Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Heirloom Pole Beans

This year I decided to grow a different pole bean than I usually grow.  I want to grow mostly heirloom vegetables in my home garden, so I chose purple podded and rattlesnake pole beans. I also planted yard long beans.

Purple Podded Pole Bean Vine
The purple beans grew the first and fastest. The stems of the plant are purple, the flowers are a pretty violet,  and the leaves are a darker green than the other beans.  The beans start out green with a purple tinge, and then get solidly purple velvet over the whole bean when they are ready to pick.   The flavor is deeper than the Kentucky Wonders and Blue Lakes that I have grown before. Cooked, they turn a dusky green that is more blue grey than regular green beans. You can tell when they are just done by catching them the moment they turn from puple to green. Their flavor is sweet and grassy under the normal green bean taste.

Rattlesnake Pole Bean Vine

The rattlesnake beans haven't been the overachievers that the purple podded beans have been, but they flowered and grew beans pretty quickly after the purple ones. The vines aren't as tall yet as the purples, but I have gotten some large beans from them  already.  The rattlesnake plants are green vined with bright green leaves. The flowers are more on the pink side of violet. The beans themselves are flattish with stripes of purple mottling on bright green.  They get more purple mottling the bigger they are, it seems.  Only a few have made it inside to the cooking pot because they taste so good raw. Their flavor is green bean intensified.  Green bean to the second power, sweet and a little bit musky.
Purple pods with  rattlesnake beans
The yard long beans are way behind the other two.  They haven't started flowering yet, and are only about a foot high. I have grown these before, and they never climb very high -- only about to shoulder height. They also set beans a couple weeks after you are getting other beans pretty regularly, and they are not as prolific bearers. But, when they do grow beans, they really work at them and they grow them long and thin. I never waited for them to be a yard long, but instead picked them when they were smaller and sweeter, from 12 inches to 15 inches long. Their flavor was more savory and musky rather than sweet. Some people call them Asparagus beans because of the flavor.  I like the yard long beans for stir frying because they stay crisp in a stir fry and are uniformly narrow all the way down the bean, so they cook evenly over the high heat.

Purple podded vines next to Rattlesnake vines
An added benefit to growing these wonderful heirloom pole beans has been unforeseen.  In years past Japanese beetles (Gracie calls them japaneetles) have found my green bean vines about the time they reached head-high. I have done milky spore applications in the garden area to no avail.  Last year I broke down and sprayed tthe bean plants with Sevin, since the beetles were so bad it looked like we wouldn't have any veggies if we didn't.  Even though I spent an hour or more every morning tapping the vines with a stick to make the beetles roll into a bucket of sudsy water, they still ravaged the plants, especially the top third, which they ate down to the stems.  And each year, once they had found the beans, they infested every other vegetable too. My granddaughter didn't want to play in the bean tunnel, since with every vibration Japaneetles would fall on her head. I didn't blame her!

This year I haven't seen any of those horrible pests on the beans. I found a few on my roses in the front yard, and got them off pretty quickly, and they don't seem to be interested in these heirloom beans at all. This in turn means I haven't had a Japanese Beetle problem in my garden at all so far this year.  I am so happy! Wonderful, tasty, pretty heirloom beans and not a Japaneetle  in sight. Yay!


The winners for the Solstice Giveaway are:
Girl on the Net for the witch hats, and Ravenia for the soap dish.

Convo me on Etsy to give my your address, and I will mail these right out!

Thanks to everyone who played!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Happy Solstice Giveaway!

Happy Litha!
For this Solstice, I am giving away a soap dish from my latest kiln load, one made from folded clay slabs. Also, you could win a set of three witch hats. 

If you would like to win either of these, just leave a comment saying which you would like to win (or both if you want to be in the running for both of them!) along with how I can contact you (your etsy name, twitter, facebook, or something!).

Feel free to link to your shop or blog, if you have one.
Comments will be open until Midnight, June 24 (Sunday night). Then I will choose two comments at random on Monday to win them. Its that easy!

And while you are out and about, please check out my shop on Etsy, antb.etsy.com and SecondChanceCeramics on Etsy too. 

So, get to commenting, and HAPPY Solstice!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Windowsill Planters

A couple years ago, I was introduced to Global Buckets, and experimented with making my own from found objects. It was a great way to extend my food planting out of my garden.  I ended up giving away several that I started to interested neighbors.  I also made a few pots that had reservoirs and wicking systems but they were so labor intensive that I never even tried to sell one. They also were as heavy as heck.

Then last winter I read about Window Farms for the first time. I was fascinated.  If you don't know what window farms are, check out this blog post. I looked at my windows in a whole new way!  I started putting little potted plants with edibles in every sunny window that could hold them.  The problem was that most of my window sills could only hold the smallest pots because of the way they were shaped, and the smallest pots didn't work well for many edible plants.

I started playing with pot shapes that would work well for windows and yet were deep enough for herbs and  dwarf vegetables. I came up with a bag-like pot, made from thin slabs of stoneware clay, that was quite deep for its size. I planted the first ones I made, and they worked well.  Mache', summer savory, malabar spinach, chamomile, mint, chives, spinach, nasturtiums, basil and most other herbs, and even a strawberry plant all work well in these.

They hold moisture fairly well, probably since the top opening is small.

Watering them is easiest if I use an ice cream bucket that is 2/3's full of water mixed with organic fertilizer. Just put the little pots in and let them sit for a second or two, and hold them over the bucket until they stop dripping.  Then put the lid on the remaining water/fertilizer solution for the next watering.

If I lightly fertilize with each watering, my herbs grow very well in a sunny window, and they don't mind being cut back hard and often.

I am using all of my first batch of pots, but I just pulled a few more out of the kiln. So, if you want to buy one, please look in my shop. They each come with a simple little drip catcher.
I will be listing some over the next couple of days.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Last Weekend, Half of Germany Was Running on Solar Power

I found an article and wanted to save it and share it.  I was googling this topic because I recently signed up with an energy plan that gets all its electricity from local wind farms. I wanted to post this sometime,  I knew that if I just bookmarked it, I would forget about it. So I am blogging it. 

Last Weekend, Half of Germany Was Running on Solar Power


This is what can happen when citizens and government agree that it's worth spending a bit more for clean, carbon-free power:
German solar power plants produced a world record 22 gigawatts of electricity – equal to 20 nuclear power stations at full capacity – through the midday hours of Friday and Saturday, the head of a renewable energy think tank has said ... Norbert Allnoch, director of the Institute of the Renewable Energy Industry in Muenster, said the 22 gigawatts of solar power fed into the national grid on Saturday met nearly 50% of the nation's midday electricity needs.
That's right—half of all of Germany was powered by electricity generated by solar plants. That's incredible. It was also world record-breaking. Germany is pretty much singlehandedly proving that solar can be a major, reliable source of power—even in countries that aren't all that sunny.
And it's the result, primarily, of two forces:
1) In the wake of Fukushima, Germany is shuttering all of its nuke plants, but has vowed to replace them with clean sources.
2) Germany instituted a feed-in-tariff (FIT) system—which requires utilities to buy solar power from producers, large and small, at a fixed rate—that has fueled the nation's solar boom. Basically, anyone can buy solar panels, set them up, plug them into the grid, and get paid for it.
Now, FITs do make electricity more expensive, since the cost of subsidizing that higher fixed rate is absorbed by all electricity consumers. But Germany doesn't really mind. And why not? Simple: its citizenry has agreed that producing more non-nuclear clean power is worth shelling out a few extra bucks for each month. Gasp.
Conventional wisdom here in the states is that proposing anything that would lead to higher utility bills would be impossible; the masses would revolt over "energy taxes." Well, that's what our political class would have you believe: in reality, a very recent poll found that a majority of Americans would indeed be willing to pay over $160 extra dollars a year to buy cleaner electricity. Of course, support varies from region to region and tends to be consolidated in Democratic-leaning areas.
But still. The popular support is there. We could indeed follow Germany's lead. And we could even do it without the burden of increased costs—if only we could eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and direct them towards renewables. To further illustrate my point, I will now subject you to an infographic. But don't worry, it's simple, and short (the full thing is here):

1BOG/Promo image
Now, that probably won't happen, primarily because oh, 68% of Congress is in thrall to the fossil fuels industry. But if we had our priorities straight, we could stop the federal bankrolling of coal and oil—mature, uber-profitable, climate change-causing and heavily polluting industries—and develop a system that rewards clean, renewable power producers instead.
Two last thoughts: First, programs like Germany's FIT are likely to become much more popular when they're in action, when folks with rooftop solar panels or small community arrays start seeing the dollars come in. Secondly, I can't help but think that the relative income equality in places like Germany helps the programs to be so successful and popular—you're going to be much more likely to accept higher costs if you feel like everyone's more or less in it together. This is the case in places like Denmark, too, where there's more equality and publicly tolerated higher electricity costs, so perhaps it's telling that the FIT is less popular in England, which has a steeper income inequality curve. It'd just be another example of how greater income equality is better for everyone.
The fact remains that Germany has achieved something remarkable here, and its experiment need not be anomalous. We should be striving to replicate its success—Germany has proven that solar power isn't just some hippie daydream, but an engine that can power the world's most industrious and advanced nations.

The Garden Song

This is Melody's favorite video right now.  Since she and Grace help so much in the gardens, I am sure she can relate to it.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Baby Squirrel

A couple weeks ago my husband and granddaughter were outside washing his motorcycle. A baby squirrel staggered over and lapped at the water. Husband put out some dry catfood and the baby squirrel ate it all.
Later that evening, I was going out to the garden. When I opened the back door a baby squirrel was sitting on the porch staring at the door, just like our cats do when they want in. I gave it some water and some sesame seeds, and it crawled into my hand and curled up.
I put it in a box out of the cat's reach. I also dusted it with food grade diatomaceous earth because there were fleas all over it. I left some seeds and nuts out along with some water.
The next day it was still in it's box, the seeds and most of the nuts were gone, and the water was dirty and full of nut bits. I found a dead squirrel at the bottom of our pine tree (it looked like it was attacked by a hawk). And I called a local woman who does animal rescue.
She asked us to care for it for a couple days until she had room for it and gave us some instructions.  We enjoyed our time with the little one, and were a bit sad to see it go.