Wild Gourd Farm

Organic Gardening in St. Louis City

Category Archives: Harvests

Growing Black Beans

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We’ve been growing dried beans for several years now. They store well and provide us with an easy source of protein. I like growing dried beans because of their dual uses; with the right varieties, you end up with at least two distinct harvests- an early harvest of green beans and a later harvest of dried beans when the seeds are mature. In the past we’ve grown Bolita beans (a type of pinto bean from Baker Creek), this Trail of Tears black bean, a type of cowpea, and even garbanzo beans (though they were less successful in our climate).

This year we only planted one teepee trellis of Trail of Tears black beans we had saved from last year. It’s a pole bean variety, so it likes to climb. We constructed a simple teepee out of dried bamboo and twine and planted about 20 black beans around the base. As you can see in the photo to the left, taken in late July, the vines completely overtook the trellis.

All green beans can be grown out to produce dried beans, and all dried bean varieties can also be eaten as green beans. The trick is finding the right combination- some are great only as immature green bean pods and some are only good as dried beans, with the pods too stringy or woody to enjoy early in the season. We like this variety of black bean because it produces early, immature pods that are tender enough to be eaten as green beans as well as a hefty harvest of dried black beans. This year we grew Kentucky Wonder and Dragon Tongue beans as green beans and allowed most of these black beans to dry.

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If you’ve ever grown green beans, you know there’s a short window for harvesting before the beans in the pods get too big, and consequently too tough to eat. To save dried bean seeds (this includes saving seeds for green bean varieties), you want to allow the beans to fully mature and dry on the vine. For us, this took until late August.

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Beans are ready to harvest when the pods are completely dry- when they crack instead of bending when you try to open them. You can test a few and take a look at the beans, if they feel hard and look like fully-formed beans you’re ready to go. If they feel soft at all, let them mature a little longer.

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If you time it out right, you can get another flush of beans before it gets too cold. Some of our black bean vines are just starting to put out new flowers, so we’ll probably get a handful of green beans out of it. There probably won’t be time to let them grow and dry on the vine before frost kills it off.

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I harvested our black beans last week, and Eric and I slowly shelled them day by day. It can be a tedious task, opening each pod individually, though if they’re dry enough you can shake them in a paper bag to dislodge a lot of the beans. Even with careful hand-shelling, you still end up with some debris, or chaff, which we easily winnowed away by pouring the beans slowly from one container into a large sifter in a slight breeze. The beans poured down while the lighter chaff floated off in the wind. The sifter allowed us to further separate out the beans from the smaller particles.

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From one teepee trellis we got about 3 cups of black beans. That won’t last us through the winter, but it’s a good start. Definitely planning on growing a lot more next year!

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First Garlic Harvest of 2013

We love growing garlic! It’s one of the easiest crops we grow, requiring very little input or upkeep. We use it in nearly everything we cook, and it stores well – no canning or dehydrating necessary!2013_07_08_058We harvested about half of our garlic on Sunday, about 120 heads. They’re curing in the basement on the shelving unit previously used for seedlings, with two fans directed at them to increase air flow. I’m looking forward to braiding them after they dry out a little!

2013_07_07_055We’d planted this garlic last October at Sunset Hills. Three rows are a softneck variety we bought from Local Harvest, the last row has some elephant garlic and some hardneck garlic from cloves we’d grown and saved.  We noticed that some of the softneck started to fall over (lodge), meaning it was time to harvest.

2013_07_10_068A head of softneck garlic is composed of a mosaic cloves, while hardneck garlic has a hard stem through the middle and a ring of cloves around it. This stem is where the scape comes from; softneck varieties don’t form scapes. Softneck varieties grow and mature more quickly and are said to store better than hardneck but have a milder flavor.

Sweet Success

 

We may have failed this year with our potato tower, but we’ve had our fair share of successes, too. I think it’s safe to say this is officially the Year of the Tomato for us- we’ve sold our heirlooms at a farmers’ market and to a restaurant (and still have had plenty for ourselves, family, and friends!).

We’re also really excited to have grown and harvested our very first watermelon!

We should’ve weighed it, but we didn’t. We were too excited to hack it open!

We weren’t entirely sure it would be ripe, but turns out our instincts were correct. There are apparently numerous ways to tell if a watermelon is ready for harvest- here’s a good list.  We picked ours when it sounded hollow and the part of the melon that rested on the ground was yellow-ish.

Hands down, the best watermelon we’ve ever had. We saved as many seeds as we could so we can continue to grow them year after year!

The Potato Tower Experiment: Failure

I was really excited to try growing potatoes vertically in a tower this year. We didn’t have enough space to plant our seed potatoes in traditional mounded rows, and I had read about high yields from potato towers online, so it seemed like the perfect method.

We planted our seed potatoes in the tower in early April and watched the greens grow steadily upward.  We continued to add soil, compost, and straw to promote more stem growth, and thus more tuber growth.

May

June

July

I was feeling pretty positive about the  experiment until a couple weeks ago, when the greens stopped growing– some even seemed to die off completely. I blame the heat– we didn’t see any pests to blame.  We had kept the tower pretty well watered, but two weeks in the 100s did a lot of damage. So, yesterday we decided to harvest our potatoes. With most of the plants dying off, we didn’t want to risk the potatoes rotting in the ground.

One of the other claims made by potato tower enthusiasts is that harvesting is easy and doesn’t involve as much digging as in traditional potato farming. Silly me, I thought we’d just unroll the wire fencing that held the tower up, and out would tumble our potato bounty.

Nope, the tower kept its shape without the wire. Not wanting to accidentally slice any of our hundreds of expected potatoes, we figured we’d better dig into the tower with our hands instead of a shovel.

There were no potatoes to be found. Lots and lots of earthworms, some of the biggest I’ve ever seen, but literally no potatoes. Eventually we decided to cut our losses and dig in with a shovel. No potatoes until we dug to the very base of the tower.

 After three feet of disappointment, it was highly satisfying to finally find some potatoes. Unfortunately, they numbered only slightly more than the original seed potatoes we planted. We haven’t decided yet if we’ll eat our harvest or re-plant them.

In the end, the potato tower, though touted for its high yields and space efficiency, turned out to be a dud for us. We love the idea of vertical growing to save space, and the theory behind potato towers seems sound. I might think about trying it again next year if we don’t have the room, but ideally we’ll have enough space to plant them in rows in the ground.

Late June Harvest from Iowa Street

Our gardens have been productive, but this is our first official harvest post of the year!

Our first ripe tomato! From one of our Black Giant plants, it weighs almost a pound! So beautiful we had to take another photo…

We’ve been really enjoying these lemon cucumbers, they’re sweeter than the pickling variety we planted, and the skin is thinner. I almost just want to eat one like an apple.

Our garlic was ready to harvest, so we pulled all that was left.

More to come!

Wild Spring Salad

Harvested from the garden: spinach, beet greens, garlic chives, kale leaves and flowers, broccoli florets and flowers

Foraged in the side yard: wild onion, wild violet flowers and leaves, wild strawberry buds and leaves

Our wild strawberry and violet patch, next to our cultivated strawberry patch

Just a note: We always check to make sure our foraged foods are safe to eat. The  Missouri Department of Conservation has a great field guide organized by flower color (you’re out of luck if the plant hasn’t flowered yet), and we also like Green Deane’s site Eat the Weeds. Just in clicking around a bit we learned that redbud flowers and wild pansies are edible, so more wild salads to come!

Winter Leek Harvest

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We’re still harvesting leeks that we planted last summer. It’s supposed to snow tomorrow so we pulled these up. We’ll keep warm with some hearty potato leek soup!

Edit: Figured we’d share the end result!

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We wanted to incorporate some broccoli shoots from the garden, so we decided to try this recipe. It came out thin, but kept it that way instead of thickening it.  Overall a very earthy and delicious soup, perfect for a snow day.

broccoli potato leek soup

Sweet Potatoes

This was our first year growing sweet potatoes. In the early spring, we sprouted two types of organic sweet potatoes in jars, then transplanted the small sprouts (commonly called “slips”) into a new bed at Dave’s Place in June. To prepare the bed, we plotted out an 8 foot circle with bricks, then turned the soil and added sand and compost.

The sweet potatoes really took off in the hot weather we had this summer. The whole bed was filled with beautiful, winding sweet potato vines. As a bonus, sweet potato greens are edible and great in salads or sauteed as a side dish. (We also planted some amaranth, which are the tall pink plants in the next photos.)

You can harvest in a few months, but it’s best to wait until the leaves turn yellow, or ideally after the first frost. The longer they’re in the ground, the sweeter and more nutritious your sweet potatoes will be.

We dug up most of the sweet potato bed today, carefully trying not to slice or nick any of the tubers. They grew in clusters, not too deep in the ground.

Much to our surprise, we filled up our box before we were even halfway through!

We’re estimating we got about 30 pounds so far, and we’ll have to go dig up the rest. We’ll be putting some to good use in our Thanksgiving meal this year and will store the rest in the basement over the winter.

Fall Harvests

We’re finally experiencing some cooler temperatures after an enjoyable indian summer here in St. Louis. In preparation for this winter, we’ve started building and re-erecting our hoop houses to extend our growing season.

Meanwhile, we’re still getting some good harvests out of Dave’s place.

LeeksOur first leeks, many more to come.

cherry and pear tomatoesOur yellow cherry and pear tomatoes are still producing prolifically.

green beansWe’re getting a second big harvest from our bush bean plants.

heirloom tomatoWe’re hoping the rest of our tomatoes have time to ripen before it gets too cold.

A Preview of our Produce Stand Tomorrow

We didn’t expect to be taking any of our produce to market this year, but the opportunity has presented itself and we’re going for it! This is a just a little taste of what we’ll be offering…

ready for the market

Tomorrow, Saturday September 10, 2011 outside Labeebees Mid-East Cafe at 2609 Cherokee Street, just west of Jefferson in St. Louis. We’ll be there at 11 AM, rain or shine!