Saturday, October 3, 2009

Dry Bean Trial

From Seed Cleaning Equipment

Up on Skyline, in the West hills of Portland, we trialed 12 bush beans for dry bean production this year. They were all grown dry land style, no supplemental irrigation in an area where there is no summer rain (unfortunately there is usually a small rain, or two, just as the pods are drying). We grew all of the varieties one in direct seeded rows 3 feet apart. The beans were hand hoed several times during the season and required little if any hand weeding in the rows. When the majority of the pods were dry we clipped plants and stored them on remay on a gravel floor of a pole barn for about a month. Last week we threshed and winnowed all of the varieties and took initial yield weights. They still need some finial cleaning but the majority of work is done.

From Seed Cleaning Equipment

To thresh the beans we ran them through a Roto Hoe chipper shredder with fixed blades. Some of the varieties needed to have the motor run slow to limit splitting, others needed higher speed to thresh out all of the beans. Some of the varieties still had quite a bit of leaf and vine which made them more difficult to feed through the chipper, and others had minimal leaf and vine left and ran through very easily. Additionally some varieties hadn't matured as evenly and still had some green beans left.

From Seed Cleaning Equipment

For most varieties there was quite a bit of large trash so we used a 1/2 inch wire mesh to scalp before winnowing. For the winnowing we used a simple floor fan and 10 gallon Rubbermaid totes. We also used a 6' x 8' tarp to catch material, and incase we had any spillage that we wanted to recover. We also used a larger 12'x24' tarp to keep the gravel clean and to make clean up in the end easier.

From Seed Cleaning Equipment

Initial results showed yields between 2 and 5.5 pounds of beans per 50 row feet. The cost of production for 50 row feet worked out to roughly $20 from field preparation through winnowing. Final cleaning will add a few dollars bringing the cost of the beans to the neighborhood of $4-11 per pound. At least half the cost of production is in harvest and cleaning. The majority of the other cost is in hand hoeing, although this could be significantly reduced with tractor cultivation.

I'll post the varieties and notes soon. We have also been trialing some pole bean varieties in a three sisters style planting and those are still producing beans but I'll give a report on those when we process them, probably in November.


C. said...

I envy your climate. I grow in northern NY and it is just too wet in the fall to make sense for beans. Slimy mold covered pods. I mostly focus on grains, corn, and potatoes.

I grow a few hundred feet of one bean or another in a garden for home use, though i have yet to keep records. This year it was kenearly (yellow eye) and it looks decent.

i intend to follow your progress though, it is interesting. I would consider beans it if i could dry the pods down with less fuss.

Question: what do you consider minimum maturity for adequate yield based on pod color and fill? I am looking at yellowing soft pods, beans fairly well filled out. Could use direction since I may be leaving them in the field too long.

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

We had a great dry bean season here as well, despite the unusual summer rains we had. I was able to harvest 2/3 of the pods dry, which is great for storing until I have time to thresh them. I am hoping to get 8 - 10 lbs per 100' - so we'll see.

Looking forward to more info about your varieties etc.

Slow Hand Farm said...

C., for the bush beans we try to have all, or at least the majority of pods past the leathery stage and almost crispy before clipping the plants. For us Nordak Pintos are one of the fastest varieties to reach this stage, Sweedish Brown and Jacob's Cattle are also good. We clip them on the driest day possible. If there's too much moisture as the pods are drying on the plant there will be significant mold in the pods- there's more airflow in the field than drying in the barn though so we try to dry them as much as possible before bringing them in. I've experimented with hanging plants in bunches (upsidedown) on a small scale but it's a lot of work. late August is when we're pulling plants which I think might be one of your wettest months? If September is drier I'd actually try to get maturity then, at least when I was in connecticut we'd get some dry winds then.

Nita, I'm assuming you're talking about 8-10lbs of pole beans or is that bush beans? We haven't processed our pole beans yet, they're still in pods. I'm happy to hear your estimated numbers are in line with what we got, especially as you're dry farming them as well.

Jean said...
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Jean said...

We modified a roto-Hoe chipper shredder to thresh our beans. It worked great on smaller beans, but it split a lot of our Cannellini. I am curious as to how you slow the thing down. Did you get a different sized pulley? Thanks. -Jean

Slow Hand Farm said...

Hi Jean - I haven't modified the rotohoe at all (and I still use if for chipping and shredding as well). Switching to a larger pulley would slow it down, mostly I just idle it as low as possible for beans that are fragile. And yes, they do split and I do stall out the motor frequently.

Something I've found with mechanizing processes in general: it speeds things up, but doesn't do as clean a job and thus takes more steps. Friends who do a lot more beans than I do have told me that they hand sort and have gotten pretty fast at it. I've seen photos of women in Italy hand sorting beans on a very fancy conveyor line. A good seed cleaner will help here (mostly this means a variety of screen sizes) to get as much of the pre sorting done before having to go in by hand.

One other method I've used is a roller type sheller. This is much slower, quieter and cleaner than the rotohoe. I'll try to post soon on that piece of equipment. I'd love to hear from folks if they have ways that spit fewer (or no) beans.

C. said...

Thanks for your advice regarding maturity, Slow Hand.

My problem is primarily a short, cool season ending in fall rain. Therefor my solution will lie in experimenting with shorter season cultivars or harvesting at the buckskin stage if that permits reasonable yields. I suppose I could cover the rows with reemay to add a little heat. Helps with the darn deer, too.

BTW, your yields are par with the commercial growers, I think they expect 2500-3000 pounds/acre. So depending on your row spacing you are doing great with anything over 7#/100 feet.

Of course the economy of scale is in effect, but if you can plant and cultivate mechanically you should make a profit?

In your dry country can you cut the vines and swath them for drying and efficient pickup?

Slow Hand Farm said...

C., our yields are a little lower than that since we space things out to dry farm them, more like 1500lbs/acre. I may try squeezing the spacing a little more next year with a few varieties as they had no trouble with moisture at 3' between rows. We could swath and pick up mechanically, but really we're doing it on such a small scale, multiple varieties in less than an acre, that hand cutting makes the most sense to me. It also keeps dirt clods out, which are hard to clean from the dry beans.

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Josh, I just hand (foot) threshed the pods I harvested by hand before the rains hit in September. The yield surprised me, 17.5#. It went fast, because I had spent the time to pick the dried pods, so I was only dealing with perfectly dried pods. However, I am not looking forward to the threshing of the plants I pulled that are drying in the barn.

These are bush beans with a local name "Uncle John" that are similar to Speckled Bays. They have been grown here in hills since the 1880's. The legend of potlucks at the Grange hall! I planted 4' rows, 5" spacing, I only hand weeded once, and hoed several times between the rows. And of course, dryland.

I am curious to see my final yield, since one row in poorer soil did not do as well, but that row while having less pods on smaller plants, did dry in the field much sooner. But for pure food production, the more robust row out produced by leaps and bounds, it just did not produce the early dry pods at the same rate.

At this elevation with our rainier location, dry beans are a gamble each year, but oh so intriguing to grow.

Andy Mooers said...

My dad grew and shipped potatoes in his own trucks. But we also grew dry beans..yellow eye, jacob's cattle, soldier and pea beans. We had a giant bigwell harvester, used a super m farmhall to pull it. A super c was great fr cultivating/hoeing and sometimes an aerial shot of nitrogen to avoid blight was necessary to stay out of the beans when it was wet. I agree with one of your other commenters that wet falls is the big worry. We put the beans in two pounds bags, graded them before that with my high school friends. And then went on the road to peddle them. Two dollars a bag. There was a little guy on them, a bean man that said "They're good folks" and they were called Prem Pak brand.

C. said...

Of possible interest from a northeastern bean growing perspective:

richardhroth said...

We just planted a trial of 12 varieties of dry bean at the University Farm at CSU Chico, CA.

(Yes, it is a late season planting, but we often have late dry weather.)

Your information is very helpful.

Wondering what kind of equipment would be most useful for small scale specialty bean growers - start to finish - growing on 2 to 20 acres. Equipment built - adapted - or purchased.

Slow Hand Farm said...

Richard, I was in Idaho this last winter looking at some small scale dry bean equipment. They grow a lot of dry beans there and had some great pieces I hadn't seen before. I'll see if I can get a friend to write a little about the equipment they're using.