Shellin’ Beans and Reminiscin’

We don’t eat green beans very often. The first couple of years that we gardened we grew a few but were finding most went to waste. Then I discovered how easy  it is to grow beans to the fresh shelling and dried stages. Not only do we end up with seed we can grow again next year, but there are so many different dishes we like that can be made with them: soup, chili, casseroles, cassoulet, baked beans and any number of Mexican dishes.

Shelled Beans

One of my little rituals I enjoy is picking a bag of the dried pods and then sitting on the deck cracking them open and dropping the beans into a bowl on my lap. I like to call it “Shellin’ Beans and Reminiscin’” because of the old-fashioned, homey feel of it, even though I don’t do much actual reminiscing during the process. Still, it’s a pleasant, meditative activity that’s a nice end to a gardening day. Sometimes I’ll pick the pods off several kinds of beans and let them get all mixed up during the shelling. Then I have the task of sorting them into different containers for storage, another relaxing activity. Each kind of bean looks entirely different from all the others so mix-ups are unlikely.  Half the reason I choose the beans to grow that I do is their appearance. I appreciate a pretty bean.

Bean Bounty

This summer, when it felt like there were more things to do than time to do them I resorted to a more efficient way of shelling the beans. I stomped around on the pods in a tub and then only had to pick through the ones that were more reluctant to be retrieved and winnowed the contents of the tub in front of a fan in the back yard. It worked well and took less time.  But I haven’t given up my old habits entirely. The stragglers that dried after the main wave have all been hand-shelled. I think regardless of how big my bean crops ever get I’ll be doing at least some of them the slow way. It’s a great part of the pleasure of growing beans.

Reclaimed Wood Projects

Last year the co-conspirator and I did some major refurbishing of our deck to fix a design flaw that has bugged me for twenty years. In the process, we ended up replacing most of the decking boards. The old boards were still mostly in decent condition except for rotten ends. Except for that and the old screw holes, we had a good pile of acceptable wood that we had once paid a decent amount of money for. I decided to salvage what I could for a few little projects to enhance our outdoor living space on the deck.

Boards Ripped Boards

Since someone won’t let me have a table saw I used a guide on our circular saw to rip the deck boards into 1” and 2” strips. I used a CAD program to design the different pieces so I knew ahead of time that everything would line up and work the way I intended. The boards are an even inch thick so dimensioning the different components was simple. To make thicker boards for table legs I glued together two boards with waterproof carpenter’s glue.

Plant Bench

The first project was a pair of narrow tables to hold the different potted herbs and ornamental plants I like to grow each year. The taller one is shown here with a pot stand.  The other one is six inches shorter so the plants are displayed better. As you can see growing a banana tree has attracted apes but they’re not much of a problem…yet.

Pot Stand

I followed those up with a couple of low pot stands. The second one I did (not pictured) I just used a single 1”x2” for the legs instead of doubling them up and they seem sturdy enough.

Potting Table

After years of making do with a board over the wheelbarrow for potting things up I made a work table at a comfortable height to stand next to the compost bins. The large pots and tubs fit under it. I need to get something under the legs so they don’t start rotting away.

Plant Cage Plant Cage 2

The last project I’ve made so far was the most complicated. Every year I fight a battle with the squirrels and chipmunks to keep them from digging up the pots of tubers and seeds I’m starting and from ripping out my vegetable plants when I bring them out for hardening off. I constructed a cage of the salvaged cedar and chicken wire to protect up to four flats of pots. The whole thing is two feet high and the door is held shut with hook-and-eye closures. I’ve placed it up on cinder blocks in the garden work area. I think I’ll get a couple more blocks so it’s higher.

There is still a decent amount of wood left. The only other project I’d like to attempt is a planter box with a very tall trellis. There is a large space  on the back of the house right where we have our deck chairs. I dream of get morning glory and moonflower vines growing there next year.

Have you ever built something new from old materials? I’d like to hear about your projects if you have. They may give me some ideas of what to do with the wood I have left!

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

A few days ago I picked all of my Bush Delicata squash. They seemed ripe enough and the vine was starting to look a little ragged. It actually did vine more than I expected so I’m wondering if it was true to type. The two I grew last year stayed in compact mounds. Those two plants produced seven squash between them, this year’s single, viney plant made ten. I’m looking forward to having them in soups and curries, stuffing ravioli with them, making enchiladas (no kidding!) and mashing them up to go alongside roasted beasts and fowls. Delicata isn’t my favorite squash. Red Kuri probably holds that honor, or perhaps Buttercup. I grow the Bush Delicata because of my space limitations. Some day I’ll have plenty of room to try all sorts of squashes in my garden. For now I’ll just be picking up different varieties at the Farmers Market to sample.

2014 Squash

Something about harvesting the squash brought home the feeling that the garden season is really coming to an end. I know that I may have another good month of growing time, but my fall planting of peas, broccoli and a variety of lettuces have all failed already and I doubt there’s enough time to start over. Some spinach is coming up slowly. I may winter some of that  over as a spring crop. The arugula is the only thing I planted this fall that is actually doing well. It’ll be delicious tossed on pizza hot out of the oven.

Salsas and Chutney

What I think of as the “high summer crops” are as good as done. The paste and globe tomatoes were ushered out a little early by some wet weather that gave Septoria an edge. The two cherry varieties don’t seem to be as susceptible. I may throw some more of those in the dehydrator. More on that some other time.  The rest were all picked regardless of ripeness and I put up batches of green tomato chutney and salsa, one last red tomato salsa and a second batch of tomatillo salsa—this time without the cloying artificial lime juice. The peppers, which hadn’t produced much to speak of anyway, I gave up on long ago. I really knew things were coming to a close when the tomatillo finally stated to slow down. Man, those things are productive at their peak! All but a few straggling beans that are taking their dear sweet time drying have been picked and shelled—more on that will be coming, too.

So what’s left? There are a few roots in the ground—carrots, beets and turnips. Also, I hope, plugging along out of view are the peanuts, oca and sweet potatoes. It’s at that time of the growing season where the date of the first real frost will make or break their success. As we’re at the equinox, the oca will only just be beginning to form its tubers so I’m set to cover it at a moment’s notice if the forecast is cold. The Brussels sprouts are starting to fill out their mini-cabbagey heads and I’ve picked enough for a little side-dish for two. We’ve got more leeks than we know what to do with. The Malabar spinach is positively rampant, covering its rustic tee-pee. and displaying funky, pink-tipped flower buds. I’ve only eaten it a few time in summer rolls and in a rough approximation of Bachali Kura Pappu with black-eyed peas. I plan to make that again with the proper ingredients now that I’ve finally located an Indian grocery that has curry leaves and the right dal.

Malabar Spinach Buds

The list of tasks yet to complete this year is fairly short. Dead tomatoes, peppers and so on have to be hauled to the community compost heap and all the supports stacked. The above-mentioned underground crops will be pulled or dug . There are a couple buckets of good, composted horse manure I’ll bestow on a lucky bed or two. If my tricky arm feels up to it I’d like to dig some more leaf compost into the rest of the beds. At the very least everything but the garlic bed will be covered with a thick mulch of leaves. Around Halloween I’ll plant the garlic and mulch that with straw so the shoots can poke through easily next spring. Then all that’s left is the planning for next year. That and eating all the produce I’ve squirreled away for the winter.

Salsa!

Yesterday I decided to make a couple batches of salsa for canning. Never mind the fact that it was hot and humid and that I had just spent the last few hours at a baby shower. The red velvet cupcake was delicious, by the way. No, I had so many ripe tomatoes on the counter and one shelf of the refrigerator devoted to a huge bag of tomatillos so something had to be done.

The Co-Conspirator had put in a request for a tomato salsa after my last round of tomato canning. I guess it was feared I’d put up all the tomatoes plain and there wouldn’t be any left for salsa. It’s a legitimate concern since I tend to get going one direction and just keep going. Inertia works both ways with me, just as with the rest of the universe. But I digress.

I selected a recipe, Fresh Vegetable Salsa, from Ball’s “Complete Book of Home Preserving,” a more comprehensive canning bible than the classic “Blue Book Guide to Preserving.” After a couple big (for me) sessions of canning tomatoes I’ve gotten pretty good at peeling and cutting up tomatoes so the veg prep went quickly enough. I simmered the salsa per the instructions while I brought the water in the canner up to a boil. I decided while the simmering was happening that I might as well do a batch of tomatillo, too. Getting a canner full of water boiling is an undertaking it seemed sensible to take advantage of an already hot pot. Maybe some day with a little help I can do a real marathon session of different products.

For the tomatillo salsa I wanted to use the same recipe I used last year. It was good and we are just finishing up our last jar. Did I make a note of it? Of course not! My best guess is that it was the Tomatillo Green Salsa from the Wisconsin Safe Food Preservation Series, which I have the printed booklet versions of in its entirety, thankyouverymuch. I did make two changes to the recipe, something that should be done rarely and carefully with canning recipes. Since our jalapenos are so hot I I used green bell pepper instead of the additional long green chilies and I substituted lime juice for lemon juice. I looked around online and it looks like the bottled stuff is pH adjusted the same as lemon is. Unfortunately, the section of frozen lemon and lime juice that I like has gone entirely missing from our grocery store. I was in a hurry so I grabbed a bottle of ReaLime. That may have been a mistake. When I poured it in the salsa I took a whiff. It smelled more like lime candy than actual limes. I was suckered by the label. It says “100% Lime Juice.” What I missed was the “from concentrate with other added ingredients” under that. I think the lime peel oil they jack it up with may be a bit much. We’ll find out when it’s mellowed in the jar for a while and we taste it.

Anyway, the timing worked well enough. While the tomato salsa was processing in the canner I got the tomatillo version simmering. The tomato batch was out of the canner and on the counter with lids popping as I was loading the tomatillo version into the hot water. From beginning to end it took about three hours, including washing all the pots, pans and utensils while the last jars processed.

August Salsa

This has been a good summer for canning. So far I’ve got a batch of our favorite Bread-and-Butter pickles put up, about half the whole tomatoes I’d like to have before winter, and now a couple kinds of salsa. In addition to the additional tomatoes, I want to make the tomatillo salsa again, this time using either just lemon juice or a mix of the good lemon and lime juice if I can find it. We eat a lot of salsa so I may try a different recipe, perhaps one using some of the home-smoked chipotle peppers we’ve get lying around. Now if only the weather would moderate a little from less sauna-like conditions!

“Who taught you to garden?”

“Who taught you to garden?” That’s the question posed on the back cover of Augustus Jenkins Farmer’s “Deep-Rooted Wisdom: Skills and Stories from Generations of Gardeners.” I picked up a copy of this recent book from the library to read on our camping vacation and, thanks to some rainy weather, I’ve already finished it. I don’t buy gardening books anymore and few of the ones I’ve borrowed from the library have provided much of interest for experienced gardeners. I think what drew me to this particular book was a description I read somewhere that characterized this as other than a typical how-to gardening book. I wasn’t disappointed.

Deep Rooted WisdomThe book is comprised of eleven chapters all following the same format: First, the author describes an old skill or idea. Second he answers for himself the “who taught you to garden” question as he writes about two people–different in each chapter–who were among the teachers and mentors he learned the skill or idea from. Finally, he describes how the chapter’s topic can be adapted for gardening today. The first ten chapters are about relatively specific things like watering by hand, building soil or rooting cuttings.

The final chapter is a bit more conceptual dealing with “telling stories through your garden.” At first I was worried he was going to advocate for strictly recreating the historic gardens and landscapes of a place since he lives in the South, an area with a rich, long, land-linked history he references often. But that made no sense in the context of the previous chapter on pest philosophy. He ends that chapter with a significant treatment of the Buddhist perspective on interdependence and coexistence. Strict historicism wouldn’t be in keeping with the Buddhist concept of non-attachment and letting go of the past. And, indeed, he doesn’t go that route. Nor does he insist on only using native plants, though they play a large role in his gardens. Instead he encourages looking to a place’s history, people and biology to inform a garden’s design. That’s as much as I’ll dare to try to paraphrase Farmer’s idea.

I do highly recommend you read this book if you’re at all interested in designing and gardening from a simpler, more connected place rooted in the past but adaptable to the present. Personally it left me feeling inspired and confirmed my feeling that I’m on the right path in my own gardening efforts. It’s fortunate that I am nestled in at a campsite hundreds of miles from my gardens or I would have been running out after every paragraph to see how I could apply what I’d read. The book also reminded me how disappointing it was that in my fifteen years of designing gardens and landscapes professionally I was never once called upon to do a design that was either interesting or meaningful for a client or friend. Those days are behind me now and I couldn’t be happier about it. I am also happy to have found a gardening book that was both practically useful and philosophically engaging.

Have you come across a gardening book that hit the sweet spot between the common how-to and the purely philosophical? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

Late July to Early August in the Garden

Sunflower

What says summer more than a bee visiting the wide open spaces of a sunflower? I’ll tell you what—heat, mosquitoes and thunderstorms. At this point in the year we’re low the first two of those but it is finally raining nicely even as I write this.

The garden has hit that point in the year where I get to carry the occasional weighty load back to the car. Some croppage more serious than handfuls of salad fixins has been coming in. Warning: Lots to share so lots of pictures below! But don’t worry, we’ll pause for tea after a bit.

Tater Damage

Starting in the potato corner, here is one of the chewed up plants. I haven’t found any Colorado potato beetles but there were some slugs seen, probably the result of burying the plants in leaf mulch and straw to get tubers along the stems. Since the plants were looking on their last legs, er, roots I dug around with my hand in the box and discovered once again the box method didn’t work. Red Norlands, the type shown here,  aren’t an indeterminate variety. One more try next year with the right variety and then I go to a more traditional technique if that doesn’t work.

Taters

In my digging, I did find a nice handful on top of the soil below all the mulch. They made a delicious grilled accompaniment to some salmon.

Tomatillo1

Next to the tomato box and overshadowing it is my towering tomatillo. I grew it upward with the help of a cage, some bamboo poles and twine. It’s almost as tall as me and threatening to tip over.

Tomatillo2

Look at that beautiful, fat fruit! I’m going to have plenty for all the salsa, enchilada sauce, chili and curries I want to make. I wonder how many beginning gardeners have ever wondered if one tomatillo plant would be enough.

Manduka

What was not entirely beautiful was the hornworm caterpillar I found creeping about the tomatillo. Yes, they’re amazing and turn into big, beautiful moths, but I tossed it on the path. They’re so big I can’t bring myself to squish them.

Mint Pot

The last couple of times I harvested mint I was noticing there were two kinds growing in the sunken, bottomless pot. One had thick, rough leaves and the other had thinner, narrower leaves. Unfortunately the second kind was growing more vigorously than the first which I prefer for food and beverage applications. I dug the whole thing up and selected out the preferred variety and replanted it with some delicious (to a mint plant) compost.

Wis Lakes

The peppers are really suffering from the lack of heat I mentioned above. Plants are about half the size I would expect at this time. I even fertilized carefully before I planted them. They’re just very slow. A shot of epsom salts greened them up a bit but that’s all. This Wisconsin Lakes plant did put up one big fruit but with inadequate foliage it got sunburned. That’s something you need to watch out for with peppers but not everyone thinks about this with a heat-loving crop. I’ve harvested a couple of bright red jalapenos but they have absolutely no heat to them.

Hot Hulia

This pepper, on the other hand, seems to be doing fine. This whole plant, including the pointy fruit is only four inches tall! I call it “Hot Hulia” because my friend Julia gave it to me for my birthday nearly a year ago. It was taller then, but I brought it through winter indoors and it died back a bit on the top. Doubtless it was sold as an ornamental plant, but I harvested and dried the peppers and they are HOT! I’m going to make a chili powder with them when I get around to it.

Amish Paste

The tomatoes are right on the brink of producing enough fruit to start canning. I did peel, core and freeze a small container the other day to save for a big canning session and soon there will be more to join them. The Honey Bunch cherry tomatoes are producing enough for a salad every couple of days and the Chocolate Cherry is about to take off, as well.

Black Trifele

These are the tomatoes that have me most excited, though. They’re my first Japanese Black Trifele, a Russian variety despite the name. I’m letting them get perfectly ripe on the counter before tasting them. They’re reputed to have outstanding flavor. In just the few days since I picked these they’ve gotten beautifully dark. I think tonight’s the night.

Basil

The basil is doing OK. The Thai and lemon varieties, which we don’t eat much, are doing much better than the Genovese, which we do. Still, haven’t made any pesto yet. The odd leaf or two has made it into a salad or other dish now and then.

Beans3

Here come the beans! Despite scattered reports of Mexican Bean Beetles throughout the gardens they apparently didn’t get a foothold like a couple years ago. Yay! And now the pods are ripening and drying and the plants are dying back. At least the bush beans are, the pole beans are still going strong. I’ve harvested almost all the Pinto beans and a few Great Northerns so far.

Peanuts

In other leguminous news, the peanuts seem to be doing better than the last update but not great. I’m blaming the cool weather on this, too. There have been a few more flowers but I doubt I’ll try growing these again, at least not without better soil and maybe some early warming technique like black plastic.

Compost Tea

Halfway through the beds it’s time to stop for tea. Manure tea, that is. I’m steeping some composted manure in water which will be diluted and fed to select plants like the peppers and tomatoes, probably starting this week. I’ve heard it works wonders.

Beets

Adjacent to the compost buckets the latest planting of beets is struggling along. They’re competing with their Cousin Chard for light and I think I planted them just when it stopped raining regularly. Frankly I’m surprised they’re still alive.

Sweet Tater

Another crop suffering from the weather is the beloved sweet potato. When I planted them it was nice and hot and then the temps dropped the next week and stayed comfortably low. Another crop I’ll consider carefully in the future whether I want to chance it. Although, I guess anything I grow has a chance of receiving less than ideal weather. Note to self: Plant a selection of crops that take a variety of weather scenarios so something will do well.

Oca Cilantro

I’ve been transplanting cilantro seedlings into random open spots like here among the struggling oca. Cilantro’s a cool weather plant so I’ve been able to grow it later than usual this year, but it still seems to go from seeding to flowering plant over night. Another plant I’ve been surprised by is my broccoli. It’s still putting out little, harvestable florets. In August!

Squash

The Bush Delicata squash is doing great, better than its cucumber cousins who are succumbing to something after getting off to such a great start. The label you can see here is made from a piece of aluminum window blind. I write on them with those little paint pens and though the colors fade some, they can last right through winter. There’s your tip for the day. I use paint pens for anything that goes outside now instead of Sharpies and they last way better.

Malabar Spinach

The Malabar spinach has finally decided to climb and is now above the leaves of the squash. I’ve munched on a couple of leaves and they’re OK. They do taste like spinach but the texture is a little different. Soon I’ll find an appropriate recipe and make something with it and report back. I’m open to suggestions!

Sprouts

Look! The Brussels sprouts are sprouting sprouts! I have two plants, planted too close together, of course. We’re going to have lots of them this year. Thank goodness they freeze well. My family and co-workers may get these instead of honey for Xmas this year. Similar enough, right?

Red Zepellin

All the Sweet Spanish Yellow onions have been pulled and are curing and now most of the Red Zeppelin have come in. A few are still standing strong, but…

Open Ground

…that left some open ground. Notice two things. First, it’s unplanted but not bare. I keep mulch everywhere to prevent weeds from getting started. Second, it doesn’t look like this anymore because I planted something else right away. Keep that soil working! Romaine lettuce, broccoli, and two kinds of bok choy have gone in as wee seedlings I started in the basement.

OK, we’ve completed the tour of what’s interesting in the garden. Would you like another cup of the tea? No? Oh, I see you haven’t touched the first one. No worries.

Unknown Flower

Before you go take a look at this pretty flower growing by the community compost area. I have no idea what it is. There are several colors of it and it looks great, in my opinion. If you know it’s identity, share in the comments before you go. Please leave your mug by the bucket and have a pleasant rest of the day!

“If the bee disappeared…man would have only four years left…”

Grower:

Artist Douglas Moore has created a stunning image of a bee on a thistle that he shares along with some information about the decline of bees. Check it out!

Originally posted on Moorezart:

“If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.”
― Maurice Maeterlinck, The Life of the Bee

.
Its summer time and I thought I would post this image of “Thistle and Bee”.  When I created this artwork of a thistle with its prickly points and a bumble bee with its furry suit I was unaware of the crisis the world’s  bee population faces.

And so I’m sharing this image first, because I find  thistles and company beautiful, and second so that you might take a moment to see the links below – describing what’s happening to the bee populations as well as its consequences upon us all.

thistle and bee for saleYou’ve probably heard about the problems facing honey bees across North America. If not, this Time Magazine article will introduce you to the topic:  http://time.com/559/the-plight-of-the-honeybee

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