When it comes to saving seeds, peas and beans fall into the same category — the let the pods dry out on the plant category. (If there is a more technical term for this category I don’t know it, but if you do I’d love for you to share it below.) The downside to saving pea and bean seeds is that you have to sacrifice the delicious pods and their contents. The positive is that saving their seeds is VERY easy. Let’s talk through it, shall we?
This year I grew two types of peas, Dual peas and Purple Mist peas. For the duration of this post we’ll focus on Purple Mist. Additionally, I grew seven varieties of beans; four dry shelling cultivars and three snap. The beans I’ll be showcasing here are all dry shelling beans. I have Calypso (black and white), Painted Pony (brown and white), Cannellini (all white) and Black Coco (all black) growing.
I planted my Purple Mist peas mid-March. Peas require warm daytime temperatures to induce germination but are cold tolerant and actually start to struggle when temperatures are consistently in the high 80’s and 90’s. For this reason, peas are typically categorized as “cool weather” crops. You can find more details on growing peas here. My Purple Mist germinated and started to climb the trellis provided. Not long after, they produced beautiful, fragrant bicolored flowers that eventually revealed deep purple pods. These gems were showstoppers in the garden. If you are looking for an edible ornamental that serves as a multipurpose pea (they can be eaten young as snow peas or mature as shelling peas) then this Dutch heirloom would make an excellent addition to your garden. Knowing full well that I intended to save seeds from this variety, I started deliberately leaving pods on the vine. After several weeks, those pods that had not been harvested started to turn brown and dry out. When the pods dry entirely, to the point of being brittle and cracking when squeezed, the seeds inside are ready for saving. If they are pulled before the pods change color and dry then their viability will be greatly reduced. You can see in the photo of the dried pods above that they even started to split as they dried out, a good indication that they were ready for saving.
Meanwhile, my beans were all planted April 29th when the risk of frost had passed. All bush habit; they formed tidy rows and started to produce blossoms ranging from white to pink and pale purple. Said flowers were followed by pods of varying shapes and sizes and then the waiting game began. One month later, 70-80 days post planting, my pods started to take on a papery appearance and turn tannish brown. You can see in the photo above that the transition from vibrant green to dry tan is very obvious. Similar to peas, the best way to achieve high viability of saved seed is to let your pods dry out completely on the plant. Fortunately, this is the same approach one should take to harvest dry shelling beans for eating, so this was a one-stop shop.
In both cases, after shelling your pea or bean seeds it is advised that you leave them in a paper bag or laid out in a shallow dish to finish drying before you put them in an airtight container for long term storage. If residual moisture is trapped in with the seeds they will be susceptible to rot or may even germinate prematurely. I would also like to note that the plants discussed above are open-pollinated. By this, I mean I did not take any additional measures to prevent the pollen of one variety from transferring to the blossom of another. Peas and beans both have blossoms that, due to their structure, not only have the necessary anatomy for pollinating themselves but it also often happens before the bloom has fully opened. This reduces the likelihood of cross-pollination but does not eliminate it altogether. Therefore, if you’d like to ensure your seeds are true to the parent, you may want to grow only one cultivar at a time or provide a physical barrier so pollinators cannot exchange genetic material between varieties. Row covers are an easy way to achieve this.
To wrap this up — yes, it’s as simple as it looks. Let your pods mature fully on the plant and when they have dried out, harvest your seeds. Have more questions? Please share them in the comments below because I’m sure you’re not the only one who is wondering. Cheers, friends!