Pinto beans, whose history of use stretches 7,000 years, are one of the largest bean crops grown in the U.S. today. Pinto beans are members of the Phaseolus vulgaris family, which includes all beans. Beans are divided into two classifications: dry and green. Pinto beans are considered a dry bean. Growing pinto beans is not difficult, but choosing when to harvest them can be trickier. You will need to decide if you want to pick fresh, tender beans or dried. The only difference will be how long you leave the pods on the plant before picking. Depending on the variety, pinto beans can take 70 to 100 days to mature.
Harvesting Fresh Pinto Beans
Check the bean pods every few days for ripeness, as the particular species planted reaches its stated time of maturity. When mature, the pods will be green, plump looking and approximately 4 to 6 inches long. Squeeze the pod and if it yields to pressure it is not mature.
Open one pod to make sure the pinto beans are fully developed and fill the pod, before picking more. Once the pods begin forming on the plant, it will take approximately four to six weeks for them to fully mature, depending on the variety.
Pick the pods off the plant once the beans have matured. Use pruning shears and snip each pod from the plant. It does not matter where you make the cut. Check for pods growing close to the ground; beans such as pintos have a tendency to produce low growing pods.
Shell the fresh pinto beans soon after they are harvested. Open the bean pod by pulling the string located on the top of the pod. The pod should open, revealing two to five beans. Once the pods are picked, the plant will produce no more. Cook the beans fresh or place them into a plastic bag and store in the freezer.
Harvesting Dried Pinto Beans
Withhold water from the pinto bean plants for two weeks before the time you plan to harvest. The pods should start to turn yellow. Withholding water will quicken the drying process.
Wait until the pods turn completely yellow or begin to turn brown before harvesting. Bite into a bean and see if you can barely put a dent in it. If the bean is hard, it is ready to pick.
Pick the beans from the plant either bean by bean or by uprooting the entire plant. Dry beans, such as pintos, tend to produce bean pods close to the ground in addition to taller areas of the plant. The dried pods will have a tendency to split open on touch, so use care not to lose beans as you harvest them.
Remove the beans from the shell by hand shelling or by placing the pods in a pillowcase and shaking them. Dried pods will be easy to open; their dry outer skin should basically split open by themselves. Store the beans in an airtight plastic container, jar or plastic bag. Place the beans in a cool, dry area until they are ready for use.