Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Plant Profile – Snap Beans (Physalis vulgaris)

snap beans

snap beans

Just what are “snap beans” anyway? “Snap beans” are words used by garden writers to denote what the rest of us call “string beans” or “green beans”. 😉 I can see the logic of calling them “snap beans” though: the strings have mostly been bred out of them so that you are not likely to encounter strings unless you let the beans become too overgrown and, as to “green beans” – well, some are purple and some are yellow, so “green beans” is somewhat of a misnomer. But whatever you call them, if you grow them yourself and pick them while they are young and tender, they will be vastly superior to the sad excuses-for-beans in supermarkets. Homegrown beans are actually delicious! That’s a strong word to use for a vegetable generally considered somewhat ordinary, but it’s true.

From a gardening standpoint, there are two main types of snap beans: bush beans and pole beans (more on this in a minute). From a cooking/eating standpoint, both bush and pole beans come in green, yellow, purple (although the purple ones turn green when cooked), and Romano beans – a broader, flatter bean, sometimes called “Italian green beans”. The Romanos tend to have a stronger and “beanier” flavor. Then there are yellow Romanos and purple ones too…. Yellow beans are also sometimes called “wax beans.”

snap beansI like variety in gardening (and eating), and I enjoy different colors too and I hope you will also, so for both bush and pole beans, besides selling the different colors individually, we will be selling “variety packs” with a small quantity of each color (and of Romanos), so that you can have the fun of growing some of each kind. These will be packaged separately rather than mixed together, so that you’ll know which is which. And since all snap beans are ideal for container-growing, I have the fun of selecting the very nicest varieties to sell at my website. Believe me, there are many lovely varieties of beans, so picking the ones I consider the “very best” is not an easy job. They’re all easy and fun to grow, and delicious when not allowed to become overgrown. This is really important if you want the very best beans: pick them while they are young and succulent. Also, if you allow the beans to become fully mature, the plants will stop producing new beans: just what you don’t want.

From a gardening standpoint, all the colors are treated alike, except that purple beans are said to be able to withstand colder soil than the rest. I have not experimented with this but have no particular reason to doubt it. In any case, if you are growing them in containers, cold soil isn’t going to be a problem. Containers warm up faster and – if you are at all worried about a container’s soil being too cold – you can pour a teakettle or two of hot water into the container (then wait until it cools off to plant the seeds, of course).

snap beans growing on strings

snap beans growing on strings and poles

You will need to decide whether you want to grow bush or pole beans, or both. Both are very well-suited for container-growing. Both have pretty flowers and are nice-looking plants. The advantage to bush beans is that they produce beans faster than pole beans, and they don’t need any support (trellis or poles). They’ll produce most of their beans in a relatively short period of time. Gardeners who plant bush beans therefore generally use succession plantings to have a supply of beans throughout the summer months. Bush beans grow quickly, only taking about 40 to 60 days to produce a crop, so you can fit several successive plantings into a summer in most areas.

Pole beans, first of all, require support – poles or a trellis. Pole beans can serve as a living curtain of shade if grown in front of hot, sunny windows (I’ve done this by stringing twine from nails in the roof overhang to bricks on the ground and letting the beans grow up the twine). They take longer than bush beans to start producing beans, but they will keep on producing beans throughout the summer and you’ll get more beans per square foot of planted area from pole beans (although I think succession plantings of bush beans can come close to matching pole beans’ production). We use a “bean teepee” – poles tied at the top – which can easily be put around a container. An alternative is any kind of trellising or nets, or letting them grow up string or twine.

We have been using pieces of rebar (concrete reinforcing rod) for our bean teepees. However, Bountiful Container suggests that you use wider poles – poles more than one inch in diameter. I think pieces of 1 ” x 2″ lumber would work well. The use of wider poles “produces a more concentrated growth pattern, with the full length of the vine condensed by the wide circles and the beans themselves bunched up thickly together, which is what you want when your space is limited.” This is an excellent idea to keep in mind. If the bean vines reach the top of the poles, trim them at the very tip to force them to put out new growth below. I think pole beans would happily grow forever (remember “Jack and the Beanstalk”?) but there’s no point in using poles higher than you can comfortably reach to pick the beans.

OK, now you’ve decided which kind of beans to plant – or decided to plant both. How do you plant them? First of all, snap beans are frost-tender (will not withstand temperatures below 32 F – or 0 C) and prefer warm weather. So wait until after your last frost and until the weather is reliably warm – maybe gambling by planting purple beans (only) a week or two before the last frost. I’ve always planted my beans directly outdoors and this is certainly easiest. Most of my gardening books say that they do not like to be transplanted, although I start lots of seeds indoors that theoretically do not like to be transplanted. However, I don’t see any reason to start beans indoors. They are large seeds, easy to handle, and very fast to sprout, and do just fine when planted directly outdoors.

Before sowing your bean seeds, it’s helpful to soak them in warm water for an hour or two to soften the seed coats. It’s also helpful to “inoculate” the beans. The inoculants are a bacteria that legumes (beans, peas, lentils, etc.) need to both use nitrogen and actually add it to the soil. (They actually enrich the soil in which they are grown, which is an excellent feature of growing beans, of course.) While these bacteria do occur naturally in the soil, the use of an inoculant ensures that your beans will have the right bacteria and in sufficient amounts, and will allow them to produce more beans for you. This is particularly true for container gardeners who use sterilized potting soil and/or a soil-less mix. The inoculants come as either a black powder in which you dredge the bean seeds, or granules that you sprinkle in the planting holes before sowing the seeds. One type of inoculant will cover peas and all the commonly grown garden beans. They are quite inexpensive and should be available at your local garden center, as well as online.

Plant bush beans about 4″ apart from each other (each way), so that you wind up with nine plants per square foot of surface area. Just draw a grid in your container by running your finger along in the soil, dividing each square foot of surface area into nine sections. Then put the beans in the middle of each section. For pole beans, plant about eight seeds per pole – in a circle around poles, or in a double line in front of a trellis. You may need to thin these down to about six plants per pole later. To plant the seeds, you just space them and then push them about one inch deep into the soil, smoothing the soil back over them. Keep the soil moist until they have sprouted. Then stand back and watch them grow!

Beans prefer to be evenly well-watered so don’t let your containers dry out between waterings. It’s very difficult (almost impossible) to over-water outdoor container plants so I wouldn’t worry about over-watering them (by contrast to indoor container plants which are easy to overwater). Although the beans will supply themselves with nitrogen if you have used inoculant, I recommend that you use a balanced fertilizer or plant food at least monthly on the beans, to ensure that they receive the other nutrients they need (particularly for container-grown plants). I have found that they do much, much better than unfertilized beans. I think this is essential if you’re using soil-less mix (Pro-Mix or the like) as your growing medium, and beneficial in all cases.

Beans are subject to some minor pests and at least one major pest. Flea beetles have been a minor pest of beans I’ve grown in the ground, but they have never found any container plants that I’ve grown. Mexican bean beetles are the major pest and they are horrid – their larvae will eat holes in your bean leaves until the leaves are skeletonized and the plant dies. (Knock on wood, we don’t seem to have them here, although I’ve had to cope with them in other places.) Here’s a picture of the eggs, larvae, and adults.

The first control measure is good garden clean-up each fall: don’t leave plant debris in your containers (or in your in-ground garden) as that will just be a home for overwintering bean beetles and other pests. The second control measure is to check the undersides of the leaves for the yellow eggs and crush them whenever you see them. Recommendations for other (and stronger) control measures can be found on the Gardens Alive! website.

Alternatively, you can cover bush bean plants with floating row cover (or nylon netting) to prevent the beetles from laying their eggs on your plants. Since beans don’t require insect pollination, you can leave the row cover on throughout their life cycle, only removing it to pick the beans. For containers that need floating row cover protection, I make a chicken-wire cage in the container and cover that with the row cover. However, I don’t need to use any insecticides or row cover on container-grown beans, and hopefully you won’t either. But it’s good to know what to do just in case.

Now you’ve got your beans! Lots of lovely beans. Please pick them when they’re young and tender. Just briefly steamed, they are lovely. They’re also great in a stir-fry or soup. If you have too many beans for eating fresh, they are very easily preserved by freezing and they keep their quality well: just cut or break the beans into pieces (or leave them whole) and briefly blanch them (drop them into boiling water). They only need to be blanched for about a minute or until the color changes from purple to green, or from green to the more vivid green that cooked beans have, or to a more vivid yellow in the case of yellow wax beans. Then dump them into a large bowl of cold water with ice cubes floating around to cool them quickly. Then drain in a colander, package in a freezer bag or container, label, and freeze. And that’s all there is to it.

You can easily save seeds from your (non-hybrid) beans, and I do save bean seeds. (I think most, possibly all, snap beans are open-pollinated, or non-hybrid.) Suzanne Ashworth (in her terrific book on seed saving entitled Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners) explains that bean flowers are “perfect” meaning that each flower has both male and female parts and pollinates itself: however, there is some (perhaps remote) possibility of insect pollination as well and, therefore, of varieties becoming crossed with each other (mixed up). If you intend to save the seeds in order to sell them or distribute them via The Seed-Savers Exchange, this would be a concern and measures to prevent it would be desirable. But if you just intend to save the seeds for your own use the following year, I don’t see it as a problem. Certainly, I’ve often saved bean seeds without any apparent mixing-up of varieties the following year.

To save the seeds is simplicity itself: you just let a few pods mature and dry on the vine before picking. When you have picked the yellowed and dried pods, then you open them and remove the beans (the seeds) inside. It’s a good idea to freeze the seeds for at least 48 hours to kill any possible insect eggs in or on them. Then allow them to warm to room temperature inside the container in which you froze them (so condensation won’t gather on the seeds), and then store the dry seeds in a cool dark place. Or, of course, you can take the simpler and easier alternative of buying your next year’s seeds from online seed retailers.

By the way, runner beans, the bean most grown in Great Britain, are a different species – Phaseolus coccineus. They have larger and more showy flowers, prefer cooler growing conditions, and are (to my American tastebuds at least) not as good to eat. They resemble (again, to me) an overgrown and tougher snap bean – this may be because I didn’t pick them young enough. I’ll be growing them again this coming summer, and will pick them younger. They are very useful for people who live in cool-summer areas and/or who want more decorative bean plants. There are other types of bean as well, such as the Asian yard-long beans or lima beans…. but this article is already too long and really only meant to describe snap beans. And so ends (at last!) this Plant Profile. There’s just a lot to be said about beans, I guess.


Brassicas (Cabbage Family Plants) and Evil Butterflies

BrassicasThe brassicas are a huge component of vegetable gardens: many, many of our garden vegetables are in this family. These plants are also sometimes called “crucifers” or “coles”. Included are:

bok choy
Chinese cabbage
broccoli raab
many other Asian greens
brussels sprouts
and probably others I can’t remember at the moment

Most gardeners want to be able to grow at least some of these plants: their absence makes a huge hole in the vegetable garden as well as in the diet, as many of them are nutritional powerhouses. Many are also really delicious when home-grown.

The brassicas are, basically, cool season (spring and fall) plants although there are some that can be coaxed along through summer, certainly in areas with relatively cool summers. I can grow mizuna, other Asian greens, collards, bok choy, broccoli and others through the summers here in northern Pennsylvania in the mountains. But I don’t think it could be done in, say, Georgia. The hot-summer places typically have longer springs and falls, though, so that affords sufficient time to grow these plants in those areas.

Brassicas are occasionally subject to some nasty soil-borne problems but as a container gardener, you avoid those completely. They are also subject to damage from flea beetles, but – at least in my experience – flea beetles stay close to the ground and do not jump high enough to pester container-grown plants. (I have had no flea beetle damage in container-grown plants: none, zero, never.) So right away, you’re ahead of the game.

However, even container-grown brassicas are subject to the depredations of Evil Butterflies and Evil Moths! (Enter the villains of the piece….). The cabbage looper moth and the cabbage butterfly cause the same problem, and the solutions are the same too – a solution effective for one is also effective for the other – so I’m mostly just going to refer to them both as “cabbage butterflies.”

Brassicas and cabbage family plants

Brassicas and cabbage family plants

You may see small white butterflies flitting innocently and delicately over your plants. Them’s the bad guys! (You’re less apt to see the moths as they do their evil business at night). The butterfly (or moth) lays eggs on the brassicas. The eggs hatch into larvae (worms or caterpillars). The larvae of both the butterfly and moth are green, by the way. These larvae eat the leaves of the plants. Left alone, they will completely destroy the plants. When the leaves are sufficiently riddled with holes, the plants collapses and dies.

This is one of the very few insect problems that container gardeners really need to solve. I have spoken with gardeners who claim that they never have this problem. I think they’re very lucky indeed, or maybe their area has some unusual climatic or geographic feature that prevents the butterflies from living there. I can only say that I have experienced the Evil Butterfly Problem in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania (places in which I’ve grown brassicas), and in containers as well as in the in-ground garden. The Encyclopedia of Natural Insect and Disease Control states that all 50 states in the USA have them (even Alaska!), so presumably Canada is troubled by them as well. I don’t know whether they exist on other continents or not.

Fortunately, there are three fairly simple things that will solve the problem and none of them involve the use of broad-spectrum insecticides or heavy chemicals. I use all three solutions: which one I use depends on the circumstances. So I’ll tell you about all three solutions and you can choose the solution(s) that seems suitable for your circumstances.

First, some brassicas can be planted in early enough spring that you’ll harvest them before the butterflies appear. I can do this with several of the very fast growing Asian greens such as baby bok choy, choy sum, and hon tai tsai. I think you could do it with radishes too (I seldom bother to grow radishes, however, as I don’t like them much.) You can also grow some plants late into fall and winter (kale, for one) after the butterflies have left for the season or gone into dormancy or died off (whatever butterflies do when the weather turns cold). So this is one solution.

Second, you can spray your plants with a solution containing Bacillus thuringiensis, usually abbreviated as Bt. Bt is a bacteria that infects and kills the larvae of butterflies and moths. It is harmless to other organisms (including humans). Bt can be sprayed on your plants up to the day you harvest them. You do need to spray the Bt at the correct point in the larvae’s life cycle, so if you use this solution, read the label and follow the directions. It may need to be resprayed after rain, too.

Bt is available from GardensAlive, other online sources, and local garden centers. This is my solution of choice for decorative containers: containers that I want to look pretty. It’s effective, it works, it’s a fine solution to a nasty problem.

The third solution is what I usually use: that is, to cover the plants with either floating row cover or nylon netting. The openings in the nylon net are small enough to keep out the butterflies and moths, so in this case it works just as well as the row cover. Nylon net is also cheap and available in fabric stores and the fabric department of discount department stores. Row cover comes in fairly large quantities, perhaps more than you, as a container gardener, would want, so the nylon net would be a better choice for you in that case.

In the case of the brassicas, we don’t want pollination: we don’t need these plants to produce fruit as we eat the leaves (cabbage, etc.), flower buds (broccoli, etc.), stalks and leaves (bok choy, etc.) or roots (turnips, etc.). Since we don’t need bees or other insects pollinating these plants, the netting or row covering can be left on throughout the entire life cycle of the plants, just being pulled back for harvesting. You can water right through either row covering or nylon net, and sunlight will enter through the coverings too, so that’s not a problem.

You can drape floating row cover loosely directly over the plants, fastening it loosely down at the edges with soil or with ground staples (long u-shaped pieces of heavy wire). For containers, you can also clothespin it to the container’s rim. The plants will push it up as they grow. I don’t like to do this though, because I believe it restricts the plant’s growth somewhat and encourages mold and fungus by being closely draped around the plant and soil, especially in a wet season.

So this is what I do for container plants that need to be covered: I make a cage that will fit just inside the container’s rim. I use 1″ mesh chicken wire to make these cages. The 1″ mesh chicken wire is self-supporting (2″ mesh chicken wire is too floppy for this purpose). I make the cage taller than the plant will eventually grow. For the sake of simplicity, I have standardized on using 3′ chicken wire although in the case of some of the brassicas you could manage with 2′ chicken wire. The chicken wire cages are reusable for successive seasons, and the netting or row cover is also reusable. If you have no chicken wire, but have some woven wire fencing left from a project, or tomato cage wire, they would also work here. Or you could construct a frame out of light pieces of wood. You just need something that will support the netting or row cover.

I put the cage inside the container when I transplant the little plants out, fastening the cage down to the soil with ground staples. I then cover the cage (right away!) with nylon net or floating row cover. I fasten the net or row cover to the soil in the container with ground staples at the bottom, or I use clothes pins (UK: clothes pegs) to fasten the net to the container rim. I fasten the net to the cage’s top with clothes pins. Voila! The Evil Butterflies can flutter all around the container, but they’re not going to get in to lay their eggs on my plants. Villains foiled, problem solved!

So there you have it: three different ways to solve this problem: all are very effective. You may want to use all three (as I do), choosing which is best on a case-by-case basis.

Test Your Garden Soil With This Easy Do It Yourself Kit

A great article from Thesurvivalplaceblog which will show you how to make a DIY your own soil pH testing kit to test the soil in your garden!


garden soil ph test

By Kimberlee Hertzer

If you’re new to gardening, testing your soil might seem difficult. You could purchase a soil pH testing kit from a nursery or garden center, but they often come with a big price tag. And they aren’t always reliable.

Another option is to have your local Cooperative Extension Office test your soil for pH levels and nutrients. The analysis is very helpful because it’s very detailed and includes suggestions specific to your region. However, the soil analysis could take a few weeks.

If you don’t have time—or money—consider making your own soil pH testing kit from scratch.  The Guru Magazine recommends using a simple method for checking your soil.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Two Glass Jars
  • Measuring Cup
  • Vinegar
  • Water
  • Baking Soda


Step 1. Get a soil sample.

Scoop out ¼ cup of soil from your garden and put it into a glass jar.


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Why Should Everyone Need a “Survival Garden”?

Survival seeds safely stockpiled in a Survival Seed Bank and ready to grow survival garden is something every survivalist should have. In case of economical or natural disasters food production and food shipment might get disrupted.

Most grocery stores only carry a few days worth of supplies, which in case of wide spread disasters, isn’t enough. When panic buying kicks in, those grocery stores would be run over and wiped out in a matter of hours! And the only way to obtain food for you and your family is to grow it yourself!

Every time a hurricane makes landfall, or some flood is approaching, all the grocery stores in that area are practically cleaned out. The same would happen if there were any other type of world wide event (like the recent economical crises).

People who live in cities and other urban areas and who are dependent on the grocery stores and retail chains for their food – they especially need to take home gardening seriously and think about purchasing survival vegetable seeds for emergency.

Saving seeds for future years is a very essential project without a doubt. Actually, the modern society is slowly moving in direction of a critical point of no return, from which there will be no way back. The survival seed banks must be established so that the upcoming generations can at the very least have the most essential thing like food. For the reason that food is essential of the people, along with drinking water. But the issue that obviously comes up is this: why at all should all of us be worried about stocking food for the foreseeable future? This is because Mother Nature is really going for a disaster.

Environment experts indicate rising cases of climate alterations, erratic weather behaviours, raise of global temperatures, also known as global warming etc. These plainly suggest, that if we don’t prepare for the foreseeable future with prepper resources, we are going to be in a lot of trouble. There is also the importance for realizing that consumers cannot use the type of agricultural inputs that are applied these days. For instance, lots of inorganic components like pesticides and fertilizers are used in modernday agriculture.

But down the road, when things become really hard, people will have to use basic forms of gardening, like survival gardening and organic farming. So besides just storing vegetable seeds, there is also a neccessety of conserving the knowledge. This can only happen if the information and approaches for traditional gardening are handed down from generation to generation. To endure, people will have to return to the very basic principles and this is where the essential requirement for survival seed bank takes place.


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