A unique and viable approach to establishing local food self-reliance and building stronger communities.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Grow Your Own Protein - Scarlet Runner Beans

by Chris Burns
Just like snow flakes, you'll never find two that look exactly alike,  attesting to Nature's infinite variety of expression!
Have you ever seen these beautiful beans for sale at any market?  Would you even know what they were if I didn't tell you?  Don't they look like some kind of 'Magic Bean' that Jack of 'The Beanstalk' fame might have planted?  If you haven't guessed by now, I'll tell you. They're Scarlet Runner Beans and they're called that for two good reasons.  One, they have the most intensely scarlet red flowers, and Two, they 'run' up any pole, tree, fence or trellis that happens to be close to where they are growing.  If you've never grown them then maybe it's time to consider giving them a place in your garden.

I've grown them many times before, but up until recently I always considered them to be strictly 'ornamental'.  Don't know why!  Perhaps it's because they were described that way in the catalog from which I ordered my first seeds.  As you can see in the pictures posted with this article, they add exquisite beauty to any garden patch. It wasn't until 2011 that I sampled them as cooked, dried beans and discovered their beauty is only rivaled by their delicious flavor!
Scarlet Runners vining up the bamboo trellis. We grew a 70-foot row last year and are doubling it in the 2013 season.
These beauties grow steadily to a dramatic height of 10-12 feet (or more) and need a sturdy trellis of some sort to support the weight of their generous profusion of bean pods (we used bamboo poles tied to a wire pulled taught between t-posts). For those who enjoy attracting pollinators to your garden, you'll likely find (as we did) that the flowers regularly attract hummingbirds and many beneficial insects. (If you have cats, best not to grow the runners as we've heard sad tales of hummingbirds being caught and killed by those furry, domestic predators).

Bean-trellis made with bamboo poles wired to a cable.
Scarlet Runner Beans will grow in a greenhouse too. Just be sure to leave enough vents open to allow pollinators to come and go.
Plant beans 4"-6" apart and 1"- deep. Soil can be course and should stay moist but not too wet as seeds germinate. Often we will pre-sprout the seeds by keeping them between wet towels for several days till they germinate. Be very careful when planting as the sprouts are fragile.
The pods are deliciously sweet when they are young and tender (about 3-4 inches long).  So sweet, in fact that it was the first thing our two teen-age garden-helpers would seek out and munch on whenever they came to the gardens.

Bean pod-loving teens!
If it's mainly green beans that you're looking for though, it's probably best to grow another variety like 'Blue Lake' or 'Contender' which provide you with more of a volume at each picking.  These Scarlet Runners tend to produce pods steadily over a longer season but they become tough and stringy if they aren't picked on the small side.  The reason they probably aren't grown commercially for dried beans is that they must be hand-picked. At the Sharing Gardens we've turned this limitation into an asset as the weekly bean-picking was a task that folks with back and knee-issues could accomplish easily standing up. After a few days laid out on screens in the greenhouse the husks were dry enough to split open easily by hand. This was a task that many volunteers (share-givers), who weren't able to do more strenuous tasks,  found fun and relaxing; it also provided an opportunity to sit in the shade and chat with new found friends.

Pods, any bigger than this and they're too tough to eat green.
If it's dried beans you want, don't pick the pods until they are evenly tan and dry. If picked too green, beans won't store well, nor will they be viable for planting next year's crop. Once the frost hits, beans will no longer ripen much more. Pull up the whole vine and let the beans finish ripening in a green-house or warm, dry place before picking them off the vines. When they are as dry as they're going to get, shell these partially ripe beans and use them first as they won't store as well as fully cured beans.

These beautiful beans are rather large --about the size of a fat Lima bean-- and therefore yield enough to make a pot of soup-beans in a short time. If you're serious about growing your own protein-source, Scarlet Runners make an excellent choice.
Harvest beans once their pods are tan and dry. OSU-students shelling Scarlet Runner Beans.



Shelling beans from their pods is a fun activity for all! Jim and Adri shelling kidney beans.
But the best kept secret of all is just how delicious the dried beans are. They have a mild flavor and, unlike Fava beans, their skin is thin (not even noticeable) and they have a velvety texture.

A bamboo tipi provides a trellis for beans and beautifully frames our garden helpers.
Recipe: To cook these beans for eating, soak them over night just like you would any other, with about 1/3 beans to 2/3 water in a stainless or cast iron pot.  Pour off the water the next day; rinse the beans with fresh water and put them back in the pot. Add fresh water until the level is about 2-3 inches over the beans.  Don't add any salt because it won't allow the beans to absorb the water as they cook and they'll never soften.  I like to cook them on the woodstove in the winter.   These beans stay very firm when they're finished cooking but can be easily mashed and used as refries, or made into a hearty chile with tomatoes, onions, peppers and Mexican spices.  I cook up a large pot at a time and, once rinsed and cooled, I pack them into smaller zip-lock bags which I stack in the freezer to add to stir-fried kale and leeks with potatoes all winter long. Instant dinner!

Be creative! Sometimes just a plain ole' bowl of beans with olive oil, soy sauce, finely chopped onions and grated cheese is all you need to get you in the mood to go outside and brave the winter elements.

Such beauty!
Anyway, if you want to enjoy these wonderful and versatile garden gems, the time to plant is coming up soon! (late May or first week of June in our region)  If any of our local readers need seed  please let us know and we'll get you started, and you can save your own for next year.  Happy Gardening!


To see other "How To" articles, go to our new and improved site: http://thesharinggardens.blogspot.com/

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Spring Planting Has Begun!

Chris gives a lesson in seed-planting - 2015.
Well, we've come through a wet, grey January with a couple of really cold spells but it seems that spring is finally on its way. We decided to take a break from bringing Oregon State Univ. students to the gardens for winter term. Chris and I are largely caught up on major building projects and tree-planting and we didn't feel we had enough projects that needed student help. Six students can get a lot done in four hours! But we've already got lists started for the spring and hope to host at least two OSU groups.
"Anyone who thinks gardening begins in the spring and ends in the fall is missing the best part of the whole year; for gardening begins in January with the dream." - Josephine Nuese

Adri fills pots with soil.
Being the gardeners that we are, we just couldn't wait to get some seeds started. This post is about  our continued experiments with creating fertile soil using locally-sourced materials and the seeds we've started (including some links to earlier posts on how to grow some of the plants listed below).

Soil-prep: (Growing food using "organic" methods is a very dynamic and ever-evolving process. What follows are the techniques we are currently using but we won't necessarily know if we are successful until crops come to harvest. Also, a method that works one year under certain climate conditions may not be successful in years to come).
Chris adds and mixes in compost.

Because we're slowly weaning ourselves from using the rototiller to loosen soil (outside) and creating permanent beds (in the greenhouses) much of winter "gardening" involves preparing beds for spring planting.

Greenhouse Prep: In the Fall we pulled old plant material from the beds and gave them a light sprinkling of wood-ashes and a thicker coating of coffee grounds. The ashes provide many needed minerals. The coffee-grounds also boost the nutrient-content of the soil but the main reason we like to use them is that they are a favorite food for worms. With this food source, they reproduce rapidly and add their worm-poo (castings) to the soil which is an almost perfectly balanced fertilizer! In the Fall we also covered the beds (and paths) with a thick mulch (leaves, straw and fresh grass-clippings).

Llyn adds more coffee grounds.
In late January we began to we pull all the mulch off the beds and add it to the paths. It will continue to compost through the spring and summer and, as plant-roots grow out into the paths, they will be nourished by this material.

Once the beds were cleared, we added more coffee and compost, and gently dug it in a few inches. We've been absolutely amazed with how much worm activity we're finding in our greenhouse beds!

It's good to have several weeks with the bare soil exposed as the sun's heat will warm it and activate many micro-organisms. The added coffee also encourages worm-reproduction which adds more nutrients and worm-tunnels to the soil. LINK: Preparing Garden Beds - One Low-tech Way

We put the first batches of seeds on electric heat-mats with plastic covers to keep in heat and moisture. This gives a head-start to seed germination. For later batches of seeds, when there is more sun to heat up the soil, we won't use the mats.

This is what the greenhouse will look like in a short time!
Here is a list of the seeds we've started in pots, in the greenhouses:

Peas back-lit by the sun.
We started peas at the New Year but it was too cloudy and cold for the seeds to germinate (many rotted in the pots) so we re-planted mid-January. The peas are mostly up about an inch now. When they're 4"-5" tall they'll be transplanted into greenhouse beds.


Cindy with carrots - 2016.


As an experiment, we've started a small patch of carrots and beets in a greenhouse (they prefer cooler soil to germinate). Ideally, they'll be done producing by mid to late-spring leaving room in the beds for summer-crops such as tomatoes and peppers that love the heat! LINK: Tips for Planting Carrots

Burgundy Globe onions-an Heirloom variety from which you can save seed.
Onions: We like to start onions from seed as it is less expensive than buying "sets" and we have less incidents of onions "bolting" (going to seed) which means that we have a bigger harvest.  Here is a LINK to a post about growing onions from seed.

Lettuce! Can't you just taste that tender goodness?
Lettuce: Our goal this year, is to start small batches of lettuce every few weeks until it gets too hot to grow it (it prefers the cooler spring and fall weather). This way we can have enough for everyone who helps with the gardens and to share with the South Benton Food Pantry and Local Aid. LINK: Growing Lettuce from Seed.
 
Red Winter Kale - one of the most nutritious land-vegetables!
Kale: We have a few plants that wintered-over outside this year. We'll eat most of these spring "greens" (so sweet and tender after getting a "kiss" of frost). Kale-flowers, formed in their second year, also called raab, are also delicious and nutritious. We'll eat some of the flowers and let some of it go to seed so we have enough seed for next year.

Llyn with Broccoli-2009
Broccoli: We're experimenting with growing some of our broccoli crop in the greenhouse this year. It doesn't like a lot of heat but we hope to have it done and harvested by late-spring when the heat begins to build.



We use milk-cartons or large soy-milk containers as collars.
Celery: Celery takes a very long time to grow, especially at first. Once it establishes a long and extensive root system, the upper part grows more rapidly. Commercially-grown celery is one of the more highly-pesticided crops so it's good to grow your own or buy "organic".

The collars - pictured above - provide pest-protection, cause the celery to grow up-right and "blanch" the stalks so they are more tender.

These potatoes, with their short, stout sprouts, are ready for planting.
Potatoes: Each year we try new methods to grow potatoes. Potatoes have a natural dormancy period and will begin to sprout once this period is over. They need to be planted within a month or so of sprouting or they will begin to shrivel and won't be as viable. We have a lot of clay in our soil and it can stay cold and wet until late spring. Many times we have had our seed-potatoes rot in the ground before the last of the spring rains drain.  This year we are going to plant two rounds of potatoes; a first crop inside the greenhouse and a second one outdoors in late spring. This later batch will provide storage potatoes and perhaps even seed-potatoes for next spring. Here is a LINK to a post on preparing potatoes for planting.

Re-potting a tomato seedling.
Tomatoes: It's always a tricky dance to start seeds early enough to have the longest growing season but not so early that you have to keep transplanting the 'starts' into larger pots until it's time to put them in the ground - using your precious time and potting soil. For the second year in a row we will plant all 90 (or so) tomato plants inside greenhouses so we started our first batch of seedlings in early February. Later we'll start more tomato seeds that we can share with people in our community.
 
Saving Seeds: We save and re-plant over 85% of our own seeds. Developing this skill is fun and very rewarding. The seeds you save yourself will be adapted to your own micro-climate and soil conditions. One of the advantages of having a community-garden organized like the Sharing Gardens (with all of us growing food together; no separate plots rented by individuals and families) is that you can coordinate seed-saving and isolate varieties that might 'cross' and give you impure seed. LINK to saving your own seeds

Chervena Chuska peppers. If peppers are pulled up in the Fall before the first frost, and hung indoors, they will continue to ripen on the plant.
Peppers: Like the tomatoes, we finally have enough indoor greenhouse space (2500 square feet) to grow most of our peppers. This extends our season for growing by at least a month. These heat-loving plants require warm soil to germinate so, when starting the seeds (even in a greenhouse) we put them on an electric heat-mat. Our seeds typically break through the soil in 8-10 days.

Chris has been painting a new sign for the Food Pantry.
Winter's not over yet! Though the days are growing longer and signs of spring are all around, there's still plenty of time for creative projects, baking and other activities that must retreat to the background in the height of the garden-season.

...and Llyn's been having fun in the kitchen baking pies and bread and muffins!
The Sharing Gardens is located in the southern Willamette Valley of Oregon and is considered Zone 7b by the USDA. Click here to find your gardening zone. To find a planting guide for your area, do a search on-line. Most agricultural universities offer guides specific to their regions.