Wild Gourd Farm

Organic Gardening in St. Louis City

Tag Archives: food

Growing Black Beans


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.


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.




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.


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.


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.


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!


Sunset Hills Update

2013_07_27_164We planted our Sunset Hills tomato plot in late April this year, earlier than any other tomatoes we planted. With the cold, wet spring we had, they’ve actually fared worse than their counterparts planted in May at Amy’s place and Iowa Ave. We’ve learned our lesson- planting too early, even if it’s after the traditional planting date (April 15th in our region), doesn’t necessarily get you a head start.

2013_07_27_167The good news is that our major harvests will be staggered- we’ll get a flush of ripening here when some of our other plants will be slowing down.

2013_07_27_171There are plenty of green tomatoes. I fertilized with a high-phosphorous organic fertilizer over the weekend, so we should see more production from that, too.


At the Market

The Cherokee Street International Farmers’ Market is in full swing!

Today we sold cucumbers, zucchini, jalapenos, tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, green beans, purple carrots, garlic, sprouts, cut flowers, and herbs.


The market runs every Friday from 4-7pm at 2647 Cherokee Street (in front of the stencil wall next to I Scream Cakes). Come see us next week!


Iowa Ave. Garden Update


Sunflowers grow here every year- thanks, Dave!

This is our third season working on the Iowa Ave. garden, and it’s going well. Originally designed with raised beds, we’ve since tilled up larger sections to get more planting space and try to deal with the ever-invasive grass.

Newly tilled this year is the back section, which now boasts a dozen healthy tomato plants, lots of peppers, and a variety of herbs.

Newly tilled this year is the back section, which now boasts a dozen healthy tomato plants, lots of peppers, and a variety of herbs.

Tomatoes are ripening!

Ripening tomatoes



Parsley and nasturtium

Parsley and nasturtium

Popcorn is thriving in the tilled middle section of the garden.

Popcorn is thriving in the tilled middle section of the garden.

Also in the middle section, three varieties of beans, including bolita and black bean varieties good for dried beans.

Also in the middle section, three varieties of beans, including bolita and black beans.

We saved seeds from an unknown variety last year. Long and skinny with small striped beans, they're great as green beans when young. We're hoping they'll be good for dried beans.

We saved seeds from an unknown variety last year. Long and skinny with small striped beans, they’re great as green beans when young. We’re hoping they’ll be good for dried beans, too.

The teepee trellis sits in the southwest corner of the lot, which we dug out by hand. It's planted with more pole beans.

The teepee trellis sits in the southwest corner of the lot, which we dug out by hand. It’s planted with more pole beans.

Pole beans growing

Pole beans growing up the bamboo

The view from inside. Yes, there are beans all the way at the top, very much out of reach without a ladder!

The view from inside. Yes, there are beans all the way at the top, very much out of reach without a ladder!

Hops growing in the very corner

Hops growing in the corner

The raised beds have eggplant, edamame, cucumbers, carrots, garlic, beets, flowers, and lots of plants going to seed. Soon we’ll be replanting for fall!

As for the raised beds, here's some ginger in a new bed this year.

We have two new beds this year. This one was planted with ginger.

Horseradish in the other new bed, along with some mustard going to seed.

Horseradish in the other new bed, along with some mustard going to seed.

I do most of the harvesting on Fridays in preparation for the Cherokee Street International Farmers’ Market but we harvested some goodies today, too.

Lemon, Japanese, and pickling cucumbers

Lemon, Japanese, and pickling cucumbers

Mid-week tomato and bean harvest

Tomato and bean harvest

I also started to dig up some of Dave’s hardneck garlic we’d transplanted into one of the beds earlier in the spring. Temperatures are predicted to be much lower tomorrow and Thursday, so we’ll be back at it some more!

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.

Outdoor Washing Station

2013_06_02_445We took some time off from the gardens on Sunday to work on a project we’d been planning for a long time- an outdoor washing station.

2013_06_02_436It all started falling into place a couple weeks ago when we found this cast iron double sink- complete with faucet and sprayer- in the alley while walking the dogs.  Around the same time, a neighbor of ours started leaving lumber from his home remodel in our side yard for us to use (he somehow got the crazy idea that we collect and re-use materials like that). All we’d need to buy were fittings to secure the sink faucet and adapters to hook the sink up to our hose.

2013_06_02_432 So Eric drew up a plan to build a frame to fit the sink. We had it measured, cut, glued and screwed in under two hours. The sink rests on top of the frame securely.

2013_06_02_438We set the new washing station in the side yard, elevating it off the ground on some flat stones to keep the wood from rotting (we’ll probably paint/finish it some day). Next we added the fittings and adapters to secure the sink faucet and connect our garden hose.

2013_06_02_442It works! We’ll still need the hose for watering in the side yard, so we won’t keep the sink hooked up all the time. It’s easy enough to connect and disconnect the hose from the back, though.

2013_06_02_445The bottom shelf will be used for storage and to hold a couple of buckets to catch the water from the drains.  I’m excited to use our new washing station, with its double sink and ample draining space, to rinse off greens and scrub root crops without having to get our nice, white porcelain kitchen sink all dirty. All in all, I’d say it was a pretty good use of our free materials and a Sunday afternoon!

Busy Busy Busy

It’s funny how drastically different this spring season is compared to last year’s. We enjoyed such a mild winter and early spring last year, we were able to get a lot done. The only reason we waited until May 2 to plant our tomatoes last year was because we hadn’t yet acquired the land for them. This year has been so cold and wet that a lot of things have been delayed.

2013_04_28_204We finished planting our tomatoes in Sunset Hills on April 28. However, this may still have been too early; we’ve also since planted some at Iowa Ave. and they seem to be faring better.

2013_05_06_314Along with tomatoes in the back section of our Iowa Ave. garden we also transplanted some pepper plants last week. Because of the invasive grass, we planted the peppers in holes we cut through burlap coffee bags and lined all the paths between plants with burlap and straw.

2013_05_07_321Here’s the whole back section, complete with burlap and straw. Between the peppers and tomatoes we planted parsley, nasturtium, thyme, and other herbs.

2013_05_07_319We also started a new tomato container garden in the section by the west fence where we were growing nothing but tall grass and weeds. To keep the grass out, we laid out a tarp and plastic sheeting before placing the pots and topping with wood chips. This method worked well for us in a different section last year.

2013_05_06_2992013_05_06_312Besides dealing with the terrible grass, we’ve also found evidence of pest damage to some of our newly-sprouted bean plants (above is an Italian pole bean seedling). It happens every year, the beans and peppers are the first to be eaten. We’ve used Dawn dish soap in the past but  this year I got some Dr. Bronner’s castile soap- more natural. Mixed with water, I’ve been spraying the tops and bottoms of the leaves and stems of all of our bean plants, and the damage has been limited.

2013_04_30_210Some of the popcorn we planted sprouted, but not all of it. We want to make sure it grows close together enough for sufficient pollination, so we reseeded some of the areas where germination was low.

2013_05_07_323We have two new raised beds at Iowa Ave.  (as seen in our garden outline) this year.  I planted horseradish, mustard, and kale in one, and Eric planted ginger (pictured above) in the other. We grew ginger last year in our side yard after sprouting it in shallow pots first. This year we direct seeded- the smaller pieces are our ginger from last year, the bigger pieces are organic ginger from Local Harvest.

2013_05_01_221The other thing keeping us busy this spring is setting up a new garden space at Eric’s sister’s new house. She found a house in the city with a 1/4 acre lot, and she’s letting us farm it (thanks Amy!). We tilled up this section of her yard literally the same day she closed on the house, May 1.

2013_05_01_233We called on our Sunset Hills gardening buddy, Tom, to till the area. It was just too much space for our little walk-behind tiller.

2013_05_01_239After several hours, Tom had mowed the overgrown grass and tilled up these two big sections for us. Unfortunately we were losing daylight, so he was only able to pass over each area once with the tiller.

2013_05_08_330To really remove all the grass, we needed it tilled again. Of course it rained for the next four days straight, so it took a week before Tom was able to come out to finish the job. As he tilled we worked to pull out grass clumps, and we returned yesterday to continue pulling them out.

2013_05_08_333Here’s a view from the other side of the yard. In this big section we’ll grow sweet potatoes, squash (summer and winter), pumpkins, melons, and whatever else we can fit.

Today I applied some fertilizer and crushed gypsum to the longer, thinner section where we’ll plant tomatoes, then covered with a layer of free compost. Eric is planning to return tomorrow with our little tiller to work the compost in and space out our mounded rows, then plant tomatoes and peppers! We’re also hoping to install a drip irrigation system to help with watering.

The weather has really forced us to be super productive in the short periods of time between rain. The forecast for this coming week looks pretty clear, thankfully. Lots of work ahead of us!

Slow Time of Year for a Garden Blog…

We haven’t posted in a while… it’s winter here so there isn’t much growing, but there’s still a lot going on.  We’ve gotten a lot done since our last post on November 1. Here are some of the highlights: 2012_12_02_221Eric spotted some wild oyster mushrooms living on an oak tree in early December. We harvested about 4 pounds of them, leaving some behind. 2012_12_02_228We used the Missouri Department of Conservation’s book Missouri’s Wild Mushrooms to make sure we identified the mushrooms correctly. Just for fun we also made a spore print by placing a mushroom gills-down on a piece of paper (we did one black and one white sheet of paper) and letting it sit overnight. The spores are naturally released and create a colored print on the paper below; matching the color of the spores lets you positively identify your mushroom. The oyster’s spores were a milky lavender hue. 2012_12_02_229We ate our fill of mushrooms, shared them with friends and family, and still had about 2 pounds extra, which we sold. They were some of the best mushrooms I’ve ever eaten, so much meatier and nuttier than cultivated oysters, and absolutely delicious raw. mushroom logsMeanwhile, our inoculated mushroom logs are showing signs of mycelium growth- the logs are being colonized. We’ll have our own mushrooms this spring! black beansWe harvested a late crop of dried beans from our Iowa Ave. garden in early November. This was our first year growing varieties of  beans that are meant to be dried, and we didn’t devote too much space to it. We were pleased to have enough of these black beans to save some for seed and we cooked the ones pictured above for burritos. gingerThis fall we also dug up the ginger we had planted. Another great experiment! We used some for cooking but are saving some to replant next year.

Our other big experiment this year was growing peanuts. We finally dug up our crop and ended up with a nice harvest. Definitely something to try on a larger scale someday.

Also not pictured is our sweet potato harvest from Iowa Ave and our newer garden space. Both harvests went well, and we’ve got a big box of ’em stashed away in our basement for use this winter. half hoop houseIn preparation for cold weather, we also re-covered our half hoop house in the side yard, with the same plastic sheeting we used last year. It hasn’t gotten terribly cold yet, but it’ll be useful this spring to house our tomato seedlings. mulched garlic bedIn Sunset Hills, we mulched our new garlic bed in mid-November, before it got too cold. 2012_12_19_318 We’ve also been keeping busy (and paying the bills) with some landscaping projects. We custom-designed this for a neighbor who loved our original herb spiral, and included a large paver patio, whimsical reclaimed brick pathway, and free city mulch. This spring we’ll plant the herb spiral and landscape the surrounding area with native perennials and whatever else she might want. 2012_11_15_090aIn our free time we’ve also been doing a lot of crafting, including these wooden gnome doors. Before the holidays we exhibited at some local craft fairs, and we started our own Etsy shop. When we’re stuck inside over the winter we like having a creative outlet, and the extra income doesn’t hurt.


I’ve also made a bunch of miniature morel mushrooms to accessorize our gnome doors, as well as jewelry and wallets made out of discarded bike tubes.

Suffice it to say, we’ve been staying busy! And now seed catalogs are pouring in… can’t wait to get back into the soil in 2013!

Frugal Friday: Re-Growing Celery

We’ve tried growing celery from seed with mediocre results. Then I read that you can re-grow it from the base of store-bought celery. Seriously, all you have to do is plant the stump, ideally from organic celery, and keep it well watered! Some people suggest you root it in a dish of water inside first (directions and photos here), though I skipped that step and planted mine directly in the soil outside and it did just fine. You can also plant it in a container, though it seems they grow faster in the ground. Having it in a pot would allow you to bring it inside, which would be great for the winter. This one’s been in the ground for about two months and is just starting to produce stalks worth harvesting. The outside of the stump dried up fairly quickly, but with steady watering the center soon sprouted and produced new stalks.

There are a number of benefits to growing your own celery. The best thing, in my opinion, is that you can just cut what you need and leave the rest to keep growing, instead of having a whole bunch of celery taking up room in your fridge all at once (like we used to do).  Also fresh celery leaves are great for cooking and can be used as a substitute for celery seed or flakes. Plus the celery will continue to grow new stalks after harvesting.

We will probably transplant this celery and keep it inside for the winter ( in milder climates it can overwinter in the ground). Celery is a biennial, so it’ll produce seed in its second year. We may never have to buy celery again!

What’s Growing On? Iowa Avenue Garden, Fall 2012

This year, with our expansion into Sunset Hills where the majority of our tomato crop was grown, we unfortunately ended up putting the Iowa Avenue (not Street, as we’ve been calling it!) garden on the back-burner. We built the Iowa Ave. garden two years ago, and it turned into our experimental and seed garden, whereas Sunset Hills became more of a market garden.  With the changing seasons and the tomatoes slowing down, we’ve been spending more time on Iowa Ave. First on the agenda- fighting the evil, invasive grass. Second, building fences around all our raised beds to keep out chickens and dogs. Third, planting cool-season seeds and transplants!

We seeded two different varieties of spinach on September 25. We took this photo today, a month later.

On the other half of the spinach bed we sowed a mix of spicy Asian greens from seeds we’d saved previously.

We love radishes, especially because they grow so quickly! This fall we’re growing icicle and French breakfast radishes. These are just babies, but they’ll be plump and ready to harvest in no time!

If you look closely you can see part of a row of carrot seedlings we sowed from seeds we’d saved. We’ll have to thin out some of the carrots, since they were planted close together due to the small size of the seed. Note: these were planted at the same time as the radishes.

This cilantro self-seeded from plants we grew in the spring. Cilantro is quick to bolt in the summer, so when it flowers and goes to seed we harvest some of the dried seeds for coriander seasoning, save some to plant later, and leave some on the plants to self-seed.

Our transplanted Red Russian kale is doing well.

Here remains the only sign of our failed potato tower experiment- a few potatoes left in the ground have started to sprout.

We can’t wait to dig up the sweet potato bed, coming soon!

From a distance, this looks like a tangled, weedy mess of stocky tomato plants. The grass was so thick in this area of the garden, and we didn’t have the resources to get it up, so we laid out a tarp, planted tomato plants in pots, and mulched around them. As we said, we like to experiment.

Up close, you can see this patch has been pretty successful, considering they lived in pots through the extreme summer heat and drought. This variety of cherry tomato has been very prolific, hardy, thick-skinned, and a hit at the market in combination with our sweet yellow cherry tomatoes.