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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚

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) —Β  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.Β  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*

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. πŸ™‚

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. πŸ™‚

 

 

 

 

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. Β 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!

 

The last of what we have to say about beans and squash

If you’re just joining us, welcome to our blog about beans and squash! Haha, okay…we’re joking. But seriously, if anyone looks at our posts from the past year, one might think that’s about all we grow. It’s not, but beans and squash are about the only things that truly proliferated in our garden this year. So it seems fitting that, as we approach the end of the season, we should at least pay one final tribute to the beans and squash that are going to keep our bellies full this winter.

But before we get to that, we have to point out a statement we made in last week’s post in which we discussed the year’s first frost. (Things didn’t actually frost over, but we came very close.) In that post we said the following:

So it seems our hopes for a warm October probably won’t happen.

Well, it seems Mother Nature just might have taken pity on our poor, poor garden, for it looks like we’ve ventured into an Indian Summer! Yep, the past couple days have been unseasonably warm with daytime temps reaching into the 80s. And it looks like the trend is going to continue until the weekend. (Good thing we haven’t yet made the switch over to winter clothes!) So the roller-coaster of a year in weather just keeps going and going. Now, five days of warm weather isn’t suddenly going to make all our tomatoes ripen, but it might do something good. We’ll do another (and final) roundup of pictures next week, so we’ll see what happens.

Meanwhile, back inside, we’ve been slowing watching our collections of Long Pie Pumpkins turn from green to bright orange.

035squash

Sorry that the picture is a little dark. In the light, these guys nearly match our kitchen’s orange walls! The one at the top has ripened the most, so it’s very possible it’ll become a Thanksgiving (or sooner!) pie. You might be wondering about that green squash in the upper corner. Well, we are too! With an unintentionally large crop of traditional zucchini this year, we’ve been paying close attention to the zucchini versus the Long Pies, which look remarkably similar. The way to tell the two apart is that the Long Pies, on the vine, develop a bright orange spot on their undersides. At that point you pick them and let them ripen indoors. When we picked this dark green squash just a week ago, we were pretty sure it was a zucchini. It did have a slightly unripened, yellowish spot on it’s underside, but it wasn’t bright orange. Well, over the past week, that yellow spot has turned more orange than not. If this is a zucchini, the yellow spot should have begun to turn a little green by now (with the whole squash going completely dark green in a couple weeks). As we already mistook one zucchini for a Long Pie earlier in the year, we don’t want to make the same mistake twice. So for now, we’re just keep an eye on it.

As for beans, well, the pole beans haven’t been showing any signs of stopping in the cooler weather. We came away with this haul over the weekend.

035beans1

That’s a variety of pole beans on the left and Christmas Lima Bean pods on the right. After shelling everything, we have yet another pan of drying beans.

035beasn2

The lima bean pods always look more promising than they are, as each podΒ  generally only holds one to two beans. As for the pole beans, we didn’t get nearly as many as we first thought because some of the pods/beans had gone moldy. Makes sense considering how cool and damp its been until this week. We’ll be doing another bean harvest over the weekend, so we’ll see how things fare after the warm week.

So our bean collection this year is looking pretty good.

035beans3

We’ve got a nice big bag of sorted beans, and more that need to be sorted. We’ll be transferring these into canning jars soon so that we can easily store them into the winter. No doubt, we’ll be enjoying some multi-bean soup in the coming months! (And, of course, we’ve set aside a good complement of seed beans to plant next year.) Hmmm…squash and bean soup actually sounds pretty good. Maybe that’ll be something to experiment with. πŸ™‚

Beans! Glorious Beans!

After recovering from last week’s mini-flu and being merry this past Labor Day weekend, we got back out into the garden to pick…BEANS! If there’s one thing in the garden that’s doing better than just about everything else it’s the beans. Not the string beans (their season has passed), but the pole beans and bush beans, both of which require shelling and drying.

Just a handful of said beans, waiting to be shelled.
Just a handful of said beans, waiting to be shelled.

Or, in our case, just shelling because the pods and beans have already dried! That’s the really nice thing about thee beans — if you happen to forget about them, having them dry on the plants is no problem. At least them you’re sure that the beans are ready to store. (Though it’s always a good idea to set them out to dry for at least a few days, just to make sure they are all really dry. In the case of beans, one bad, wet bean can spoil the whole bunch, so no sense in letting your harvest go moldy.)

With having yesterday (Labor Day) off, we go to picking and shelling. We’ve got plenty to save now, and looking at what’s left on the plants, there are lots more to come! So let’s see just some of what we ended up with.

It’s kind of a short story, because once we shell all the beans…

Shelled and ready to sort.
Shelled and ready to sort.

…then it’s time to sort.

The first few of many piles.
The first few of many piles.

In the picture above we ended up with Blue Goose cowpeas (top left), Red Ripper cowpeas (top center), a few unripe black beans (top right), Cherokee Trail of Tears black beans (right), Holstein cowpeas (bottom center right), a couple Christmas lima beans (bottom center left), and Turkey Craw beans (bottom left). It’s a veritable cacophony of beans!

Seeing as how pretty the beans are, we couldn’t resist taking a few “artistic” shots.

The Blue Goose beans are very pretty, and they aren't really blue. More of a light gray speckled when they are raw. They become more brown when dry.
The Blue Goose beans are very pretty, and they aren’t really blue. More of a light gray speckled when they are raw. They become more brown when dry.
The Red Ripper beans start out very pink. They eventually dry to a deep maroon color.
The Red Ripper beans start out very pink. They eventually dry to a deep maroon color.
The speckled Turkey Craw beans also start out very pink and white. When dry, the pink part turns a dark, dull red, and the white part browns a little.
The speckled Turkey Craw beans also start out very pink, and white. When dry, the pink part turns a dark, dull cranberry red, and the white part turns beige.
The black beans are the prettier of them all. When raw, they take on various shades of dark blue and violet. They all dry a deep black.
The black beans are the prettiest of them all. When raw, they take on various shades of dark blue and violet. They all dry a deep black.

In addition to making a good harvest of these beans, we also managed a decent if small crop of soybeans this year.

Edamame, anyone?
Edamame, anyone?

Last year the squirrels and rabbits got to the soybeans before they even had a chance. This year, we planted the soybeans in one of the back barrels (when tomatoes would have been if they hadn’t died off early), and they did pretty well. We might try this placement for them again next year.

As more beans come in, it’ll soon be time to plan out all the bean soups and stews we’ll be making this winter! That is an exciting prospect, indeed. πŸ™‚