beans

“Three Sisters” in Garden Squabble

Three Sisters refers to the companion planting method early Native Americans utilized when planting corn, squash and beans. Theory holds that the corn provides support for the bean vines to climb, beans fix nitrogen in the soil to feed the corn and squash leaves shade the ground to prevent weeds from spoiling the fun. Great idea, right? I even planted a head of lettuce in the mix!

Three Sisters living together

Ingenious. Plants working in harmony as nature intended. Unfortunately, in my garden the results have not turned out to be so harmonious for all the girls. Beans are climbing…

beans climbing corn

However, they tend to strangle their host sister when her petite corn stalk can no longer support them. Talk about selfish and greedy! More

Easiest Vegetables To Grow?

I get this question a lot and for me, I have to say it’s my sweet peas. These beauties put up little fuss; they don’t need heavy water or fertilizer, they don’t need special soil or conditions. They only need support–because they’re going to grow so tall! These happen to be my neighbors — nice, huh?

awesome peas

They’re also very forgiving. Recent windstorms in our area blew my sweet peas clear off their support structures, but alas, they continue to grow. It’s a miracle!

sweet peas with solid high support

Okay, “miracle” might be pushing it, but they have survived. What they don’t survive is a trip to the house. Sweet peas are what I refer to as my “garden snacks,” because I eat them while in the garden. More

Summer Success

For many of you, gardening season has just begun but for me, it’s a constant turnover. Our cool weather plants have long gone, replaced by summertime sweeties like okra and peppers, peanuts and pumpkins. Yep, if you want a pumpkin for your doorstep come Halloween, you’d better start planting it now. These babies take a while–especially if you like them big!

Big Max pumpkins

And we do. The bigger the better. These beauties were from a few seasons back, but it’s always a good idea to remind yourself of the goal. Helps to keep you motivated through the long hot summer. Peppers enjoy the heat as well and are thriving in varying stages. Green…

green peppers

Hot chili… More

Inspectors in the Garden

Well, you knew it would happen.  Yes, our plants have come under attack.  By what, you ask?

Not sure.  But these kids are on the hunt.  Folded within the leaves of the beans are bugs, the kind with numerous legs and countless more eggs.  As you can see, once fully grown, these little fellas can do some damage!

More

I’m Ready for Fall Gardening!

And I have a new secret weapon.  But first, how did I get to the point where I needed a new secret weapon?  I mean, I’m organic, I rotate my crops, my soil is in tip-top condition, right?

Yes, well, just when you think you have it all figured out, the bugs find you.  The ones you can’t see.  The ones that lurk beneath the surface and devour your plants one by one–even as you plant them!  It’s awful.  Discouraging.  My spring garden was not what it could have been.  So I solarized the beds to kill the varmints and now I’m ready for fall planting.  Yes, those are my plastic-covered rows plus everything but the kitchen sink.  Do you know how hard it is to keep that stuff down during an afternoon storm in Florida?

It’s not easy and I have no shame in using whatever it takes to keep my paper down–bricks, tiles, rusted iron rods–you name it, I used it.  However, when I pulled back the black sheets, my soil didn’t look so good.  Now “they say” that solarizing the soil helps to release the nutrients within.  Hm.  Funny, but it didn’t look that way to me.  Rather than healthy nutrient-rich soil, it looked like a bunch of hot sand to me. 

So I decided to amend my beds.  Now I have a compost pile, but it’s nowhere near enough to cover my garden.  As you can see, my garden is big — 100 X 40.  And I have a big appetite for this fall’s garden.  You might be thinking that I marched right down to the “compost store” and loaded up on the stuff.  Nope.  I’ve been hearing rumors about something better.  Similar, but better.  It’s called mushroom compost and according to those who have gardened with the stuff, it’s simply AMAZING.

And cheap.  We were able to buy a trailer full of the stuff for $10.  Yep.  No kidding.  $10.  Enough to fill the entire bed of a full-sized pickup truck.  (In Central Florida, we contacted Monterey Mushroom Farm–but they have branches across the US.)  Once home, it was time to unload the secret weapon.  Caution:  mushroom compost stinks.  Raking it into beds is not only hard work, but stinky.  As you mix it in, it’s not so bad.  But take a couple of tips from me.

***Rent a tiller.  You’ll still have to shovel the compost into your row, but rent a tiller to mix it in.  Unless you want your workout for the week to count as one day in the garden and then you’re good to go.  🙂

***And use the commercial-grade paper to line your walkways, NOT the black weed paper.  It disintegrates.  If you double it up, like I did here between my squash and zucchini rows (pictured below).  It will hold up better, but trust me–raking those beds was like déjà vu.  Feels like I’ve done this before!

As it stands, I have my red beans, okra, squash and zucchini in.  Here’s another tip:  instead of forming individual holes for your beans, make channels down the length of your bed–like you do for carrots, only deeper–and then drop the beans in, about 4 – 6″ apart and then cover with an inch or so of dirt  .  We used organic compost to cover the beans, hoping that it will hold the moisture better than that depleted-looking sand next to it.  Normally, I form wells around my newly planted seeds, as seen above with the squash and zucchini.

The kids helped with this one and the job went much quicker.  (Yes, this Labor Day weekend we labored.)  I formed the channels, she dropped them in, he covered them with compost.  The white dots you see are snail bait.  This was last season’s tomato row and I didn’t have time to solarize it, nor do I think that red paper helped in dissuading the varmints from taking up residence.  

But our efforts will prove worth it.   Ultimately, once I uncover all the beds, I’ll use the heavier black paper to replace the lighter-grade paper you see her walking on above.  I enjoy gardening, but I do not like to repeat my efforts when I don’t have to–it’s not smart!

And we’re smart gardeners. 🙂  I’ll keep you posted on how my magic mushroom compost works out!

Tami’s Plants are Moving IN!

It’s moving day at Tami’s garden and the leaves are a wavin’ (very exciting day).  You remember those glorious beds she prepared?  She’s filling them!  The first bed will be home to okra, aloe and lettuce, with okra providing the needed sun-relief for delicate lettuce leaves.  In Florida, we like our salads, but tender lettuce leaves don’t like the blast of Florida heat.  Enter okra and their lovely canopy of shade.

Next bed over we’ll find tomatoes, basil, bell peppers and squash snuggled together in a wonderful example of companion planting.  These plants all get along well and it’s even believed that basil will improve the flavor of nearby tomatoes.  Hm.  Perhaps even sweeten our peppers?  We’ll keep you posted!  Note:  No, your eyes do not deceive you.  She has yet to fill this bed with dirt.  It’s still in the layout stage. :))

Along the fence line we’ll find green beans (and soon to be cucumbers).  These folks love to climb so why not encourage them?  Saves on space!

Tami also picked up some blueberry and strawberry plants (because gardening is SO fun and a gal can get carried away with little or no effort) at the store so we’ll place those together off to one side.  Why together?  Because strawberries and blueberries both like it acidic (think low ph) so they’ll get enjoy the same growing conditions.  An easy way to acidify the soil is with pine needles–or bark.  Either work and they both make GREAT mulch material for our sweet baby berries.

But Tami will need to get another blueberry plant or two if she wants fruit because these guys and gals need cross-pollination for best blueberry production.  If they’re self-fertile, they can produce on their own, but she’ll get better results with more bushes and different varieties.  Others are self-sterile (like Rabbiteye) and require cross-pollination in order to produce blueberries.  Who knew?  So check the varieties best suited for your region and make sure you have the necessary number of bushes and varieties to produce fruit.

Tami’s on her way to the plant store now!  To round out her lovely backyard garden plot, she’ll transplant her tender watermelon and cantaloupe sprouts, both of which need plenty of room to roam–which is why she planted them OUTSIDE her planter beds.

They’ll thank her later (with plenty of delicious fruit!).  Since it’s the vines that will spread, she’ll confine her energy and organic soil to the sprout area, and line her border with weed paper.  This will eliminate some hoe work (no need to remove all that grass out there) and keep her vines happy and weed-free. 🙂  A good thing!

And in her neck of the woods, rabbits tend to pose a problem, so she’ll attach these white tubes around her beds and line them with screen.  No sense in going to all this effort to have the rabbits turn around and eat you out of garden and greens!  Nope.  No sense at all.

Cucumbers and Beans are IN

This week the kids planted their cucumbers and black beans—black beans harvested from their fall crop!  Can you say self-sustaining?  These gardeners are definitely on their way to food independence. 🙂

We chose the fence line for our cucumbers for two reasons:  they like to climb and they adore sunflowers.  (Refer to our layout plan for details:  School garden layout) Perfect!

Our beans are neighbors with potatoes and corn—both very good friends.  And next season?  Corn will follow beans, because beans fix nitrogen in the soil and corn loves nitrogen!

Next week we will be working on constructing our new bean fort, as well as planting our sunflowers and tomato seeds.  And remember:  tomato seeds love a mix of Epsom salts and eggshells!

Weeding Can be Fun!

Beats reading, writing and arithmetic, right?  Nah, I wouldn’t go THAT far, but the kids do seem to enjoy their garden time and work quite well together over the beds as they weed. 

These kids know that if they leave these weeds be, they’ll rob their veggie plants of nutrients and that’s just plain unacceptable.  I mean, these boys and girls know exactly where they planted their seeds and watch over them like hawks!  (Now if only they’d eat grasshoppers like good flying predators do, we’d be all set.) 

Just kidding, kids! 🙂  Plucking them from the leaves will do just fine.  And look at the work they’ve accomplished.  Why this bed was covered with tiny green weeds only moments ago.  But these guys and gals are quick and learned a new method of weeding. 

Basically you put your fingers into the soil and twist.  I call it the roto-rooter method (though I’m not sure exactly why) and it does wonders for unearthing the tiny weeds that prove problematic for tools.  Okay kids, twist and turn, twist and turn, twist and turn–1-2-3!

They do enjoy rhythm in the garden.  They also like helping teach one another the finer points in gardening.  Just look at this young man teaching his fellow students how to pinch tomato plants.  An expert himself now, he has their FULL attention.

And it’s working.  These tomatoes are growing into some real beauties.

But speaking of beauty, these black bean blossoms will give those tomatoes a run for their title as “Most Glorious in the Garden.”  Mother Nature has her gems!

Vegetable Head Wreath

In the spirit of Halloween, I decided to make a head wreath.  Not usually one for trick-or-treating dress-up (I leave this to the experts like my sister), I thought, Why not don a head wreath this evening

I know it’s not much, but it would be something to demonstrate my youthful enthusiasm, my zest for life…wouldn’t it?  Besides, how fun is a homemade head wreath?  And oh so au naturale.

Way fun.  And simple–one of my favorite words in the dictionary!  To make this one, I clipped a rosemary branch, broke it down to smaller sprigs and then interlaced them around each other for a simple head wreath (you can tie the ends to make it easier) and ta-da!  Princessa!

 

But strolling down my rows, I decided I might want something a bit more unique and opted for the sweet potato look.  Green, purple blossoms…

 

Gorgeous.  Absolutely gorgeous!  It’s different, anyway.  Of course, you can always go with the traditional flower head-gear. 

Never fails to disappoint, does it?  And oh so creative.  What else would you expect from the (crazy) garden lady?  Were you thinking bean wreath?

I tried.  Pitiful failure, if I do say so myself. 🙂  But it was fun trying and isn’t that what it’s all about?  Happy Halloween!

Allow Beans to Dry on the Vine?

It’s a question I’ve been pondering of late.  Should I or shouldn’t I allow Mother Nature to dry my beans, whereby the kids and I simply pluck them and shuck them and store them airtight?  Sure does make it easier than blanching and freezing.  But is it healthier?

To prepare dried beans, one must soak them overnight, or boil and simmer for an hour, rinse; boil and simmer for another hour and rinse–and this is merely to soften them up!  Not only have some of your valuable nutrients leached from the bean, you still have to cook them, which leeches more nutrients from the bean.  An alternative method is to simmer beans all day.  This keeps their “broth” nutrient rich and helps maintain their shape.  Mushy beans are not attractive (to most people, anyway).

However, in order to pick them fresh and blanch them for storage, one must time it just so…

A huge problem for me.  I’m a busy gal–places to go, people to see, kids to entertain!  I don’t always “hit” the bean harvest at the exact right time, not to mention my bean plants produce mature pods at different rates which makes for a lot of “quick” trips to the stove.

It’s a dilemma.  I’m trying the “dry on the vine” method this spring to see how it goes.  I handle my black beans and kidney beans this way regardless, but not my limas and black eyes.  I usually pick them fresh and plump and prepare them that evening or blanch them for storage. 

How’s it going?  So far, so good.  Except for the heavy rains.  Seems a few of my pods have succumbed to mold which is no good.  Icky, really and definitely NOT the kind of thing you can convince a child to pick, peel and plop into the storage container.

Oh, well.  So much for cheap labor.  We still have plenty that remain mold-free and ready for storage!