Mesquite Bean Harvesting
It’s (almost) time to pick mesquite
by Farmer Greg
In Arizona and the desert southwest we have some incredible things to eat in the desert like prickly pears, nopalitos, saguaro cactus fruit, ironwood, palo verde beans, and ‘the growing more popular every day’ mesquite bean. In a nutshell the mesquite bean is high in protein and fiber, harvest ready in the summer, and easy to pick and preserve for the highly anticipated mesquite bean millings.
For those of you that are interested in the entire process, keep reading as I outline how to pick, process, preserve and mill your harvest of mesquite beans. In June we will have online webinars with guest speakers providing mesquite education and harvesting information, and both Walkabouts (in-person classes discussing mesquite trees and beans) and Harvesting Events (in-person education and collection experiences).
When to Harvest
The best time to harvest mesquite (and carob for those that are adventurous) beans is usually late May and into June (with the weather of 2019 it is not starting until June). Mesquite is native to the desert southwest and beans are thick in the trees during that time. There are beans that ripen after June but for a variety of reasons it is best to get your beans harvested before the monsoons hit in early July.
Given the beans need to be picked from the trees when the beans are dry there is a tight window to get them picked before they hit the ground. NEVER harvest beans from the ground as they can pick up aflatoxins and mold. As a caveat any beans determined to be picked up off the ground will NOT be milled.
Education & Public Millings
GrowPHX regularly holds classes, picking & milling events in May and June of each year, so get your beans picked now to have time to get them dried and ready for milling.
- June 22 at Dale Creek Equestrian Center – Register HERE
How and why to mill mesquite
Milling is a process by which the mesquite beans are pulverized into a protein-rich powder very similar to flour. The entire bean is milled – the brown husk is where the flavor is and the hard seeds inside are protein rich. Mesquite is very tasty and can be used for cookies, breads, breading for meats, crackers (gluten free), as a seasoning, and in drinks like protein powder. It is really good and once you are hooked you won’t want to miss a year.
Your first step to success with mesquite beans is to taste them. Grab one of the beans from the tree, snap it in half and nibble on the end. It should taste sweet and be very palatable. If it doesn’t sing in your mouth, move on to the next tree. Step two is to harvest handfuls off of the tree into a bucket (remember NO beans should come from the ground). Step three will assure your milling success…stick them in your dehydrator, solar, or regular oven at 180 degrees to finish the drying process. The dried beans should snap when you break them in half. This helps significantly in the milling process as too much humidity = a gummed up hammermill. Beans that are too wet cannot be milled.
If you want to begin collecting the mesquite beans here are the specifics:
Collecting the beans
- Collect only dry beans.
- Collect only beans that are on the trees (spread a sheet on the ground and shake the branches.) DO NOT collect beans from the bare ground as you don’t know what kind of pollutants or other contaminants have gotten on them.
- Some crucial caveats:
*Containers of beans presented for milling MUST contain only beans. Any beans presented that have stones, sticks, branches, or other debris CANNOT be milled. These other items damage the mill.
*Beans soaked, damp or damaged by water cannot be milled. We will do a snap test to determine that they are dry enough.
*Make sure that no pesticides are sprayed in the area where the beans are collected.
- Once you collect the beans they need to be dried. We suggest using your solar oven, regular oven or dehydrator to lightly toast the them. This dries them out and kills any of the bugs that like to inhabit the beans.
- To dry and to rid beans of bugs it is suggested that you heat the beans for a minimum of 2 hours at 160F to 180F. This dries the beans and kills any pests that might be inhabiting them.
- Other baking options:
- use a regular oven and add batches of beans when you cook other things
- leave in car in sun for several day
Storing until milling
- Store the beans in airtight containers. Once you have dried the beans get airtight bags or we suggest 5 gallon buckets with airtight lids and store them.
When you bring the beans for milling:
- All beans milled are for home use. If you want to collect for public distribution the mill may be for rent.
- We will do a snap test. The bean needs to snap in half with a crack rather than bend. Any beans that bend cannot be milled as they can jam the mill and that slows everything down.
- We may limit people to three five-gallon pails of beans, mainly if the turnout for the milling is so great we may have a hard time getting everyone through. We will do this as a starting point to make sure that everyone gets a chance to mill. Then toward the end of the day or in the case of gaps in the line we will allow others to mill their extra beans. Typically carob beans are milled at the end of the day.
- You are encouraged to bring at least one 5-gallon pail to meet the milling minimum.
- To support this process there will be a minimum $10 charge (donate more if you like) for milling.
Milling Yield and other specifics
- Generally speaking for each pound of beans you will get about 3/4 lbs of milled flour.
- In the store one pound of mesquite flour sells for $15+.
- There will be a charge of $5.00 per pound of finished, milled beans with a minimum of $10 per order. This goes to pay for the mill and mill operations.
- Flour should be frozen to preserve until use.
- Carob milling also will be possible at end of day.
Here are interesting websites about the history and health benefits of mesquite that I recommend, and more about the mesquite mill that we brought to the valley: