The Bean Screen

25 09 2010

Hello friends, family and accidental readers .

If you haven’t heard from us, it is because we have been working 16+ hour days, seven days a week for a solid month now. Today is my “day off” if you want to call it that. I’m only here as a form of procrastination in silent protest to the mound of work on my desk and “Laundry Mountain” on the bed.

I did do something slightly recreational yesterday and thought I would share it.

If you have visited our place, you know that we have a compulsive hoarder in the back.

Jack is an illustrious man with a colorful history and a brilliant personality. Unfortunately, he is physically and mentally ill. His compulsion to acquire and compile random objects continued until the day that he went to the hospital for back surgery. He is no longer able to live on his own and will likely end his days in a nursing home.

However, his legacy lingers in the form of the small sampling of his collection pictured below. As long as he dreams of coming back home his lot rent will be paid and his clutter will remain.


Shortly after Jack moved in I saw the writing on the wall and began to devise a solution for blocking some of the inevitable accumulation of that was sure to come.

Back in April of 2009 we built “Oasis 2”, a combined raised bed with a bamboo trellis to screen the view of Jack’s junk.


Over the past year and a half I have learned a lot about gardening. I had a good run with O2 before the nematodes and insects took hold and made it clear that tomatoes, pole beans and cucumber vines were not meant to survive long enough to climb the trellis, as I had imagined.

A trip to the beach brought my attention to a lovely wild native called Canavalia rosea maritima, also known as baybean. I became enamored by the plant’s lush foliage with its large, round, waxy leaves and its beautiful lavender flowers.


After my battles with delicate heirloom vegetables I was open to a plant that was able to thrive in the salty, sandy environment of beach dunes. I read up on the plant and learned that it is ideal as a ground cover, and is actually used as erosion control in other countries. An added bonus is that the plant produces large, tasty, edible beans that surpass soybeans in nutritional value.

As I lamented the fact that so many of my fellow Floridians do not take advantage of this local resource I discovered that Mike (our employer and friend) had picked up some beans and was growing them on trellises in his own yard. He gave me a couple of beans, which I quickly planted at the base of my bare trellis.

It didn’t take long for the baybeans to take hold and fill up the trellis. I now regret that I did not place one more bar across the top, for the plant would have gladly filled it in. That is a project for a coming day. This amazing vine has thrilled the pollinators and is threatening to overtake the whole back yard.


The biggest challenge is redirecting the tendrils so that they don’t strangle out every other plant in the garden. This is a battle that I am currently losing, due to the lack of time I have been able to spend in the garden. In the right hand side of the photo above, there is a tenacious habanero plant, which continues to present me with its spicy offerings; although they are almost invisible until they turn red.

Here is a shot of 02 in all of its messy glory. We are getting lots of peppers, and AJ has taken over most of the bed with his collection of pineapple plants. At this point, I am letting nature decide what I am allowed to grow here.


The baybean doesn’t give a hoot about nematodes, lack of fertilization, or even the fact that it has been given two five gallon buckets worth of soil to do its thing. It is growing and making beans like crazy.

Yesterday I noticed that it was time to harvest. Here is a sample.

Bay Bean

I picked a large strainer full of these massive beans and decided that I would try roasting them.

Bay Bean Harvest

Due to their large size, they were easy to shuck and yielded almost two cups worth of the biggest beans I’ve ever cooked.

Bay Beans

I experimented by tossing them in soy sauce, olive oil, cayenne pepper and garlic salt before roasting them in the oven.

They turned out good, and AJ even ate a few!


These beans are evergreen plants, so I anticipate many more harvests to come. The vines are loaded with pods which will be mature in a few more days.

Baybeans anyone?

Smokey has his own definition of “Comfortable”

20 08 2010

I’m glad he’s comfortable, because we have officially adopted Smokey. This makes me his fourth cat parent within a three year period and three lot radius area.

Make yourself at home, Smokey!


A Sandhill of Beans

14 08 2010

So, what’s up in the garden? We’ll talk about the (mostly) pretty stuff in this post, and I’ll give a forewarning about the next post (which will cover a topic I find fascinating, and which most of you may wish to skip).

Let’s start out with a great plant that has far exceeded my expectations:

Bay Bean

Canavalia rosea, otherwise known as the bay bean, beach bean, seaside jackbean, coastal bean or Mackenzie bean is an important plant for control of beach erosion. I’ve often marveled at the lush foliage and quirky flowers of this plant when I found it growing on the sand dunes.


Last year I became very interested in the plant and learned that it is a severely underrated, hardy and drought-tolerant ground cover. I decided that it would be the perfect plant for our barren “Back 40”, and resolved to acquire some beans to plant.

As though I had placed an order, Mike (the guy who pays us) who had been harvesting beans from the beach, and growing these plants in his garden, gave me some seeds. He also mentioned that he enjoyed eating the beans, prepared the same as edamame. Research gives mixed results about the toxicity of these beans and suggests that they should be thoroughly boiled (if eaten at all).


He shared some seeds with me, which I planted this spring. The vines have since grown to fill my trellis and are blooming and creating beans.


I’ve also begun training them to grow out on the Back 40″. My next step is to get some native beach daisies and gaillardia to intersperse with the bay beans. I’ve seen this at Sebastian Inlet, and it is not only appealing, but attracts native pollinators.


I would be remiss if I failed to mentions that Canavalia rosea is a psychogenic herb. In other words: People have used it to get high. I cannot vouch for this quality, but I have noticed that my bay bean plants are conspicuously absent insect damage. Maybe the bugs take a bite and then forget where they are? Whatever the reason, this plant is thick, healthy and exuberant, despite the root knot nematodes and abundance of destructive insects in my garden.

I’ve also discovered a treasured Carolina anole living in its canopy, as well as a marked reduction in the number of aggressive brown or Cuban anoles.

Today I found an exception to this generalization as I was following a small, blue butterfly with my macro lens; hoping for it to light on a blossom for a photo op.

Before the butterfly could land, it was snatched up by a juvenile brown anole, which proceeded to dispense with it in a few hearty gulps.


As healthy as is the bay bean, the rest of the garden is struggling. My best producers are the Jalapeños grown from the seeds of a produce market pepper. I’ve shared many of these peppers and have made some hot sauce that I think is pretty darn good. Despite the obvious damage of pests and the dreaded root-knot-nematodes, these plants continue to offer up their picante prizes.


Today, I was reminded that insects and nematodes are not the only culprits responsible for the weakened plants in my garden.

Smokey makes sure everyone knows these are his plants.


The heat, drought and root knot nematodes have conspired to ensure that we pay cash for our produce.  The bamboo fascia around the Oasis is also rotting and falling over. This repair is one of many projects on my procrastination list.


In hopes of getting our own place in the near future, I’ve let things go to seed (literally). The amaranth you see in the foreground is a volunteer from last season’s experiment. But something I learned today has given me a new found sense of encouragement. In order to find out what this is, you’ll have to read my next post. I warn you to avoid eating immediately before or during such reading.

For now, have a look at some magnificent mangoes bequeathed upon us by Mike. These represent half of what we had yesterday (before gifting them to the neighbors and making the frozen mango rum drinks that entertained us last night.)

Thanks Mike!


Sad Riddance to Good Neighbors

14 08 2010

We don’t have any bad neighbors. Sometimes I complain about the consequences of living in such close proximity to so many people, but even the people with annoying habits are all goodhearted and likable folks.

Every once in a while we get a great neighbor like Captain Kym. I was apprehensive when Kym’s motor home appeared in the spot next door. We had gotten used to our big open space; as it had been vacant for a long time. “What kind of neighbor was he?” I wondered. My imagination ran the gamut of all the different type of aggravations we might encounter. “Did he have a noisy dog? Did he get falling-down drunk and have scream fights with his significant other? Would he take issue with my ever-expanding garden, which had already encroached onto his lot?”

It wasn’t but a day or two before AJ had met Kym. He quelled my fears and assured me that he was “a really cool guy”. He went on to inform me that Kym was a treasure hunter who had hit a few bumps in the road, and a guy with a lot of great stories and life experience. A robust guy with a preference for tropical print shirts, a great sense of humor, the spirit of a jovial pirate and some of the best stories you could hope to hear; Kym is the life of every party.


I don’t recall the exact date that Captain Kym pulled in, but I know it was at least two years ago. Over those years, we’ve had the privilege of living next door to a fascinating, funny, thoughtful and generous neighbor. We’ve had cookouts, helped each other in times of need and shared the things we have to share. Heck, Kym even looked after the cat crew on the occasions that we went out of town.

Over the past year we’ve been so caught up with life and work that we didn’t hang out with him as much as we might have. In the meantime, a beautiful lady and longtime friend of his (Marie) came in and swept him away. He moved out of his rig a few months ago, but didn’t really seem gone because his friend Cokey was staying there, and Kym and Marie would drop by every so often.

Yesterday, as Kym’s rig rolled out, it struck me that our neighbor is really gone. Although he now lives just up the road, it seems such a shock to have that empty space next door. I’m glad that Kym is moving on to bigger and better things, and I think that he and Marie make such a fun pair; but I sure will miss my favorite neighbor, Captain Kym! He’s still my favorite neighbor, only now I have to get in the car and drive to visit.

Cokey and Kym on moving out day.


Cokey and Marie. Two more awesome people I know because of Kym. Cokey was also an awesome neighbor; but luckily, he’s house sitting right behind us for a few months.


The Breezeway Buzz

6 08 2010

Although AJ and I have been doing well, all is not happiness and light in the park.

In July, Gary passed. He was suffering from cancer, which took over his entire body before he relinquished. Gary was a quiet and seemingly peaceful man who lived in the back of the park. He was only in his mid fifties when the disease took his life. We have heard that Gary was a rough and tumble guy, with a penchant for hard drugs, in his youth. However, the man we knew was a gentle giant who cared for his mother at the end of her life and always took our neighbor, Carrie, to the store until he was no longer able to do so. Rest in Peace, Gary.


Jack, the atomic veteran and hoarder, who lives behind us, is in the hospital. He had some discs removed from his neck; and I am told that when they were transporting him to the rehab facility, three paramedics dropped him and fell on top of him. Word is that he may be sent to a nursing home, instead of returning to the park. I think this would be in his best interest, as his living conditions are far beyond unsafe and unsanitary. I’m hoping that he gets placed in a nursing home nearby, so that I can go visit him. He really is a fascinating guy, and I’d love to document some of his stories in a more comfortable setting than the cluttered heat of his yard. My hope is that he finds comfort and cleanliness at the end of his life; and in a fit of selfishness I find myself wishing that his accumulations will soon be removed from our back yard. Although my anti-clutter trellis has managed to disguise much of the junk, I still have concerns about wandering roaches and rats, which will be rendered homeless when he is gone.


Carrie is not doing so well. We feel so helpless as we witness her gradual deterioration. Her mind seems to be holding fairly steady, but her physical state continues to decline. Last week she fell on her way to the bathroom. Her tale of crawling (first to the kitchen table and then to the living room chair) to right herself, was mortifying. What do you do with a strong-willed, independent woman who professes that she would rather die than go into a home? The worst part is that her air-conditioner has completely quit. So, while we languish in our cool environment, she is roasting in the sweltering heat! I am sickened by the thought, but am unable to help her. AJ spent half the day trying to fix her AC, and I have posted an ad on craigslist in search of some window units. If I can’t find something in the next day or two, I will have to call social services and see about getting a case worker assigned to her. I feel like such traitor, but I don’t know what else to do!


The garden is pretty weak. The pepper plants are hanging in there. The stevia is doing OK (although, I’m not sure what stevia is supposed to do). The weedy greens like Okinawan Spinach, Purslane and Amaranth are doing great, while the green onions and basil are limping along.That’s about it for the Oasis, as the nematodes have decimated everything else.



O2 is not doing much better. I have harvested quite a few Jalapeño peppers, and another, smaller pepper given to me from my cousin Alan. The Culantro continues to produce, as well as the rosemary. Because of the nematodes I have all but abandoned the garden. AJ has taken over with planting pineapple tops (mostly donated by our neighbors, Jane and Barry.) The pineapples and the sea beans seem to thrive, no matter what. The sea beans are a wild native ground cover that produce pretty, round leaves and purple flowers. As you can see in the photograph, they have filled up the trellis and are doing a good job of blocking the view of “Hoarder Haven”.


Well, that catches me up on the park business. I have one more post to share the recipe of a hot sauce I made today. I’m not too shy to admit that it might be one of my best concoctions, yet!

Come back tomorrow for that recipe. Better yet, come on down for a taste of the real thing!