How to grow shell-out beans

Blue Shackamaxon shellout beans

Shell-out beans are such a star crop! Input to output ratio swings firmly in the output camp. Productive in a little space, demand little from the soil, are a good value vegetable protein and require no preserving at all – just pop them out of the dry pods and fill a big jar.

Jars of homegrown beans in the pantry are satisfaction plus and so versatile – salads, refrieds, fritters, loaves, soups … Because homegrown shellouts are fresh, they’re faster to cook, creamier and on the whole next level tastier than the who-knows-how-old-they-are beans in the bulk bins.

Dry beans have undeserved press as being too much effort to bother with. Perhaps from old beans that take ages to cook and after all that turn out horrible. Or maybe its the thought of the overnight soak? That’s like a 3-minute job! Drain and rinse them the next day and cook at a good boil in plenty of water for about 30 minutes, or until creamy – and fresh ones are so creamy. A slowcooker works for this job too. I cook a big batch each time and freeze them in cup size containers.


I give my beans a head start on the slugs and tray sow them in the greenhouse mid-Spring. They can be direct sown in the garden once the soil is steadily sitting at 15 degrees. Don’t rush into planting – if the soil is less than 15 degrees they’ll rot and struggle.

Climbing beans are more productive than dwarf, but if you don’t have access to frames, grow dwarf / bush beans. Sow a few successions late spring through to mid summer to gather enough to fill your jars to the top.

I like to use all my stored beans by time the next seasons beans are ready. Though they will last in the pantry, they go downhill the older they get.


I love reinforcing mesh for its ease. It’s easy to put up – a robust stake either end and tie the mesh to it. At the end of the season, its easy to pack down and stores nice and flat against a wall. The downer is untangling the vines from the mesh.

Jute string attached to a frame gets over this problem as the string and vines can all be composted together. You need to twist a few strings together though rather than using one in the event it rots off at the bottom and swings free. Baling twine is an option here that wont rot, but you’re back to having to get the vine off at the end.

Flax flowers are fab if you have a frame to attach them too, or if not windy at yours they make a lovely teepee which works well for shell-outs. Apart from the cute factor, teepees for green beans mystify me – all those unreachable beans in the middle! Compost them vines and all at the end.


Blue Shackamaxon

So many good ones to choose from – you’ll find it hard to choose especially if you are easily seduced with cool names. Checkout Mark Christensen and all the good work he’s doing in heritage food crop research. He has a huge selection of heirloom beans. Sethas Seeds have a selection of shellouts available.

The climbing shellouts I’m growing this year are Blue Shackamaxon – a black bean substitute that does well here in Levin, as well as Setha’s mixed shell-out pack with Hidatsa which I’ve grown before and love – plus 2 newbies – Abenaki and Fat Goose.

Borlotti dwarf bean

Borlotti’s join the fray via gifted seed. They’re a bush dwarf bean I’ve grown on and off for years – they do well here. As well as drying to fill a jar, Borlotti’s are delicious as a fresh shell-out, sauteed in garlic and butter and herbs.

Soya beans are another dwarf bean. I grow them with my corn and though they aren’t terribly productive, especially if summer is off the pace, steamed fresh with salt they are such a beautiful snack I can never resist. The main crop of the day is the corn after all.

Saving the seed of the ones that perform well builds strength year after year in your own climate + taste specific breed.


Beans are super productive, low maintenance and apart from the odd sucking insect – problem-free. Compared to fussy old tomatoes, for instance – they’re a dream. As long as there is moisture retentive, free-draining soil at their feet they will grow and grow.

Pair them with low growing flowers to call in the bees, confuse the pests and keep the ground covered in the easiest and prettiest of ways – nasturtium, calendula or marigold all do well. Cucumber, gherkin or squash will happily scramble at their feet + salads happily fit here too. If shield bugs are a regular in your patch sow mustard and/or cleome as a catch crop close by.

Keep on top of sucking insects on your daily walk about by squashing them. If they get away on you, go for it with Neem.


Borlottis drying. Those shield bugs have only seconds to live!

Leave the beans to dry on the vine – the ultimate do nothing crop! Be sure to harvest them before the pods pop open.

Pop the beans out. Fill a jar and store in a dark cool pantry.


  1. Radha and Charles says

    Great stuff Kath. We’ve been growing shell-outs for some years now; several heritage climbing black-bean varieties from Mark, Fat Goose (high bean count per pod, which makes shelling out easier & more rewarding), soy (terrific protein), and perhaps the star of the show, perennial climbing butter beans! Otherwise known as ‘White Czar’ from Mark, these are exactly like scarlet runners, except the flowers and beans are white. They make smooth velvety hummus. We also leave our scarlet runners to shell out once they get stringy. I call them ‘Big Browns’ as the are a gorgeous rich brown when cooked. I use a pressure cooker for all our beans – they’re done in around 7mins once the steam is up. They are so much softer than top-cooked and pressure cooking retains more nutrients and also saves you shelling out too much on electricity! 🙂 The butter beans look and taste EXACTLY like Chantal canned butter beans – except home-grown, they taste better. Yell out of you want some butter bean seed – we’re just up the road in Levin. Oh yes, and we’re growing Purple Hyacinth beans too – extremely pretty, and very high in protein; still experimenting optimum use – trying fresh in the pod this year, as they are real hard to shell out

    • Awesome Radha, thanks!, great to hear from a fellow bean lover. Butter beans sound fab, but maybe another year, I’m all bean’ed up for this year. Love the tip about the pressure cooker – excellent. Wish you a great season, K