The Seed Ambassadors Project

Bringing Biodiversity Back

We Love Growing Dry Beans, You Might Too!

Growing dry beans can be a fun & beautiful addition to the garden. If you have space, it is easy to produce homestead quantities of dry beans to feed your family. On a small farm scale growing dry beans can provide a profitable addition to the farmer’s market display. Conveniently, seed saving is the same as crop harvest for dry beans, which makes them a crop you only have to buy seed for once (unless you accidentally eat them all).

We sometimes sell a mix of bean varieties as a "Bean Party." So pretty!

We sometimes sell a mix of bean varieties as a “Bean Party.” So pretty!

Here at Adaptive Seeds, we love to grow beans almost as much as we like to eat them (which is a lot). Producing them is a bit of a process but it’s pretty fun & you’re rewarded with piles of delicious, nutritious jewels at the end so it’s totally worth it.

As market growers, we were attracted to dry bean production because we saw a need for local staple food production – for food security as much as to fill a market niche – & soon discovered we could sell all of the beans we could produce. We also really like having dry beans fill a spot in our field rotations. In the past we have planted as many as 6 acres in dry beans, but it didn’t take us long to figure out that if we planted less acreage but took better care of it, we could have much higher yields & fewer headaches. Since we’ve shifted our focus to seed production, we have reduced our dry bean crop size further & now grow about ½ acre of beans per year, still selling some as food. Following is an assortment of tips & tricks for dry bean production, & details of our bean enterprise budget from 2014.


In our area (The Willamette Valley of Oregon), dry beans can be planted until the beginning of June, which means you still have some time to get a crop in the ground this season. Our goal is to sow our dry beans by mid-May, but we have successfully harvested earlier varieties (such as Early Warwick) from sowing as late as June 10.

Dry beans are sensitive to frost & need warm soil to germinate, so sowing earlier isn’t necessarily worth it. The real trick is getting the crop harvested before the rains come in September – for this reason, we choose varieties with shorter days-to-maturity. Some dry beans take as many as 110 days to mature, but the varieties we offer at Adaptive Seeds all mature in 95 days or less. This is true for both bush & pole types. For farm scale food production we prefer bush types, but pole types can be higher yielding in a smaller space. The information that follows is for bush types only.

A July 2 photo of a dry bean field that was seeded on May 18.

A July 2 photo of a dry bean field that was seeded on May 18.


We have experimented with several regimes for fertility, plant spacing, & irrigation, & have concluded that the best way for us to grow bush dry beans is to grow them the same way we grow bush snap beans. Our dry beans get the same amount of fertility as our vegetable crops (we use 75# of 4-4-4 per 200′ bed). Our farm bed tops are 44” wide, and we sow 3 rows per bed spaced 1′ apart. We direct seed our dry beans with an Earthway® seeder, & don’t bother to thin them. The beans get about 1” of irrigation from overhead sprinklers per week, until August 1 when we cut off water to encourage the beans to dry down, with our goal to begin harvest by September 1. We used to inoculate our beans before planting but have stopped – it seems the bacteria exist in our soil at this point & it’s a bit of a hassle. If you’re new to growing beans &/or don’t use organic methods, we recommend inoculating beans before planting. We usually weed the beans three times during the season.


Beans are ready to harvest when pods are dry but not split open & most of the leaves are yellow &/or dropping. It can be tricky to get the timing right because with most heirloom varieties not all pods ripen at the same time. It is usually better to harvest when most of the beans are ready than to wait for the last pods to dry down – if you wait this long you’ll likely lose more beans to shattering (when the pods open & beans fall out), than you will gain by waiting for those stragglers.

At harvest time we simply pull plants out by hand. This is a good task to do in the morning, as there will be some moisture on the plants & the pods are less prone to shattering than when harvested in the afternoon. We then shake / wipe the dirt off the roots (this is VERY important, as any dirt clods that make it onto your tarp will have to be picked out later), & toss whole plants onto smaller tarps (8′ x 10′) that we drag along behind us on the beds.

At the end of this process, we drag the tarps off the beds onto a much larger tarp or old shade cloth that’s on a farm road, & spread them out in the sun to dry for 2 – 3 days. We use tarps that are at least 20′ x 60′, but bigger is even better (depending on the size of your crop) – if you don’t have a tarp that large you can patchwork a few smaller ones together. Old shade cloth is much better than tarps for this purpose, because it is “self-healing” if stabbed by a pitchfork – & – perhaps more importantly – it’s porous, so if it rains or there is heavy dew, the water doesn’t pool under the beans.

Tires double as threshing equipment & seed dispersal mechanism.

Tires double as threshing equipment & seed dispersal mechanism.


Threshing is next, & it’s where the fun begins. After the plants have dried down, & hopefully on a hot, dry afternoon, we drive on the beans to thresh them. Our farm truck is a 1992 Ford F150, but we’ve also used a Toyota pickup & seen videos of folks using tractors. The key to this step is to start on the outside of the pile with the driver’s side of the truck, & go back & forth slowly making your way across the pile until it’s all flat. I usually go side to side two times, then get out, stir / flip the beans with a pitchfork, & do it again. Two times through the process is usually enough. Of course if you’re doing a smaller quantity (or even a larger one & you’re up for it), you can thresh the old-fashioned way: by dancing. For medium-sized quantities, we throw some varieties through a modified wood chipper.

Once threshing is complete, it’s time to scalp the beans by raking plants into piles, picking the piles up with a pitchfork, & tossing the larger plant debris onto another tarp to haul to the compost pile (or you can just toss it aside). It’s good to give the pitchfork a good shake &/or toss the pile into the air & catch it again, to make sure all of the beans have fallen out. This is my favorite part. A slight breeze is helpful to this process – you’ll quickly learn which direction to work in if the wind is blowing. This can be a dusty job so you might want to wear a bandana or dust mask.

At the end of scalping, there will be smaller debris & lots of beans on the tarp. At this point you can do a quick field winnow using the breeze (with or without a screen) to remove the larger debris, or just gather the beans into your totes to take in & winnow later. The more you minimize plant material at this point the better – it may take a while to get around to the next step (you are a Farmer in September, after all) & you could save a few buckets worth of volume with a quick field winnow.

Sarah scalps beans after threshing to remove large plant debris

Sarah scalps beans after threshing to remove large plant debris

Winnow & Clean

The next step is to winnow. We use a box fan on its highest setting for beans, pouring the dirty beans in front of the fan so the rest of the plant material blows away. We recommend using a screen at this point to get out the large dirt clods & larger plant pieces, too. Most of the time each bean variety gets winnowed 2 to 3 times.

At the end of this process the beans are mostly clean. The only thing left to do is to pick out the dirt clods that are the same size as the beans. We do this step using an Anderson nursery flat as a tray, so the smaller pieces of dirt & tiny beans will screen out. This is where you will be happy that you removed the dirt from the plants at harvest.

The beans are now ready to store or sell. We store our cleaned beans in 4 gallon buckets & bag them up as needed for market. The great thing about growing beans for market is their shelf-life, as beans will last for years (though we recommend selling for food within 1 year of harvest). This, along with the financial numbers (below) makes them a good addition not only to autumn markets, but potentially winter & spring markets as well – if you can produce enough!

Totes of dry beans make excellent barn lounge furniture.

Totes of dry beans make excellent barn lounge furniture.

The Numbers

The following chart shows our direct costs for labor & inputs for about ½ acre of dry bean production in 2014. This is equivalent to 24 x 200′ beds (14,400 row feet). Eight varieties were sown – with variable germination. If all one variety, labor costs would be lower & with better germination yields could have been several hundred pounds higher.

In sum,  we produced about 940 lbs of beans. In our market (Eugene, Oregon), these beans (all heirloom varieties & certified organic) would sell for $7/lb as food, but we have seen dry beans fetch up to $12/lb in Portland. After all labor (122 hours of bean-experienced labor @$15 per hr) & direct expenses (fertility, seed cost) were taken into account, the $7/lb price would result in a net profit of $3,891.75. This number does not include overhead & marketing expenses, but even then, it is a respectable bottom line – if you have extra space, dry beans are well worth the time!


Adaptive Seeds 2014 Dry Bean Production Detail
5/14Field Prep4 hrs$260@$15/hr human + $50/hr tractor
5/15Fertility$3604-4-4, 1800 lbs
5/15Seed$21030 lbs @ $7/lb food rate – cost would be higher with purchased seed.
5/15Sowing4 hrs$60@ $15/hr. 10 minutes/bed with Earthway, includes mapping & marking varieties.
6/3Weeding – tractor1 hr$65@$15/hr human + $50/hr tractor. Using tine weeder.
6/18Weeding – hoe16 hrs$240@ $15/hr. Using wheel hoe & 8” stirrup hoe.
7/15Weeding – hoe10$150@ $15/hr. Using wheel hoe & 8” stirrup hoe.
6/1 – 7/31Irrigation5$1008 times running irrigation in June & July. Includes $25 for electricity for pump, 1 hr to set line, 4 hrs turning pump on & off @$15/hr.
9/1 – 9/19 (1 – 2 varieties per session, 6 sessions)Harvest & tarp21.75$326.25@ 15/hr, avg 2.6 hrs / variety. Includes hand pulling plants, removing dirt clods from roots, & spreading plants on large tarp or shade cloth to dry for 2+ days.
9/3 – 9/22Thresh9.5$142.50@ 15/hr, avg 1.2 hrs/ variety. Includes driving on tarp of beans with pickup truck, stirring pile, driving again, removing large plant debris, & collecting beans into totes.
9/4 – 9/23Winnow7.5$112.50@$15/hr, avg .9 hr/ variety. Includes pouring threshed & scalped beans in front of fan two times/ variety.
9/5 – 10/2Clean – seed cleaner16$240@$15/hr, avg 1 hr/ variety with 2 people operating machine. Using Hance fanning mill type seed cleaner. Anderson type nursery flats can be used to screen most types of beans instead of seed cleaner & might be faster.
9/10 – 10/4Clean – hand sort30$450@$15/hr, Avg .75 hr/25 lb bucket. Includes picking out bean-sized dirt clods & split beans.

Labor Expense Total

From sowing through hand-sort



Total labor cost for production.

Input Expense Total$845From above – fertility, field prep, seed cost, tractor & irrigation. Note: costs do not include overhead & marketing expenses, & assumes tarps, fan, totes & pitchfork are on hand.

Expense Grand Total


Total production costs.

Adaptive Seeds 2014 Dry Bean Production Summary

Total Yield944 lbs$6608@$7/lb market rate (we’ve seen dry beans as much as $12/lb in other markets). Up to .3 lbs/ bed foot with good germination, as low as .19 lbs/ bed foot with low germination.
Expense Totals-$2716.25From above –includes labor & inputs: fertility, field prep, seed cost, tractor & irrigation. Note: costs do not include overhead & marketing expenses, & assumes tarps, fan, totes & pitchfork are on hand.

Net Profit


Note: costs for overhead & marketing are not included.

Other considerations

Beans are sensitive to frost & to extreme heat – they’ll set fewer & smaller beans at 90˚F & abort at temperatures above 95˚F so they are not a good crop choice in areas with very hot summers. They are also sensitive to disease in humid areas, & in some places pests such as the Mexican Bean Beetle can be a serious issue (not here, though!).

Our soil is fairly heavy & retains moisture well. Sandier soils will probably need more irrigation BUT may not cling to roots at harvest for quicker harvest & processing times.

Dry beans need to be able to dry down in August & September. If it’s dependably rainy where you live, this is not the crop for you.

Beans must be dried to less than 15% moisture before storage or else they will mold. If harvested when mature & cleaned in a dry period, no extra drying is necessary, but sometimes we run beans through a dehydrator set to 90˚F for 24 hrs before storing.


The Control of Seed and Seed Sovereignty

Rye Ramble (from the 2015 Adaptive Seeds Catalog)

The Control of Seed and Seed Sovereignty

At Adaptive Seeds, we talk about our work of Bringing Biodiversity Back. Part of that, of course, is growing and stewarding seed and providing you with good seed stock for your own seed saving efforts. But seed work isn’t only done in the field, and preserving seed sovereignty and freedom takes more than just saving seeds. Working to keep seeds free of control mechanisms, such as patenting, is another important aspect of promoting and preserving agricultural biodiversity, as is building awareness about what seed control mechanisms exist.

We often feel like outliers in the seed world because we wish to keep seed a free, sovereign community asset that is passed down between the generations and between friends. A growing number of people share this pro-sovereignty perspective and we are excited to be part of this community. The more I think about all the different forms of seed control schemes, the more I realize that it is very strange to try to empower seed freedom. It seems like the multinational seed industry is desperately trying to put our collective inheritance into proprietary bondage for the benefit of their shareholders as quickly as possible.

You might think, “Your seeds are not free, they cost money.” So what is meant by free? Like open source software we believe seeds should be, Free as in speech, not as in beer. In a metaphorical sense I see all seed as free and what we get paid for is not the seed per say but the service of stewardship and production of a precious gift. A seed is a living organism that has intrinsic value and a long history, of which we seed stewards have only contributed a small, very recent part. We can’t own that.

Onion flowers at Adaptive Seeds

The concept of seed ownership is problematic in part because it is rooted in entitlement philosophy. As humans we all have a little bit of this philosophy always under the surface. It is a trait that helps us survive in competitive situations of scarcity, but I think it is inappropriate in situations of abundance. As an overt practice it is more common in institutions and businesses (especially in regards to Intellectual Property rights), than in our personal behavior.

An Entitlement Philosophy in regards to seeds might sound like this: “I worked really hard to grow, cross, select, trial this seed and then sit around thinking. Therefore I deserve to extort payment from anyone who wants to save this seed and start from where I left off. Never mind that I didn’t start from scratch. I only added a very small part to a massive historical phenomenon. Now you must pay me to do the same because I deserve it.”

Common mechanisms for seed control

Yes, hybrids are a great way to breed good, uniform varieties quickly. But most of the value to the seed company is that you have to continually buy it from them because they have a monopoly. This monopoly is mostly what we are paying for and we are certainly paying through the nose.

These pollen sterile varieties are usually hybrids and they provide an additional level of control. Seed from these varieties cannot usually be saved and the traits from the sterile parent are “locked up” and only available to the company that produced the parents of the cross. I see cell fusion hybrids as being rather diabolical and a kind of Terminator Seed. See 2014s Rye Ramble Cell Fusion Hybrid Seed is Creepy.

PVP is the kinder, gentler seed control mechanism, making it illegal to produce the seed for sale without permission for a 20 year period. This monopoly is nicer than a SWAT team because it allows seed saving for personal use and allows for making crosses in breeding projects. I understand why many seed companies and plant breeders approve of PVPs, but I see PVPs as the “Patriot Act of Plants” leading to the “Police State of Utility Patents.”

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An Adaptive Guide to Growing Garlic

‘All Things Garlic’ – Organic Guide to Growing Garlic

At Adaptive Seeds garlic is one of our favorite crops. It is garlic seed buying season, so we thought we would share this organic guide to growing garlic. We cover some basic (and not so basic) info about how to grow garlic organically and care for this kitchen staple.

First, it is good to know what different kinds of garlic are available. We offer three main types of garlic at Adaptive Seeds.

So named because it produces a woody stem, this type of garlic is known for havinggarlicmusic fewer (4 – 12) easier-to-peel cloves than softneck garlic. It generally has a more pungent flavor, which many garlic lovers prefer. Hardneck garlic tends to have fewer of the papery sheathes both around the clove and around the bulb. This wrapping protects the garlic from light and changes in humidity, so hardneck garlic does not store as long as softneck. Generally speaking, hardnecks store well for about 3 – 4 months. We offer two types of hardneck garlic – Porcelain & Glazed Purple Stripe.

Varieties include: Music, Purple Glazer, Romanian Red, Rosewood, Purple Italian Easy Peal,, Zemo.

garlic nootka roseIn contrast to hardneck garlic, this type of garlic has a pliable stem (neck). Softneck garlic stores better and can be more productive. We offer several varieties of Silverskin type softneck, which is the most common garlic for commercial growers and what you most likely find in the grocery store. Silverskins have excellent storage and pure white bulb wrappers. Silverskin garlic can have up to 40 well-wrapped cloves per bulb. We also have Artichoke types of softneck garlic. Artichokes have only about 12 – 20 cloves each, and both the cloves and bulbs tend to be significantly larger than Silverskin varieties. Artichoke garlics tend to mature up to 4 weeks earlier than Silverskin types. Both are great storage types and generally speaking can store up to 9 months.

Varieties include: Broadleaf Czech, Harry’s Italian Late, Nootka RoseOregon Blue Silverskin, Siskiyou Purple, St. Helens.

Elephant garlic is not technically garlic at all, though it looks, acts, and tastes similarly. It is a leek, and has a much milder flavor than true garlic. The bulbs usually form giant 3-6 cloves. This type will produce a scape, like hardneck garlic, and also stores about the same as hardnecks.

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Cell Fusion Hybrid Seed is Creepy

Cell fusion CMS is truly anti-evolutionary and is contributing dramatically to the the loss of agricultural biodiversity in the seed industry, as the genes cannot be recovered from cell fusion CMS hybrids.

What is Cell Fusion? What is a Cytoplasmic Male Sterility (CMS) Hybrid?  Why is it Creepy?

Recently I have been asked by several farmers and seed savers to write up a little something about a technology few people know about that is becoming more and more prevalent in our food system. When I bring it up in passing everyone seems to want to know more and their first question is often, “Why have I never heard of this?”  After discussing it with many other organic farmers a question I always get is, “Is that illegal for organic farming?” I answer by saying “No, not yet at least.” And then predictably they say, “Well, it shouldn’t be allowed.”

Cell Fusion CMS Hybrd Seed

Chicory Flower

This technology has been called “cell fusion CMS” and it is used to create male-sterile breeding lines, which are then used to create many common F1 hybrid seed varieties. These hybrid varieties are found in many seed catalogs and including many hybrid cabbage, broccoli and interestingly Belgian endive among other crops.  The technology has been around for the last few decades and is sometimes called hybrid seed from protoplast fusion cytoplasmic male sterility (CMS). I  have nicknamed it “transgeneric cybrid seed.”  It is a kind of a biotech revision of a naturally occurring breeding technique that now straddles the border of genetic engineering. I said revision because some cytoplasmic male sterility can occur naturally – but cell fusion CMS does not occur naturally.

In organic agriculture, GMOs are of course expressly forbidden. I was confused whether this cell fusion CMS technology was GMO or not so I looked up the definition in the IFOAM Standards. IFOAM is the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements and they say:

“Genetic engineering is a set of techniques from molecular biology (such as recombinant DNA) by which the genetic material of plants, animals, microorganisms, cells and other biological units are altered in ways or with results that could not be obtained by methods of natural mating and reproduction or natural recombination. Techniques of genetic engineering include, but are not limited to: recombinant DNA, cell fusion, micro and macro injection, encapsulation.”

So by international organic certification standards cell fusion is considered GM, but not necessarily in the United States or in many other countries that disregard the IFOAM standards.  Maybe we all should just start calling it a GMO and have some actual parity in organic standards.  I will now try and explain how it works with as little jargon as possible.

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Bringing Biodiversity Back

2013 Rye Ramble (reprinted from the Adaptive Seeds printed catalog.)


Bringing Biodiversity Back for Real, Explained…

We don’t simply write long variety descriptions because it is interesting and we don’t choose rare varieties because they are simply novel.

I feel that seeds, with the biodiversity and cultural knowledge they embody, are a doorway into the mystical realms of our reality. That sounds a little funny and I am not trying to lose you into a woo-woo made-up universe here. I am just trying to explain some reasons for why we do what we do. And predictably every year we discover more reasons for doing this seedy thing.

Frosty FennelWe write long descriptions and choose rare varieties for the sake of conservation, food security, the joy of the experience, and the encouragement from others to continue the hard work; these are all good reasons. But these reasons are like the layers of a leek stem. Every reason we give is a layer of the leek and we keep getting closer and closer to the core. One day we will get to the apical meristem and continue to peel and there will be an empty space where there was a growth point, mysteriously keeping its secrets from us. And yes, this is yet another reason we give ourselves to continue this journey, because we won’t know every reason.

So why do we write these long descriptions when other seed companies write one sentence and sometimes even get the color wrong? What it comes down to for me is that cultural knowledge about seed varieties has eroded even faster than the seed varieties themselves.

An agro-ecosystem, like any ecosystem, can lose genetic diversity. (You probably already know this next part and it’s probably why you came to our seed catalog.) Over the past few centuries the industrialization of agriculture has contributed to the near total loss of all agricultural biodiversity. You might say it is an exaggeration to say near total, but according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, we have lost 75% since 1900 and continue to lose 2% every year. When considering losses before 1900, and that most of these estimates include the varieties kept in gene banks that are considered “saved from extinction,” then you must estimate that nearly all agricultural biodiversity has been lost.

There is a big difference between biologically lost and culturally lost. If you think about how few varieties are still being grown by farmers and gardeners that are saved year to year to further adapt them to local conditions, then one might say nearly all diversity has gone culturally extinct, too.

Of course there are different levels of genetic erosion. The loss of genes within a variety is less obvious than the loss of varieties altogether, but it is also important to work to preserve diversity on this level. Then there is the extinction of species or the loss of entire plant types.

Corn-Open-Oak-Party-Mix-DentWhen thinking of all of the layers to this leek stem, it is easy to see why most people would rather contribute money to a conservation organization than do the real work of preserving and increasing the biodiversity that does exist. But when it comes to preserving this type of agricultural diversity, the real work is not nearly as difficult as preventing the clear-cutting of rainforests:The real work can be as easy as saving seed and breeding new varieties of vegetables in your garden.

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Willamette Winter Gardening Chart

I know it is mid winter and winter gardens get planted in August at the latest, but we have been looking at an acre of winter vegetables and have been inspired to complete a long needed update of this document. It is version 4.0 and full of new info and opinions. Let us know what you think and we will update it like open source software, slowly but surely.

Big Willamette Winter Garden Chart 4.pdf

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