Take Cover!

Mama Nature is throwing us one last dose of chill!  And while some don’t think it will dip into frost territory, we’re not taking any chances.  We’ve been burned (think icy burn) before and will not be again. 

Just look at these sweet little things.  Would you take a chance with their survival?  Didn’t think so.   So after some discussion, we used this lightweight frost blanket to cover our beans, tomatoes and peppers.  It’s not the only option.  We could have “insulated” them with mulch, or thrown a bed sheet over top.  Though whichever way you choose to attack this problem, the goal remains the same:  protect their leaves from frost.

Our potatoes are growing well and quite robust and should be able to tolerate a “near dip” experience.  Though just to be sure, we gathered some oak leaves to ensure a snuggly evening.  Talk about perfect segue–our lesson this week was mulch!  

What kind of mulch?

Natural of course, like leaves, bark, hay and would you believe newspaper?  

Oh, yes.  So long as you keep it from flying into your neighbor’s yard by trapping it somehow–we used hay–newspaper mulch is a great way to recycle.  If you prefer the lovely look of all hay, then simply toss the paper out back like the old news that it is–and onto your compost pile!   

If you don’t have one yet, you will soon.  Composting is too easy and too efficient–even for those city dwellers we know.  One afternoon surfing the net will prove you can compost indoors AND keep it clean.  A must.  We are tidy when at all possible.

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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?  How about this sweet baby strawberry.  Precious, isn’t it?

Glorious.  Absolutely glorious.  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.

Pull Up the Covers

It’s cold outside!  But we’re not talking flannel, we’re talking row covers  —  a skill every child can manage.  They make their beds, right?

Of course they do and they can make their plant beds, too!  “Out with the old and in with new.”  Not only is this a smart tactic for winter break, but for weed prevention as well.  After all, we’ll be gone for three weeks and we need to prepare the plants for our absence.  We also need to prepare our beds for spring!

Because life in the garden continues.  Despite the season and despite our recent loss, the broccoli and cabbage will fill out, promising a luscious harvest upon our return.  The carrots and onions will hold until January.  But for now, we eagerly pull plants by their roots.

We toss them on to the compost  — another thing to look forward come spring.  We’ll have our own soil amendment!

After all our hard work, they’re gone, but not forgotten.  How could you forget such beautiful tomatoes?

And we cover and clip black paper into place. 

We’re preparing for the potatoes to be planted next month whereby we’ll practice our crop rotation; a staple of good organic gardening.  And best of all?  We get to do it all over again come spring!  Woohoo!

School’s out.

Beans, beans and more beans!

Limas and black beans are bursting full and more fun for a boy to pick than was anyone’s guess.   And I thought swimming for potatoes was the key to a good time.   No, no!   Boys love their beans, from harvest to table.   Talk about a project to keep them busy!  While my daughter has no use for beans whatsoever, her brother has become an expert.   He’s an expert on most things, but that’s a “gene” thing, not to be confused with “bean” thing.   Set a basket of beans in front of the lad with privileges to wield a small safety knife and he’ll go to town!  After one brief lesson, of course. 

boys and beans

Setting up a “bean station” next to the kitchen sink, his compost bin nearby in the sink, he snipped away the ends, peeled the string down the side and tossed the beans  into the awaiting cup, the skins into the awaiting bin.  Thankful not to be included, his sister kept unusually quiet and used the remainder of our mashed pumpkin to bake some bread – delicious bread.   For recipes, check out pickyourown.org and learn more than one way to cook a pumpkin!

We blanch our lima beans, then dunk them in ice water, followed by a “quick dry,” whereby we store them in the freezer, sealed in a plastic baggie.  I’d love to know an alternative method for storing veggies in the freezer that doesn’t require a plastic bag — anybody have a suggestion?

Once you cook your first batch, I have to say, you suddenly realize what these beans are supposed to taste like – butter fresh and delightful – with nothing more than a dash of butter, seasoned by salt and pepper.

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!