Garden doctors: Tips for shelling beans and dividing peonies

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Jennifer K. of Windsor asks: I am growing a few varieties of shelling beans but I’m not sure how to dry them. Can you help me out?

Here’s a couple of ways to dry beans for storage. First, and most importantly, you need to wait for the bean pods to turn completely brown. The plants will also be turning brown, indicating that the plant is done growing and is on its way out. You could either pull up the whole plant and it upside down in a cool, dry, ventilated room or pull the bean pods off and place them in a cardboard box, or on newspaper. Then set them on a shelf or table, also in a dry area. The length of time you should wait depends on how dried out the pods are when you picked them. Test them every week by trying to crush a pod in your hand. When the pod crumbles, you know they’re dry enough to shell.

Now for the shelling part. Lay the bean pods on a big cloth, on the grass, not a hard surface, and beat them with a stick until all the pods are broken apart, exposing the beans. Or you can get a small child to gently walk over the cloth and break the pods. They’ll have fun. Some gardeners put another cloth on top of the beans and hit the cloth. Either way is fine. Gently fan off the broken pods until only the beans are left on the cloth. You also could have a few fellow gardener friends over and sit around the table shelling the beans one pod at a time, sharing gardening stories.

Store the beans in a glass container in a cool, dry place. These jars will help keep out any critters that could ruin your beans by eating holes in them, such as bean beetles. You could also store them in plastic bags or containers in the freezer.


Geri H. of Santa Rosa asks: My peonies have grown quite a bit the past few years. This year they didn’t bloom as much, and the plants looks overgrown, so they need dividing. When and how should this be done?

September and October are the best months for dividing overgrown peonies. A favorite tool that gardeners like to use for dividing any perennial is the sharp, Japanese-style hori hori gardening knife. You can also use a shovel or spade. Depending on how big the peony clumps are, you may need a long handled shovel to help dig out the rhizome.

Prune back the existing stems and stalks on the plants before you divide it. Visualize dividing the peony into quarters. You’re only going to dig up half of the plant. When digging, cut into the rhizome with your tool to divide the clump. This will not harm the plant because new growth will form on each piece of the rhizome. Remove pieces that are at least 3 to 4 inches long. Once you have removed those pieces, cover the remaining clump back over with soil, press firmly.

Take the pieces you have divided and shake off the excess soil. Plant these pieces immediately so that they do not dry out. Choose a sunny location in the morning, that gets at least four to six hours of sun daily, shade in the late afternoon, and well-draining soil. Dig a hole that is large enough for the root system of the newly divided pieces. Cover each rhizome with at least 3 to 4 inches of soil and press firmly. Water in well. You won’t see any new growth until spring.

Dana Lozano and Gwen Kilchherr are garden consultants. Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors, at The Garden Doctors can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at

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