydrate the seed and eat.

Dried bean varieties have a thicker, stringier pod generally and you pick when the pod becomes leathery or dry. I pick when very leathery if frost is threatening and then finish drying in flat bottom containers. Spread thinly for better air circulation. When you hit the seed with a hammer and it shatters, its dry. If it squooshes but remains fairly intact. keep drying the rest. I turn my by running my hands threw them a few times a day to insure better over all drying.

Every where I looked it said to pick your entire plants before a hard frost and hang them up in the shed. I have no shed room. For two years I put down a tarp on the garage floor to put the entire plants on top. It was a pain as they were in the way and there was some rotting on the bottom because the stack was too thick with far too many beans that were still green. So instead I pick the pods individually. The dried ones, or nearly dried get plucked, shelled, and set in a warm place in the house to finish drying.

By picking individual pods I assure I get as many beans used as possible, the immature green stage, the shelling stage, and the dried stage. When a hard frost threatens, those that aren’t in any of these three stages are fed to livestock in small quantities along with the plant. Remember my goal is to use as much of what I grow as possible. The mulch pile is the last resort.

Sunlight and air circulation is critical to get beans to mature and dry so spread out your rows and plant thinner is what I’ve learned over the years.


Ireland Creek Beans

As I see just how much time, money, and energy to process green bean beans requires, I can see why dried was such a smart thing in the pioneer days. It is no less wise today for the frugal, self-reliant slanted grower. To transport is easy, no glass jars needed. So grow your own seed and tried raising dried beans to eat. The increased flavor will surprise you.

Home grown beans have a vibrant dark and appealing color. I made chili for a family  reunion last summer and placed my chili among the other pots made from store beans and tomatoes. Wow, the color difference was profound and the flavor distinctly fresher. You could see eyes drawn to it. And part of the appeal of eating is the visual effect.

When purchasing from the store keep in mind that the color fades with age and older  beans take far longer to soak. Beans might store for a very long time but the flavor becomes more and more bland each year.

Use those bean plants to their full potential. When you’ve gotten all the beans off you can, then feed the plants a little at a time to the livestock or last resort, mulch them. I feel when you do, you show your appreciation for Mother Natures gift and you will be blessed for it.








6 thoughts on “Use Your Bean Plant to Its Full Potential

  1. Wonderful post however , I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this
    topic? I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit further.
    Many thanks!


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