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July 18, 2013

Greens in the Florida Summer

Greens? We know that in the summer we might as well throw in the towel, or a shovel... Nothing grows but cowpeas and okra.

Some months ago I planted, as an experiment, some sakurajima radish. Granted, I planted it a bit late, probably in late March, so when our infamous heat started frying the garden, sakurajiama went to seed. I only harvested maybe some fist size radishes, very short of promised watermelon size. But then the radish plants went into seed - not a bad proposition - I love my seeds, so I collected a few for the nest season's planting.

Well, to be fair, quite a few seed heads fell onto the ground, and now, voila! I have radishes sprouting everywhere, even on the lawn. To my surprise, this is one resilient radish.

And it is quite tasty too, if you don't let it grow oversize. To compensate for the lack of greens in my salads I now add these greens, combined with the still surviving bunching onion, purslane, some amaranth leaves, and still surviving curled parsley. It's organic, it's fresh, and it's free. Can I ask for more! Here's the start of the garden salad from the garden.

Note to self: next time collect more sakurajima radish seeds to have on hand for the summer greens.  Highly recommended!

July 7, 2013

Praying Mantis

That's one bug you want to attract and keep. They are a predator insect, and feed on moths, mosquitoes, flies, and crickets, among other things.

This particular individual decided to land on my seed catalog. Maybe it was hinting at something, or was learning to read... In any event, this was a pretty fun picture to take.

So, when you see a little fella like this in your garden, do not shoo it away or kill it. It might do your garden a favor by eating a few bugs here and there.

July 3, 2013

More cowpea uses

This was a hint from my fellow gardener, Carol, who makes some delicious dishes out of green cowpeas. Usually, I cook young cowpea pods like green beans, or use dry cowpea beans in soups or salads (cooked, of course :))

Who would have thought that you can use green cowpeas like you would regular green shelled peas. You would want to pick the pods while they are still green, but "a little bit pregnant". You want to see these bumps on the sides of the pods:

Green cowpea pods

Then, simply shell them:

Shelled green cowpeas

I don't have tons of these to use right away, so I simply freeze the portions that I pick and shell. Afterwards, lightly steam the green cowpeas to the desired softness and use in salads or any other recipes that call for green peas.

May 22, 2013

Black Bean Salad

Grow what you eat, eat what you grow, right? So I harvested a half a pound of black beans the other day, and they were sort of "burning my pocket". I cave in and made a salad. Not to toot my own horn, but that baby came out just awesome. Full black bean salad recipe is here.

Here's what it looks like in a presentable bowl:

The best thing about this salad, aside from it being incredibly healthy and tasty, is that majority of the ingredients came from my back yard, and that in itself is a wonderful thing. So, if you are feeling adventurous, try the recipe of this black bean salad, and start growing some of the beautiful fruits of Florida's warm season gardening.

May 20, 2013

My experiment in black bean yields

I have to admit, I plant haphazardly. Whenever I want to plant something, like tomatoes, or peppers, I just find an available spot in my garden, and then I just plant it. It does work,  I grow quite a bit of food in my garden, but I wanted to figure out some planned yields of the vegetables that I plant. Hence, this experiment.

I want to figure out for sure what kind of yield I can get from a sample bed. I am experimenting with black beans at this particular point. I have planted some black beans from the grocery store bag in my newly created tree mulch bed. I did not do it for the yields, but to enrich the soil with the nitrogen that beans naturally give to the soil. I did not give good care to  these beans, nor that I expected any particular yields. But, so far, I have harvested a half a pound of organic black beans, which is pretty spectacular in itself.

I did not even particularly cared for the type of the bean to plant, all I cared for was to enrich the soil. But, given the choice of beans to plant, I went with the black beans because I just love them in my chili and re-fried bean dishes. This is May in Florida, and planting beans is somewhat late because of the heat. But I am going to perform this experiment anyway because I have a portion of the garden where it is shielded from the scorching sun in the afternoon. The bed is not huge, it is only 40" by 40#, but it is a good size for a controlled experiment. Here's what this bed looks in a late night (after work) photo:

 This bed is one my typical double-dug beds that I used to build in my garden. It is covered with about an inch of tree mulch that electric company delivers for free to the homeowners. The mulch keeps the moisture in, as well as keeps the temperature down. All in all, not a bad situation for the black beans.

Being true to the experiment I want to keep everything scientific, as much as I can. So, if I have a 1600 square inch bed, I need to plant 160 beans (roughly 10 beans per square foot). It was quite a chore, but I counted exactly 160 beans. Here's what 160 beans look like:

That looks awfully close to the amount of beans you get from a regular store bought package of bean seeds. And weighing these beans confirmed that; it is close to two ounces.

So, if we go by the regular expectations, then by planting two ounces of beans I should yield forty ounces of beans, or roughly two and a half pounds (1:20 yield). This number sound pretty incredible to me. I think I would be happy to get a half of a pound of beans from this 40" by 40" patch, but this would amount only to 1:4 yield.

So, the experiment is on. I have to admit that I will baby this patch more than I regularly care for the rest of the garden. But, if nature has its course, the yield should be pretty close to the expectations.

February 17, 2013

Fried collard greens from the garden

This year I am having an exceptional crop of collard greens. I seeded them in October, first in nursery containers, and then replanted into the garden. I have not grown collards before, but now this is one of my favorite vegetables. The leaves of the collards can substitute for the leaves of cabbage, as they are of the same family. In fact, collars are just like cabbage, but they do not form heads. It is pretty challenging to grow cabbage in Florida as our cool season is so short, but collards do seem to adapt to our weather pretty well.

Tonight is one of the last dog freezing nights and I wanted some comfort food. So, I picked fifteen collard leaves, two small heads of broccoli, and made a warming southern meal.

Full recipe is on my other blog, Vegetarian Cooking From Scratch. Now, this meal can be made with bacon or chopped hard boiled eggs to remove the "vegetarian" part. Full Recipe Here

And here's the picture before this dish was savored by me and my family:

February 16, 2013

Planting Vegetables in Wood Chips

I am trying something new. Instead of planting in soil, I am plating in wood chips. I did not plan it like that, it just sort of happened. I had a new set of raised beds built, but did not have soil for them. Then, after some research, I found that the beds can be filled with free wood chips that the power company delivers. The plan was thus born. I had a huge pile of wood chips delivered to my front yard, and there I went. Loading wheel barrows of chips and loading my new raised beds.

The wood chips themselves are not just pieces of wood, there are also chopped up small green twigs and even some palm leaves. That is a good mixture, although a bit poor on nitrogen (green matter), but still not totally devoid of this important nutrient.

Next thing I did was to seed some legumes. I am preparing this bed for the Spring planting of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. So the fast maturing legumes will serve as a cover crop. I planted the whole bed of black beans, just sprinkled with soil on the top of the seeds. Here they are starting to sprout:

And the rest of the beds I planted with cowpeas with the intention of tilling them in. I left a portion of the bed completely with no soil, as my test bed. Looks like cowpeas do not care if they don't have the soil. They are sprouting just as nicely:

I have cardboard on the bottom of these beds. Once cardboard rots it will allow the roots of my vegetables to penetrate even deeper into the soil below, under the decomposed wood chips. I do expect this whole concoction to pack down very heavily, but then I can always call the power company and have another load of wood chips to be delivered and added to these beds. 

I am very hopeful of this growing method, and in fact if this goes well, my next plan is to raise all my existing beds and add piles of wood chips to them.

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