Wild Gourd Farm

Organic Gardening in St. Louis City

Tag Archives: seeds

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!


Wild Gourd Farm

farm logo gourd winner more words wrapped bottom copy

You may have noticed some changes to the blog here. Well, it’s official, our operation finally has a name- Wild Gourd Farm.

No, we’re not changing our game plan and only growing gourds. We’ll still be tending our various garden patches with various plants throughout the St. Louis area (and have plans for two more gardens in the works). So where’s the name come from?

wild gourdEric recently found a wild gourd vine growing off the banks of the Meramec River, with several dried gourds still attached. Was it cultivated by Native Americans in the area? Did it germinate from seeds swept down the river? This find was mysterious, rare, and beautiful.

wild gordWe’re determined to grow this wild gourd variety and keep its heritage alive. We’ve split one of the gourds open and are working on germinating some of the seeds, which is proving to be a challenge.

In the end, these artifacts symbolize our approach to life and gardening- a return to self-reliance in the wilderness (urban though ours may be), following the natural flow of the seasons, always ready for a challenge.

We’re looking forward to a new gardening season with our new name. St. Louis friends, look for our produce around town, especially at the Cherokee Street International Farmers’ Market, starting this Friday, May 3rd!

Seed Starting: New and Improved!

seedling trays under grow lightsWe’ve upgraded our seed-starting operation for this year. From our homemade grow light fixtures, we’ve graduated to four fluorescent shop lights hung on a 6′ x 3′ metal shelving unit. Right now we have about 1,000 seedlings under these lights in our basement; last year our set-up only allowed us to start about 300 at a time. 

2013_02_05_123It all started when we acquired this metal shelving unit and all the light fixtures from Eric’s grandfather, who passed away last year. He was a talented craftsman, and his resourcefulness inspired us to create this set up.

We hung each fluorescent light fixture to the underside of the shelves using chain and wire to suspend them. This will allow us to raise and lower the lights as needed. We also lined the back with foil to reflect light.

2013_02_16_126 2013_02_16_125

We started our seeds on February 9. We use the Jiffy seedling trays, which contain 72 cells for individual seedlings and come with greenhouse lids to help with germination. We’ve reused ours year after year. We speed up germination by putting some of the trays on heating pads made specifically for growing seedlings. We only have two of these pads, so we got creative. In the left photo, we put a milk crate upside down over a register and placed a seedling tray on top. The right photo shows a small side table with a wicker bottom shelf we placed over a register, which housed two full trays.

seedlingsThe majority of the tomatoes germinated within 1 week. We removed the lids and put the trays under lights once germinated. This photo was taken February 16.

2013_03_02_233For our onions this year, we planted our seeds in a tray without cells. Half of the tray is planted with red onion, the other half is green onion. We’ll buy slips for white or yellow onions, depending on what we can find locally.

2013_03_02_235These are some of our pepper seedlings. This year we’re growing jalapeno, banana peppers, an heirloom variety from Baker Creek called lipstick, Marconi, and chocolate bell. The peppers take a little longer to germinate than tomatoes.

2013_03_02_236We planted an entire tray with one of our favorite varieties of tomatoes from last year- Costoluto Genovese. If you look toward the right side of the photo, you can see a seedling that shot up faster and taller than its fellow seedlings; we’ll be documenting this plant’s progress throughout the year, and if it lives up to its explosive beginnings, we’ll make sure to save seeds for next year!

2013_03_02_241A sea of tomatoes… we planted a tray of Arkansas Travelers and a bush variety we’ve been saving seeds from for years. We also have two full trays of cherry tomato varieties, including our favorite yellow, as well as some sungold, purple, and red. In smaller quantities, we started heirloom varieties Millionaire and Pierce’s Pride from Baker Creek (given to us free last year), Black Giant, Black Pineapple, and White Wonder.

We plan to plant about 100 tomato and 50 pepper plants this season. We’ll be selling the rest in the St. Louis area. We’ll be up-potting these soon and will continue to document the progress!

Memorial Day Weekend Iowa Street Garden Update

The biennial leeks we kept in the ground have grown huge flower stalks, ready to produce seeds soon!

The evil, invasive grass took over the bed after our first carrot seed sowing back in March. We had to dig out all of the grass, so we re-seeded the bed.

The carrots we left in last year are shooting up huge stalks and flowering. We’ll harvest seeds when the flower heads dry out.

We’re growing black beans, bolita beans (like pinto beans), garbanzo beans, and Italian pole beans on teepee trellises. The black beans, pictured above, seem to be doing the best.

One of our 3 types of cucumbers we’re growing this year is a pickling variety. We’ll also have Japanese long and lemon cukes.

We usually cut back the scapes on our maturing garlic plants to promote growth (and to eat them!), but we left some of these flower stalks so we can collect seed.

The potato tower experiment is going well! We’ve filled in with soil and straw once, then let the plants grow taller. It’s about time to fill in again.

Workin’ For Peanuts

We’re going to plant peanuts in our community garden plot this year.

We shelled some raw peanuts we bought at the Soulard Farmers’ Market on March 19th.

Then we popped them in some seed trays to sprout.


We kept them well-watered and covered with clear plastic to retain moisture.

The sprouts are pretty big… next time we’ll plant them in separate pots instead of the seed trays so they have more room.

Some people suggest direct seeding instead of starting the peanuts inside because the roots are fragile, so transplanting may be a challenge. We’ll direct seed some as well. We can already taste the peanut butter!

Iowa Street Garden Update (Early Spring)

When it’s not raining, we’ve been spending a lot of time over at our Iowa Street Garden. We have our raised beds mostly weeded, composted, and planted, but there’s still a lot to do!

We're expanding! Last year Dave grew some sunflowers and tomatoes in this back section of the yard. This photo was taken on March 14.

Last week we dug up the invasive grass that took over and prepared the space for four types of beans. We built these teepee trellises out of bamboo we got for free off Craigslist. We still need to finish them by adding horizontal support.

This slanted bamboo trellis will harbor cucumbers, while providing shade for lettuce we'll plant underneath.

Today we added organic bat guano, gypsum, compost, and rock dust to fertilize and loosen the soil for the beans, then covered with plastic to keep warm and deter weeds.

We prepared a new section for tomatoes and peppers in the same way, with mint and oregano already transplanted in the very front.

We transplanted some tomato plants into one of our raised beds. They were kept outside to harden off, then planted deep (most of the stem is buried) for stability and strength.

This is our beet and garlic bed a week and a half ago. Both were planted last fall. Last week we sowed more beet seeds to fill in the perimeter.

The beet and garlic bed today, March 26.

Last year this was our beet, leek, and spinach bed, and a lot of it over-wintered. We added compost to the bed and planted a spicy salad green mix a couple weeks ago, now emerging in rows.

The Onion Experiment: Germination

The day after we planted our tray of onion seeds, we sowed more onion seeds in a shallow pot. To maintain moisture and promote a greenhouse effect, we covered it with a plastic bag that wouldn’t touch the surface of the soil and placed it over a vent to keep it warm. Just in case our tray experiment failed, we wanted to have a back-up. Plus every good experiment needs a control group!

The seeds in both the tray and the pot germinated about a week later, but the seeds in the pot germinated at a higher rate than those in the tray.

The tray has been uncovered, taken off the warming mat, and put under a grow light in the bathroom. We’re planning to strengthen the seedlings by simulating wind using a small fan.

We put the pot in a south-facing window. The seedlings grow toward the sun so we’ve been rotating the pot, or we might put a reflective surface behind it. We expect the tray to fare better, but we’ll see!

The Onion Experiment 2012

We planted 200 onion seeds today. We’ve direct seeded our onions before, but the seedlings had difficulty competing with springtime weeds. We’ve also planted onion sets, which are individual bulbs you can buy, and slips, which are younger pre-grown onions ready to transplant.  This year we decided to start the seeds indoors, and hopefully they’ll be ready to transplant soon. Onions are fairly cold hardy and some can be planted well before the last frost- some can even overwinter. We probably should’ve started the seeds a little earlier…

First things first: we mixed our own potting soil using an organic soil mix, worm castings, and sand. We could use our own compost and worm castings, but we’d have to sterilize everything in the oven before using it for potting.

Traditionally, onion seeds are sown together in bunches, then separated when transplanted. We found this tray stashed away in our gardening supplies and thought we’d try sowing individual onion seeds in each hole. Just to be safe, we’ll be planting seeds in bunches in larger pots in case we have any issues with the tray.

We filled all the holes about 3/4 full of our pre-moistened potting mix and dropped in one onion seed per hole.

We then spread more potting soil on top and gently watered it in. The tray will sit, covered, in our basement on a heated mat until the seeds sprout, then we’ll keep them under a grow light or in a sunny window until ready to transplant. We heard it helps to cut the sprouts back when they flop over to keep them strong, and the young clippings can be eaten like chives.

We’re hoping this experiment works out and we’ll have 200 onion seedlings ready to transplant into the garden soon. We’ll document the progress of the onion experiment through the year.

Getting Ready for Fall

It’s August, and that means it’s time to get ready for fall. It’s still a little too hot here in St. Louis to fully develop our autumn gardens, but we’re preparing for a garden overhaul. We got a head-start on the season by starting some seeds inside under the grow lights we made last spring. Here’s what’s new at Dave’s place so far:


Our summer cucumber plants succumbed to the heat. These cucumber seedlings were directly seeded, hopefully in time for a harvest before the first frost.

We transplanted broccoli seedlings that had been started inside.
We sowed some of the seeds we saved from our spicy salad greens, pictured here with hyssop.

Meanwhile, we’ve still got a lot growing strong.


Lots of beets to dig up!

Brussels sprouts

These brussels sprouts were planted recently and are almost ready to produce!

Listen to This

The book The Town that Food Saved by Ben Hewitt chronicles the efforts of young agricultural entrepreneurs (“agripreneurs”) and the local residents in Hardwick, Vermont, a largely depopulated blue-collar town whose economy had hinged on granite quarrying.

In the past decade, agripreneurs focused on local, organic food production have taken to the town’s cheap and plentiful land in the form of large scale agribusinesses, like an organic soy farm & processing facility and an organic seed business.  The problem? The local population can’t afford the food produced by their neighbors. Thus a local food scene has lost its roots and has transformed into a national industry, shipping organic goods across the country.

The book does a great job showing both sides of the issue. We just heard that NPR will be airing a segment on Hardwick’s food movement tomorrow, June 15 on Morning Edition from 5-9 AM Central. If this piques your interest and you live around St. Louis, let us know and you can borrow our copy of the book!

And here’s a link to the story if you missed it.