Saturday, February 27, 2010

Week of March 1 2010 : Beans

(Here is a file photo of soybeans and a comic strip too. Soybeans are such a beautiful plant and fun to grow. They are a tastee snack when eaten as edamame and they can be processed into foods such as milk and tofu. The plants are legumes, meaning they fixate nitrogen into the soil as they grow so they are part of a sound crop rotation).

Years ago when I was running and competing in road races, I found myself at the start line of a race. To everybody on the start line, this was no random point. To the real competitors, it was exactly 5 gut wrenching, soul searching kilometers from downtown Navarre. To me, it was the middle of some farmer's soybean field. While everybody else was warming up and stretching, I was oogling the beans.

So THAT was what real beans looked like.

My beans at home did not look like these beans. My beans were bean stumps. The seeds germinated and grew but the deer chomped them all down to stumps. The beans were determined and continued to grow. Soon the deer were back and the plants reduced to stumps, again.

Many years and a 7' fence later, my beans look like those Navarre beans. Although those were probably processing bean, I grow fresh market beans. Just like field corn is to sweet corn, soybean is to edamame. Both field corn and soybean are intended to be harvested dry then processed. But sweet corn and edamame are intended to be harvested fresh and succulent.

The most common use for fresh soybean is to boil in salty water then eat as a snack. My favorite recipe is roasted sweet corn and edamame salad. What is your favorite edamame recipe?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Week of February 22 2010 : Twa-taw

(Here is a photo of Nathaniel on the twa taw which translates to "tractor". He celebrated his 15 month birthday by going solo. Butt on the seat. Hands on the steering wheel. The kid is certainly talented. Click on the photo for a high-res close up. Check out the INTENSITY!!!).

I still remember when my dad taught me how to drive our tractor. And I remember when he taught me how to push the lawn mower and how to drive a truck. Every lesson started with a safety lesson.

And I used this photo opp to give Nathaniel his first equipment safety lesson. I plan to repeat the lesson often. I already anticipate the rolling eyes and the shrugging shoulders. But those reactions only mean that I am getting through. Probably the most useful info blurb relates to patience.

Nearly all accidents can be traced to impatience. Whenever you feel impatient, stop immediately. Make time to reassess what is important to you. Accomplishing the task at hand may be important. But your personal safety is even more important.

My grandmother also shared her wisdom on the matter: It is better to get there late than not at all.

This time of year, patience really applies to growing too. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement and get seeds started too early. Bigger seedlings really dont mean earlier crops.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


I admittedly know very little about how to grow stuff. Ask Mike. I'm lucky if my annual flowers make it to August. I have always loved plants--inside ones and outside ones. Especially, my family's gardens.

Especially my great-grandfather's. He lived and gardened until he was 95 and I was 15. He lived in a suburb of Cleveland and had an acre of land, max. But he made the most of it. His house was up on a ridge and I remember climbing rickety stairs down the ivy covered hill to get to the shangri-la he maintained below. The first stop were the fruit trees: applies, plums and pears. I particularly remember how delicious the plums always were.

After the fruit trees were the berry bushes. He has lots of raspberries and blueberries. I particularly remember the blueberries. Yum. In fact, the blueberries ripening were always the draw down to great-grandpa's garden. Their lifespan is so short and the birds are so primed to steal them that we had to strike while the iron was hot! So, we'd load up the car with as many friends as we could muster to share the bounty and head on down to pile nature's most delicious blue candies in our baskets. Then we'd go home and bake blueberry pancakes and blueberry muffins and blueberry pie.

And then just out beyond the shade of the fruit trees, edged by the berry bushes was the vegetable patch. Garlic, chamomile, corn, beets, onions, carrots, tomatoes and peppers. Great-grandpa was from Slovenia and new all the old-country tricks for keeping the goodies all year. His house always smelled like the dried garlic and he always had something good cooking on the stove.

No, I could't keep a plant alive if my life depended on it, but all my life I've appreciated the fruits of others' labor.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Week of February 15 2010 : Farm in a Box

(Here is a photo of all the seeds that will become this summer's market vegetables. There are forty three seed packets and bags in the box. That is a 747 jet in the background just to give you some perspective on size. Thankfully I made no attempt to track how much time I spent researching and deciding which 43 varieties to purchase).

Laura posted a photo of her Vegetable Jambalaya, which featured vegetables from last summer's market garden. This time last year, those tasty vegetables where nothing more than seed packets waiting in my grow room. During the course of the growing season, I will share with you how we transform these seed packets into vegetable jambalaya.

The big bag in the middle may be my favorite seed: New Zealand White Clover.

White clover is a versatile cover crop. I grow it primarily between the cash crop rows. The clover can be frost seeded very early in the season; thus it has a chance to germinate first and establish a canopy to smoother weeds.

During the season, the clover stabilizes soil temperature and moisture. White clover, like sweet clover, does not flower until its second year, so neither attracts beneficial insects such as bees during the first year. But it offers protection for other beneficial insects that happen to be there. The clover also reduces splashing during rain storms. This means cleaner vegetables and more importantly suppresses the spread of disease.

At the end of the season, the clover is incorporated into the soil. This adds nitrogen and plenty of organic matter to the soil. I always inoculate the seed to ensure nitrogen fixation. The clover dies easily without herbicides the first year; after clover survives a winter then it becomes very persistent and can survive plowing.

This year, I am considering underseeding my broccoli and cabbage with clover. How exciting is clover !!!

Yes I know clover is not very tasty, even the cloverphile woodchucks prefer the vegetables over clover. I will be sure to share the rest of the seeds in the 'farm in a box' with you too.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Vegetable Jambalaya Stew

Mike is always touting my cooking skills. I guess it's time I prove it :) I like to make up recipes with whatever I have available. In the summer, this means playing Iron Chef with whatever Mike brings me from the garden. In the winter it means clearing out the freezer and the cans in the pantry. The winter is a particularly good time to make use of the crock pot!

Today I had some chicken andouille sausage so I figured I'd make up something cajun-inspired.

We'll call this concoction Vegetable Jambalaya Stew


- 4 stalks of celery chopped
- 4 carrots chopped
- 1 large red onion chopped
- 2 large cloves garlic minced
- 2 russet potatoes chopped
- 2 sweet potatoes chopped
- 1 cup frozen green beans (from last summer's garden)
- 1\2 cup frozen green bell peppers chopped (from last summer's garden)
- 2 pints of canned tomatoes (from last summer's garden)
- 12 oz of chicken andouille sausage sliced thin
- cajun seasoning to taste (I like Tony Chachere's)
- oregano to taste
- black pepper to taste
(I did not use salt because it is in the Tony Chachere's)
- 1 cup brown rice
- 1 cup dried black-eyed peas
- 2 cups vegetable stock
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 cup water (more as needed)

Put all ingredients in the crock pot and cook on high for 6 hours (I like the high setting to make sure the beans are soft by dinner time). Check every hour or so to see if you need to add more water. I usually end up adding a couple of cups to my concoctions over the cooking period. Serve with corn bread. Freeze all the left overs for later!

I used what I had available, but you could use any number of other ingredients in place of the ones I listed or in addition to them. I really love brussel sprouts with cajun seasoning, but I didn's have any. I think cauliflower would also be good. Of course you can also omit anything too--use all white or sweet potatoes, for instance. Also, any kinds of beans could be used--including canned beans--or you could omit them. Finally, you could add or replace the sausage with boneless skinless chicken thighs or shrimp (although wait until the last 1\2 hour of cooking to add the shrimp so it doesn't become rubbery).