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April 26, 2010 / Malcolm Dalebö

Discover: Shell beans

If you only grow the traditional British crops of Broad Beans, Runner Beans and a few exotic French Beans, then you are missing a lot that the bean family offers us.
Shell beans–also called dry or dried beans–are beans grown to full maturity, usually harvested in Autumn after the pods have matured and the leaves of the plant have dried and fallen, before being shelled and stored for later use. Dried beans can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to a year or more. Shell beans are bean plants grown primarily for its edible seed rather than its pod. The varieties have been selected over the centuries for drying, unlike Runner beans and most French beans which have been selected for the taste of the pods as well as the beans. 

Shell beans ready for shelling

The same bean varieties can also can be harvested at the green, shelling stage–when seeds are still tender–and eaten before they dry, these are then called Snap beans. However, don’t pick them too early as the pods should be full sized. Enjoy snap beans fresh from the garden, or can and freeze them for the fall. The favourite snap bean grown in Great Britain is the Broad Bean (Fava bean).
Shell Cranberry bean ‘Lingua di Fuoco’ (Tongue of Fire)

Shell beans grow either as bushes (dwarf) or vines (climbing/pole). The size and colour of pods and seeds can vary. Pods can be 3 or 4 inches to 12 to 14 inches long at maturity and vary in color during the growing season: green, yellow, purple, and speckled. 

Leaves are commonly composed of three leaflets and flowers are pale yellow or white. 

Beans for shelling commonly grow on bushes that are to 2 or 3 feet tall; the vine varieties are pole beans that can grow to 8 feet tall or more. Dry beans require from 70 to 120 days to reach harvest. 

As far as storing and preserving of dried shelled beans is concerned, they can be stored in a cool, dry place for 10 to 12 months. Place well dried beans in a capped, airtight jar or in a fabric bag with good air circulation. As far as the yield is concerned, grow 4 to 8 bean plants per each household member.

There are many families or types of dry or shell beans. 
  • Fava shell beans (English broadbean)
  • Soybean shell beans
  • Kidney shell beans
  • Cannellini shell bean
  • Flageolet shell bean (see right Shell bean Flagrano (French flageolet))
  • Mung shell bean
  • Rice Bean
  • Navy shell beans
  • Cranberry shell bean (Borlotto bean in Italy)
  • Lima shell beans


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