Three types of wax beans grow this year in my small kitchen garden. The one on my fingers is a Golden Wax Bush bean. The one in the middle is a Kentucky Wonder Wax bean that’s a bit young; these can grow longer and thicker without becoming woody, but I like to catch them right when they turn yellow. The bean on my palm is the Mystery Wax bean – that is, I don’t know what variety it is. I work a lot harder to fill a canning jar with the Mystery beans than I work to fill jars with the other varieties.
Beans are still growing strong in my small kitchen garden, though frost may be no more than two weeks away. I’ve learned a few things about beans this year which surprised me just a bit because I’ve grown beans for the past 18 years, and I’d participated for ten years in my mother’s kitchen garden where she grew beans.
Wax Beans in my Garden
I prefer wax beans over green beans, so I usually plant more of the first than the latter. This year, I planted about twice as many wax bean seeds as I did green bean seeds, but I planted three varieties of wax beans: Kentucky Wonder Wax Pole, Golden Wax Bush, and a mystery variety (it’s a mystery because apparently I threw out the seed package when I used up the seeds; I hate that).
I’d never seen a climbing wax bean before this season and I was very pleased to find Kentucky Wonder Wax Pole bean seeds at a local garden center. The beans grow quite large, but they’re more pleasant to eat when I harvest them before they’re obviously mature. They start green and turn white as they plump up and I prefer their texture when I harvest right as they turn. They’re just as good when a bit green as they are when they turn white.
Just a few weeks after planting, seeds of climbing (pole) beans produce lovely stems that wave around in the air until they find something around which to curl. The plants spiral upwards as they grow and they put out more and more stems that eventually cover everything within reach.
The Golden Wax Bush beans are what I’d consider a “generic” wax bean. These are probably what I grew up eating, or at least they look and taste the same. The beans reach four-to-six inches and they form smooth cylinders that are tender and stringless until the seeds inside start to bulk up.
The Mystery Beans started as rather small seeds; no more than half the size of bean seeds I’ve planted in past years. These produce prodigiously, but the pods are about half the thickness of any other beans I’ve grown. The Mystery Beans also tend to be shorter than Golden Wax and Kentucky Wonder beans. These beans grow smooth and stringless, and it seems they can remain on the plants for weeks without getting tough.
Grow Big Beans
What I’ve learned from my wax beans: Grow big ones. The smaller Mystery Beans grow on plants that require just as much space as Golden Wax bean plants. They take just as much effort per bean to harvest, clean, and prepare for canning, freezing, or cooking. But, 30 Golden Wax beans might just satisfy my family for one meal; 30 Mystery Beans would leave half of us without. In other words, when it comes to eating, canning, and freezing, I have to work twice as hard for the smaller Mystery Beans. In the future, I’ll choose larger beans.
Looking across my small kitchen garden at the climbing bean trellises. The low greenery in the foreground is a row of bush beans – Golden Wax to the right, some type of green bean to the left, and way off to the left, Mystery Wax beans. The towers at the left rear of the photo are climbing beans. Each tower has two types of beans on it: Kentucky Wonder Wax Pole and Blue Lake Pole. It’s impossible to tell from the photo, but each tower is a tripod made from eight-foot stakes (the preceding photo shows one leg of a bean trellis tripod).
Eschew Bush Beans
Most of my bean-growing experience has involved bush beans. Until four years ago, I’d never planted climbing beans. Climbing beans have been way more entertaining—I love the way they curl around stuff and produce food all season long. This season, I had a stunning revelation about growing beans in general: Grow climbing beans.
It can take 5 to 10 minutes to harvest from a 14 foot row of bush bean plants. During that time, you must somehow get your hands to within six inches of the ground. When I was 35 years old, bending down like that seemed like reasonable behavior. Now, in my 50s, it’s painful to stand up after bending low for 5 or more minutes.
Climbing beans don’t ask for such dedication. In fact, my climbing beans produce food starting at about knee level and going up to seven feet, which is the height of my trellises. To harvest climbing beans, I rarely bend and often reach up in lush foliage. It is never painful to harvest climbing beans.
If you desperately need to grow bush beans, build very high raised beds, build planters on tables, or install a green wall system that can nurture your plants at thigh or waist level. For me, a lazy (and old) gardener, I’ll stick with climbing beans.
I had a Christmas cactus when I was a kid, and it never produced a blossom. The one in this photo started as a four-segment branch from my daughter’s plant just two years ago. It blossomed that first autumn, and it blossomed more last November. It’s about to put on a show unlike any I’ve seen a Christmas Cactus produce. The secret, I think, is to make sure the plant knows summer has ended; apparently, cooler days encourage the plant to blossom.
Though Your Small Kitchen Garden blog has been catching up with a backlog of posts that didn’t get written during the growing season, a few things have come up recently and I felt like sharing them.
Christmas Cactus Knows it’s Cold
It has nothing to do with kitchen gardening, but I’ve gotten a little excited about my Christmas cactus. This started two winters ago as three or four leaves broken off of my daughter’s plant. Even in its first year in my care the plant flowered, and last autumn it produced a couple of blossoms. This month the plant has produced several dozen buds– I’m told in response to the lowering temperature. It’s about to put on quite a show!
Do you have a Christmas cactus that never seems to blossom? Move it near a window—especially one in a room that you don’t heat thoroughly in winter. The plant responds to cooler days and nights by producing buds.
Container Gardening Lima Beans
A pair of lima bean pods hangs in front of a baluster below the handrail on my deck. Recently I wrote a guest post for a friend about growing lima beans in containers.
I grew lima beans on my deck this summer. I’d never before grown lima beans, and I was quite pleased with the experience. What’s more, I had the pleasure of being a guest blogger for my friend Kerry Michaels over at About.com’s Container Gardening where I explained how I set up my planter and how it worked out. Please have a look. While you’re at it, poke around a bit. Kerry writes about growing stuff in containers which is small-space gardening at its extreme.
The Final Harvest from my Small Kitchen Garden
One especially poignant task for me lately was spending a half hour harvesting the last of everything that looked edible in my small kitchen garden. We’ve had several frosts, one of them heavy enough to kill off the tomato, pepper, and winter squash plants. Still, fruits have held on and continued to ripen. But with November looming large, there was growing danger that we’d have cold enough to freeze the produce.
Most of what you see in my “final harvest” photo is peppers, but there are decent layers of green and semi-ripe tomatoes beneath them. I haven’t decided what to do with any of these, but if I don’t decide soon, enzymes will do the job for me and I’ll be adding the lot to my compost heap.
If I get myself in gear, I’ll preserve the season’s last chili peppers by canning, freezing, or dehydrating them. The semi-ripe tomatoes will finish ripening and end up in pasta sauce or curry, and the green tomatoes will end up as green tomato mincemeat for pies.
My gardening is far from finished. I’m still setting perennial herbs into a planting bed I created this summer, and I need to clean up my vegetable beds. There are trellises and stakes that I’d like to move into the garden shed before snow falls. Sadly, facing these tasks emphasizes for me just how much I despise yard work. I’m a kitchen gardener because my small kitchen garden produces better vegetables than I can buy anywhere… and because for an initial investment of about $30 each season, I manage to grow several hundred dollars worth of fruits and vegetables.
By October, my excitement for gardening has worn away and I’m ready to get on with winter. Fortunately, winter recharges me and I emerge from it full of energy and enthusiasm for the next season’s kitchen garden.
Yes, some of the broccoli has gotten away from me. I’ve planted the same variety for two years, and in both years it has produced tiny heads. I kind of loose interest in it, though we do eat most of the side shoots. This winter I’ll be shopping around for a breed of broccoli that makes giant heads… the tiny yields I’ve had lately aren’t worth the garden space.
It’s Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, an event that happens on the 15th of each month. Founded by Carol over at May Dreams Gardens, Bloom Day beckons garden bloggers the world over to post photographs of what’s abloom in their gardens. Most of these posts have pictures of beautiful flowers in gorgeous ornamental gardens. Alas, my small kitchen garden isn’t about pretty.
Still, I love the blossoms nearly as much as I love the vegetables… and seeing them heightens my anticipation for the harvest that’s likely to follow. Things are doing extremely well this season. Early heat followed by drought has finally relented to several days of rain and more typical summer temperatures.
Here are the flowers I photographed this afternoon in my small kitchen garden:
I haven’t planted dill this year, but there are many dill weed blossoms in my small kitchen garden. The flowers attract all kinds of insects. If I let the dill go to seed as it did last year, I imagine the planting bed will be a veritable lawn of dill sprouts in the spring.
The oregano jungle has rebounded from some autumn and spring culling. The flowers are delicate and they provide beautiful contrast for nearly half the growing season. Still, I need to be more aggressive culling this fall; the oregano patch increases about a third in size in a season.
Onion blossoms make me happy. The globe of tiny flowers emerges in late spring and lingers for weeks. I cut a bouquet of onion flowers for the dining room table, and they’ve filled the room with a delicious onion aroma for nearly a month. I don’t encourage you to harvest your onion flowers; I had missed a few bulbs last fall, and what sprouted this spring needed to go to make way for the 2010 crops.
We’ve eaten bell and poblano peppers from the small kitchen garden this year, and there are dozens of banana peppers ready to harvest. Happily, there are many pepper blossoms which portend a massive harvest. I expect I’ll pickle a lot of peppers… and probably give away a whole bunch of them.
This sad specimen is an early cucumber blossom on a plant growing in a container. This is the first time I’ve grown cucumbers, so I’ll probably do some research to learn about what bugs eat cucumber blossoms… I haven’t seen this kind of abuse on my winter squash blossoms in past seasons.
The potato blossoms here stand above the background of the cardboard tube in which the plants are growing. I wrote about this project in a post titled Plant Potato Towers in your Small Kitchen Garden. In two of three planters, the potato plants have grown up through an accumulated 3 feet or more of soil. I’ve stopped adding soil, and the plants have gone on to grow well above the containers and produce flowers. One of my neighbors has asked me to invite him when I tip the containers over and dig out the potatoes. He’s as curious as I am to see how things come out.
Oh, the tomato blossoms abound! This has been the season of the great seed-starting debacle: I planted a whole bunch of seeds indoors, and they didn’t sprout. So, I planted again as many. This second batch sprouted about when the first batch sprouted; I ended up with double the seedlings I’d intended. After giving away many tomato seedlings, I crammed 84 plants into my small kitchen garden where I have traditionally planted 24.
While photographing flowers today, I found the very first barely pink tomato of the season! This may be the largest chili-pepper-shaped paste tomato I’ve harvested, and many more on the plants are just as big. Why did I pick it when it’s so under ripe? I explained last season in a post titled The Vine-Ripened Tomato Lie. This baby will finish ripening on my dining room table.
My small kitchen garden is still fully abloom, which portends great things to come. The blossoms also provide fodder for me to participate in another Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. Carol at May Dreams Gardens hosts Bloom Day wherein she encourages garden bloggers everywhere to photograph their blossoms, post them on their blogs, and then add a link to the Bloom Day list.
My small kitchen garden this month has blossoms that are quite similar to last month’s blossoms. Still, there are a few changes, and all-new photos. I don’t really grow flowers, but if I don’t get any in my garden, I won’t get any vegetables and fruits either… and that would make me very sad. Please have a look and see what the future holds for my small kitchen garden.
Cilantro flowers abound in my garden. My cilantro patch is very mature, and blossoms are giving way to coriander. These cilantro flower clouds—volunteers that planted themselves last fall—float among my tomato plants. Similar volunteers are making coriander throughout my planting bed.
My oregano monster is in full-bloom: dozens of stalks of flowers stand above the foliage. My oregano is spreading; trying to consume the planting bed. So, a few days ago I trimmed back the edges of the monster. I’ll dig out a lot of oregano roots when my annuals die back in the fall.
My pepper plants this season have messed with me. Peppers I potted in gallon jugs grow side-by-side with peppers I potted in a handrail planter. The gallon juggers matured and produced fruit while the handrailers turned into bonsai pepper plants. About a month ago, I shuffled plants out of the handrail planter into an in-ground planting bed… but I left some plants in the planter. Now all are growing as though they mean it. So, August has brought a new round of pepper flowers, and I’m eager to harvest peppers in September. Most, I suspect, will end up in gumbo.
Oh, beans! I harvested about a gallon of wax beans over the past two days, and there’ll be another half gallon ready tomorrow morning. The climbing beans are still flowering and producing new beans which makes more than a month of production with no end in sight; typically bush beans spew huge amounts of beans very quickly and you need to plant them in stages if you want to harvest through the whole summer. I’ve taken a one-and-done approach with bush wax beans, and they’re flowering madly even as I pluck the gorgeous yellow pods.
I’ve been lucky this year to be in the one 50-mile swath of the United States that hasn’t been too hard on tomatoes. I’ve canned 1 and ½ gallons of tomato sauce, I have about 12 gallons of tomatoes ripening on my dining room table, and my plants are producing about two gallons of tomatoes each day. To keep me on my toes, the tomato plants continue to produce those demure yellow flowers. I suspect that flowers in mid August will not produce ripe tomatoes before the first frost.
Here’s a volunteer I really don’t want in my small kitchen garden… but it’s so pretty. I think thistle plants are quite attractive, and the flowers are gorgeous. Of course, I’ll pull this plant in a day or two and add it to the compost heap. But there it is blooming on Bloom Day.
The big change in my small kitchen garden from mid-July to mid-August is the overwhelming emergence of winter squash. I had set seedlings in the garden on the first weekend of July, and a month later squash plants covered a big chunk of the planting bed. The vines are maxing out. That is, they continue to put out more stem and leaves, but the new stems are very slender, and they don’t seem to support fruiting flowers. New fruiting buds are tiny, and they seem to wither and die even before the flower opens. That’s OK, there must be 15 – to – 20 butternut squash fruits under the leaves. And, despite the lack of viable female flowers, the vines continue to produce daily explosions of bright orange male flowers. I couldn’t choose just one squash flower photo for this blog post, so I’ve included three of my four favorites (the one I didn’t publish was a bit esoteric).
A volunteer tomato plant, self-seeded from last year’s crop, makes a small jungle surrounding a squash blossom in my small kitchen garden.
Few things are better in my small kitchen garden than the time I spend among the squash blossoms in August.
Thanks so much for visiting!
In the category of Flower closest to my kitchen: A bell pepper plant is just starting to set fruit. I have great hopes as there are already dozens of banana peppers and a few jalapeno peppers ripening just a few feet away.
Flowers are not the point of a small kitchen garden. However, without flowers, there are very few food products a kitchen garden can produce. So, though I often joke that I’m too lazy to plant something that I won’t eventually eat, I am very fond of flowers.
I’m also very fond of the on-line gardening community. While many participants in that community discuss their food-growing activities, it seems a majority prefer the time they spend with their flower and ornamental gardens. From the photos on their blogs, I know I’d enjoy spending time in their gardens as well… but I have no flower- or ornamental-garden to offer in kind.
And then there’s Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day started by Carol over at May Dreams Gardens: on the 15th of each month, participating garden bloggers post entries about what’s abloom in their gardens. This month, I’m joining the gang. But my post isn’t about nasturtiums, pansies, cone flowers, daisies, black-eyed susans, and clematis. You won’t find such things in my garden (sure, you’ll find them in my wife’s garden, but she doesn’t blog). Still, my small kitchen garden is blooming its head off, and I’m psyched because nearly every blossom means another goody to eat growing in my yard.
In the category of Tallest herb in my small kitchen garden: Dill weed volunteers grow where seed fell from last year’s plants. This variety of dill grows about five feet tall.
In the category of Don’t get me started: If I left all the volunteer cilantro plants to grow as they please in my small kitchen garden, I’d never again have to plant the herb. However, the volunteers rarely start where I’d like them to. Shortly after they flower, the plants produce coriander: the round seeds that either plant themselves in the garden or season a variety of Asian and South American foods.
Yes, more cilantro flowers. I wanted to point out that flowers aren’t the be-all and end-all of pretty in a small kitchen garden. Several varieties of variegated lettuce are still growing where I planted them, and they provide an attractive background for this volunteer coriander factory.
In the category of Invasive, noxious herb: About five years ago, I planted a tiny oregano plant from one of those 1.5-inch-cubed nursery pots. There is now a five-foot diameter circle of densely-packed oregano shoots, and they have just started to flower. No doubt, this fall I’ll be excavating oregano roots to decrease the plant’s footprint by at least half.
In the category of Winningest weed: It’s tiny. It likes my small kitchen garden planting bed. It’s gorgeous. I had to kneel with one elbow on the ground to get close enough for the photo.
In the category of Most fun for the money: In my first year growing climbing beans, I have become enamored. The flowers look a lot like all other bean flowers I’ve grown. However, I’ve had a lot of fun tying up strings and training the bean vines to use them. The tallest climber is about to pass the end of its string and become entwined with the kids’ play set (my youngest child is 13 years old, and the play set sees play about once a year).
In the category of Another tomato blossom photo: Yes, I’ve photographed a lot of tomato blossoms over the years. This photo is a little different as it vaguely captures the components of the tomato support system I erected this year in place of tomato stakes.
In the category of It’s cool to be different: I love the round cluster of flowers that emerges at the end of a long onion stalk. Ideally, your onions don’t flower; flowering generally results in a smaller onion bulb with a short shelf life. However, crazy weather can cause flowering, and growing onions from sets can also lead to flowers. No matter. My onions are plump and I’ll use them quickly once the stalks flop to the ground. My onion flowers look grand.
In the category of: Who’s happy on Garden Blogers’ Bloom Day? And: who doesn’t have clover flowers in their yards and gardens?