When our green bean plants were mass-producing this fall, I missed harvesting a significant number of them at their peak (before I learned how much I loved roasted green beans, and before I knew how much the boys would enjoy eating the frozen green beans). They slowly aged on the vines, getting fatter, tougher, and yellower; some began to dry out, their formerly green shells first turning brown, then becoming thin and brittle.
I harvested a big bowl of the completely dried pods, and ended up with about two cups worth of dry seed to use for my next planting. But I really didn’t need any more seeds to plant (I already had far more than I could use, to be honest), and I didn’t want to wait for the remaining green beans to dry out on the vines. So, I harvested all the yellow-brown pods that were in various stages in between moist green and dry brown, and shelled them. The seeds were large and firm, not yet polished and pebbly like their more mature counterparts, and they looked like any other white bean – so I decided I would use them accordingly.
I simmered the beans until they were creamy and tender, then added diced butternut squash sautéed with fresh rosemary in bacon grease, threw in a couple handfuls of chopped arugula at the end, and adjusted the flavor with red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and cayenne. The sweetness of the squash, the earthy bitterness of the greens, the creamy nuttiness of the beans – they all melded together to make a soup both satisfying and filling. And just as good as the taste was the knowledge that all those things – the beans, the squash, the arugula, and the rosemary – were grown in my own garden, that I was using the bounty of the land and not letting even the random old green beans go to waste.
(No pictures of the soup, unfortunately, because I ate it all :P)
The unique gardening calendar of the low desert means that we’ve been harvesting butternut squash and pumpkins for the past few weeks, and enjoying all the traditional fall flavors and activities as we go.
We had so many pumpkins that I really didn’t know what to do with them all. We have cups and cups of seeds (some roasted, some dried for crafting), two quarts of pumpkin juice (for my inner Harry Potter fan), and quite a few bags of puree in the freezer (although that is mostly from the butternut). I’ve made butternut pasta sauce, pumpkin bread, pumpkin cinnamon rolls, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin waffles, and Thai butternut curry so far – and more pumpkins and squashes keep ripening on the vines. (Everything was good except the pasta sauce, and I knew it was a risk when I tried it. What can I say, I was getting desperate.)
So, I’ve been letting the kids draw faces on the extra pumpkins, carving them out, and using the resulting jack-o-lanterns as nightlights! It may not be October, but we’re certainly enjoying our autumnal friends this summer 🙂
As I haven’t had the chance yet to pick up some brown paper lunch bags to cover the sunflower heads, the local birds are enjoying quite the feast in our yard. Rondel was absolutely thrilled, a few mornings back, to come across a rosy-faced lovebird breakfasting on the ripening seeds – and I’ve seen more of them every day since then!
The lovebird isn’t a native species – the Arizona Field Ornithologists website has a lot of information here. However, it is still really neat to see them hopping through the yard and on the sunflowers! Growing all these plants has turned our backyard into a living science lesson, with so many different insects and birds coming for food or to make a home. Rondel especially has been taking full advantage of that fact, prowling the yard for hours every day looking for bugs and other animals: he’s caught or observed so many different varieties of butterfly and moth (including one that looked so much like a leaf I almost missed it), countless crickets, soldier beetles, ladybugs, green lacewings, stinkbugs, crab spiders, orb spiders, and more that we weren’t able to identify.
Of course, when the yard looks like this, I would be more surprised if there weren’t butterflies and moths:
My experimental lawn alternative was rather a failure due to my impulsive decision to add some wildflower seeds to the mix… but while the end result is most definitely not a lawn, it is certainly beautiful right now with everything in bloom. We’ll just try again in the fall to get something more walkable 🙂 and for now let our budding naturalist enjoy his private field for exploration.
It’s been almost two years since we moved in to a home with a large empty dirt yard, and slowly began to shape it as time and budget allowed – and the final step, this spring, was to add irrigation and plants.
Instead of grass, we planted a lawn of clover and herniaria. And then on impulse I threw in a bunch of wildflower seeds and they took over. Not so great of a decision there – but they brought all the butterflies to our house while they lasted, and they aren’t perennial so the main staples of the lawn should eventually fill in the space. Rondel spent a few days prowling through the wildflowers with an old salsa container trying (and succeeding, surprisingly often) to catch the visiting butterflies.
On another impulse, fortunately with a more fortuitous outcome, I planted a row of mammoth sunflowers along the eastern side of the lawn, in between the lawn and the gardens. They still have another two months to grow (and won’t those bright blossoms be a gift in the hottest, most barren part of summer here in Phoenix?) and already the largest is taller than me!
On the west side of the yard we planted our first two little saplings, a lemon and a peach (we have room for three more on the east side, but the ground isn’t ready). And the little peach tree has the softest, fuzziest baby peaches on it right now! We pruned off most of them so the tree wouldn’t be over-stressed, but we left a few – I don’t know exactly which variety it is but I believe it should typically finish ripening by mid-May, depending on the weather.
Speaking of weather, our cold, wet winter has turned into an uncommonly mild and rainy spring, which I really appreciated when I realized that my cantaloupe vines were taking over everything and I seriously needed some sort of trellis to provide them with the necessary space to grow. Two trips to Lowe’s (something is always forgotten) and many hours of work later (spread out over several days), I got them built and in place, and un-tangled and tied up as much of the viny mass as possible. They’re like tunnels over the path between the garden beds and if the cantaloupe grow to the top I will be very happy but not at all surprised as they are already halfway up. Word to the inexperienced: have ample space or trellises in place before your cantaloupe have seven-foot long vines twisting around each other and trying to take over the neighboring garden beds!
Cantaloupes are not the only vining plant we have growing right now, though the others are still much more restrained. Opposite from the cantaloupe on the north side we have cucumbers and butternut squash, and on the other side of the southern trellis from the cantaloupe we have pumpkins. I am doing my best to train these up the trellis as soon as they are long enough to reach it to avoid the tangled mess that is the bed of cantaloupes…
In the remaining un-trellised bed I have mostly herbs: lavender, rosemary, oregano, purple basil, sage, mint, and dill. It is so convenient to have those herbs on hand when I’m cooking (especially the dill, which I love and which is expensive and doesn’t last well when bought at the store). I am, however, going to have to put a barrier around the mint to keep it from spreading, as I ignored everyone’s advice about it when I planted it and have been amazed at its rapid growth in just the past two months. The basil has also grown like crazy and I’m thinking there will soon be enough to make purple pesto. This bed is probably the kids’ favorite since they can pluck a leaf off any of the plants for a quick bite whenever they walk by 🙂
Finally, out front, we have a blackberry bush filling in the planter along the front wall! We are in the middle of blackberry season right now and Limerick makes sure to go outside at least twice a day to see if any more berries are ripe! There aren’t a ton of berries this year, but given the amount of new growth, next year’s crop is going to be insane. (And yes, that’s a tomato cage. I didn’t have any stakes and I wanted to encourage one of the main stalks to grow more vertically…)