Black turtle? But I thought we were talking beans!

We are!  Black beans!  And lots of them!

What a great day it is when you stroll out to your garden and discover your black beans are producing at the rate of rabbits!  Forget your first batch acted like turtles and moped around at a snail’s pace.  Forget your disappointment when you learned the hard way to thoroughly dry a bean before you go tossing it into the pot (hint: don’t shell them, immediately seal them in an airtight plastic container, shelve them in a dark spot in your pantry and expect to eat them – trust me, it only leads to heartache). 

Why, forget the past.  It’s a new day and a new harvest!  So get your fingers peeling and your salsa shaking ’cause it’s time to dance!  Really, black beans are an awesome bean to grow.  Granted, they’re not the first that comes to mind when planting a garden in Central Florida, but I ask, why not?  We have the perfect climate.  I mean, when you think of black beans, you think of Cuba, right?  Puerto Rico, Miami, South America…all warm and sunny exotic locales, just like my home here in rural Central Florida.  As a big fan of latin cuisine myself, I thought back to my first rule of gardening:  what do I want to grow?  What do I want to eat, is the real question!  And me, I love black beans!black bean and blossom

In learning to grow these beauties, I learned a few interesting things.  First and foremost, when you endure the labor to deliver these babes, make sure you know what to do – and what not to do – once you get them home.  Peel them, admire them, place them in a comfortable container, but don’t go and seal it all safe and secure.  Not unless you want to come home one day, carried away with dreams of how you’ll prepare your first batch of homegrown black beans, only to discover they’re covered in mold!  Or fungus.  Not properly schooled in the differences between these two horrific intruders, I couldn’t tell you which smothered the life out of my beans, but one of them did.  And it was devastating.  Explain that to your six-year-old when he learns of your debacle.  And it’s the only bean he’ll eat.  Yep.  Pulled my hair out on that one.

So take it from me – let them air out a while.  Like a fine bottle of red wine, let them breathe.  Place them on a plate, an open bowl, maybe in a paper bag, but whatever you do, don’t seal off their air supply because when first peeled, these beans are moist and apparently stay moist for quite some time.  How long, I couldn’t tell you.  Not yet, anyway.  This new batch is only my second, so I’m guarding them with my life.  Though…the fact they are my second batch is good news, indeed.  Better, when you learn the plants which produced these gems, grew from beans I was able to salvage from my initial harvest.  A step toward sustainability – achieved!

And it’s not a difficult process, at all.  If you can grow a pole bean, you can grow black beans.  (Sorry Arctic Amigos, but you’ll have to barter with your friends south of the border – these pups are sensitive to frost)  You’ll note the pods look fairly similar, with long slender bodies, rounded in all the right places, but unlike pole beans, it’s easy to know when to pick them.  They change color.   Handy, isn’t it?  First, they take on a nice lavender shade, an early sign you can pluck away, but if you miss this stage, don’t fret, you can still harvest them, only they’ll be a bit on the dry side when you open them.  And who cares?  These beans are meant to be dried.  So what if they take the initiative and begin the process on the vine?

blk beans ready

Word to the wise:  don’t eat them as you pick them.  I know you’re excited about your first harvest – they’re black beans, for goodness sake!  But another fascinating fact I learned along the way was that these beans contain – get ready – contain lectin phytohaemagglutinin.   It’s a toxic compound found in beans, most concentrated in the kidney bean.  When eaten raw, soaked for an insufficient amount of time, or even cooked for long hours on too low a heat setting, it can cause some bad things to happen to your body.   When I researched black beans, the same warning popped up for them, which alarmed me, because I’m that gal in the garden, poppin the produce in my mouth BEFORE it makes it to the kitchen sink.  Remember – my veggies are grown without the assistance of dangerous pesticides so I’m not real worried about ingesting nasty chemicals and the like (who knew the bean itself could be the problem?!).  So take heed, stay on the safe side while crouched in your bean rows — make sure you soak, soak, boil, boil and then eat.   And enjoy! 

Check out my recipe pages for serving suggestions.

How sweet it is!

green pepper harvest

Sweet bell peppers, to be exact.  After a few days of rain my green peppers have burgeoned!  They’re so big, they actually look like I purchased them from the supermarket.  Well, the organic section, anyway.  Nice, firm, medium sized.  They definitely haven’t been pumped with any growth boosters, or super duper color enhancers (if such a thing exists) which makes this bounty all the more exciting.  Because they are huge, relatively speaking.

Huge and homegrown!  Now, the question, what do I do with them?  I’ve already given a couple away to family, but I still have a bowl full.  And while I love a good salad, green peppers are not one of my favorite ingredients.  I prefer them cooked, in black bean soup, maybe a little paella…even meatloaf!  But once I get through these dishes – three nights, four bell peppers, five more back in the garden about to pop – seems to me I better get cooking, as in, trying to figure out some new and exciting ways to serve these babies up!

It’s a good thing I staggered my garden, otherwise I’d be talking fourteen instead four.  Green peppers will keep in the fridge for up to a week, but after that, they make better compost.  Any suggestions?  I’m all ears.

An embarrassing discovery

lima-pole beanActually, I prefer the word to call it startling, or surprising.  I mean, I am a novice gardener, not some master expert.  I do have other obligations on my daily plate of duties.  It was easy to miss.

Miss what, you wonder?  Give me a minute.  That actually is a knot of embarrassment lodged firmly in my throat.  Okay.  I’m good.  My pole beans.  My beautiful, wonderfully healthy pole beans…  Well, turns out they’re not pole beans after all.  They’re limas.  Yep.   There I was, admiring my beautifully plump bean plants, nestled snugly together beneath the precisely strung twine, when I noticed the pretty white blossom.  My curiosity perked.  Pretty white blossom, which looked oh-so-familiar, white blossom?

Upon closer inspection, I spotted the imposters.  No wonder there hadn’t been the usual “lace and race” upward…the one I had been waiting for.  How did I know I was dealing with an imposter?  Warmed at the thought, my heart swells with pride.  Because I’m an avid gardener.  I know what pole beans look like and they’re not flat, wide pods.  No, ma’am.  Those are limas.  So what are they doing beneath my pole strings?

Good question.  I could claim distraction.  Anyone who knows me would buy it in a second.  A die hard multi-tasker mother of two, master of none — I’m a shoo in for the distraction defense.  But that would be too easy.  Third party interference?  Not likely.  The kids enjoy planting, but they do so only under the strictest of supervision.  Okay, that’s not exactly true, either, but in my defense, the two beans in question do look a lot alike.  They’re both white, roughly oval shaped.  The non-descript packages doled out by my local seed store are near identical.  It is unseasonably warm right now, which tends to encourage swift and efficient action in the garden.  It could happen to anyone.

Fine.  Maybe not anyone, but it could happen.  Eh-hem.  Did happen.  But stranger things have happened!

“Confused?” she asks, savoring a private smile. 

Told you I was good at distraction.  I’m also good at looking on the bright side.  So I have more lima beans.  Wonderful.  I love lima beans! And do you know how many plants it takes to produce enough servings for a family of four for one dinner?  A lot more than I imagined.  So the truth is, this mistake – I mean, misplacement – is a blessing in disguise.  Really.  And anyway, those old vines withering on the string from my spring crop…they still have a bit of “bio-degrading” left to go, before fresh new vines can shoot up with the unencumbered freedom they deserve.  Besides, I’ve staggered my plantings so the sprouts behind them, well, I’m sure those are pole beans, though it’s kinda hard to tell at this stage.  And if not, I have stakes — and lots of them.  I’ll simply take my pole beans elsewhere.  Where they’re welcome. 

And where I can remember where the heck I planted them!

The ugly side of going green

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I live in a semi-rural neighborhood.  I have lovely neighbors with lovely lawns.  So lovely in fact, with their lush green lawn, perfectly trimmed hedges, and aromatic roses, it can be a pinch of harsh reality when I turn toward my yard, a veritable field of sand and weeds.  My spirits dip.  A field full.  I remind myself it takes time and effort to have a lawn so lovely.  Effort, which flows through my every pore, yet is rendered meaningless without the ever evasive “time.”  Evasive, when you consider my schedule.   What the kids haven’t devoured, and chores haven’t swamped, the garden swallows up anything left!  If only I could transfer some of the energy wasted on the “busy thought” usurping my sleeping hours…

You may think it’s best I avoid looking over the fence, but with chain link, you can see right through.  It’s still over there, beckoning my envy with its pristine perfection.  Taunting, really, if I allow myself to succumb to my more base instincts.  After all, walking from the house to the garden through a sticker-filled mess of weeds is no picnic.  And the ants.  Down right vicious little beasts.  But the vegetables won’t wait, and ants and weeds aside, I must get to it. 

One pleasant afternoon, my next door neighbor strolled over.  Taking a break from my weeding, I rose to meet her at the fence for an impromtu visit.  She asked about the family and how the kids were faring.   She glanced over my rows of dirt, politely overlooking the fact that some weren’t perfectly straight.  We discussed the veggies I’ve planted, which ones are blooming and which ones have not.  And as we talk over the fence, my knees covered in dirt, she fresh and lovely, I’m reminded of why we originally chose my side of the fence to place our garden; the one we had intended to share, until life stepped in the way.  

Truth of the matter, she had once tried a garden on her side of the fence.  My gaze wandered to the spot, not twenty feet from where we stood.  Like my yard, there was plenty of room, her side well-irrigated.  Lingering in thought, I imagined it there, meticulous rows of healthy green plants, boasting plump red tomatoes and full husks of corn, their silks glistening beneath the soft dusk of light.  So ample and abundant, it would have made for a quite the feast.  But then it hit me —

— tried and failed.  Well, not failed, exactly, as in no blossoms and no produce.  But she had no sure fire success, either.  Despite she and her husband’s extensive knowledge on the subject of gardening, they gave up on the idea of homegrown vegetables.  Nematodes underground, bugs above it.  Bad soil, whatever.  The details mattered not.  It simply didn’t work out as they had hoped. 

So we tried it on my side.  And so far so good.  My outlook suddenly brightened.  Sure, my veggies aren’t quite as vibrant and robust as they had been during the spring, when my neighbors and I worked side by side, but they were still here. 

I breathed in the significance.  They were still here…  I glanced at my garden once more, but this time, my off-colored greens and spotted bean leaves took on a whole new light.  While they weren’t picture perfect, they were producing.  While the grass wasn’t grass, more weeds, sand and insects – it was workable.  It was more than workable.  It was working.  And yes, it took a lot of work to get here, but it was a labor of love. 

Mine. 

As my neighbor turned to go, she said quietly, “You know, your garden really is beautiful.” 

My focus stumbled.  Was that a wistful note of envy I detected in her voice?  Was it possible?  I ventured a peek toward my mix of sand, compost, rows of hay in varying stages of decay and thought, really?  She thought it beautiful?  

Tripping over my thank you, I watched her walk back to her house and thought, nah.  I was imagining things.  There was no envy there.  Why would there be?

But taking a survey of her surroundings as she strolled up the hill, listening to the screen door as it slapped closed behind her, it dawned on me…  Maybe there was.  Don’t we all, from time to time, succumb to the beast called envy?  A bit?  Albeit a tiny bit, but a bit? 

Her yard was beautiful, yes, but there was more to it than the eye could see, just as there is to everything in life.  More than the rebel weed chancing a rear of its head between thick blades of St. Augustine, more than the brave grub daring to brown her lawn…   Her lawn was lovely on the outside, but it has it’s hidden flaws.  Flaws I wouldn’t have known, had she not shared.  But this change in my perception didn’t make her yard any less beautiful.  On the contrary.  It made it more real.  As it did mine.  Granted, mine won’t make the cover of any home and garden issue, but that’s okay.  It’s beautiful, in my eyes.  Moreso, now that I’m not comparing it to hers. 

By my hand it grows, by my care it blooms.  As does my life.  I can choose to stop at the surface, or I can choose to dig deeper.  With lawns, gardens, or people.  The effort is mine to make, the time mine to create, limited only by choice; mine.  With a renewed sense of purpose, I returned to my weeding, glad for the neighbor I hold dear, glad for the opportunity to grow.

Footprints in the garden

ft prints in garden

I have a visitor.  I’m not sure exactly what KIND of visitor, but whatever it is has very large paws and no respect for my tidy rows whatsoever.  It literally trampled across my vegetables!  I discovered the prints this morning as I made my usual jaunt to check on the garden.  Now I’ve had the inevitable creature visitation to my compost pile, but I didn’t know large animals with paws were interested in fresh vegetables, as say, Mr. Rabbit might prefer.   On second thought, maybe he was after Mr. Rabbit.  Does this mean I may have more than one nightly visitor?  

Either way, NONE of them are welcome.   Now comes the question:  How do I get rid of them?   Okay, perhaps “get rid” of them is the wrong terminology.   What I really want to do is dissuade them from visiting this particular section of the landscape.  I don’t think any of my sprays will work.  The label on my garlic spray bottle clearly states the odor will evaporate relatively quickly.   I’m no trapper, so rigging a nifty “gotcha!” contraption won’t work.   A full fledged fence is too costly.  

Hmmm…  This is a problem.  Maybe a chicken wire type fence can be propped up around the perimeter of my garden.  Sort of a “nothing to see over here” kind of warning.  It wouldn’t have to be sturdy, since I don’t think whoever it is wants my vegetables that bad.  I think my garden is more a nuisance to them, actually.  As they’re running through the night, it’s a “hey, what the heck is all this?” type of cry as they return to their den after an evening of hunting.  “So, sorry.  Let me apologize for planting my goodies smack square in the middle of your flight path!” 

Anyhow, it’s a challenge for the field gardener, such as I am.  A few acres is a beautiful thing until you incorporate that wonderful selling feature called “green space” into the equation.  It looks nice and adds a rural feel to the place, but it also attracts wildlife.  Mine tends to be more swamp than forest, so I can count on alligators and snakes to be in the near vicinity at all times, but coyotes and foxes?   Bears are doubtful, though anything’s possible, I guess.   But “what” it is really doesn’t matter.   It’s interfering with my gardening and must be stopped!

All about us

My girlfriend asked me how I was going to draw similarities between women and gardens and I laughed.  That’s the easy part!  Much like the garden, with proper care and feeding a woman will produce year after year — and I’m not talking children — but results, in more ways than one.  Remember:  “When momma ain’t happy, nobody’s happy,” and that’s the truth.  At least in my house.  But when she is, the family walks around with a smile on their face, a meal in their belly and a song on their lips.  Except Daddy better have more than a song on his lips.  Momma needs smoochin!