More beans than you can shake a stick at

Over the past few weeks, warmish temperatures and a steady dose of rain have helped our beans — bush beans, pole beans, and string beans — proliferate like mad! The beans have been growing far faster than we could ever eat them, and this past weekend, we found ourselves with a definite surplus.

This was our most recent harvest – a nice selection of purple and wax string beans, along with hearty Rattlesnake pole beans (the large green ones with the red streaks). Oh, and also a couple cherry tomatoes for good measure. 🙂

We also made our first harvest of shelling beans!

A couple varieties, still in their pods.

These turned out to be Tiger Eye beans (a bush variety) and Fort Portal Jade (a pole variety).

On the left are the extremely pretty and green Fort Portal beans – dried at top and raw at the bottom. On the right are the Tiger Eyes – raw ones at the top and dried ones, with their distinct maroon markings on gold, at the bottom. The ones in the middle are also Tiger Eyes, but they turned out all maroon for whatever reason.

While there are more Fort Portal beans to come, it looks like the Tiger Eye plants have had their say. As with beans, they might be done, or they might re-blossom later in the summer.

But, back to the busload of string beans. A much as we’ve been enjoying them simply steamed with dinner, we decided to do something a little different this past weekend, and make them into a light and delicious salad. We regularly make a Three-Bean Salad, but we wanted something a little different, so we turned to our trust Betty Crocker recipe book and found a little inspiration in the form of a “Tangy Vegetable Salad.” But we didn’t have everything on hand for that particular recipe, so we improvised. Here’s our version, which we’ll call “Simple Vegetable Salad (That’s Mostly String Beans).”


Simple Vegetable Salad (That’s Mostly String Beans)

Ingredients
  • 2-3 cups of coarsely chopped fresh string beans
  • approximately 1/2 cup (or so) each of chopped onion, carrots, peppers, and squash (we used a red pepper and summer squash, but any varieties could work)
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
Instructions

1. Gather all vegetables together; gather together ingredients for dressing.

Veggies, check.
Dressing ingredients, check.

2. Boil a little water (about 1/2 cup or so) in a large saucepan, and dump in the vegetables. Cook in boiling water for five minutes.

So pretty. It’s a little sad that the purple beans have to turn green when cooked.

3. After five minutes, drain the vegetable and rinse with cool water. Set aside.

See…no purple. Still delicious, though.

4. Place dressing ingredients into a small screw-top jar and shake vigorously to combine.

More shaking needed…

5. Place drained vegetables in a large bowl and pour over dressing. Stir gently, cover bowl, then place bowl in the fridge to chill for at least 4 hours before serving.

Delish!

5. While salad is chilling, stir occasionally until ready to serve. When serving, use a slotted spoon.


This is an excellent summer salad – light, filling, and refreshing. And it’s super quick to make! (Who wants to turn on the oven in 100 degree heat, anyway?!) One thing to note is that you could also used white wine or red wine vinegar for the dressing. And really, you could use just about any combination of vegetables. The original recipe called for cauliflower and the addition of sliced olives at the end. But our results turned out to be simply delicious. And that’s what’s important. 🙂

 

 

 

 

When a tree falls in the woods…

…and no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound?

That’s how the old philosophical question goes. But whether or not it makes a sound, the tree still falls, and that’s what matters. Only in our case, it was just a branch. That fell. Okay, maybe we need to go back to the beginning. (It’s not a very long journey.)

Friday evening after dinner, we gazed out upon the garden as we often do. It was then that we noticed something out of the ordinary. Basically, it looked as if a tree had unknowingly sprouted, full-sized, from the back bushes – where we have a small flowering tree that’s been overtaken by honeysuckle and pokeweed. Upon further gazing, we saw that it wasn’t a tree at all, but a huge branch from the adjacent tree, and it was completely covering our back barrels of tomatoes.

Oh dear.

We quickly set in motion. Upon finding shoes and heading out back, we pulled the giant branch away and onto the lawn. Fearing the worst, amazingly, we actually got the best for which we could hope. None of the tomatoes were severely damaged. Whew! The bulk of the branch, which was a good two feet around at its base, had fallen into the bushes. Three tomatoes plants on the end were most affected, having been covered by the branch’s zillion small, leafy branches, had been saved by their cages, one of which we tried out best to hammer back into a circular shape.

Of course, during the mess, no one thought to take a picture. Phooey. Then again, when saving plants, taking pictures is the last one’s worries.

We did manage to take a picture of what remained of the branch after being stripped of all other branches. It looks much less impressive in this state.

Anyway, much of the weekend was spent dealing with the large branch, stripping it of it’s small branches, whittling it down into pieces that could be easily disposed of, as well as trying to figure out why it had come down, and if any other branches were in danger of falling.  As of today, we’re so far, so good. Nothing else has fallen. And terms of the branch falling in the first place, the only thing we figure is that it might have been due to a squirrel’s nest that had been nestled at the base of the branch. Maybe it had allowed for excess moisture to seep into the joint, which gradually weakened it. Since the branch came down, we’ve only seen one of the pair of squirrels that we usually see. There was nothing in the remnants of the squirrel’s nest that was still attached to the branch, so we’re not sure what happened.

Meanwhile in the garden generally, everything else is just coming along like plants do. We’re still harvesting bunches of tasty string beans. And we also got our first cucumber of the year! Mmmm. There’s nothing quite like garden-fresh cucumbers. It remains to be seen if we’ll get enough of them for pickling. In addition to the one that we picked, a few more were growing nicely. It’ll probably be another week or so still before they’re ready to harvest.

Thankfully, none of the trees in our yard cover the garden proper, but still, we’re keeping our fingers crossed that all the branches on all the trees stay put. That single large branch caused enough excitement for the rest of the summer!

 

Flowers, flowers everywhere!

In a twist that only Mother Nature could appreciate, it looks like Springtime in the garden! Okay, so that’s not entirely true, but thanks to our late start this year, the garden certainly is blooming away here in early July. If nothing else, it makes for some pretty photo-ops, which is what we’re sharing this week.

So around this time last year (maybe a week or so later, actually), we already had zucchini coming in. Well, despite our volunteer squash that got a very early start, all we’ve got at this point this year is flowers. But we expect some squash to start showing at any time. The flowers sure are at their prettiest early in the mornings.

What is making quite the showing right now are the string beans! Yep, we just made out first harvest of them — yellow wax beans fancily called Beurre de Rocquencourt, along with a few delicate Purple Teepee beans  — a few days ago, along with some greens and some really beautiful basil.

So the beans are coming along nicely, and there’s already more to harvest!

Besides flowers that will lead to food, many of our other flowers are going strong. Our lace-cap hydrangea bush has rebounded with flying colors!

And we’ve got Double Bloom daylillies for…well, days!

Meanwhile, we just got our first peek at our new snapdragons. The ones below are the purple Black Prince variety. The pink Apple Blossom ones should be arriving soon.

And last but not least, we can’t talk flowers without talking marigolds. We planted several plots of them throughout the beds, and then scattered seeds as much as we could. (Some took, some didn’t.) In the borders of the concrete raised beds, we have some lovely French Dwarf marigolds that are coming in nicely…

…and then we have several plots of Nema-Gone marigolds are that looking good. This variety is supposed to be good for the soil (helps kill nematodes, or roundworms), and it produces lots of green foliage with beautiful, small, yellow-orange flowers.

Finally, we managed to get a shot of one of the newest members of the local rabbit clan.

As annoying as the rabbits can be, the little ones are very cute, we have to admit. A couple weeks ago, while we were cleaning up outside, we unknowingly spooked a tiny one (could have been this guy as a newborn) that had been hiding, and he ran right into one of the net cages and got himself all caught up. His freak-out lasted only a couple seconds as he managed to free himself before skedaddling. While we’ve not seen the parent bunnies recently, we have seen this single little guy hanging out in the yard frequently. He’s a brave one, too, as none of the neighbors’ dogs seems to phase him.

Ah, well. Hopefully a pretty garden will turn out to be a productive garden. There’s still several months to go!

 

Happy Fourth of July!

It’s a grand day for a celebration, no? 🙂

It’s rather hard to believe that it’s already the beginning of July (wasn’t January, like yesterday??). But here we are, and we had a lovely day full of  R n’ R, along with some grilling. We thought about doing some weeding, but those thoughts never quite translated into action. And now that the sun’s about down, we’ll also be taking in some fireworks. (There’s a nearby show that we can see from our backyard. Neat!) As such, we’re taking a break from posting today…um..other than this post to say we’re not posting.

How’s that for meta?

Anyway, we hope you enjoy(ed) a great 4th, whether you chose to sleep in or celebrate. We’ll be back next week with more updates from the garden. Cheers!

The year’s first update in pictures

As promised last week, it’s time for our first visual round-up of the garden. Not much more to say beyond that, so we’ll let the pictures do the talking!


Starting round back, only a handful of the tomatoes we planted in our back barrels are doing alright. We also planted pepper seedlings back here, but only one barrel of them survived, and they aren’t looking so hot. We’re really going to have to figure out how to get peppers again next year.

Moving around to the side, the various bush beans that we planted are doing okay. Rabbits got into a couple of the rows, so they have fewer plants. But it still looks like we’ll get a good number of beans, at least.

Cucumbers, anyone? The ones that are doing best are the volunteers – we found four a couple weeks ago. But the seeded ones are also starting to look very promising. We also stuck a couple tomato plants and a pepper plant in the middle – one of the tomatoes might need to be transplanted soon.

Thanks to the rabbits, the lettuce bed looks pretty sad, save for the flowers and herbs around the edges. (What they don’t know is that not only do we have lettuce planted elsewhere, including inside, but that we plan to reseed this bed in the late summer. HA! Take that you silly rabbits!)

Meanwhile, the other greens bed is look very nice, save for the poor romanesco (you can barely see the remaining stalks in the bottom right square of the bed), and endive (top left). The arugula in the other two squares is doing handsomely (it’s soooo delicious!), as are a number of the crops and flowers around the edges.

This is the lettuce/greens stash we have hiding away in our small hanging bed. No rabbits can get in here! And the squirrels ignore it, too.

The rabbits got into the peas early on, but they are starting to make something of a comeback. Unfortunately it’s a bit too warm for peas right now, but we’ll see if anything comes of the plants that are trying to make it. The extra marigolds along the front edge here seem to enjoy the bed, at least. And there’s extra tomato and peppers plants in here too.

Between the two stone beds, we have our two overwintered peppers (a new seedling went into the green pot top left this year, it’s slowly but surely doing well), a blackberry plant (bottom left) and a blueberry plant (bottom right) that we thought for sure was dead. Lo and behold, a new shoot appeared earlier in the year!

Back over to the beans, the pole beans are in various states. The black beans, which of off to the far right, seem to be doing the best at this point, but the rest are coming along.

Well isn’t this just a confusing picture of our radishes? Ground cherry plants have appeared in the far barrel. The close one contains only radishes. Well…radish greens, mostly. We’re letting them go to seed.

Over on the side of the house, the strawberries have really taken over (and that’s exactly what we want them to do!), and there’s a single tomato in this small pot that’s doing fairly well.

Continuing on the side of the house are a few more stray tomato plants. If these produce, it’ll likely happen later in the season. They don’t get much sun here, so they tend to grow a little slower. Our hope is that the strawberries that are growing off to the right will eventually take over this entire space.

The squash bed looks just about right, and the plants will soon start producing lots of large, beautiful flowers.

This is the volunteer squash on the end of the bed – it’s advanced quite a bit more than everything else. We’re still not sure what variety this is. The leaves and placement (based on last year) suggest an acorn squash, but odds are also good that it’s also either a Long Pie pumpkin or a traditional green zucchini.

And this is our single volunteer tomato, also in the squash bed. Whatever type it is, it’s a cherry variety for sure, as small fruits have already started appearing.

In contrast, our tomato bed is still looking rather sparse. The plants are actually coming along well, but they aren’t nearly as large as the volunteer tomato. But with the warm autumns that we’ve been having over the past couple years, we’re pretty sure that we’ll still get tomatoes from these plants later in the year.

Back with the strawberries over on the other side of the house. Oh how they’ve spread over the past three years! It’s amazing!

Moving to the front of the yard, this is the the first of our two flower beds. A volunteer red poppy appeared hear a number of weeks ago. It’s now fading, but it sure did produce a lot of blooms.

The second flower bed contains only one flower…

…and it’s a very pretty one. 🙂

That’ll do it for our garden gallery, for now. With July on the way, it’s now time for weeding,  watering, watching, and waiting!

We’ll always have arugula

Welp, the rabbits have had their day and then some.  They have summarily and sneakily done away with our ground-level lettuces, kale, romanesco, and endive. They also managed to get back into the peas, despite the brand-new netting on the cage. (Which they chewed right through – one hole on each side of the cage.) We’ll do a pictures round-up next week to show off the devastation.

SIGH.

Now, we knew that this might be a problem regardless of our efforts with planting bunny-keep-away flowers and redoing some of the netting on the cages,  but we didn’t quite expect that the rabbits would purposefully and, to be frank, knowingly try to get at our crops. Them chewing right through the netting surrounding the peas is testament to that. With the peas, at least, we repaired the holes in the net cage with double layers of new netting, and they’ve not chewed any new holes since, so maybe that’s good. Maybe it’s what drove them to decimate everything else in sight. We’re not sure. Without giving the rabbits too much credit, is it too crazy to think that they know what we’re going to plant and where? Hmm. It seems like we might have to rethink our planting strategies next year.

Anyway, of all the leafy green things in the ground that rabbits enjoy, they have always avoided the arugula. Oh, they’ll step all over it to get to the more succulent lettuces, but they’ve never taken but a bite of any of it. We’ve also noticed that they haven’t touched our little bunches of mesclun mix, which contain a formidable green that almost tastes like mustard or horseradish. (But it’s not a mustard green, as far as we can tell.) And they can’t get to the greens that we have growing in a small hanging bed, so that’s a plus. But now we’re thinking: are peppery, potent, spicy greens the way to go for ground-level planting?

If so, that’s fine by us! We l-o-v-e arugula, and this year we planted two different types. In the picture above, which contains a mix of argulas and other greens, we have standard arugula, the kind with the big, fluted leaves that one might see in the grocery store. It’s generally peppery with a delicious licorice-like flavor. But then we have Wild Rocket Arugula, which is like a mini version of standard arugula. It’s got an even stronger flavor that almost like lemon-pepper. Since we started planting arugula a few years ago, it’s always done well. And it’s the kind of green that we can re-seed (though it also seeds itself, we’ve found) throughout the season.

So despite whatever problems the rabbits have caused, we’ll always have arugula. 🙂

 

One can never have too many strawberries…maybe

If there’s one thing that we’ve wanted to do ever since starting strawberries, it’s make a strawberry pie.  Okay, so maybe it’s not the most groundbreaking goal, but it’s a goal nonetheless.  And as trite as it might sound, it really comes down to the true goal: get enough strawberries to make a pie. Well, this year, the strawberries haven’t disappointed.

Last week we lamented a bit on how much critters, like slugs and squirrels, like strawberries too. (And we swear we saw a shrew in the strawberry patch the other day, too.) Last week, we were also dealing with a bout of grim, wet weather.  So far this week, not only have we had clear skies,  but it’s been sunny and hot. Like record-breaking H.O.T., which stinks for the humans, but is great for the strawberries.  In fact, it’s possible we might have too many strawberries…

…nah.

Anyway, back to the pie. The recipe for the pie we had in mind came from our trusty Better Homes and Garden cookbook: Berry Glacé Pie. It sounds fancy, but it’s super simple, requires no cooking save for a baked pie shell, and as it turns out, totally delicious. (As much as we’ve wanted to make a strawberry pie, the worry remained that a baked pie would result in mushy, nearly non-existent berries, which is pretty unappetizing.  Because this is a chilled pie, the berries stay nice and firm, softening up only slightly over time.)

Berry Glacé Pie

 Ingredients

1 baked pie shell (homemade, store-bought, your choice)
8 cups fresh strawberries (the smaller, the better)
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch

(Yes, 4 ingredients; that’s it!)

Instructions

  1. Prepare you pie shell in whatever manner is necessary.
  2. For strawberries, remove stems and leaves. Cut any large strawberries in half lengthwise and set aside in a bowl.
    (Note: since all our strawberries have to be vetted for anything that might have burrowed their way inside [yuck], we cut all our strawberries in half. The prettier version of the pie, as listed below, contains whole strawberries that are neatly arranged with their pointy ends up. We just layered our berries as they seemed to best fit.)
  3. For the glaze, in a blender container or food processor bowl combine 1 cup of the strawberries and 2/3 water. Cover and blend or process until smooth. Add enough additional water to the mixture to equal 1 1/2 cups. In a medium saucepan combine sugar and cornstarch; stir in blended berry mixture. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir 2 minutes more. (Optional: stir in a few drops red food coloring.) Cool for 10 minutes without stirring.
  4. Spread about 1/4 cup of the glaze over bottom and sides of pie crust. Arrange half of the remaining strawberries, stem ends down, in pastry.
  5. Carefully spoon half of the remaining glaze over berries, making sure all berries are covered. Arrange remaining berries over first layer. Spoon remaining glaze over berries, covering each. Chill for 1 to 2 hours. (After 2 hours, filling may begin to water out). Garnish with whipped cream.

The most surprising thing about this pie, and maybe it shouldn’t be surprising at all,  is how refreshingly bright it tastes. Because our berries are a little tart and the glaze is very sweet, the pie is perfectly balanced, neither too sweet nor too tart. It’s also kept pretty well over several days, despite the recipe’ s warning that the glaze might become watery. Ours hasn’t, though it has congealed, darkened, and become a little cloudy. It’s probably best, indeed, that the pie is eaten sooner rather than later, but as much as we could probably eat a single pie in a day, we probably shouldn’t.  Probably.

Take one baked pie shell…
…and some strawberries…
…top with glaze and chill. Voila!
Presently, the strawberry crop is slowing down a little, though new growth is appearing, as are new flowers. Right now, we’ve got enough berries for another pie, but maybe we should aim to make jam or something. We’ll see.
Meanwhile in the garden, things are doing okay.  It’s looking like the majority of tomato seedling are starting to really take root. Can’t say the same about the peppers, sadly. Looks like another slim year there. But the cucumber, beans, and squash are all taking off, as are some of the radishes. Peas are another story. (Maybe we’ll get to that lament week.) And we’ve got greens for days. Delicious!
So many delicious salads!