We grow mostly pole or climbing beans. We have grown bush beans before, but the pile of leaves and vines takes up lots of garden space and forces you to kneel, crouch, and turn your head upside down to find the green bean against the green vines against the green leaves. By then, all the blood is gone to your head and you are mostly seeing stars. Pole beans are just as sneaky at hiding the beans, but at least you can stand up most of the time.
We grow beans for several purposes. Immediate consumption is primary. Nothing tastes like quick steamed, squeeky beans with a summer dinner. The left-overs can be put into lunches and onto salads, or slipped out of the refrigerator for a snack. But, in the height of bean season, we could not eat enough beans to keep up.
For the surplus, we move on to canning. This divides into two categories: people beans and dog beans. The former is obvious: every bean that is tender, slender, and whole. Our dogs like beans in their stew (yes, I will get around to that eventually). Any bean that grew a little too large, got a little too tough, or was sampled by the bean beetles gets sorted out, and carefully topped and tailed, for the dogs. These get canned, as that process cooks them, making them softer. I made the mistake, recently, of tossing fresh beans into the dog stew mix. Tippy spit them out, leaving little piles of squeeky beans around her dog dish. I did not make that mistake with the next batch.
As I mentioned earlier, beans vines growing on the trellises are crafty at hiding beans. By the end of the harvest, every plants has a few beans which are even beyond dog beans. These become dried beans. Also, the beans which grow in the Three Sisters Garden (see the blog on Corn) go to dried beans. Trying to harvest beans growing on corn stalks is not worth the trouble until they have all dried. But, when I pull up the corn stalks to put on the front gate for decoration, I can easily pull off bushels of dried beans in the pods.
Of course, this raised the question last year, the first year we tried this, of how do you efficiently get those little beans out of the dried pods. Native cultures have been harvesting and storing dried beans for centuries, so I thought that I could figure it out. My first strategy was to wait until some winter evening when we watched a movie. I would just split open the dried skins. After several movies, I had about 59 cents worth of beans separated, and a full bushel to go.
My next plan was to crush all the pods, thus releasing the beans into the bushel basket. This left me with a bunch of beans mixed up with crushed pod bits. Not exactly what you want to cook into chili. A couple of movies later, I had picked up 69 cents worth of beans. Linda suggested that I needed to winnow my beans from the chaff by tossing them into the air when a breeze was up. Using a bushel basket, which is deep, did a great job of tossing beans all over the deck. But the chaff was separated from that which flew all about. Once I hand picked up each of the stray beans, I had 79 cents worth cleaned.
My engineer gene ruminated on this process for a while. One day, when I was vacuuming the cabin, I came into the room where my 6 month old beans sat, still in the bushel basket. If winnowing is using a breeze, would not a vacuum be a breeze in reverse? I turned the bushel basket on its side. The beans rolled down, and the chaff stuck to the slats of the basket. VRRRRRM. About half a dozen turns and sweeps with the vacuum, and I had $6 worth of beans. It only took me six months to fill my bean jar.
When we traveled to the Hopi Reservation in Arizona, I noticed a picture of Hopi women winnowing beans using cone shaped baskets. No vacuum cleaner. Ah! What I need is a winnowing basket. My price survey at Native American craft shops brought the cost of a hand made winnowing basket, with lovely design to around $250 to $300. Hmmm. I could not justify collecting $6 worth of beans in a $250 basket. A month after our trip, when the Vicar and his wife came here, we wandered into the Smithsonian Folklife Festival Market Place tent. In the far corner, I found a winnowing basket for $25. Now, it will only take 4 years to pay for itself!