The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Threshing and winnowing soybeans

Dirty soybeans

As Mark mentioned, we've been harvesting some of our soybeans this fall. Since this is our first year growing the crop (and since I'm primarily growing them for soil-improvement purposes), my goal is pretty simple --- to end up with as many seeds as I bought with minimal work. (Meaning I don't want to shell the beans by hand and am willing to get much lower than maximum yields as a result.)

But before I delve into my threshing experiments, I wanted to answer Susie's question from this weekend. These are Viking 2265 soybeans from Johnny's, not an heirloom but also not GMO. They're meant to be grown as a cover crop, but you could presumably eat the seeds. (Our dog and goats sure like to.) If I lived in soybean country, though, I'd save my pennies and buy the seeds at a feed store (although that source would be much more likely to be GMO).

Okay, variety information aside --- how did I separate my seeds from the plants and what would I do differently next year? First, I yanked up plants once all the leaves had fallen off Drying soybeansand piled the tops on a tarp on the porch. If I had this to do over again, I would have cut the plants rather than yanked them --- the extra few minutes at harvest would be worth it for the much lower dirt quotient in the finished product. I also would have used a bigger tarp so the plants could lie in one or two layers rather than in a mound since, even though I harvested "dry" plants, some molded in the interior of the pile due to our high humidity.

Screening beans

It took a week or two for most of the soybean plants to start turning crinkly and dry. At that point, I shod myself with close-toed shoes and did a little dance on top of the plants as a rough-and-dirty threshing. Sure enough, quite a lot of soybeans turned up on the tarp when I pulled the plants aside to peak underneath.

I swept up soybeans, dirt, leaves, and all into a dust pan, then deposited the mass in my biochar sifter, retrofitted with a smaller screen that we'd bought for our honeybees. I just pushed the new screen into the sifter on top of the old screen, but it did its job --- preventing anything the size of a bean or larger from falling through the holes. A bit of shaking, and the beans --- plus dirt clods --- were separated from the smaller particles.

Screening beans
There are still quite a few beans left in the plants on my tarp, so I'll do another round of tromping and sifting once they dry a bit more. But I've already got enough seeds for next year's planting, so I'll call the breaking even part of this experiment a success. Looks like soybeans will be the first of my cover crops that come full circle on the farm!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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