black beans

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

Spring Harvest!

Now I realize many of you are still waiting for the ground to thaw and my heart goes out to you.  Truly, it does.  Here in Florida, we don’t even know what frozen tundra looks like!  No clue.  The kids have studied that kind of thing in class, but they don’t live it nor do they garden by it.

Okay, that’s a lie.  Jack Frost does nip our noses once in an ice crystal moon, but it’s rare.  Thank Goodness!  Otherwise, we wouldn’t be harvesting up a spring storm–squash, sweet onions, black beans, pole beans and soon to be potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes and sunflowers!  Woohoo!  Are you jumping up and down with me?

Figured you were.  Gardening is plain old exciting, isn’t it?  Take a look at these harvest bunnies in action. 

You probably guessed these kindergarteners above are in charge of the pole bean harvest.  But what about these lower elementary students?  Can you tell what they’re after by looking at the plants?  Ask your kids.  Bet they can! 🙂  

Now most folks aren’t familiar with growing black beans and wouldn’t know how to determine when to pluck them.  Actually, it’s real easy.  Think “black bean” and you’ll know.

 

Isn’t that a gorgeous shade of purple-black?  I call it eggplant but most of the kids refer to it as purple.  Though some times these pods can fool you.  As the kids were shelling them, they learned this the hard way.

 

“How come mine is purple?”

“Why is mine blue?”

Because Mother Nature enjoys the mellow end of the rainbow?  Is wonderfully creative?  Likes to play tricks on gardeners?  Your guess is as good as mine, but if you ask me, I think these beans are beauties. 

And going to pull in a bunch of money!  You see, the students are harvesting beans and seeds for their first annual school fundraiser (of course we’ll only be selling the mature, black ones).  We’re talking total self-sustainability here,because not only do we plant the seeds and grow the plants, harvest the seeds and replant–we’re going to pay for all the gardening supplies that we need to do the job!  Gloves, tools, garden tape, fresh mulch and alas, those seeds we have to master harvesting. 

It’s not because we’re not near fabulous gardeners, but carrots take a couple of years to produce seeds.  Who has that kind of time?  And onions.  Those babies are tough to get started from seed and we’d just assume deal with the onion “sets” (onions in sprout form).  Besides, sweet onions take long enough as it is!  We planted ours in October.

So for our first annual seed selling fundraiser, we’ve harvested black beans, pole beans and squash (squash, courtesy of the middle school students) and will soon harvest the rest.  We also found a few friends along the way.  Some nice…

Some not so nice…

But we didn’t just harvest and “discover” this week–we ate.  Of course we did!  Sautéed squash and sweet onions was on the menu today.  Glazing the squash and caramelizing the onions enhances the sugary taste of this dish, perhaps even lends a cinnamon quality to it?  That was the reaction from our taste test!

You can find the recipe for this savory sweet delight in my recipe section.

In Full Bloom

The kids’ garden is in full bloom this week and looking quite gorgeous.  From cucumbers to potatoes, beans to sunflowers, we are growing awesome…

Do you recall when we “hilled”our potatoes?  That’s the process for drawing dirt and/or mulch up around your potato plant as it grows.

We do so because potato plants grow upward, forming new potatoes along the way.  If we don’t “hill” the plant, the top potatoes may be exposed to sunlight and turn green.  Not good.  Green potatoes can give you a belly ache (so don’t eat them!). 

With the warm weather we’ve been having in Florida (across the country for that matter), our potatoes have become a bit “leggy” — a.k.a. tall and spindly.  Just look how tall they are compared to these weed warriors—they’re almost 3 feet tall!

Which is fine.  They’ll still produce some beautiful potato babies.  Speaking of kids and potato babies, you can see what happens when the first batch becomes over-excited planting the second batch—we have stray potato plant sprouting in the middle of the walkway!  Sheesh.  We’ll leave it be.  It should still develop and deliver a wonderful bounty.

Unless of course these beasts get their way.  We found them devouring a few of our plants, but no worries!  One by one we plucked them off.

Our radish are roaring up and out of the ground.  The kids covered them with the hope it will give them more time to mature.

The same with our sweet onions.  They were popping up through the mulch!  (And weeds.) 

But since their tops are not falling over brown, we know they’re not quite ready to harvest, so we covered them up as a well, giving them a bit more time underground.

The tomatoes are bushy and beautiful.  We pinched the suckers to encourage better growth and fruit production.

 

We even spotted our first few tomatoes.  Can’t wait to harvest those plump ketchup-makers—or salsa, whichever we prefer!

 

And look!  Our first black beans are forming.  When these pods turn deep purple, we’ll know it’s time to harvest.

Speaking of harvest, don’t the corn and squash look incredible?  Ahhh….

We actually harvested quite a bounty of squash this week. Plan to eat some and save some—for our seed-saving-selling fundraiser next month, of course!

 

Look for more on how the kids plan to create and design their own seed packets next week. 🙂

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!

Grisly Discovery

So what do you do when you stroll out to your garden and you’re hit with an awful, horrible smell?  Well if you’re me, you may ignore it, assume it’s a small rodent nearby and continue setting up for your morning lesson.  Until that is, the first child runs out to the garden, stops short and calls out, “Hey Mrs. Venetta–there’s a dead in cat in our garden!”

What?  I whirled around and my heart stopped.  There in the middle of our row was a poor kitty in the midst of decomposition.  Oh no… Suddenly the odor becomes sickening. 

“Can we compost it?” he asked.

“No.  Definitely not.”  Germs, bacteria–I’m imagining all sorts of horrific things and none of them pretty.  Or healthy.  Or compostable, at least in this garden.  As the other children began to arrive, I sent this boy to the office.  “Let them know what’s going on out here, will you?”

“You bet!”  And with a smile, he was gone.

Kids.  Sometimes you simply can’t faze them.  Amaze them, yes–but not faze them.

Needless to say our morning garden experience didn’t go as planned.  I wasn’t about to have these kids get anywhere near the dead animal so we discussed what we “planned” to do instead.  Crop rotation kids.  Follow your fruits with beans for good organic rotation.  Okay, that’s all for today boys and girls.  See ya next week!

Within the hour the cat was removed, the weed paper (that he was laying upon) as well and the following morning I dug the surface layer of dirt up and out of the garden.  Perhaps this was overkill but I’m an overkill kinda gal.  No germs, no how–not when it comes to kids and seeds, anyway!  

Confident all was well, the next group of kids planted black beans provided those working the “disturbed” section of the dirt bed wear gloves.  Inch deep and a hand length apart!

Great fun was had by this crew and next week we’ll make it up to upper elementary.  But this is a lesson for them in coping with the unexpected (or something like that). But take heart, your beans are climbing up a storm!

To round out the week, the primary students planted their butterfly garden.  Teaching the wee ones how to transplant was quite the whirlwind of activity but I think they all thoroughly enjoyed themselves.  And because it’s located in the small courtyard behind their classroom, they’ll get to enjoy it every day.  From what I understand, garden work is a favorite among the students.  (Doesn’t surprise me.  These kids are smart!)

What did we plant?  Details on how and what to plant for attracting butterflies will be featured on Monday’s post.  There’s actually a lot more to it than you might think!

Kids Planting and Progressing

For the kids, this was a week of “seed fun.”  

With the warm wave of weather here in Florida, we’re taking our chances and planting now–to ensure our crops are ready before graduation.  We do have our priorities, you know and the harvest party is top of the list! 

To begin, we toured the garden to check on our plants’ progress.  The cilantro is turning coriander.  No longer content to remain in its original form, this plant is now shooting  toward the sky, sporting lovely white blooms.  Soon, these flowers will produce coriander seeds–which of course we will harvest.  I know there’s some parent out there ready and waiting with the perfect recipe.  And if not, the kids and I will find something to do with them.  (BTW, we’re open to suggestion.)

Our baby carrots are tender and sweet.  No, they’re nowhere near ready, but their greenery is quite delicate.

And just look at those potatoes.  The kids can almost taste those healthy potato chips and fries now.  

“Wipe off the drool, kids.  We still have a while to go.  And for increased production, cover those babies with dirt!”

And production we need if we expect to have enough potatoes for a party’s worth of chips!  Healthy of course, lightly coated with olive oil and herbs and baked to golden perfection.  (Food talk keeps the kids motivated.) 

Yet more fascinating than food are our beans.  Personally, I find the early stages of bean development to be the most visual examples of Mother Nature in action than most anything else.  More than leaves sprouting and stems growing, this life cycle literally unfurls before your very eyes. 

Why, just look at them!

You can almost feel the energy as it opens from the seed, erupting in a burst…

…exploding in green bloom.  Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?

Magnificent.  Not into beans?  We also planted cucumber and corn seeds, as well as transplanted tomatoes.

The kids learned tomatoes are best planted deep, covering the bottom two “leaves” as they bury the base.  By doing so, they’ll encourage stronger root growth and development for their small tomato sprout.  Important–as we anticipate big strong tomatoes come spring!  And on our way back to class, we spotted this early gem.

Delectable little devil, isn’t it?  Can’t wait to make preserves out of that little pumpkin!  Oh, didn’t I mention?  We’re going to learn how to can!  Berries, tomatoes…

It’s the simple things in life.

Still Growing Strong

Our school garden is doing well.  REALLY well.  Our black bean bushes are flourishing.

Our pole beans are plumping.

Our strawberries are beginning.

Our broccoli are growing (pay no mind to those soft weeds).

We even decided to add some sweet onions.

All in all, not bad for a garden we tend twice a week!  Only once this past week as lower elementary was rained out.  Our success lends credence to the idiom:  too much of a good thing can spoil the outcome.  While we would LOVE to be out there every day, we simply cannot manage it.  End result?  The garden is blossoming with health, despite our absence.

Growing by Leaps and Bounds!

We’re talking both kids AND plants — these students have energy to share!  And share they do; their tools, their seeds, their worm poop.

Well, some things are easier to share than others, but from what I’ve seen, these gardeners are all about sharing the adventure of gardening.  Especially these little ones.

Our kindergarten students were in charge of planting black beans.  First they amended the soil (threw black dirt and formed two rows).  “Can I use my hands?”

“Yes, if you’re wearing gloves.”

Next they dug holes in two neat lines (carved them as they saw fit).   “Are these too close?”

Spying the holes side by side, I suggested they might want to stretch them out just a wee bit further.

Then they planted seeds in an orderly fashion (wildly orderly fashion!) and pointed at their handiwork.   “Is this good?”

“Remember:  only one or two per hole!”   Not handfuls.

Ensuring a good start, they sprinkled them with fertilizer (covered them with worm poop) until finally they tucked them in for a nice fall harvest (patted them down with their shovels).

Voila —  we have our bed of black beans!  At the rate these kids planted, jungle of black beans may prove more accurate. 

But if need be, we can “thin” the growth.  At least this way, we will be certain to have a superb “bean to sprout” ratio!

Sort of like our corn.  We’re going to have a bumper crop, for sure! 

Lower elementary planted sweet peas along the fence. 

When I asked who likes peas, only one boy claimed he didn’t. 

A response to which I duly smiled.  “You’ll LOVE these peas.  Plucked fresh from the vine, they taste like sugar.”

He returned a skeptical look. 

“Really,” I assured him.  “Vegetables never tasted so sweet until you grew them yourself!”

Another child piped in, “You can eat them right from the plant?”

“Yes sir, so long as you wash them first.  You never know what night visitors you may have had or what they may have been doing.”

Ewe.  But true.

And don’t forget the herbs! 

These girls worked like the three amigos, dropping their dirt and scattering their seeds like master gardeners — all this before running off to work on their kinetic challenge!

It’s all in a day’s work for these kids.  And just look at their progress!  

The “Brownie” beans are flourishing.  These were planted first and are really doing well.

The tomatoes are thriving.

The carrots are poking free.

Why, it’s beginning to look like a real garden out there —  thanks, gardeners! 

Until next time…

My Garden Blooms Anew…

Sigh.  What a beautiful sight.  No longer barren and half-dead, my garden blooms with life once again.  Fall, a time when many areas are closing down for the winter, here in Florida, I get another shot of bloom.  My corn is sprouting, my beans are flourishing, my onions are packed in for the long haul to spring and there are my tomatoes — flourishing — right along with their sweet pepper cousins! 

Which requires the utmost vigilance.  I’ve already removed TWO tomato hornworms from them; one before he managed any damage, the other after he ate the top of the plant!  Argh.  And two black caterpillars.  Don’t know what they were but certain they were up to no good.

My peppers had a better go of it on the screened patio, protected from the onslaught of scavengers now trying to devour them out in the wilds of the free, open space of my garden.  But I’m there everyday, spritizing and plucking and shooing the insects away, so they should survive. 

A wasp has landed on my bean plant.  Not sure if he’s a friendly, but any bug carrying a stinger automatically warrants a “friendly” status in my garden.   Translated:  I’m not going near him.  Besides, he doesn’t seem interested in eating the leaves.  Only perusing them. 

And that’s okay.  They ARE gorgeous and heart-shaped leaves.  What bug wouldn’t want to land on those pumpkins! 

But I digress.  Back to the garden.  Here we extended the garden by about twenty feet.  I’m sure my husband won’t mind if I liberally use the word “we.”  I did supervise.  Well, not actually in person, but I did direct the expansion.  I have four more rows and now we’re growing pumpkins — real pumpkins — and they need space.  While I realize it’s a little late in the season to get started on pumpkins, my first sprout was lost to, uh, shall we say, “early expansion efforts.” 

Okay.  My husband missed it upon first clearing.

My fault, of course.  I mean, who plants a lone pumpkin in a small cleared space at the edge of the garden then asks for the adjacent area to be cleared?  With a tractor?

Perhaps in hindsight, it wasn’t one of my better decisions.  But I’m an action-oriented kind of gal and that sometimes means, do first, think it through second.  Ugh.  It’s a curse.

Did you see the rogue sweet potato down in the corner?  Avid growers these sweet potatoes, so I simply let them be.  We’ll see how Mother Nature’s vine does compared to mine.

Granted everything is small at the moment — particularly these carrots — but in a month’s time my entire garden will be full and lush and headed well on its way toward harvest!

Sheer heaven, it is.  Sheer heaven.

Beans – Easy to Grow, Good for the Heart!

Red beans, black beans, Lima beans, Garbanzo beans (reminds me of Dr. Seuss), boy, do we have beans!  Healthy beans, especially black beans and kidneys.  Add them to soup, chili, or try my recipe for black beans, best served with chicken and yellow rice.  And be prepared to try a variety of recipes, because not only are these good for you, they’re probably one of the easiest plants to grow.  Top of my list in importance.

While growing, you can tell them apart by their blossoms and bush formation.  Black beans have beautiful purple blossoms. 

Kidney beans have white.

Limas also have white flowers, but their growth habit is more bush — less vine — fanning out from the ground in a nice stable “triangle” of sorts.  No need to stake or trellis Lima beans, but a must for kidney and black beans.

Garbanzo beans are wholly different.  They have petite flowers and large oval-shaped pods (the others are long, traditional style pods).  Garbanzo leaves also form small ovals, while the others tend toward the heart-shaped.

Harvesting beans is simple, performed when the pods turn color from green to tan – lavender in the case of black beans.  Coincidence their blossoms are purple?  Normally I would pluck ready pods from the bush, encouraging more growth, but in the case of my kidney beans, I pulled the entire plant from the ground.  They hit a dry patch in the watering schedule (corn was too tall for my sprinkler to reach over). 

Next up, the business of shelling.   When done in batches it’s an easy task, best performed poolside with a glass of ice-cold rosemary lemonade while watching the kids swim.  I’m an avid multi-tasker.  You can allow them to dry in pod (even while still on plant), or shell them at once.  Just pinch the ends, split open the pod, and remove the beans.

Once shelled, set the beans on a plate or shallow dish and allow to dry completely before closing in an air-tight container for storage.  If you don’t give them ample time to dry out, they will become moldy and icky.  Gross, really.  And totally ruined. 

We learned this the hard way last fall.  Very sad day when your entire batch of black beans is lost.   So be sure to let them dry.   Give them a few days and you’ll see them shrink and “seal” themselves with a nice hard coating for dry storage.

Limas are a different story.  For long-term storage, you’ll need to freeze them.  To do this, you have to blanch them first.  Toss them into a pot of boiling water for about two minutes (a minute if they’re small) then immediately submerse them in a bowl of ice water.  After about a minute or so, remove them from the water, pat dry (or set between paper towels) and pop them into a freezer container.  Finito!

Now you have beans to last you through next season’s harvest.  Provided you planted enough.  That calculation is a trick in itself!

To give you an idea, I planted one row of each bean, two plants wide, about 40 feet long.  While it sounds like a lot, it’ll probably yield about 20-30 servings of beans.  I’m approximating, mind you, but it’s within the ball park.  But since my family loves beans, come fall, I already have plans to expand.  Chili, soup, you name it, they’ll eat it!

P.S.  Don’t forget that beans contain lectin phytohaemagglutinin.   It’s a toxic compound, 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, ie. stomach pains, cramps — perhaps even more severe abdominal issues — so beware and be safe!