No News is Good News

At this point in the year, the gardening calendar says that we have about three weeks left until first frost. But based on what Mother Nature has thrown at us this month – a wacky combination of summer and fall (Fummer? Summ-all?) — it’s very possible that the garden will keep going well into November, if not beyond. But that’s kind of how it’s been the past couple years. That said, we wouldn’t mind having just a normal winter, one that’s generally cold with the occasional (and not massive) snowfall.

Seems like “normal” is anything but, these days.

If it seems like we’re just blathering on, we are, because outside of beans and tomatoes, there’s not much to talk about. Looking outside, aside for a few plants that have bit the dust, mostly the bush beans and the barrel of ground cherries, things don’t appear much different than they did at the end of September. We’re still getting droves of Sun Sugar Hybrid cherry tomatoes, along with several other varieties (though more in handfuls than in droves).

If anything exciting has happened, it’s that we have not one, but two beautiful Jersey Giant tomatoes!

This may not seems like something worth celebrating, but we’ve had trouble growing this rare paste tomato the past couple years. The fact that these two not only grew but ripened before the end of the season is a very happy thing. 🙂 We’ll definitely be saving these tomatoes’ seeds once we dare cut into them!

While we’ve been making loads of sauce with our tomato crop this year, we’ve also been cooking up a storm. This past weekend, even though the weather wasn’t as fall-like as we had hoped, we made a couple batches of chili.

Meatless, top; with meat, bottom. Still early in the cooking process here.

The chili turned out a little thinner than usual, but it tasted fresh and really delicious!

In the meantime, checking in on our beans…

This is the stash that we shelled last week. (Rain over the weekend kept us from picking more.) It’s dried quite nicely, and it’ll soon be time to sort them. Fun! No, really. We’re already starting to plan some new bean dishes for the new year. Hoppin’ John is a staple, but with the variety we have, it only seems right to try some new stuff. We’d like to try making re-fried black beans from scratch, as well as that classic Italian soup, Pasta e Fagioli. (Okay, we we don’t have any white beans, so it won’t be “classic,” but surely we can try something new?) But first, the garden has to dry out so that we can get pick the rest of the beans.

Yep, no matter what, the season’s not over yet!

 

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Bean-stravaganza!

If someone had told us years ago that not only would we someday spent our weekends sorting beans, bit that we would also enjoy it, well…we’d have thought that person was slightly off their rocker.

But here we are.

Yep, this weekend we sorted beans.

And it was fun, because of course it was! We’ve come to really enjoy growing shelling beans, because you get so much from very little work. Of course, maybe we should learn to train out beans better so that they don’t grow into a massive tangle, but then, hunting for the beans on a cool fall morning is part of the fun, as well. Though, perhaps we should say of late, a warm fall morning, as summer recently reared its ugly head here at the beginning of October. Still, picking dried bean pods no matter the weather is still rewarding, because from then emerge jewels. (Jewels you can eat, nonetheless!)

The collection of beans in the picture above is what we gathered before our last post. This past weekend, they were all finally dry enough to sort. Sure, we could be proactive about it and just sort the beans as we shell them, but sometimes beans don’t dry as nicely as you think they should. Sorting them by hand later lends, we think, to better quality control. Luckily, of the mass of beans we had to sort, only a fraction of them turned out to be bad. The rest went into storage containers and are destined for some bean sup come the winter. Yum!

Meanwhile, there were plenty more beans to pick. You might imagine our surprise when we went out to the bean patch and found a new if small crop of wax beans!

The wax beans were a real surprise, as only a couple weeks ago we thoughts the plants were pretty much done. Seems they had other ideas! Somewhat surprisingly, the batch of beans was very tasty. They were a little tough, but nowhere near as leathery as one might expect late-season string beans to be.

Meanwhile, with the new bowl-full of new pods, we had to get to more shelling! And the results..?

Hoo boy, what a selection of beans we got! The beans ranged from fresh (raw) to fully dried. Mst noticeable here are the Christmas Lima beans, the largest of which are as meaty as the end of one’s thumb! (And there are many more pods still on the wines outside.) Beyond that, we also had a great harvest of Dixie Speckled Butterpeas – they are mini Lima beans that are pick with maroon speckles. We also got some more black beans, as well as the pretty, green-gray Fort Portal Jade beans. We also ended up with a handful of the white-with-dark-speckles Rattlesnake beans, as well as just a few gray spotted Blue Goose cowpeas. What made up the bulk of the harvest was the Red Ripper cowpeas. In the photo, the plain dark pink ones are fully dried, bt the tan-colored ones (which look more like light pink in person) are the fresh, raw beans that need to dry.

With all the craziness going on in the world today, it’s nice to know that, no matter what, we’ll always have beans. 🙂

Tomatoes and Beans

Yup. Tomatoes and beans. That’s about all that’s going on this garden right now. While that might not sound very exciting, it truly is! Because (1) we have lots of tomatoes, and (2) we have lots of beans. And we mean LOTS.

Well, okay…so “lots” is relative. This harvest of tomatoes — which includes all the cherry tomato varieties we’ve been growing, plus a number of Plums and Marmanades (the round, fluted ones) —  isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of gardening for many, but it’s quite a large harvest when gardening for two (plus a cat, who, oddly enough, doesn’t like tomatoes). And when you end up with a harvest like this every couple days or week over the course of a summer/fall, well, a lot of tomatoes can turn into too many tomatoes. In the past we tried canning with great success, but this year, as we’ve written about before, we opted to try making and freezing basic spaghetti sauces. The results have been excellent so far. In fact, this past weekend, we made our third batch of sauce.

Two pans o’ tomatoes, ready for roasting.

This last batch will be the first that features a good mix of the larger tomatoes, such as Roma (plum tomatoes) and Rutgers, along with a couple Marmandes, and the cherry tomatoes. We’ve found that the difference in the sauces tends to lie in acidity. The two batches of sauces that we had previously made are a little more acidic in flavor and require rather heavy seasoning. This last batch, with the addition of the larger, sweeter tomatoes, had a much more rounded flavor. We didn’t have to use quite as much sugar and salt, especially, to appease any bitterness.  The resulting sauce is just a tad bit more appealing when used plain over fresh pasta. The more acidic sauces are really good when used with either cheese or meat, like on pizza or a meatball sandwich. But that’s probably just personal preference.

Meanwhile, as we’ve been saying, when we’re not dealing with tomatoes, we’re dealing with beans. So many BEANS!

This past week and weekend, we made several trips out to the patch of pole beans to collect as many dried and drying pods as we could. The results have been more than fantastic! Most surprising are the black beans. We had a moderate harvest of them last year, but this year, the two black bean plants that produced have been wildly prolific. The same is true of the Dixie Speckled Butter Peas, a mini Lima bean of sorts (also, not a pole bean). We only got a few pods of them last year, but this year, the little row of plants is just crazy with them! As in the past, the Red Ripper and Blue Goose cowpeas remain strong. And it looks like we’ll be in for a major harvest of the Christmas Lima Beans before too long (lots of pods, not many beans visible in them yet). In the picture above, you might also spot a few plain, round green-gray beans – those are the Fort Portal Jades, a new variety for us this year. They did alright – we got at least enough to try in a soup or stew. As for the red and white striped beans, those are Rattlesnake beans that we let dry. Those you can harvest the full pods early and eat them like string beans, or you can dry the pods and just re-hydrate the beans.

With another push of warm-ish weather promised this week, along with plenty of sun, we hope to see the last our our larger tomatoes ripen. In addition to lots of Romas, Rutgers, and Marmandes, we also have a plant with some very green Jersey Giants on the vine! Those special tomatoes are particularly delicious, and we really hope that they’ll come to fruition before it gets too chilly. *fingers crossed*

The year’s third update in pictures

Despite the rough-ish start with the garden this year, things have turned out to be quite nice! Sure, there were some setbacks (ugh, squash bugs), but each problem brought with it a new learning experience.  Can’t complain about that! When we started things, we thought that we might make a real attempt at some fall gardening this year, but other projects have been calling us indoors. Even so, there’s still plenty going on outside (even if that’s mostly flowers), so let’s take another trip around the yard in pictures. (Pictures are in no particular order.)


It’s amazing how much the strawberries have spread. Just a couple years ago, they were just a couple plants in the patch to the far right in the picture. Now, they take up several feet of space. And each year, the berries get better and better!

After the squash bug outbreak, the only plant left in the second stone bed is this volunteer tomato, which turned out to be a Sun Sugar Hybrid cherry tomato plant. And yes, it’s just one plant. No joke!

In the first stone bed, the tomato plants have been doing alright. From it we got several nice red Rutgers tomatoes and lots of Chocolate Sprinkles cherry tomatoes. Now, there’s a Roma tomato plant that’s producing well. A few of the plants grew nicely, but then never produced anything. Behind the tomatoes are our fluffy, puffy asparagus plants.

Over on the side of the house, the tomatoes we put there have been a little sparse, but from them we’ve gotten some late harvests of Roma tomatoes and Chocolate Sprinkles cherry tomatoes.

In this raised bed, we had originally planted a bunch of different lettuces. Now, it’s home to marigolds, strawflowers, and snapdragons.

This raised bed was first home to peas, but the rabbits made short work of them back in May/June. Not long ago, it had a lovely Yellow Pear cherry tomato plant in it, but it withered. Now, it’s all about marigolds, yes, peppers!

Another raised bed taken over by marigolds, and in the top corner, Sweet Alyssum.

Even the cucumbers couldn’t escape the marigolds! If you look close enough, you might see the cherry tomato plant hiding on the left side of the bed.

The pole beans have gone gangbusters! As the always do, the plants have become a beautifully intertwined mass. And the beans, they are plentiful!

We haven’t said much about our volunteer ground cherries this year. While the plants came in, they haven’t been as prolific as in past years. If there have been any fruits, the squirrels have gotten to them. (Which is okay, because it keeps them away from the tomatoes!)

Believe it or now, there are beans hiding behind these marigolds! While the string beans are pretty much done, there’s a row of mini lima beans (Dixie Speckled Butterpeas) that have been doing nicely.

The tomato plants in the back are doing well to varying degrees. The plant on the right produced a few lovely purple Gypsy tomatoes. Beyond that, we have a couple cherry tomato plants, what we think is a Marmande plant, a Jersey Giant plants, a dud, and a Yellow Gooseberry plant.

Good on you if you scrolled all the way down here! 🙂 So here we are with a good month or so of gardening time left. Even though fall hit officially late last week, it’s been more like July around here than September. Hot and humid! But this trend has definitely pushed many tomatoes into ripening, and we hope there’ll be more to come before it’s all said and done.

AAAA-CHOO!!

Fall allergies are the best, aren’t they?

And by “best,” we meant the worst…the absolute worst.

The weekend, pretty much.

Unfortunately, the bout with allergies started up before the weekend, and it seemed to come on rather suddenly. Before we knew it, the weekend was over and we were knee-deep in wadded-up kleenex. Thankfully, between upping vitamins and some OTC allergy meds, the general symptoms seemed to have quelled significantly, possibly thanks to some recent rain we had (with more on the way). Either way, we didn’t have the most productive week, garden-wise.

That said, things are looking pretty good for September. Though we went though a cool spell, we’re back up into warm and humid territory. It’s nowhere near as bad a summer, but it is a little warmer than usual. While that may be bad for us, it is good for the tomatoes! In fact, we found ourselves with a whole new basket-full of new tomatoes come the weekend. So this year we decided to try making and freezing spaghetti sauce. Sure, it’s not the most unique thing to do with tomatoes, but it occurred to us that though we had successfully frozen tomato puree before, we hadn’t actually tried freezing fully-made sauce before. So we got to roasting and cooking. By the time it was all said and done, we ended up with one half-full freezer bag of sauce. Less than we would have liked, but enough to start out with. Considering how nice it smelled while cooking, we certainly hope that it provides the same when we try it later on in the winter.

Besides keeping our fingers crossed that more tomatoes ripen before the sunshine really gives way to fall temps, next on our to-do list is the pole beans. They have been quietly doing their thing for awhile now. We’ve been picking them intermittently, but judging by how many pods populate the vines now, it looks like it’s high time we did a major harvest. As long as allergies stay suppressed and the outlook for the weekend remains positive weather-wise, we should be in for a shelling party soon!

September Means Marigolds

Marigolds are one of those flowers. It seems that they’ll grow just about anywhere. And as long as they get a little sun and an occasional watering, they always seem to be quite happy that they exist.

We’ve been planting various types of marigolds in our garden for a few years now. They are good companion plants to have, not only because they are pretty, but also because they bring in lots of pollinators and tend to keep away pests. (Unless those pests are chickens. Oh, if only we could have chickens!) Some years our marigolds took off like wildfire; other years were more slim. This year is something like a wildfire year. Though some of the marigolds got far too large for their own good — all they do now is keel over in a pile of green – others are beautiful involving the fall colors of maroon and gold.

Perfectly fall-like!

We planted several different varieties, but only two of them really took off. First are the Nema-Gone marigolds.

Nema-Gone marigolds. Delicate and pretty flowers.

This variety came from Burpee, and it caught our attention because it’s supposed to help quell nematodes – something like roundworms – in soil. Though we don’t think we have this particular problem, we were curious to see how the plants did next to lettuces and green, many of which like to get attacked by various bugs. Seeing as how the rabbits got into the lettuces before we could see the results, it didn’t really matter in the end. But we ended up with large, lovely plants with small orange-yellow flowers…which we really should have thinned, as it turned out. In both beds where we put the Nema-Gones, they absolutely took over. Not in terms of spreading, but the foliage grew at an overwhelming rate, overshadowing anything under it. We had something similar happen with a variety called Harlequin that we planted a couple years ago, but those plants were not nearly as voluminous with green.

This mass is actually two Nema-Gone plants that grew tall and branched out so much that they fell over.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the Petite Mix marigolds. More along the lines of what one might think of when hearing “marigold,” these bushy little plants with an abundance of red/gold flowers have really brightened up our garden! We scattered these seeds just about everyone, but they really came up in the raised beds and along the border of the bush beans. We know that their blooms with last for quite some time still. Even when the nighttime temps dip rather low for this time of year (fall came early, at least for the moment), there still seem perfectly happy. We had one of these plants die early, and we’re not sure why, because it seems take an awful lot of work to make one meet its demise. But the rest of the plants are quite content. And how much to we enjoy looking out and seeing fall in our backyard. (Quite a lot, thank you!)

Here’s a bunch growing in one of the raised beds.
These are the ones growing along the bush beans.
One of these particular plants produced all-gold flowers. Nice!
More Petite Mix marigolds in another raised bed.
And another! Along with a Nema-Gone plant, here.

Speaking of flowers, our success with some of our new varieties – snapdragons and strawflowers, in particular – has already prompted some debate about next year’s gardening layout. Here’s hoping that our talk will pan out into action, as we hope to expand our flower-y horizons even more next year and in the years to come. 🙂

Here’s a pile of Sweet Alyssum. It’s a great ground cover plant – it spreads easily and produces clusters of  small, white blooms.
One of the remaining Black Prince snapdragons, along with a Nema-Gone marigold trying to steal the show!
Can’t get enough good shots of the Strawflowers. They are amazing!

A Lovely Labor Day Weekend

Depending on where you are in the world, you might have celebrated a long weekend that culminated yesterday in Labor Day. In our neck of the woods, that’s precisely what we did, and what a nice weekend it was. A perfect time to share a final summer celebration with friends and family.

Well…okay, so it rained. A lot, actually. Enough to keep the garden satiated until the next storm that’s promised here in a day or two. But it was a perfect rain. The type of rain expected in the fall — cool, steady, and only slightly breezy. In fact, the whole weekend was fall-like, which was simply wonderful after going through such a warm/hot/super hot summer. All in all, there was little to complain about, even if the rain affected some outdoor plans.

In the garden, well, it’s pretty much the status quo, except…

…we have have carrots!

A few years ago (2014?) was the first time we had any luck with carrots, and it was thanks to finding a smaller, stouter variety that wouldn’t mind our dense soil.  We ended up with a nice harvest. Each year since we tried again and again with carrots without much success. Well, this year, we ended up with quite a surprise – smaller carrots AND regular sized carrots! In the picture above, the small carrots are called Parisienne, while the larger one is a Purple Dragon.

So the Parisienne seeds are the same ones we bought a few years back. The Dragon seeds were a free pack we received from Jung’s Seeds this year.  Since this year was all about experimenting with planting in the new concrete blocks that we used to replaced our rotting wooden raised beds, we decided that planting carrots in a few of the extra spaces would be worth a shot. We planted carrot seeds in three spots and two of them sprouted. (The third one was too close to the a marigold that took over things readily.) Once the initial spouting happened, we then weeded out the carrots seedlings quite…well…harshly it seemed. We ended up getting rid of most of the Dragon seedlings save for three (the total number of carrots we ended up with as of today), and we saved about 12-15 of the Parisienne seedlings. In hindsight, we probably should have weeded them further as a number of them turned out quite small.

In the end, we’re really pleased with the harvest. The Parisienne carrots are very sweet and crisp, while the Dragon carrots have a nice “carrot-y” flavor with slightly bitter aftertaste. And it all just goes to show that with gardening, it never hurts to try something new, and keep trying no matter how poorly things might turn out. Because, in the end, the results might not be so bad after all!