The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Collecting bean seeds from the garden saves money

'Cherokee Trail of Tears' Pole Bean, runner bean 'The Czar', runner bean 'Scarlet Emperor'

'Cherokee Trail of Tears' Pole Bean, runner bean 'The Czar', runner bean 'Scarlet Emperor'

This year I’m very behind in the garden. Seeds need to be gathered, pelargonium’s are crying out to be dug up and taken to a warmer place, the final lawn cut needs to take place.
So yesterday I stepped into the bright autumn sunshine with a selection of bags. The seeds that I was chasing were sweet peas, broad beans, climbing French beans and runner beans.

Last year I left the runner bean pods on the plants too long and they got damp, mildewy and rotted. This year I was determined to succeed. Seeds seem relatively cheap when you just buy a pack for £1.50. If you are ordering seeds – say 20 varieties – you are looking at quite a substantial investment.

The money we save goes into a jar for treats. The first year we tried this, the capacious jar remained almost as empty. As far as I remember we shared a small snack bar of Galaxy chocolate. Even though he loves Galaxy, Danny’s expression was set. Similar to the Min Pins when we feed them before we enjoy a full English breakfast.

The warm, dry weather that we’ve experienced in East Anglia has helped a lot this year, quite a few sweet pea, climbing bean and runner bean pods were dry and ready to harvest. The rest of the dry looking pods were plucked to be dried on sunny windowsills in the cottage. I turn these over every day and they quickly get to the point when if you squeeze the dry pods they crack open with a satisfactory pop.

There are loads of methods for saving seed but I’ve found that the *Real Seeds free seed saving instructions are very good. I buy seed from this company each year – they are great if you are looking for something that is a little bit unusual and the more usual seeds have never let me down. You will see from their free instruction booklet, a lot of seed saving can be a bit arduous. Involving growing under nets, miles apart and using skilled seed saving techniques.  But if I can reduce my seed bill be harvesting the easy ones that can only be a good thing. It guarantees a morning cup of tea with a smiling D for months.

Next year we will be growing a lot more beans on our allotment. I’d like to grow our own for drying to see us through the winter. Yes, dried beans are relatively cheap but imagine the thrill of actually using your own! And come the revolution, will the dried beans that we like eating still be available?

Even if they are the same variety, all dried beans do not taste the same – think about rice. When we travelled to a village near Madrid for our friend Oliver’s wedding we bought a bag of dried Borlotti beans from a market stall the next day. These were delicious – far tastier than dried Borlotti beans that I’ve bought in the UK. So next year I’d love to experiment with drying our own for cooking as well as planting.

* Lots of websites recommend hanging up the entire plants in a dry place until the pods develop the correct crispiness for harvesting. Good if you live in a large place but I know that Danny would loathe battling through this Sleeping Beauty scenario in our kitchen – the driest place in our home!

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  1. Towards the end of the season I simply left my borlotti beans on the plant, and harvested them when the pods were completely brown and papery. I was taught to do it this way by Primo, a much loved allotment buddy back in London. Primo was in his late 70s, and the borlotti beans he grew every year came from those harvested from his grandmother’s plants back in the old country in the 19th century.

  2. My borlotti beans didn’t do very well last year, so I saved the seeds, and gave some to a friend. I didn’t grow any this year, but my friend did use the seeds I gave her, and had a good harvest.

  3. Maggie L.

    I have strings and wires the length of the greenhouse and hook up everything from tomatoes (to fully ripen for eating as well as for their seed), to flower/veg stalks and have great success – maybe more humid and even cold sometimes (I am 60 degrees North) – but success nonetheless. Try saving any seed, nothing ventured etc….it’s amazing and so satisfying.

  4. jackie d

    I have got so many big, fresh and semi dried pods this year I decided to experiment with drying them for stews etc. I picked the pods off the plants and put some in a basket in the airing cupboard, these seem to have dried out a bit too quick and are quite wrinkly. I also tried tying the pods by the stalks onto long pieces of string and hanging them up in the spare (unheated) room, these seemed to dry better but took me ages to do. For the last batch, I used a strong needle and thread to sew through the top of each pod, spacing them out into small bunches on the thread using knots around some of the beans. This was the quickest way and doesn’t take up as much room as hanging up the whole plant. Of cause I haven’t eaten any of these yet but they look ok and only time will tell how well they store. I’m trying this out on Borlotti beans and Cherokee Trail of Tears beans. Hope this gives you some ideas.

  5. This year grew (Flageolet) Flambeau from Mr,Fothergills ; these can be shelled and eaten green or dried ,very productive a must for next year .

  6. Margaret Thorson

    The other good reason for saving your own seed is that you are creating a unique seed line that likes your particular microclimate. Year before it was so wet that only about 40% of our cannelini beans germinated. But we saved seed from the survivors and this year, another wet cold one, had much, much better germination from those seeds.

  7. kate (uk)

    Home grown Borlotti beans are wonderful- wish I had more space to grow more of them!You can eat them as pods early in the year,then as pods with small beans, then leave them to swell up and pick just as you would for seed….fabbo.

  8. We have put some of last years carrots in the greenhouse to go to seed, we shall have to see if that works. We tried it with beetroot but ended up with mutant beetroot and none of them went to seed – we will try leaving them again this year and see if they will finally produce something.

    • Fiona Nevile

      What a shame about the beetroot 🙁 But I reckon that that sort of seed gathering is university level and I’m at Primary key stage one!

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