After days of contemplating the tedious shelling of my dry black tepary beans, I woke up that morning knowing I was going to thresh them barefoot in the bathtub. This was probably a byproduct of my brain debriefing during my dreams, after hours of sifting sunflower seeds from plant matter the day before. When I went to sleep, all I knew was that one of the next things I really needed to do was get the beans out of the walkway in the kitchen. Food was getting dropped in them periodically and the dog was becoming aware of this. It has been bad enough when people tripped over the trays and sent a few crunchy pods whirling and popping open across the kitchen floor. Now the doggy was beginning to put her warm, moist nose in them, hoping for another hidden snack.

Then, I woke up that morning and one of my first thoughts was, “I need to stomp on the beans in the bathtub!” The brain is an amazing thing. After breakfast, I dried the bathtub thoroughly, then used painter’s masking tape to smooth out the plugged drain. Otherwise, I’d be digging beans out from under it’s edges. I dumped one full tray of dry bean pods into the tub. Some firm barefoot steps released many little black beans from confinement. My feet are cleaner than the ground and surroundings in the garden. Plus, I always wash dry beans before I cook them, even if they are store bought.

I began to notice a few things about the process right away. First, I could tell the difference in the sound of the popping of full pods from the softer crunching of the empty ones. Then, it seemed to me that I had too many layers in the tub. It would have been better if I had started with fewer pods at a time, like enough for about one layer. However, a little lifting and rustling of the pods with my hands seemed to move the empty pods to the top of the heap. I was able to pick up handfuls of the empty shells and put them in the trash pile. I had climbed out of the tub for this next stage and was kneeling and leaning over the side with a towel to cushion the side of the tub, but this got uncomfortable after a while. So, I climbed back in and just stood on some of the beans while continuing.

Beans in a bathtub

The movement of the shells revealed a lot of loose, beautiful beans on the bottom of the tub. I scooped up the bulk of them and tried to sift out some of the dirt through a wire mesh strainer. I was still left with a lot of debris mixed in with the beans. This had not been an issue when shelling them by hand. The debris was a mixture of the feather light remains of pith inside the shells, plus tiny bits of stems and leaves that I had carelessly dumped into the tub when I poured the pods in, and a very few pieces of broken pods. I climbed back out of the tub, then I set the bowl aside for a bit and tried to just press the rest of the pods open with the flat of my hands. This was not nearly as effective as walking on them, but there were not very many left, so I just finished the load that way.

Beans in a bathtub

I was concerned that the leaf bits would lead to mold with the stored dry beans, so I really wanted to remove those. I remembered the screen and fan method that I had used the day before on my sunflowers. The screen was actually built to fit perfectly over the span of the bathtub (for drying freshly sheared wool many years ago). The cord on the normal household fan was just long enough to let me set it on the edge of the screen.

The 50 watt Holmes fan from Walmart needed to be set to speed 3 to make enough of a breeze to blow away what I wanted blown away. But then, it blew it pretty much all over the bathroom. For the record, I tried the hair dryer first, but it didn’t have enough oompf, its air flow was too much in just one spot, and my hands got too hot very quickly. With the fan, letting a handful of beans and mixed debris fall in front of the air flow resulted in a semi-spread group of beans right in front of me, light debris everywhere in the bathroom (including the hair of my daughter who was sitting at the other end of the bathtub reading our current Terry Pratchett book aloud to me), and the heavier dirt falling through the screen into the tub. Perfect.

All that was left to do was to put the beans in a couple of pint jars. This is only about a third of my dry black bean harvest this year, but already twice as much as I harvested last year in much less time. And more fun. It didn’t take very long to wipe down the bathtub with damp paper towel, but next time I’m going to vacuum it out first. I still need to vacuum the rest of the bathroom floor.

Beans in a bathtub

I suppose a variation of this method could work out on the patio, but that depends on the weather and the wind. I’d have to clean the layer of leaves off of the patio first. Also, the beans often jump wildly from their pods. The bathtub definitely helped contain them. The relatively small space of a bathroom is not so hard to clean up.

I think for the next tray full I will:

  • Be careful not to dump all the dirt in from the bottom of the tray
  • Not put in so many pods at once
  • Line the bottom of the tub with some newspaper or a cloth when using the screen and the fan
  • Save some of the empty shells for mulch in the garden

I should be able to get about four more pints of dry beans for my winter supply, so six pints total from a row about 20 feet long. I wish I’d thought of this method when my kids were little, but the grandkids should think it is fun to stomp around on funny things in the bathtub when they get big enough. Just the thought of that is enough to inspire me to keep growing dry beans.

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