Thursday, August 29, 2013

I Frenched My Beans

One of my favorite homegrown veggies is green beans.  Beans and I go way back.  When I was a young(er) girl, my mom once sent me out to "pull the beans."  I didn't care to spend much time in the garden back then, because there were scary things out there.  You spiders and such. Big black and yellow ones with fat bodies.  *shudder*

Black and yellow garden spider
(Argiope aurantia)
I've gotten over my morbid fear of spiders and although I can't really say I love them, I've come to appreciate them.  Yes, that's it.  I appreciate them.  But I also have a healthy respect for them and I still detest walking into one of their webs.  But back to the beans...

Reluctantly, I went out to pull the beans and though I felt rather proud and relieved that I managed to get all of them without being attacked by spiders, my mother was a little less than pleased.  You see, I pulled them all right.  I pulled the plants right out.  She'd meant for me to pull the beans off the plants.  Oh well.  I never had to pick another bean that entire summer.

This year, after a hiatus of a few years, I grew our favorite green bean - 'Jade'.  I grew other beans in the meantime, but 'Jade' really is superior in flavor, in my opinion, and though the seeds aren't available for me locally, I found them at Fedco and ordered them early.

'Jade' is a long bean and skinny too.  Unless you are traveling a lot and forget to pick them in between trips. Then they get even longer and they aren't skinny anymore. Perfect for frenching.

Last Christmas, daughter Kara gave me a French bean slicer.  And I put it to good use this past week, on those fat 'Jade' beans.There are several bean slicing tools on the market, but this one by Krisk is inexpensive and very easy to use.  It will simultaneously de-string and slice the beans, though if picked early enough, de-stringing isn't necessary with 'Jade'.

 The blades are very sharp which allows you to push the beans through and there's a guard that protects your fingers.  Once you've pushed the bean through a little bit, you can grab it on the bottom and pull it the rest of the way through. It's got a super sharp blade for cutting the ends off the beans, too.

To also de-string these, the bean should have been rotated 90° so that the string sides would be
sliced away.

You do need to use fresh beans though.  You know how beans can get a bit soft and rubbery after a few days in the refrigerator?  That would make it more difficult to execute the initial push into the cutter.

So while we're talking about beans, let me ask this. Which do you like better - cut beans or French-style?  We're divided in this household, with my husband preferring cut. I think French-style beans taste better.

It's probably a texture thing, like how I prefer eating cheese thinly-sliced over eating a chunk of it.

The potato is from our garden, too!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Blue Gentian

 Blue Gentian
Gentiana dahurica

Zones 4-8
8" tall
Blooms late summer, early fall

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Weekend Wisdom: The Tiger Bee Fly vs. Carpenter Bees

Carpenter bee / Wikimedia Commons
We've had carpenter bees by the bazillions around here for years.  Every summer, they launch an attack on our gazebo and just standing near it causes you to be on alert, just in case you get in the way of a lumbering 747 of a bee.  I've never been on the bad side of a carpenter bee, but as one who is allergic to bee stings, I tend to give them a wide berth.

Carpenter bees (Xylocopa spp.) are solitary bees, meaning they don't live in hives, but rather by themselves, in holes they chew in wood.  Some will make nests near a fellow bee and some females even share a nest with another female, however.  These bees are not bumblebees, in spite of their looking much like them.  Most have a shiny black abdomen, whereas bumblebees have furry ones.

We have split rail fencing along two sides of our property and they've riddled several rails
with their nests. Note the praying mantis underneath the rail!

Male carpenter bees don't have stingers, so even if I happened to run into one, there's no danger of being stung.  The females do sting, but are not aggressive and will only do so if physically threatened by direct contact.  They are important pollinators of open-faced flowers, especially the Passiflora genus (Passion flower or maypop).

I'm always interested in the insects, spiders, and other creatures of nature that I come across as I tend to the gardens here at Our Little Acre and yesterday I noticed a big fly hanging around the compost bins.  I had my camera with me at the time, so I snapped a photo or two so that I could study it and identify it later.

Tiger bee fly
(Xenox tigrinus)

It turns out that the fly is a tiger bee fly (Xenox tigrinus).  Well, guess what the tiger bee fly does?  It lays eggs at the opening of the holes made by carpenter bees.  And when those eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the larvae of the carpenter bees.  Synergy at work.

Oh, and tiger bee flies don't bite or sting.  They don't have biting mouth parts and being a fly, no stinger either.

Carry on, guys.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Celebrating Canning Time With a Limited Edition Ball® Jar Giveaway!

This is the time of year that gardens are producing more than we gardeners can eat ourselves, so in addition to sharing with others, canning lets us preserve the bounty for eating during the winter ahead.

This Saturday, August 17th, is National-Can-It-Forward Day and Ball® is celebrating BIG.  This year's event will star Food Network's Chopped host, two-time Emmy and James Beard award-winning chef and cookbook author, Ted Allen.

The event will be broadcast from Union Square Greenmarket in New York City from 10AM to 2PM EST.

Ball® has been producing canning jars and other supplies for over 100 years.  In fact, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its "Perfect Mason" jar, Ball® is issuing vintage-inspired blue Heritage Collection pint jars in limited quantities.

We've had a bumper crop of blackberries this year and these jars will be perfect for blackberry jam!

The jars are period-correct blue and are the first in a series of limited edition jars that Ball® will be issuing.  I have a set of the first in the series to give away to a lucky reader!


How to enter

Just leave a comment to this blog post, telling me what you would put in these beautiful blue jars if you win and enter your information on the Rafflecopter form by midnight EDT, Saturday night, August 17th.  A winner will be randomly selected from all eligible entries by and announced on Monday, August 18th.


National Can-It-Forward Day Online Festivities

10:00AM-10:45AM: Jam making and water bath canning demo by Jessica Piper, Ball® brand educator
10:45AM-11:00AM: Craft Corner with Jordan DeFrank, FamilyFun magazine
11:00AM-11:45AM: Pickles Demo and Pickle Waterbath Canning Demo by Rick's Picks
11:45AM-12:00PM: Craft Corner with Jordan DeFrank, FamilyFun magazine
12:00PM-1:00PM: Special Guest Host Ted Allen canning and cooking demo
1:00PM-1:15PM: Cocktails in Ball® Jars hosted by Mason Jar NYC
1:15PM-2:00PM: Jam making and water bath canning demo by Jessica Piper, Ball® brand educator

During the broadcast, they'll have special giveaways each hour and a special Can-It-Forward Day offer for purchases at their online store,
Like them on Facebook then post your Can-It-Forward Day stories and photos on their page. You can also join the conversation on Twitter with #CanItForward.

Even more ways to participate...

  • Access Can-It-Forward Day Web TV

You can access the LIVE streaming coverage of National Can-It-Forward Day on or on their Facebook page.

  • Host a Home Canning Party

New to canning? Seasoned pro? Share tips for canning with friends and family by hosting your own Can-It-Forward Day Home Canning Party.  Get Started here.

  • Participate in Person

If you are in New York City on August 17th, stop by join them in person at the Union Square Market! There will be four hours of live canning, cooking, and crafting demonstrations, giveaways, samplings and more!

Now...leave a comment here on this blog post and fill out the Rafflecopter form for a chance to win these cool blue jars! Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Visit to Carolee's Herb Farm

When I first visited Carolee's Herb Farm back in 2009, I'd never met Carolee before and little did I know that it would be the beginning of a friendship that now treasure. We traveled to St. Louis together this past January to attend the National Green Centre event and the best part was the drive there and back, when we shared experiences and ideas as only two garden fanatics can do.

My first book was published in April - Indoor Plant Decor: The Design Stylebook for Houseplants - and Carolee asked if I would come to the farm to talk with her customers about designing with houseplants and do a book signing.  I told her I'd be there and today was the day.

I got to meet Mrs. Pennyroyal and Marjoram, the hedgehogs!
Carolee is an author in her own right, with three books to her credit - Herbal Beginnings, Herbal Choices, and Herbal Passions - a fictional series about Callie and the adventures at Joyful Heart Herb Farm.  Autobiographical?  Partially, Carolee tells me.  In any case, I've thoroughly enjoyed her books and await the fourth in the series, as do many other readers.

It's always fun to browse the large gift shop in the barn.  The wonderful scent of lavender (her specialty) accompanies you as you take a look at what Carolee found at her last trip to a trade show.  She has an extensive supply of fairy garden products, including charming stone houses. Of course she has the plants to go with it all and I'm always amazed at the unusual offerings she has, not just in miniatures, but in perennials in general.

Carolee and I share a love of toad lilies (Tricyrtis spp.) and I knew I'd not be able to leave there without adding one to my collection.  Today I purchased Tricyrtis hirta 'Moonlight'. I bought some hardneck garlic too, since I'd failed to replant mine last fall.

Around 11:00, a small group had assembled to hear me speak about the book that I co-wrote with Jenny Peterson.  I shared a little bit of my background, a brief synopsis of what Indoor Plant Decor is all about, and gave a demo of how one plant can take on an entirely different look by merely changing the container you put it in.  After fielding several questions, I signed some books for several audience members.

Carolee shares her enthusiasm for succulents.

Sedum 'Thundercloud'
 I stayed to listen to Carolee as she spoke in the afternoon about some of my very favorite plants - succulents.  After hearing her laud several different varieties I had to purchase Sedum 'Thundercloud' because of its interesting leaf form.  It's a smaller, mounding sedum with a scalloped edge. Sedums do extremely well in our clay soil and scoff at hot, dry weather, so I'm never hesitant when buying them.

Thank you, Carolee, for having me at the farm. I met some wonderful plant lovers and it's always fun to spend time with you.  And if any of my readers are in the Hartford City, Indiana, area, be sure to take a side trip to Carolee's Herb Farm.  Check the website for hours.

Friday, August 9, 2013

About That 'Glass Gem' Corn...

Last year, I fell under the spell of a photo of 'Glass Gem' corn that was making the rounds on Facebook and Pinterest and in investigating the origin, found that the seed was distributed exclusively by Native Seeds in Arizona.  In order to grow this very special corn, I had to get on a waiting list and each recipient would be limited to just 50 seeds.

Serendipitously, I got to visit the home of Native Seeds when I attended the Garden Writers Association annual symposium in Tucson last October.  While there, I learned more about the seed and got to see it up close and personal before receiving my packet in late winter.

It's been a good year for corn.  It's been a good year for just about anything, with the regular rain we've been receiving.  We've been eating sweet corn from our garden for the last two or three weeks, but the 'Glass Gem' has been a slow one.

All our corn was planted on the same day.  We grew three different varieties of regular sweet corn in addition to 'Glass Gem', and each had a different maturity rate.  That way we would have continual harvest for several weeks and no doubt we would be just about sick of eating sweet corn by the time it was over.

Even the roots of 'Glass Gem' are beautiful!

'Glass Gem' isn't meant to be eaten right off the cob, although I do wonder what it would taste like if you did.  It's used for making flour or as popcorn.  We'll try it as popcorn.

I have concerns about what we'll actually get when the corn is ready.  It's being grown in a plot with other corn varieties and the large field behind us has corn in it this year.  No doubt there has been some cross-pollination going on.  It's really too early to tell with this one and maybe because it's so much later than the other corn, there's no need for concern.  We'll see, but it looks like we might have a bumper crop of it, in any case...

Just like the field corn we've seen, 'Glass Gem' has some stalks
with THREE ears on them!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Trees of Our Little Acre - Kalopanax

When I visited the arboretum at the University of Illinois in Urbana two years ago, as the guest of Christopher Tidrick, I fell in love with a rather threatening-looking tree.  I found its thorny bark fascinating and it only took me minutes to express that I wanted one for Our Little Acre.

The Kalopanax septemlobus (synonym Kalopanax pictus) is the only species in its genus (very cool, that!) and is native to northeastern Asia.  What I loved about it was its thorny bark and its gorgeous leaves that resemble those of another tree I love - the sweet gum.  The leaves also look very much like castor bean leaves, which gives the Kalopanax its common name of prickly castor oil tree.

This isn't a tree you'd want to run into while taking a moonlight stroll!

As soon as we got home, I began searching online for sources and finally found one for purchase at Arrowhead Alpines, of all places.  Known for their unusual perennials and smaller plants, finding the Kalopanax there surprised me.  I immediately ordered, it arrived a short time later, and it was planted.

Last year's drought didn't do the Kalopanax any favors, but it hung in there with much supplemental watering.  Then came this year, with its abundance of rain, and the Kalopanax was off and running.  It is listed as a fast-growing tree, slowing only when it reaches an age of about 40 years, but wow...

See the gray bark toward the bottom of the tree, and then the green bark that is more than 75% of the total trunk of the tree?  Yeah.  That tree has grown 40 INCHES just this year!

The tree is hardy to Zones 4-8 and blooms with small white blooms in the spring that give way to drupes which birds love. Ours didn't bloom this year but with the size it's attained now, I expect to maybe see blooms next spring.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Failproof Groundcover

If you could invent a plant, wouldn't you want it to have these characteristics?

  • Drought tolerant
  • Quick to establish
  • Easy to propagate
  • Pest-proof
  • Stands up to foot traffic
  • No special care required

Euphorbia humistrata fits the bill.  It's an annual, but it might as well be a perennial because in effect, it acts like one.  Once you have it, there's no need to replant it year to year. It looks beautiful draping over a retaining wall edge.  A nearly identical plant (Euphorbia maculata) has unique burgundy markings on its foliage.  Both grow quickly, so what more could you want in a groundcover?

Prostrate spurge
Euphorbia humistrata

What?  You're turning up your nose at this?

I think it's time we stop trying to beat this thing and join it.  It's the latest, greatest plant you never knew you wanted.  If you already have it, don't you agree that it's the easiest thing to grow since...say...dandelions? 

I've got a good crop of it going here and I'm willing to sell you some seedlings at the bargain basement price of 50 cents per plant.  How many do you want?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

For the Last Time — Lobelia

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The third time's a charm, they say.  Well, I say, not quite.  It remains to be seen.  When I first started gardening in earnest, I wanted to grow it all and that included one of Ohio's native wildflowers, Lobelia cardinalis.  It's a tricky one, it turns out.

I first saw it in person during a 2006 visit to GardenFair, held at Winterthur in Delaware, that great estate of the du Pont's.  In the Quarry Garden, the lobelia was in full bloom and its bright red color was stunning.  I wanted some of that.

It wasn't difficult to find lobelia to buy, but I only purchased one plant and it went into our shade garden near the house.  I don't think that one even lasted one season.  A couple of years later, I purchased some blue lobelia (Lobelia syphilitica) and it met a similar fate.

Then I was advised that lobelia likes to grow in clumps and if you want to successfully grow it, you'd better plant at least three together.  This spring, I saw some beautiful plants at Oak Park Landscape and Water Garden Center and couldn't resist trying again.

Lobelia likes it wet and though my shade garden isn't overly so, this was a good year to grow plants that like moisture.  We've had unusually regular rains so if ever I was going to have success growing lobelia, this was the year.  But I didn't count on the slugs.

Here's my lobelia, with its stems chewed all to heck by what I'm guessing are those darn slugs.

Unfortunately, I didn't notice it until they'd done a fair amount of damage. The three plants were doing pretty well but I lost two stems before I decided to take action by putting sand around the base of the plants.  Hopefully it's not too late to save them.

And bless it's little heart, it's trying to bloom in spite of its injuries...

If I lose my lobelia this time, I'm done.  I'll just have to admire it in someone else's garden.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Rice Experiment

Each year, I try to grow at least one new edible in the garden, just for the experience of growing it, whether or not it results in something we actually eat.  In the past, the chosen candidates have included okra, peanuts, parsnips, edamame, and kohlrabi.  This year?  Rice.

Rice growing at Missouri Botanical Garden
When I attended the National Green Centre event in January in St. Louis, Missouri, we visited the Missouri Botanical Garden.  In their conservatory, I saw a small amount of rice growing in a bog and decided I would try to grow it here.

Rice is a grass generally grown in the southern states in this country. Arkansas leads the country in rice production, followed by Louisiana, Missouri and Texas.  It is best grown in areas with sufficient rainfall and a longer warm growing season.

I knew that rice required a lot of water, so I'd figured out a way to provide the flooding that most rice needs.  I planned on using a horse trough, and then having Romie construct a growing tray that could be lifted  for draining.

But in looking online for rice seeds, I found a variety that can be grown in common garden soil without flooding.  'Blubonnet'  is an "upland rice," and it is available from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. This Mayan rice was shared with Mennonite farmers by their neighbors in Belize.

I decided to grow it in a raised bed that I keep on the patio area by the pool.  It's close to a water source, which is important, because it does need to be kept wet.  The Baker Creek site states that growers in Tennessee plant in May and harvest in September, which should work for us as well.

The packet states that the rice should be planted five to six inches apart, but I decided to sow it heavier.  That may or may not have been a mistake - we'll see.  I planted them in nursery trays and placed it in the raised bed lined with a garbage bag to help retain water and moisture in general.

I cut these nursery trays so that they would lay flat and fit the raised bed.

We used hardware cloth stapled in the bottom of the raised bed to hold the growing trays.

A garbage bag in the bottom helps hold in moisture.

Planted on May 30, 2013

This was a pretty good year to try growing rice, because we've had a higher than normal level of rainfall.  I haven't had to provide supplemental watering too many times yet.

In a little more than a week, we had sprouts!

June 9, 2013

June 15, 2013

June 24, 2013

July 6, 2013

It's now the beginning of August and the rice is about six inches taller than you see in the above photo.  It has a few signs of drying out (some browning to some of the tips of the blades of grass) but seems to be still fairly healthy.  No signs of seed stalks are showing yet, but many of my ornamental grasses don't have theirs yet either.  There's still plenty of time for that.

I'll post about my rice again when the growing season is over.  I'm hopeful that we'll get some rice that we can cook and eat!  Do you live in the north and have grown rice?  Please let me know your experiences in the comments.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Seen in the Garden This Week

Just as last year was extreme in that we needed rain in the worst way because of one of the worst droughts we've ever had, this year is odd too.  Rarely do we have green grass in August and normally the garden is starting to look tired.  It's right about now that I usually start longing for fall and thoughts of ripping things out of the garden creep in.

But the garden doesn't look bad at all, thanks to an abundance of rain and cooler temperatures. The flowers are brighter, bigger, and they last longer. It's actually fun to walk through the garden and have a look at what's going on out there...

Michigan lily (Lilium michiganense)

Surdiva® Scaevola 'Light Blue'

Heucherella sp.

Water hyacinth foliage (Eichornia crassipes)

Hosta 'Bright Lights'

Brunnera macrophylla 'Silver Heart'


Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight'

Vitex 'Mars'

Rudbeckia subtomentosa 'Henry Eilers'

Cucumis melo 'Hale's Best'

Cosmos sulphureus

Acer palmatum 'Emperor I'

Black hollyhock (Alcea rosea  'Nigra')

Gladiolus nanus 'Atom'

Ornamental banana (Musa sp.)

Lilium 'Black Beauty'

Trumpet lily (Lilium regale)

Echinacea purpurea 'PowWow White'

Globe thistle (Echinops ritro)

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