Almost every vegetable gardener in the UK grows beans, and ‘French’ bush and climbing beans are to be found in gardens everywhere. And, best of all, seed saving from them is really simple.
Incidentally, runners and broad beans do cross. Thus, they’re not in the ‘easy’ category and will be dealt with in a future article. ‘French’ beans – and I’ve no idea why they should be called that – whether bush or climbers, are self pollinating, and this means that by the time the flower opens, the pollinating has already been done and there’s virtually no chance of varieties crossing. All you need is a bit of patience, and you’ll soon be rewarded with a wonderful and much-anticipated addition to your meals – the beans.
As saving bean seeds is so easy, it’s worth doing. After all, if you find a bean you particularly like – and there are dozens of varieties to choose from, so there’s one to suit every palate and every gardening plot – why go to the expense and extra work to buy them every year? If you save your own, you can keep the very best. If you buy them, you’re getting beans from plants that didn’t do so well, were a little bit crowded, flowered late, and so on.
Take control of your food! It makes perfect sense. And, saving bean seeds is a great place to start.
Just make sure you avoid the ‘F1’ varieties, as they won’t breed true. The ‘seed saving’ process for beans is exactly the same as when saving seeds from peas, although the timing can vary.
The first step is, obviously enough, to plant them. We have a great article on how to grow beans here.
If you want the earliest beans next year, mark the first plants to flower. A bag tie looped around the stem (don’t make it tight!) works fine. Seeds from these plants will tend to be as early, or maybe even slightly earlier, next year. A couple of growing seasons down the road, all your bean seeds will be from early plants – and you’ll be eating the results before anyone else!
It’s really important to not pick from the plants you’re marking for seed saving. Producing seeds is the main event for a plant, and if you start picking from it, it will need to somehow find the energy to do it all over again.
Make sure you remove any weak or diseased plants from the patch as soon as they’re noticed. It’s vitally important that you don’t accidentally save seeds from these.
Don’t pick the seed beans while they’re still green. Wait until they’ve thoroughly dried out on the plant. Even in extended periods of damp weather, the pods will dry out as the plant cuts off their water supply from the inside. Bean pods are basically waterproof, and a bit of rain won’t bother them. However, it will help mould to grow, so don’t touch the plants when they’re wet or you could spread mould spores all over the place.
Once the pods are brown and hard to the touch, begin checking every few days to see if the beans inside them are mature enough to pick. If in doubt, just leave it for another week and try again. As soon as they’re ready, clip off the pods and bring them inside. I usually leave them laid out on newspaper so that all traces of moisture from the garden have gone before shelling them.
If you store seeds while they are still even slightly damp, you’ll lose the whole lot. Once you can see mould in a jar, it’s already infected the entire contents. You just can’t see it yet, as the mycelium strands are so tiny. So, once shelled, leave the beans somewhere cool but dry to finish off. Don’t put them over any artificial heat source such as a radiator, as this might kill them.
When you’re sure they’re dry enough to store, put them either into a plastic bag or jar, label it, them pit it somewhere cool, dark and dry.
Then, next year you can start at 1) again! You’ll never need to buy bean seeds again, and your plants will be healthy and strong – and early!