Runner beans are perennial, but we have mixed results with natural germination in spring. New shoots may emerge later in the spring than we had planned for, or may be damaged by bugs, or simply not emerge at all. For best results, we save seeds in the fall from the biggest pods and dry them for winter storage.
Runner beans lend themselves to drying more than bush beans. Because runner beans hang their pods high, they’re better aerated and less prone to rot. And because the pods and seeds are big, they’re easy to shell. In hot climates, some gardeners simply let the beans dry on the vine. But if your climate is damp and cool in autumn, better results can be had by shelling and drying the beans indoors.
It takes about a week for beans to dry in our home. We set them in a warm location indoors and flip them after a few days. Some people speed up the process by setting the shucked beans in an oven set to 120 F for an hour, or until dry. You can also dry beans using a dehydrator, which uses a fan to speed the process up. Our approach is to keep it simple and let the beans air dry indoors.
Here are a few basic tips to help ensure successful bean drying and storage.
1. In September stop watering your open pollinated pole beans.
This will cause the vines to ripen the seeds, which will get ‘bulgy’ in the pod. Immature pods can still be picked for eating while the largest pods develop the seeds. Once the leaves start to die you’ll know it’s almost time to collect the mature seed pods. Leave the pods as long as you can in October, or until it looks like rain, then pick and bring in the house.
Moldy patches on the pods or vines are a sign to dry the beans inside. Ideally, the pods become so dry they are crispy. But in humid climates this is not the norm.
2. Bean seeds can dry in normal house temperatures with good ventilation.
Some gardeners hang the bean vines upside down until the pods dry, but we find this a wieldy process. In our moist climate we prefer to shuck the beans by hand to speed drying, and toss the vines, well-chopped, into the compost.
Save the biggest and best formed pods for seed. Use the string on the pod like a zipper, and gently twist the pod to pop it open. With clean, dry hands, remove the seed carefully as it has a delicate skin until dry. Lay on a clean tray, with space around the seeds. You can use newspaper or paper towels beneath the seeds if you wish. In a few days when they are drier and firm shake the tray to move them around, then flip the beans over. It may take a week or two to dry completely. Discard small or damaged beans.
3. Store dry beans in an airtight container in a cool, dry spot, preferably in your house.
Humidity and warmth will shorten a seed’s shelf life, so store your seeds on a cool pantry shelf or similar location. The refrigerator can also be used for seed storage but not the freezer.
Label all bags or jars of seeds with the variety and date. Most seeds will be viable for at least three years if stored well. Enclose in each container a silica gel desiccant packet, which can be bought at hobby/craft stores. Many products, like shoes and electronics, come with these little bags. Once a year the gels can be recharged in a 250 degree oven for a few hours. If not handy, wrap 2 heaping Tablespoons powdered milk in 4 layers of facial tissue and put in container. Replace every 6 months.
Your Scarlett Runner bean seeds are now safely stored until you are ready to replant a bean crop next spring.
Eating the shucked beans
Scarlett Runner beans are usually eaten as fresh green ‘string’ beans in the pod. However, if you have a surplus of dried beans, they can be cooked and served in meals. These beans cannot be eaten raw.
To prepare the shucked beans for eating, first soak the dried beans in cold water for 12 hours. They are then cooked for approximately 2 hours, or until tender. Beans harvested in autumn do not need be soaked and are soft and cooked in about 30 minutes. When using scarlet runner beans in salads, be sure to add some salt to the cooking water.