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Magic Beans: From Pantry to Garden

Posted by on March 25, 2014
What can you do with dried beans that are past the use-by date?

What can you do with dried beans that are past the use-by date?

You bought that bag of dried beans the best of intentions. You were sure you were going to make soup, stew, and chili from them. But soaking them overnight (or longer) was a nuisance, and canned beans were so much easier to deal with, so you left the bag in the pantry after trying a recipe or two. You really did mean to use them again some day, but you kept putting it off. The bag got pushed further and further back into the pantry until it was completely forgotten. It collected dust in the back of the pantry for years until one day you decide it’s time for some spring cleaning.

In the midst of throwing out years-expired cakes mixes and the like, you rediscover your beans. They’re past the printed use-by date, but do dried beans really expire? You’d really rather not be wasteful and throw them out. You could try cooking them to find out if they’re still OK, but let’s be honest: if you had any serious desire to cook with them, they wouldn’t have ended up in the back of the pantry. Can you do anything else with them? It’s too bad they aren’t fresh beans, or even canned, beans, because you have a zillion tasty recipes for them.

That’s exactly the situation I was in a couple weeks ago when an idea occurred to me. Could I plant the beans in my garden and grow the fresh beans I’d be much more likely to use? To answer that question, I queried the wise oracle of the internet – Google.

The most helpful answer I found was on a page entitled “Will Store Bought Beans Grow If You Plant Them?“, from the San Francisco Chronicle. The author answers with a qualified affirmative and suggests a simple experiment to test the viability of your beans.

“Testing the germination rate of the seeds before you plant them helps you determine whether the seeds are viable and how many grocery store beans you need to plant to grow the desired number of plants. Layer five paper towels on top of each other and moisten them with water. Spread 20 bean seeds out on the paper towels, then fold the towels in half so the seeds are sandwiched between the moist layers. Keep the towels and seeds in a closed plastic bag in a warm area for one week. After the week is up, check the seeds to see how many have sprouted. For example, if only one-half of the seeds sprout, you will need to plant twice as many grocery store beans as the number of plants you want.”

So, last Monday I set up two experiments like that, one with cannellini beans and one with a 15-bean soup mix. I didn’t worry about exact counts of beans. I just poured out enough to cover half of the wet paper towels, folded each in half, and stuffed them in zip-lock bags. I left them on my freezer for a week, and checked on them today.

Both experiments are fabulous successes! Now, if I can just finish prepping the back yard for gardening, I’ll be able to plant from both bags, as well as from a bag of lentils.


sprouting cannellini beans


sprouting 15-bean mix

Now you know that you can grow bean plants from grocery store dried beans, and knowing is half the battle. 🙂