pole beans

Pinching and Planting

This week the kids were taught how to pinch their plants.  Their tomatoes, to be specific.  (No pinching the others, or slapping that rosemary either.  Kids.)  We pinch our tomatoes to encourage nutrients and water to go where needed—the main stems and branches.  Scraggly, overgrown and unkept tomato plants help no one, least of all the gardener looking for some ruby-red produce.

And it’s simple.  The tiny branch growing in the crux there?  Pinch it—a difficult task if your gloves are ultra thick, so take care, and pinch with precision. 🙂 More

We Have Sprouts!

It’s a very exciting day when you visit your garden and discover your seeds have sprouted.  (Germinated–for you scientific types out there.)  Last week Lower Elementary worked hard to plant their red beans and this week?

Simply marvelous.  Gorgeous, really.  Bean sprouts are one of my favorite sprouts in the garden and you can easily see why. 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.

The Beds are Built and Filled

Wow—talk about progress.  Tami is making loads of the stuff! Or trenches, as the case may be.  Not only has she constructed her planter beds, but filled them as well.  Okay, her assistant Jason helped.  But hey, he misses his garden.  He’s aching for the chance to get his hands into the dirt again and Tami has offered him a little slice of hers to ease his pain.  A bit dramatic, I know.  What do you expect from a fiction author?

Back to the garden.  One of the things I enjoy most about helping others learn to garden is the fact I end up learning something new, each and every time.  With Mandy, I learned how easy radish were to grow and what wonderful companions they made in the garden.  With Ashley and Julie I learned that tomatoes are much hardier than I ever dreamed.  But an attack of leaf miners and a tipsy topsy turvy planter will do that for a gal!

Today I learned a tip for growing with raised planters.  After constructing the frame and lining it with weed fabric, add a nice layer of hay across the bottom before you add your dirt.  When I asked Jason the reason for this added tip, he shrugged.  “Don’t know.  My grandmother told me it’s what she always did, but wouldn’t give me a reason.”

Sounds like my mother sharing one of her recipes.  “Oh you know, you add it to taste.”

To taste.  Add it because it works.  Hmph.  But not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I’ll take the advice and run with it.  “Whatever works” is my motto, though I’m assuming it has something to do with better drainage and built-in compost!

She’s carved a trench along her existing fence for her beans.  Fences provide excellent support for climbing beans.  Or cucumbers.  Both would love this space!  And the square out in front of her planters?

Tami has big plans for that area.  Watermelons.  Tons and tons of wild watermelons.  She’s given them their own space to roam free which is smart.  Watermelons need the room and while you could plant the seed in the corner of the planter and allow the vines to hang over the side and run to their heart’s content, why not scoop out the existing grass and give them their own little slice of heaven?  Other than it’s a lot of back-breaking work, that is.

Oh, well.  Jason did say he loves to garden!

Vacation’s Over!

With Thanksgiving behind us, leftovers gone, the kids have returned to school for their lessons.  And lessons they learned, especially in the garden.  As any experienced gardener knows, leaving a garden untended invites all sorts of drama.  Weed overgrowth, bug infestation, disease infection — it’s enough to send you running for the hills. 

But hold on cowboys and grab your hats, these students aren’t your average gardeners.  No, no!  They’re tough and determined (brave enough to endure the chill of Florida’s winter) and they have a job to do.  Weed warriors, begin!

Besides all that exciting stuff, it’s harvest time (code for:  time to reap our rewards).  Yay!  Is there a better time to be in the garden

No boys and girls, there isn’t!  Harvest time is when you FINALLY get the chance to reap the bounty from all your hard work and reap these kids did — all while learning valuable lessons about reproduction.  “How does a plant continue to grow without the help of a gardener?” 

Good question.  How about we take a look for ourselves.  Since our pole beans are the first vegetables ready for harvest, I cheered, “Everybody, start plucking!”  Woohoo!  A dozen kid pulling from the vine–now it’s a harvest party!

“Open up your beans and let’s look inside.”  Ooohs and aaahs all around.  “Perfect.  These beans are ready to eat.  But what happens if there are no gardeners with voracious appetites?”  (You can use big words like voracious with these kids because they’re educated.) 

“The pods will dry on the vine like those brown ones,” I said, indicating the dried and shriveling pod.  Passing it around, we discussed the differences between the pods we plucked and this pod I picked.  “Left unpicked, this bean will dry and the pod will shrivel up until the day it pops open and spits the beans out onto the ground.  Really!  I’ve seen it happen.  Pop!” 

Now that I have their full attention, I explain how the beans ultimately make their way into the soil and prepare to sprout anew.  Here’s a neat video presentation of the life cycle of a bean.  And the best part?  “You guys get to eat your beans for snack this morning!”  Hoorays and leaps for joy.  “Yep.  You have to wash them first, but then you can eat your first organic bean.  The one you grew yourself!” 

I think I’ve discovered the secret to getting kids to eat vegetables.  Have the kids grow them!  Talk about excitement over snack time–you’d think we were talking chips and Cheetos, but no, we’re talking healthy greens.  Warms a parent’s heart, I tell you.  Pure joy. 

The kids will also collect some beans for drying, preparing them for planting come spring.  It’s a great way for them to take an active part in the life cycle of a bean plant, witnessing the glory of nature firsthand.

Forget visions of sugarplums (that is so yesterday), these kids are dreaming of broccoli!  And now that they’re cleaned free of weeds, they’re ready to premier in their own harvest party.

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.

The Kids Are Off and Running — Literally!

It’s great to see their excitement.  When it’s time to garden, the kids line up, water bottles in hand, anxious to head for the garden.  Once the door opens they dash out, run cross field and straight to the garden!  I tell myself their exuberance has nothing to do with escaping the monotony of being in one room all day long, cooped up as the teacher pours information into their absorbent minds.  No.  This an excitement solely geared toward the adventure of gardening. 

That’s what I tell myself.  Besides, it is exciting

First stop — a quick review through garden etiquette.  No stomping across beds, no throwing worm castings or top soil on the walkways (black gold!), no putting unidentified things into your mouth, no digging without gloves, no rough handling of the sprouts…   Now that we have that settled, we’ll amend the sandy soil.  In additon to putting in  seeds, we’ll be transplanting ; a delicate process indeed.  (Don’t mind those brown weeds you see – we’re not after perfection but production – and those dead old things pose no risk.)

Our tomatoes and peppers have had a great start but now it’s time to introduce them to their new home.  And don’t forget the basil! 

Fifth grade students handled the task with grace and aplomb.  (These kids really are amazing.)  Settling in the tomatoes and peppers, they moved on to the onions and carrots, astonished by the size of the tiny carrot seeds. 

With incredible focus, they learned to “pinch and roll” the multitude of seeds into the channels drawn across the top of the bed, gently covering them with a fine veil of black dirt, not to mention of healthy shake of worm poop!  Er–I mean, worm castings.  We do want to keep this scientific, and all.

Finished with the task at hand they were ready for their next assignment.  It was then I had to break the news.  “Sorry kids, but it’s time to head back to class.”

Met with the expected frowns and protest, I assured them we would meet again next week for another exciting chapter of gardening! 

Cheers abounded as they cleaned up their work area and trotted back to class.  Turning back, I collected my things and thought, not bad for their first attempt at transplanting.  And to think we only lost one tomato.  It was during the process of “staking” the plant to its bamboo support when one boy pulled it out and asked, “Is this okay?”

I nearly fainted from shock.  “Agh!  No–you killed it!”  (You have to understand, I raised these babies from seeds!  It’s devastating when you lose one.)

He looked at me and I looked at him.  I nodded.  “You’ll have to give that one a nice burial, perhaps in the compost pile.”  Then I assured him, “Don’t worry.  It happens.  And look.”  I pointed to the tender sproutlings left behind.  “At least you had the trio!  We’ll just stake those two and we’re good to go!”

Then the Brownie Girl Scouts whipped in for an afternoon of gardening and boy o boy —  talk about energy and enthusiasm — these girls were all over the business of planting pole beans and got right to it! 

From dishing out dirt, tossing in seeds, patting in fertilizer, it was all I could do to keep up with their frantic pace.  I can’t be sure, but we may have pole beans growing all over the garden at the rate these spirited gardeners worked! 

But I never met a bean I didn’t like, so we’ll welcome them anywhere they show up.  Next up:  corn.  And lower elementary.  Talk about energy in the garden–you can’t beat this! 

Working in shifts, these kids were meticulous in their corn planting duties, surprised you could plant the kernel from a corn cob and it would turn into a whole plant.  Didn’t even phase them that our kernels were red.

“Ever seen red corn before?”

Hands shot up.  “I have!  I have!”

With a hand to my hip, I raised a brow.  “Really now…”

When I said they were telling me “stories” they assured me that was not the case.  They’ve seen it.  For sure.  (There is such a thing, but it’s fun to test their determination which I must admit, remained adamant.)

Our kernels are red, because they were chemically treated to keep them viable and strong for planting and sprouting.  While we’re growing organic, it can be hard to find untreated non-hybrid seed, so this will prove our exception.

Digging diligently, they added dirt and raked it smooth, careful to keep to the rows and not the beds.   We spaced out the holes, staggered our pattern and discussed the reason why.  (Corn grows real tall and needs a little elbow room!)

We even tossed out the worm poop to give them a good and healthy start.  Plants LOVE worm poop and kids LOVE tossing it.  And they refuse to call it “castings.”  It’s poop.  Plain and simple.  You gotta love kids

Another great day in the garden was had by all, not to mention great progress was made.  We’ll invite the little ones (primary/kindergarten) later next week to try their hand at bean plopping and poop tossing (something tells me they will LOVE LOVE LOVE it!)  

And what’s NOT to love about the care and feeding of your plants?

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!