Black Bean Harvest at Hart’s Mill–It Took a Village!

 by Margret Mueller

As some of you might remember, Jeffry and I tried to grow a crop of black beans on the land last year, only to have our hopes and efforts dashed by the untimely arrival of Hurricane Michael’s torrential rains.

Undaunted, we planted again this year, on approximately 1/10 of an acre. Since one of HM’s stated goals is “to feed ourselves to the extent practicable,” we thought it would be a good idea to find out what sort of yield we can expect from a certain size plot and how many families this might reasonably supply.  I must admit we were operating under the aphorism “Necessity is the Mother of Invention,” as we had no earthly idea how a successful harvest might be accomplished, should we have one.

 We began the process a couple of weeks  ago when a group of six folks (Maria Teresa, Marilyn, Jeffry, Anthony, Paul, & Hope) gathered at the farm and were shown how to pull up and  laterally stack the  plants to finish drying the pods. 

This year our weather could not have been more ideal—warm and dry for a whole week!  The beans were crispy and ready!  But then, what?

 A large-scale farm would most likely own a combine (a machine that combines three separate harvesting operations—reaping, threshing, and winnowing), or several farms might share one, but we did not know of anybody nearby willing to tackle such a relatively small crop.  Eventually a plot was hatched to convert a clothes-dryer into a small-scale threshing machine.  It sounded plausible; throw some brittle bean pods into the dryer along with some hard rubber balls, and let it spin! We procured a good used dryer (thank you Alana!) and Jeffry gave it a whirl, so to speak.  It turns out that this does indeed separate the beans from the pods, but retrieving the chaff and gathering the beans proved extremely time-consuming. (Anyone want to buy a good second-hand clothes dryer?). Jeffry also tried modifying a small chipper/shredder that he saw featured on Youtube, but that also proved too challenging.

Enter Doug Jones, fellow farmer and member of the Earth’s Turn community nearby. Though his plate is always full to overflowing, Doug loves to share his extensive knowledge on most all things farming, and he has the tricks and tools to make things happen.  It turns out that way back in the 70’s he was growing storage beans, so Doug was excited to see our nice stand of mature black bean plants–and he knew just what to do. 

  • Question: how do you get little black beans out of dried pods?
  • Answer: you STOMP on them!

 So… on Saturday September 21, Hart’s Mill held its first  (annual?) Black Bean Stomp. About a dozen of us, including a multi-generational family, gathered at Hart’s Nest.  In all, five pick-up-truck loads of dry plants were delivered to the Nest over several hours, spread on plywood and tarps, and literally stomped, shuffled, and danced upon.  Hope’s boombox belted out the Go-Gos singing “We Got the Beat” (which we reinterpreted as “We Got the Beans”) and other favorites, while we stomped, gathered, separated, screened and winnowed the beans. Click here to watch the action video!

Five hours later we had about 170 pounds of beautiful almost-clean beans!

Tired but proud, we gathered for a delicious pot-luck meal and toasted ourselves for this huge accomplishment.

As the last step, Jeffry and I are giving them a final sorting, packaging them in 1-lb. bags, and taking them to the Chapel Hill Farmer’s Market along with our other crops. All volunteers will receive one of these bags as a token of our gratitude.

 What we learned:

  • 1/10th of an acre can produce a LOT of beans (i.e. protein).
  • Even a good 1/10th acre harvest may barely supply the bean needs of a 32-household community for a year.
  • Most anything can be accomplished with enough imagination, expertise, good attitudes, energy—and a mentor!
  • It does, indeed, take a village

Many thanks to Doug, Dave, Margaret, Marilyn, Paul, Anthony, Amy H, Jeffry, Krystal, Amy LS, Hope, Margret, Maria Teresa, and our bittiest helpers, Nathan, and Everett! 

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