Last year my most prolific bean was the Blue Lake Runner Bean. My niece and I built two bamboo trellises in between our pineapple guava plants. The beans took over and wrapped themselves around the guava plants as well. Here is a picture of when we first planted in April, then a picture of the beans sprouted in late April and then finally a picture in September of 2013. You can’t even see the pineapple guavas!
I also made an 8 foot trellis to plant Scarlet Runner beans, saved year after year from my dad’s garden. These flowers of the Scarlet Runners are so beautiful and attracted many pollinators but I ate a whole lot more Blue Lake beans than Scarlet Runners. Here is a picture of the trellis which I made partially to screen the compost from view, the second picture you can see the Scarlet Runners in mid-season and then a picture of them in September on the left.
I also planted several varieties of bush beans and staked them up using short Mulberry branches. I planted Purple Queen Bush Beans and Yellow Wax Bush Beans. I like planting bush beans because they give you a harvest earlier than the runner beans. I also tend to plant these in my raised beds so they give back to the soil. They also are a faster crop than runner beans. Bush beans tend to put out lots of beans at once and then the plant is done whereas you can harvest from runner beans all season. It is nice to have a mix in your garden. I harvested 4.21 pounds of bush beans and 15.25 pounds of runner beans in 2013.
After the 2013 bean season was over, I let the plants die on their trellises. I collected some seeds from the best specimens. Then I cut the bean plant at the base leaving the roots intact in the ground. I chopped the plants into smaller pieces and lightly dug them into the ground. Beans are soil builders. Their roots fix nitrogen into the soil which benefits following crops of heavy feeders. This is why I use the chop and drop method of cleaning up my beans. Plus it is hard to keep up with all the biomass at the end of the summer so dropping them in their place helps free up space in my compost.
This year I decided to move my Blue Lake Beans to the main 8 foot trellis since that was what we enjoyed eating the most. I planted some Scarlet Runners in the front yard because I thought they would be a beautiful addition to my front yard landscape adding color from the flowers and height. However, the beans never germinated so I wont be enjoying any Scarlet Runners this year. I also planted two more varieties of runner beans: Trionfo Violetto and Orient Wonder. I also wanted to experiment with a few beans for storage so I planted the Calypso Bush bean in the back of the yard and California Blackeye Cowpea in my raised bed. Since I am just going to wait for these to dry on the plant to collect and store the beans I tried to put them in places that were out of the way. I think some of the beans I am just getting into the ground way to late so I am hoping I will get some sort of harvest from them before it is too late! Here are a few pictures of what my beans looked like in the garden yesterday:
Blue Lake Runner Beans Calypso Bush Beans
Cowpeas waiting to go in the ground
Orient Wonder Pole Yard Long Beans in the herb garden. Trionfo Violetto Pole Bean climbing up a corn. The corn blew over in strong wind the other day so I am not sure how successful the bean or the corn will be.Trionfo Violetto climbing up Mulberry canes attached to the support cables from the power lines.
Way back on September 17, 2013 I planted a row of onions along the curved path in my front yard behind the salvias. Now that I think about it, that was about 9 months ago! I put these onions in as an experiment to see how well my recently de-lawned soil would handle a crop. I barely worked the soil. In fact, I just dug a small hole right were I was going to plant which was difficult to do since the soil was quite hard. I think I threw in a little compost into the hole but other than that I let them be. I barely watered them either.
The reason why I decided to plant a row straight into my landscaping was because in 2013 I planted onions in one of my garden beds. They did pretty well but I planted them so packed together that I ended up with really small onions or where two onions meshed together into one plant. The two onion heads were particularly hard to store and many times when I went to cut into it, the onion had mold in-between the two-headedness space. Onions take a really long time so I decided to move them to the outskirts of my landscaping where I wouldn’t bother them. And my results were pretty good. I had many that are just huge (soft-ball sized onions) and others that are a little smaller.
Well the last couple of weeks I have noticed a lot of those onions go to flower and a few days ago I noticed a few of the stems had finally flopped over, a sign that they are ready to be harvested. I harvested the flowering onions separately from the flopped over, non-flowering onions because flowering onions will not keep so I need to be sure to use them first.
In 2013 my total harvest for onions was 9.31 pounds. I am letting this harvest dry out on my patio and I even have a few left in the ground that were not ready to be picked. I will weigh them after they are cleaned up, tops chopped off and ready for storage. Here is a picture of my small 2013 onion harvest.
Onions are light feeders. This means that they can get by with less fertile soil. If you have soil that you are gradually improving you can put onions in areas of your garden that is not your richest soil and still have a good yield. That is why I think onions are a great crop for first time gardeners.
Even if you have a small space or you are not sure how much work you want to put into your garden, planting onions gives you a whole lot of output for very little effort. You basically can just plant them and forget them. Plus onions are a huge benefit to your garden. Since they have such a strong scent they tend to deter a lot of insects. This means I don’t have to worry about my onions for pests plus they discourage insects on other plants as well. I haven’t had much luck starting my onions from seed so I usually get mine in seedlings but I have also grown them from bulb sets as well.
Plus did I mention they are delicious? There is a reason why most recipes start with sautéing onions as a first step. I love slowly sautéing them in olive oil and making caramelized onions to top my homemade pizzas. Yum!
This year I made an effort to increase the number of pepper plants in my garden. Back in May I wrote a little post about my Jalapeño pepper plants. The plants are doing great in the ground and the other day I was able to harvest about a pound of peppers. One reason why I am growing the peppers is to make pickled Jalapeños. I ate so many of these last year and I didn’t have any to can so I am hoping to have enough this year to can. I only can when I have lots to can at once. I don’t want to waste the energy of boiling that large amount of water if I only have a few jars so the other day I made quick refrigerator pickled Jalapeños. These are not canned and I put them directly into my fridge. I am hoping that late in the summer I will actually have enough peppers to can and store for the rest of the year! Looking at how healthy my plants are in the garden, I am sure I will have plenty of peppers! They are almost exactly like the quick refrigerator pickles and I got the recipe from the same blog, Food In Jars. You can find a more detailed step by step of the recipe here.
A few things to keep in mind: wear gloves and don’t inhale when pouring the hot liquid over the peppers or you will inhale very spicy vapors.
The first peppers and tomatoes of the season are here! It is an exciting time to be in the garden as today’s harvest provides a glimpse into what the next few months will be all about! Happy summer!
My good friends got married in June and I wanted to give them a special handmade gift. On their registry they had mentioned wanting a herb and flower garden and to bring a plant to contribute to their future garden. However, I knew they were going to be moving soon and thought seeds would be a better contribution to their new garden since seeds can travel anywhere and recently I have been talking a lot about saving seeds (here, here and here). I found the smallest 4 oz. jam jars that were perfect in which to put seeds. I figure after they are done with the seeds they can always use the jam jars for something else. I love reusable gifts that keep on giving!
To dress up the jars I decided to make labels. I wanted to do something special so I got inspiration from the couple’s wedding invitations. Their invitations were handmade by a printing press and they found the perfect plate of California poppies to go behind their initials. I drew a mock up to include both of their initials and left room on the side to write what seed was in the jar and the year the seed was saved. Once I had a mock up that I liked, I traced the label onto small pieces of paper. This proved a bit difficult because the paper I used was thick watercolor paper through which it was hard to see. I ended up holding the paper up to the window and had to trace mid-air using a plastic box top to let in the light. Then I colored in the poppy and lastly I outlined the letters in black. I did this last because otherwise the color would smear into the black ink and I didn’t get a clean look.
I taped the labels to the front of the jars and then filled the jars with my saved seed. I thought it would be cute to make tiny seed directions to include inside with the seeds. This way when the couple opens up the seed jars they find a little surprise inside as well!
I found the perfect gardening harvest basket to put the seeds inside (you always need a handy basket when you start harvesting, flowers and herbs!) and lined the basket with straw which they can use as mulch in their new garden! I also added some herb labels and two tea towels to wrap their freshly picked herbs. Here’s to the happy couple!
Want to make your own wedding seed gift? Here are the materials you will need:
- 4 oz Ball Jam Jars
- Thick watercolor or drawing paper
- Double sided tape
- Pencil and eraser
- Nice pens (I used Color Petel Fine Point pens, Stabilo Point 88 Mini pens, and Uni-ball Vision Exact Black pen)
- See through board to trace on, or light table
In September of 2013, I decided to try to make the most of my garden space. This means I decided to plant things where they probably shouldn’t go. But I am always up for an experiment. I decided to use this very small patch of dirt on the side of my house to grow garlic. Digging into this ground was almost impossible and I found lots of fun stuff like broken bottles. I dug it up as well as I could although the pitchfork kept getting stuck under the fence… that shows you how small this space really is. I stopped about half way down the fence because I couldn’t even get my pitchfork into the dirt further down the line. This definitely was dirt and not soil. I didn’t find one living thing in the dirt… not an earthworm in sight.
I put in some better soil since this dirt definitely didn’t have any nutrients in it. As you can see this part of the “garden” really doesn’t get all that much sun through the day since it is shaded by the house. Again, probably not the most brilliant place to try to plant something.
I decided on two varieties of garlic for no particular reason. One was Chesnok Red a hard neck variety, and the other was a no-name variety I got at my local garden store, Talini’s Nursery.
This is what the garlic looked like on May 17, 2014. I was pretty impressed that they did this well. Well that is pretty much as good as it gets. This week I started pulling up the garlic that has dried leaves and is falling over. And this is what I harvested so far…Isn’t it the tiniest garlic you have ever seen? So basically no growth! It looks almost exactly the same size as when I planted it. Below is a picture of some garlic I put in along my fence line in much better soil and these look like your standard size garlic. Here they are side by side. The garlic from the side of the house is on the left and the garlic in better soil and spaced out a bit more is on the right. So the lesson of the day is… soil matters! When you plant in unworkable, barren soil you get small, dinky plants! Well I am not going to give up on this little plot of dirt I have on the side of my house. I am thinking that if I can work up the soil by adding compost and maybe a handful of worms that this little strip of land can be used for growing shadier veg like lettuces or some herbs.
My butternut squash was running all over the place so this weekend I finally got around to making a quick trellis. I just pounded in a few wooden stakes into the ground and tied them together with twine. To make cross beams, I added some dried out Mulberry tree sticks I had collected from my neighbor who trims the trees every year. These sticks have been great around the garden. I have made pea trellises with them and also use them to prop up plants. This project took me about 20 minutes. Hopefully my butternut squash will grow happily without taking over my driveway!
Here are a few photographs from my garden today. Cucumber acrobatics! This cucumber is floating mid-air completely horizontal with the help of tendrils.
Bees were swarming my Waltham butternut squash this morning. Go pollinators!
The first of my tomatoes turning color! Can’t wait to bite into my first tomato of the season! The volunteer Rudbeckia blossomed this morning.
Redina lettuce flowering. Seeds should be right around the corner!
The Blue Lake runner beans finally made it to the top of my trellis!
The very first time I ever got my compost pile to heat up… I mean really heat up to the point of visible steam coming from the center of the pile… I was ecstatic! It was pretty much all I could talk about for a week. I had a pretty large open-air pile that was about half way through the decomposition process. I decided I really wanted to work on getting a finished product more quickly so every day after work I went to the nearest coffee shop to get spent coffee grounds. I threw these on top of the pile and the result was STEAMY compost.
Ever since then, I have been a true believer that coffee grounds as an addition to your compost pile makes for faster and hotter compost plus your compost smells like coffee. So that’s a winning compost pile if you ask me.
Every few weeks I go to Peet’s Coffee and Tea to get my pound of coffee and I always ask if they have grounds to take away for my garden. I love my Peet’s because they will help me carry the usually very heavy bag full of coffee grounds and their filters to my car, which is especially helpful when I have the baby in one arm and my coffee in the other. This stuff is black gold my friends and they just give it to you for free!
Usually I just dump the coffee grounds directly into my compost pile. I take a little extra time to tear up the filters into smaller pieces because I find that they take much longer to decompose if I don’t and they are so large that I am worried they will create a smothering layer in my compost when I want to be promoting as much air as possible. I also throw a few grounds onto my blueberries from time to time since they love the acidity. I haven’t used coffee grounds directly in my garden beds but I think it isn’t a bad idea if you use it sparingly since worms go crazy for coffee grounds.
So next time you are in a coffee shop just ask if they have grounds for your garden. I find most coffee shop employees are more than happy to help you. Most coffee shops have some system (some shops don’t separate out their grounds from their garbage) so find out what works best for them and best for you. I have even left a 5 gallon bucket at the shop for them to fill up during the day and then I pick it up in the evening. Sometimes I ask for grounds and I get blank stares from the employees but I find that most employees have an understanding that the grounds can be used in gardens and it isn’t the first time they have been asked that question. Also once you build a relationship with your coffee shop it is much easier to get grounds.
What could be better than a free resource that you help keep out of the waste stream while it helps you build your soil? Plus you can get a nice cold afternoon latte as a treat!