We visited a local farmer’s market the other day with one thing in mind- green beans! Since the harvest from my own plants only amounted to about SIX BEANS total, I lowered my head and and reluctantly admitted the need to buy them from a better farmer. It really stinks having to buy from somebody else’s garden!
In the future, I’ll take some steps to increase my green bean yield from the garden so that I have my own beans to can. Green beans are the country’s second favorite garden crop, after tomatoes, and my household is no exception – we love our green beans.
I did some research on how to increase my green bean yields, and what I found was definitely interesting and will be part of my strategy next year. For example, I am going to plant both pole and bush variety beans. Bush beans produce earlier than pole beans, but they tend to come on all at once and then bam! Just like that the plant is done producing. Pole beans, on the other hand, take more time. They need to set vines (sometimes up to ten feet’s worth of vines!) so these beans come later in the season. They will produce fruit for about a month or two depending on the weather.
So, next year I will plant a succession of beans, planting every two weeks or so. This way I will have a constant supply of beans without having to worry about canning them all at once (which is what I ended up doing). I might also get a head start on planting my beans by starting them indoors in March. They really like the heat, and providing enough warmth can be a major challenge in my neck of the woods, where winter can sometimes last a little bit too long. I might also plant perennial clover in the pathways between the beds. Clover can help create a permanent nitrogen reservoir and prevent erosion. It can also help with pollination, which may have been some of my issue the first time around.
I’ve also read that soil quality is important for raising healthy green beans. Beans and peas both belong to a plant group called legumes, which are unique because they have the ability to absorb nitrogen from the air and then send that back to their roots. However, your soil needs specific bacteria and other microorganisms in order to assist with this process. You can purchase bean seeds that are already inoculated, you can inoculate your soil in order to increase your yields, so I might look into doing this next year, too.
When you harvest your green beans, you need to make sure you are picking them at the peak of ripeness. I would prefer to wait until they are about two inches long – no longer. Some people like plump green beans with dense pods inside. I’d rather have the flatter, skinnier beans, as I believe these taste better steamed and fresh. I guess when you can them, it doesn’t make much difference since you end up cutting them anyway.
When you plant beans that aren’t bush beans, you also need to string them. This means you are essentially extracting the thin silks from the beans. These don’t necessarily taste bad, and they aren’t bad for you, but they are kind of annoying to eat, so I always recommend removing them before you begin to process your green beans.
Anyway, even though I didn’t have much success growing my own green beans, I lucked out in the end. A trip to the farmer’s market did it all for me. The first guy we came to had green beans. $1.00 per pound. Sounded like a good price. I asked him how many beans he had, and he smiled and said, “I’ll give you a bushel if you want!” Of course, I had no idea how much a bushel was, but it sounded like a lot! (For the record, I now know that a bushel is about 1.24 cubic feet, which can weigh anywhere from forty-six to sixty pounds!)
He picked up a large crate stuffed with green beans to show me just how much we were talking. It looked like a good amount. After some negotiating we walked away with a bushel of green beans for $28. Honestly, he totally could have ripped me off, and lied about how much a bushel really was. I hoped I’d made a wise purchase, and was anxious to see how many jars I would actually be able to fill.
Here’s the crate of beans we bought next to my 8 quart pot, for comparison. It was a good amount of green beans! I’d never canned green beans before, so I got out my Ball Blue Book, and the owner’s manual for my pressure canner, and studied up on the task at hand. When I was confident that I was all ready to go, I sat down and began the long process of breaking beans. Jada helped me do a good amount of them, and my mother-in-law came over and broke beans for about 3 hours with me, so I was blessed to have help with the work! It took two days to finish it all.
You have to use a pressure canner to can your green beans. Green beans, unlike fruits and tomatoes which can be canned using a water bath canner, are low acid foods. Pressure canning, which allows the water temperature to rise to higher levels, is the only safe way to can green beans. That being said, pressure canning can be a bit of a scary endeavor for beginners. Pressure canning can be an innately dangerous process if you are unfamiliar with how to use one! Work slowly, and read the user’s manual that comes with your canner before you begin.
For those of you who have no idea where to even begin, here’s how easy it is…
Sit down with your green beans, a trash can or bowl to throw the broken off tips in, and a large bowl or pot to throw the snapped beans in.
Begin by breaking the tips off each bean, then snapping it in pieces. I like 1″ pieces, but by the time I got to the bottom of the box I was just snapping the beans in half! My mother-in-law gave me a good pointer. She uses a knife to cut several beans at once, instead of breaking them one at a time.
If you line up the beans on a cutting board, you can use the edge of your knife to even them out. Then, you can trim off all the tips at once and then repeat with the other side. This will let you get into a nice little rhythm to make the task go by easier. You also don’t have to worry about quite as much waste, since you’ll have a more even cut on them all.
When you’re done trimming all your beans, don’t throw the ends out. They make fantastic little snacks for your livestock, including chickens and pigs, who will happily dispose of these nutrient-dense treats for you!
Once you’ve finished breaking a good amount of beans, wash them well before canning. (Don’t wash the entire amount at once. If for some reason you are unable to finish the job right away, the beans could begin to go bad if sitting wet for a while.) Even if they have been grown organically, you still wanna get all of the dirt and stuff off.
There are a few ways you can clean green beans, depending on how much time you have and how much you need to clean the beans. The easiest way is to fill a bowl or colander with the beans, and then run it under cold water. As you run the water, use your fingers to remove any visible dirt. Pat them dry to avoid any spoilage.
As you wash and prepare your green beans, throw away any that are moldy or somehow damaged. Remember, the quality of your canned goods is only as good as the quality of the fresh ingredients. Any discolored or spoiled beans will do nothing except ruin the rest of the batch of beans.
You can also soak beans fresh from the garden. Wash them for a minute or two, then pour the beans into a colander and let the water drain slowly. You may need to repeat this process. Also, always make sure your hands are nice and clean before you wash your green beans, because this is a common source of food contamination that people often do not think about.
I put mine in my kitchen sink to soak, then rinsed a second time, since they were not grown organically. (Clean your sink out well! I used baking soda to scrub it down, rinsed with vinegar, then filled the sink with a couple of inches of water, added a little bleach, and let it soak to sanitize for a while.)
While the beans are soaking, get your supplies ready. You’ll need a large pot of boiling water, a smaller pot of simmering water (not boiling) to sanitize the lids in, and a pressure canner. You’ll also need to have clean, hot jars ready. (Make sure you have checked the jars for chips around the rim, and for any cracks.) I either get mine straight out of the dishwasher while they are still very hot, or I set the oven to the lowest heat setting and put the jars in there to keep hot until ready to be used. The jars must be hot before filling with boiling water, otherwise they will crack.
You can reuse bands between canning seasons, but never reuse the lids. The seal on your lids can get worn down over time, and this will be impossible for you to determine. Instead, purchase new lids every year and reuse the bands to save some money. You should also avoid using jars that aren’t specifically mason jars for your canning. Some people try to use things like old jelly or mayonnaise jars, but you need to be really careful with this, because the jars can break and they also don’t seal like actual mason jars do. You’ll end up wasting time and could likely wind up sick.
Anyway, once the jars are clean and the ingredients are ready to go, the real fun can begin. Now you are ready to fill the jars! I used the raw pack method (meaning the beans weren’t blanched before canning), because it’s just easier. Put as many green beans as you can fit into each jar. I used quart jars, which hold almost 4 cups of green beans. Tap the jar on the counter to pack the beans down tight, up to an inch from the top of the jar.
You can add salt if you want. I added 1 teaspoon to each quart jar. This is totally optional. You could also add onions, a teaspoon of sugar, or whatever else you’d like to flavor the green beans. If you are trying to cut back on salt or sugar, you don’t need to add these items at all. They don’t lend to the safety of the finished product – just the taste.
I have also heard of people adding ingredients like dill, garlic, or shallots to their green beans to spice things up. You can really use whatever you want in this process, just make sure you are following the basic canning recommendations set forth by Ball and other experts. Remember, these people have been doing this for a long time – they know what they are doing!
Next, ladle boiling water over the beans. Fill the jar up to the first thread on the neck- an inch from the very top. Tap the jar to release trapped air bubbles. Add more green beans if more space at the top has opened up.
This is how it ought to look. About an inch of head space. Use a clean, wet cloth to wipe the rim of the jar. This will ensure that there aren’t any food particles that could prevent the lid from sealing. Plus, it will save you the hassle of needing to clean the outside of your jars and the inside of your pressure canner after all of your jars have processed.
Now you’re ready for the lid. If you have one, use your magnetic lid lifter to retrieve one of the sanitized lids and place it on your full jar.
Secure the lid with a ring. Make sure you get it good and tight, and that it is not cross threaded at all.
Place your filled jars in the canner. I’m not sure if all canners are the same, but this one requires an inch and a half of water before the jars are set on the rack in the bottom of the canner.
My pressure canner will hold 7 quart jars. Once it’s full, follow the manufacturer’s directions for your particular canner.
For quart jars, pressure can at 10 pounds of pressure for 25 minutes. (Pint jars only need 20 minutes.) Once it’s finished, make sure to allow the pressure to reach zero again before opening the canner. If you are working at a higher altitude, make sure you adjust your pressure canning time and pressure to accommodate for this. Many people forget this important detail, but it can cause your food to not preserve properly.
A jar lifter is really handy for removing the steaming hot jars. (Notice the clock in the background? That’s midnight, folks, and I still had lots more to do!)
Set the hot jars on a rack to cool. As the jars cool off, you’ll hear the sound of the lids popping. Then you know they have sealed properly!
Whatever you do, don’t let your jars cool in an area where they will be exposed to a direct breeze. This can cause the jars to crack. Also, make sure you have something underneath the hot jars. I mentioned using a rack, but if you have more jars than will fit on a rack, or if you simply don’t own a cooling rack, you can place the jars on a table, island, or countertop – just make sure there are at least two towels underneath the jars. It is not uncommon for hot jars to take the finish right off a wooden surface, or even to leave burn marks. This is definitely not something you want to deal with!
After about 12 hours, unscrew the ring from the lid and see if you are able to easily pull the lid off of the jar. You should not be able to pull it up. If the lid comes off, the jar didn’t seal and you’ll need to either put that one in the fridge to be eaten right away, or start over by dumping the beans into another hot, clean jar and canning again with a different lid.
I have always found that my experience with pressure canning vegetables is that the lid is so secure on the jar, I have to have outside help (cough – my husband) when opening them. They really stick on there! You’ll know your jars have sealed effectively if you struggle to get them open.
Make sure you write the date on the lid. Not only will you know when the beans were canned, but you’ll be able to tell that the lid has already been used. Like I said, you aren’t supposed to reuse the lids… though I do save mine just in case I am ever desperate for a lid. But that’s on a food I am not going to can – I wouldn’t do it on a batch of canned goods.
Here is a before and after of the beans. They do get cooked in the canning process.
Now, drum roll please…
Final total, 27 quart jars. It cost me a little over $1 per jar. After a little calculating I was disappointed to find that the cans of green beans at Aldi’s still would have been cheaper to buy! But you know, for the extra 20 cents (plus a lot of effort), at least I got fresh, local green beans.
These weren’t packed with preservatives, extra sodium, and sugar like the ones you buy at the grocery store. Plus, recent studies have shown that store-bought canned goods tend to be high in chemicals like BPA. These can be really bad for you! So, the home-canned green beans tasted better, were made with love, and were better for us. Win win!
And nothing beats the satisfaction of having these beautiful jars in my pantry. I love the feeling of having a freshly stocked pantry that I can go to whenever I need to go “grocery shopping.” No, this wasn’t a money saver. But, if you can grow enough of your own, or barter for them, canning them yourself would definitely save a bundle!
Here’s another tip. If you, for whatever reason, can’t get around to canning your green beans right away, don’t stress. You can freeze your beans and can them later. Simply make sure you wash and trim your green beans as you normally would, since this will be practically impossible to do once they have thawed. Blanch the beans for a minute or two, then pack tightly into a vacuum sealed bag. When you thaw them, they can go directly into a mason jar and be canned, with very little changes in texture, flavor, or color.
Canning Green Beans: Raw Pack Method
Break off tips of beans; snap into bite sized pieces. Wash, and drain. Pack beans into hot, clean jars, as tight as you can get them, leaving 1″ head space. Optional: Add 1/2 tsp salt to each pint jar, or 1 tsp salt to each quart jar. Ladle boiling water into each filled jar, leaving 1″ head space. Tap jars to remove air bubbles. Put lids on jars. Process pints for 20 min, or quarts for 25 min. at 10 pounds of pressure in a pressure canner.
I’d love to try different recipes for canned green beans! Anybody have a favorite they’d like to share??
updated by Rebekah Pierce 11/04/2018