How to Harvest Black Beans

Black Turtle beans are some of my favorite beans to grow. Not only are they easy, but oh-so-delicious when combined with onions, oregano, garlic and olive oil. Very similar to black bean soup, I love this mix of cooked beans and rice–a definite “must eat” in our household.

black beans for dinner

Growing black beans requires warm weather and a mild fertilizer and that’s about it. For your first batch, you can order an organic black turtle bean online (or other variety). Plant bean seeds (bean and seed are the same thing) about an inch deep and water well.  In a month your bean pods will form and in two months, you’ll be looking to harvest!

But how do you know when your black beans are ready? I mean, these are what we call “shelling” beans, which means we don’t eat the pod as a whole–like we do with pole beans or garden peas. We have to open the pods, remove the beans and dry them.

black beans at maturity

With this variety of black bean it’s a no-brainer. When your pod turns a beautiful deep eggplant color, your beans are ready to harvest.

“What happens if I’m on vacation and I miss the peak harvest?” More

Kids and Seeds

As our school year winds to a close, the kids are dutifully preparing for next year, eager for another season in the garden. We’ve planted our seeds, watched them grow and have reaped our bounty. Now comes the question: What to do with the seeds?

Why sell them, of course! We’re forward-thinking self-sustaining gardeners with a mind for planning, and we know that if we sell some of our seeds, we’ll have enough money to purchase more nifty magnifying glasses, spray bottles, worm poop and the like!  (We can grow and harvest seeds, but we’re NOT harvesting worm poop.)

And where are we going to store our seeds?  How about these fabulous seed packets?

seed packet variety

Aren’t they divine?  The kids made them and it was so easy. First, we sat in our circle of creativity. More

Planting Sweet Potato Slips

Wow. It’s finally happened. My sweet potato slips have sprouted!

sweet potato slips have sprouted

Aren’t they wonderful? Now mind you, not all of them have sprouted. As with humans, you have your early bloomers and your late bloomers and so it goes with these little beauties. But don’t dismay–Mother Nature has a plan! By allowing only a few to sprout, she’s encouraging you to “stagger” your planting.

“Stagger my planting? What the heck does that mean?” More

If You See Poop…

It’s a telltale sign. The poop looks like this…

hornworm poop

The beast looks like this…

meet the tomato hornworm

It’s the tomato hornworm and not a good thing for your tomato plants. Look for him. He’s there, somewhere, albeit hard to find. This is a closeup shot taken so you’ll know what you’re looking for, but this fat fella blends in well–and I mean REALLY well, so be vigilant and don’t give up. If you see poop, he’s there.

An easier sign to detect the presence of tomato hornworms is the abundance of bald stems.

tomato devoured by hornworm

No leaves, just stems. (He needs something to climb on, doesn’t he?) He’s there, in the middle of the plant. Can you see how he’s the same color as the leaves? 

Yep. Trust me. This one camouflages well, so look watch for poop or stems. If you see either one, slip on your gloves and get to plucking.  Definitely dispatch this guy from your garden or say goodbye to your tomato plants.

April Showers, May Flowers

While many of you are currently welcoming your favorite blooms, a few are stuck in cold and snow. And I should know–just returned from a conference in Kansas City MO where it snowed. In May!

Crazy. Back in Florida, my flowers are in full bloom. From the gardenias—one of my vivid connection to my childhood…

 gardenia morning glory

 …to the jasmine, I’m treated to the decadent scents of spring.

jasmine in bloom

My Gerber daisies are blooming, but while pretty, they have no fragrance. None that I can detect merely passing them.

Clipping a gardenia, I place it by my kitchen sink (because I spend a lot of time there). Not only can I behold it with my eyes, but breathe in its sweet perfume.

Life is busy. I’m busy. Growing flowers gives me pause. Unlike my vegetables where I reap the reward of food, flowers are simply aesthetic, grown for their beauty alone. But indulging in their glory is a reward in and of itself. It reminds me of the little things in life, the sweet moments, the calm between storms.

Flowers remind me to breathe. Slow down, and just breathe.

No mad dash to pull weeds, no heated job of harvest, just be. I don’t know about you, but it’s a concept I need reminding now and again.

 

Don’t Forget to Pinch!

No, I’m not talking fannies. St. Patrick’s Day has come and gone so you’ve missed your opportunity there, but you still have your tomatoes to look forward to pinching. As the weather warms up and the rains fall (the sprinklers shower), they’ll need it. And it’s simple. While you’re strolling through your garden admiring your handiwork (give Mother Nature a little credit, else she dish out a storm of trouble), check your tomatoes for these little suckers. I’m talking about that sprout of a growth emerging between in the “Y” of the branches.

 pinch it

Once you start looking, you’ll notice them everywhere. When you see them, pinch them off. Yep, remove those suckers so that your tomato plant will funnel its growing energy into the main stalks of the plant. No sense wasting time growing a bunch of scraggly branches when you want nice full tomatoes that come from a strong plant. A heavy limbed plant that doesn’t need any more weight than the weight of those ruby-red gems you plan for your next salad–or sauce.

You’ll also want to think about pruning. When your plant reaches a height of say 3 feet, consider pruning further growth by clipping it back. Again, the goal here is to keep it strong and robust for healthy tomato production.

meet the tomato hornworm

While you’re out there, check for signs of this beast. The last thing you want is to invest your time and energy into growing beautiful tomatoes only to have this guy devour your plant in the space of an afternoon. It’s the tomato hornworm and trust me, he will, given the chance. But he camouflages well, so be diligent and check under your leaves, around your stalk. And if you see large droppings of poop on your leaves, don’t give up. It means Mr. Hornworm has paid you a visit and is likely still munching and crunching.

Then sit back, fix that glass of Rosemary Lemonade and enjoy your garden. Because really, other than eating, this is the joy of life. :)

Planting Peanuts

These delightful little nuts are a joy to grow.  Not only do they mature through the summer season, they take their time doing so–while YOU go on vacation!  Yep, plant these puppies in April/May and check back in July/August to reap your bounty!

peanut roots

Okay, just kidding.  You don’t want to leave anything alone that long–except maybe your bathroom scale–because who knows what could pay your garden a visit in the meantime?  Not that peanuts are prone to insects or disease, they aren’t really.  Pretty tolerant from what I can see and living with me–plants need to be tough.  I vacation!  I write!  I have other things to do!  (Don’t we all?)

That said, optimum practice is to “visit” your garden on a daily basis.  Not “work” or “weed” or “water” but simply visit.  Say it with me:  “Ah…it’s so lovely out here among the beds of lush green fruits and veggies.”  More

Stake and Tomatoes

Take it from me—trial and error gal—don’t learn this the hard way.  Your tomatoes want big stakes, firm stakes.  Sturdy, semi-permanent. They want to know there’s support for them when the wind blows, that they won’t lose their ruby-red jewels dripping from their vines.

triangle cage

Trust me when I say, “think strong” (as in men, too.;)). Next time you’re shopping for tomato cages and you see this packaged structure, walk on. Don’t stop. Don’t waste your time.

Admittedly, I thought this three-walled triangle style cage would be the secret to success. It was–for a while. But when the tomato plant grew and the tomatoes hung heavy, it fell over like a twig.

And this round, loopy one? More

How to Make Sweet Potato Slips

Summer is fast approaching (in Florida, anyway) which means it’s time to get your slips in the ground and growing.  They require a long growing season and they require warmth.  But they don’t grow from seed potatoes, rather the “slips” created from your sweet potatoes.  How does one create a sweet potato slip?

The technique is easy.  You simply cut your sweet potato in half, perch it upon the mouth of a jar or glass (suspended by toothpicks works well) submerging the bottom half in water.  Voila!

creating slips

Place in a sunny location and keep the water level high enough so that the bottom half remains wet and then watch your potato sprout.

After a while—times vary, but you can expect to wait days, even weeks in some cases—shoots (leaves) will form on the top of your potato.  You can gently remove these and place them in water, again half-submersed, and a tangle of roots will develop.   More

Swimming for Potatoes

PoAlmost literally, with the weather we’ve been having today!  Rain, rain, go away… We’ve got work to do in our garden and getting drenched while doing so isn’t our idea of fun.  Okay, the kids might disagree with me there, but you get the idea.  Sending them back to class with mud on their bodies and smiles on their faces is not how to make friends with the teacher.  And I love teachers!

So we keep them on our good side, and reschedule our “swim.”  Thank goodness we have a few classes where we can stagger the harvest.  Middle schoolers had a ball digging through the dirt (never too old, are they?) and since it was their last class for the day, no problem.  Teaching them the finesse of hunting for potatoes was another story.

harvesting taters

You see, when you harvest your potatoes, you must do so with some restraint.  Dive-bombing your shovel into the dirt is not helpful, because you will likely tear the skin of your hidden gems before you ever see them.  And torn, ripped up potatoes do not store as well as clean, bruise-free, stab-free ones do.  So tread lightly, proceed with caution.  Use your tool to loosen the dirt around the potato plant and then gently dig through with gloved hands.  Middle schoolers opted to go glove-free.  Go figure.

But they were successful!  “Throw me another one for the bucket!”

“Ack!  Don’t throw it–don’t you remember me telling you to be gentle?” More