I have spent several hours over the last couple of days picking dry pods of black tepary beans. It has been both satisfying and frustrating. I am getting a good harvest, now with 2 full trays of pods and still half of the row to pick. I planted a longer row this year. But I got carried away with my interplanting and I forgot how labor intensive harvest was for these beans last year. (But they make good burrito beans!) I have a bad memory in the spring. So, the delicate tepary bean plants that looked so exquisite mixed with the jalapeños and petunias for the summer are a mess to untangle during harvest. Was it worth it? Let’s just say I have some different plans already for next year.
As I was harvesting, I was thinking of what I would say if a friend called and asked what I was doing. “Oh, I’m just struggling for survival, trying to pick enough beans to feed the fam for the winter. And you?” It is incongruous that I’d be talking on my iPhone while crawling in the dirt looking for every last beige pod. But that’s what life is like for us gardeners in the modern world. During this time of self-imposed menial work, I saw a large, fuzzy black spider crawl scamper out of the bean bushes and pass about one inch from my toes. I moved slightly and kept picking. If that happened in the house I’d probably scream, but out here, I’m in its territory and I see an ugly insect every few seconds. (click on any photo to enlarge)
While I was doing the bean picker’s interpretive dance (which is a fluid combination of squats, ballet positions, and odd movements to keep muscles from spasming) I was trying to think what could make this easier. A tractor would, unfortunately, be overkill. Here is what I told myself:
- Next year, plant only the tepary beans in the area, in a single row. They do seem to want to climb some, so a trellis might make it easier to see the beans.
- Make sure the trellis is simple, has an open design and is strong such that pulling on the bean plants doesn’t land the trellis in my face. The smaller, white wire edging that I have used to help my peas stand up (successfully for years now) was there by default, because the peas had been there first. For the tepary beans, it was an inconvenience.
- Try to get out and pick the beans in stages. A number of the earlier maturing pods seem to have molded or had suffered from the elements after they had dried.
- Put a layer of dry straw or grass clippings under the plants. Hopefully, this would keep any of the lower hanging pods from sinking into the dirt and being ruined.
- The best looking beans seem to be inside the crisp, but still fully shaped, light beige colored pods. Kind of like a bag of potato chips with the right amount of air. Pods that are wrinkled or spotted may have lower quality beans overall. However, there are some of the discolored and odd looking pods that have perfectly good beans. It seems best to pick anything that might have good beans and sort them later, after shelling. But if I’m going to get tired, pick the good looking ones first.
- Pick the dry pods by gripping them at the top of the pod (near the stem) with the fingers, while the rest of the pod is gently supported by the remainder of the hand. This seems to keep the pods from flipping suddenly in reaction to the picking action and accidentally popping open, leading to the beans being lost all over the ground.
- Don’t try to hold too many pods in the hand at once. If they pop open in your hands, the beans will escape.
- Gently twist the plants after all visible pods have been picked. There are probably quite a few hiding. A few pods might accidentally pop open, but it is better than missing the picking of all the ones under there. Also, on the final picking, pull the plant up and roll it into a loose ball. There will likely be even a few pods exposed from that.
Anyway, that’s what I told myself. We’ll have to see what really happens in the spring.