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.

Jack's-Place

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.

Finished-Oasis2-distant

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.

Bay-Bean-Flower-Closeup

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.

Closeup-bean-screen

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-Bean-Screen

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!

Roasted-Bay-Beans

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?

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Week in Review: Reigning in Chaos

20 04 2009

The overall theme of this week has been finding or restoring order.

If you’ve been reading along you will know that the park has been cited by The Health Department for a plethora of minor violations.  The inspector made it known that they are cracking down across the board in order to compensate for budget cuts. It’s a blessing in disguise because enforcement of park rules has gotten quite lax. We try to keep our lot tidy, but are subjected to the mess of a junk hoarder behind us and blowing trash from a few surrounding lots. The cat situation has gotten out of control creating a crisis of disease, fleas and fighting as the cat population pushes its bounds.

In The Cops are Coming for the Gray Brigade I described how the cat situation affects us and our small herd. Today (April 20th) was the deadline for everyone to get their act together, including cleaning up their lots and leash training their cats, Ha! One resident put collars on some of her cats. One seemed particularly pissed and went about kicking ass all over the park. One look at his backside tells me that he is an un-altered tomcat, or one that was not properly neutered. At least he’s clean, because he took more than one shower from our hose this week!

Even though our lot escaped the scrutiny of the inspector, we had a mess going on in our eyes and set a goal of getting projects finished before today.

Oasis2 “O2” Completion

If you don’t know about the bamboo and Oasis2 made of buckets, barrels and tires…well, I don’t know what to say. Go back and read about it.

I spent a great deal of the weekend on this chair, cutting up this bamboo with this circular saw.

O2 Work zone

I also spent a great deal of time installing said bamboo around the border of O2.

O2-progress

Finally, by Sunday evening I was finished. O2 was done, bamboo scraps cleaned up and gravel dispersed.

O2-Complete

O2-Front

O2-Side

O2-Back

Harvesting and Pruning

The flea market tomato produced the first full-sized ripened fruit.

Tomatoes-ripe

Combined with some baby lettuce and purslane, we had a nice salad.

1st-Real-Harvest

Within two days another tomato is ripening.  Yesterday morning I cut back the branches of this massive plant. It was out of control. At last count there were over 30 tomatoes in various stages of maturity. I started a Harvest Log to document the weight of all produce collected from the garden this season.

Tomatoes

The Inspector Arrives

By early afternoon I was on the couch working, and had almost forgotten about the dreaded Health Department inspection. From the corner of my eye I saw a flash of red. It was a woman in a scarlet polo shirt, clipboard in hand, walking behind our lot with the park manager.

I glanced out onto the patio and saw something that looked like this.

Gray-Brigade-another-day

Perhaps she was completely immersed in her inspection of the septic tank lid repair, or maybe she was kindly overlooking our gross violation of the cat leash law. For whatever reason she seemed completely oblivious to what I did next. Quickly, I sprang into action, snatching up each cat and throwing them inside. Jorgi was shocked and momentarily paralyzed with fear, Smokey was befuddled and Llami just thought it was time for a cheese treat. Bedlam ensued for the next 30 minutes as we waited for the inspector to leave. Once she was gone and I opened the door the cats returned to their normal routine.

Smokey wants to play, but Jorgi doesn’t understand this.

Gray-Flash

Painting

These are the neighbors who left us the box of sealers and stain salvaged from the dump transfer station. I don’t know how else to describe them other than “compulsive painters”. This is their third unit in the park. When they first moved here they had lost their house in the hurricanes. They arrived in a homemade RV made from what amounted to a utility trailer with vinyl siding and a window unit AC. As shabby as it was they painted it multiple times. Next they bought a slightly larger travel trailer in the park. It too, went through various color iterations. Last year they bought this mobile home, which they immediately set about fixing up and painting.

The driveway has been painted more times than I can count and they even bought a boat and painted it (including pin stripes). In a reaction to astronomical electric bills they are now painting their trim a lighter, and much more attractive color. I give it four months until it changes again. Looks great, though!

Painting

AJ has gotten attached to the dumpster chair and titled it “The Epiphany Chair”. It is also getting a coat of paint.

AJ-Paints-Refelection-Chair

Mechanics

A little late, but here is our anniversary present to each other. Our anniversary was on February 21st. AJ has turned into a Mercedes diesel mechanic in this short time, and now knows as much about these cars as anyone. His weekend was spent working on this car, as has been most of his free time since we got it. This project was especially chaotic as it involved removing, disassembling, repairing and reassembling the instrument panel. This was as tedious and frustrating as anything I’ve seen him do. Of course it has all been done with his trademark precision and attention to detail. He promises to start his own blog to document all the “guy stuff” he does.

For now, here’s the car:

Mercedes

Turbo-Diesel

Weed Rescue

And finally, here is a little gem I rescued from certain destruction by the mower. It must be some sort of wildflower, although I have yet to identify it. It adapted quite well to being yanked from the ground and potted. Now it graces our beautiful steps.

Mystery-Wildflower-Pot

Unknown-Wildflower

Exhausted from this grueling weekend I left for work today without my cell phone and forgetting an important piece of equipment. On the way back home I managed to lose my coffee thermos mug. Now that the outside looks great I must get busy restoring order to the inside (of the RV as well as my head). I’m only grateful that the Health Inspector didn’t look in here!





Topsoil and Wind

14 04 2009

Today was topsoil day. Wonderful guy that he is, AJ hopped into the truck and went to pick up the soil. I set about getting Oasis2 ready to fill. I’m not crazy about the name “Oasis2”. Once it gets some personality I will have to come up with a better title. For now I will shorten it to “O2”. Hey, I kind of like that…

Oasis2-Beginning

The soil has arrived. Hmm, that doesn’t look like very much. I hope it’s enough.

Truckload-Soil

With the truck backed up and ready to unload, AJ sprung a change on me. He offered up two tires we had sitting around. I guess these are $250.oo tires with a little life on them, but nothing we can use anymore. So, at the last minute I tried to incorporate them. Now that it’s finished I know how I wish I would have configured it; but you know what they say about wishing…

Ready-to-fill

We got the truck close enough that we were able to walk the soil over by the shovel-full.

Oasis2Filling

Within 45 minutes the bed was full of this gorgeous, rich soil. There was exactly enough and not a scoop more. Sorry compost heap, I’ll have to go with plan B on that.

Oasis2-Filled

The shoveling went so fast because we were racing this weather system approaching from the West.

Ominous-Weather

The first band chased us inside right after we filled the bed. We waited for the big gap in the middle and then went back to work.

Radar

From back to front, left to right: cucumbers, lima beans, pole beans. watermelon,

broccoli, super giant productive cherry tomato plant, musk melons,

lettuce, carrots and more eggplant. Actually, I thinned out the lettuce from The Oasis and transplanted many of them throughout O2.

Oasis2-Planted

The weather co-operated and I was able to add the gravel mulch.

Finished-Oasis2

This super tomato is supposed to get up to 6′ tall and produce over 600 cherry tomatoes in its lifetime. It’s so small and cute now, but I know it will become a monster. I’m sure I’ll be sorry I planted it in the middle of the bed, but gardening is so much more exciting if you mix it up a bit!

I faced the dilemma of how to support the plant once it begins to take off. I looked around for something with which to fashion a tomato cage. I just hate those utilitarian metal ones. Bamboo…plenty of bamboo everywhere, but how to hold it together? Then I remembered something I learned from my best friend Kris’s mom, Karen. Karen owned a flower shop and was a talented florist and designer (still is, although she is now retired).

One day we were enlisted to collect grape vines. I had no idea why, but Kris and I had to cut and yank down a huge mass of the tangled tendrils from her grandmother’s fence. This was a grueling and painful task, and we were covered with cuts and scratches before it was done. Afterward, Karen showed us the fruits of our labor. She grabbed a handful of the feisty vines and skillfully wound them into a beautiful wreath. I was always impressed with the fact that both of Kris’s parents were entrepreneurs and so creative. The wreath idea popped into my head when I thought about the tomato cage, so I went out on the back lot and cut some grape vines.

Tomato-Cage

AJ helped me secure them. The whole thing looks a little crooked, and I will probably straighten a bit and eventually add another ring towards the top, once the plant grows up a bit. I really like it, though. It works perfectly.

Tomato-Cage-CU

I hope the big tomato plant in The Oasis inspires the cherry tomato. The big tomatoes are bulging out everywhere. If you look closely you will notice that one is starting to turn orange. I’m hoping that we will have vine ripe tomatoes within a week. I still feel guilty about dogging the flea market tomato plant when I first got it. I think these are “spite tomatoes”.

Big-Tomatoes

After we finished up the wind began to blow. It has been blowing steadily around 25mph all afternoon with gusts up to 45mph. The new plantings are really taking a hit. Now I wish I would have waited for this front to pass before subjecting these babies to the elements. Tomorrow I will survey the damage and see how everything fared.

Even as the wind howled, nature gave us a gift; the most brilliant, apocalyptic looking red sky in many moons.

Red-Sky

Glad that portion of the project is finished. There is still a lot to do. I must cut and install the bamboo fascia; and will likely run out before I’m done. But the plants are in, and if this wind ever lets up they should start growing fast.

Tomorrow is going to be an exciting day. I think I’ll make you wait to find out what is in the works, but I will give you a hint: There are chickens, worms, mushrooms, heirloom plants and tie-dyed shirts involved. Check back tomorrow evening for the lowdown.





Bamboo, Bamboo and more Bamboo!

10 04 2009

We got home with the bamboo on Wednesday and crashed. Thursday, after work we set up a processing center in the driveway. Bamboo is messy, branchy, leafy and sharp! I processed my pile of thin bamboo and AJ processed the big stuff. Sawzall, branch cutters and a machete were involved.

Processing

AJ deals with the especially difficult pieces.

Finishing-up

I pose with the sawzall.

Cutting

Today, AJ finished processing the big stuff, and put it under the RV to cure. Once it has dried for a couple of weeks we will treat it and use it in the new fence.

Bamboo-Curing

Here is my small stuff. It looks like a lot, but I bet Oasis2 takes the all of it.

Finished-Thin-Bamboo

This shot of Oasis2 should explain why I’m chomping at the bit to get the trellis built and the beans planted. The chaos in the background is Jack’s lot. He’s a fascinating and nice old guy; but his sense of aesthetics is vastly different than ours. This afternoon, Jack came around and sat on his trailer to talk to me while I worked. He said that he loved our gravel and couldn’t get over how great it looks. He said the bamboo brought back memories of WWII. They used it to build traps and cages for the Japanese. While we were talking the park manager came by with a notice about the Health Department citations. Jack has been ordered to clean up his lot, cover the boat with a tarp and get tags on his vehicles. I’ve been in this park too long to expect much of a change. There is only so much you can do with hoarders like Jack. I am very fond of the guy, but I do not enjoy looking at his junk. I keep my fingers crossed that the pole beans, lima beans and cucumbers fill in the trellis and obscure the view.

Oasis2-in-works

Here is the experimental stage of the trellis. I dug holes up to my elbows and buried five poles. The horizontal bamboo wasn’t long enough to span the length, so I changed plans and went for a diagonal look with three poles.

Trellis-in-process

It’s still a little crooked because I ran out of twine to tie it together. I will straighten it out a bit, and AJ said he would trim the ends for me.  I’m not very concerned since it is quite sturdy and I don’t plan to see much of it in a month or two. It’s not large enough to hide the entire mess, but I hope it helps.

Trellis-done

Here is a photo that AJ took when I wasn’t looking. I’m cutting the long pieces into small fascia, which I will pound into the ground around the raised beds.

Cutting-Fascia

Here’s The Oasis. Take a good look at this and try to take your mind off of the previous image.

Oasis041009

The ebay auctions bombed. I didn’t make enough to buy the topsoil. We planned to get it with our pay, but we did not get paid today; so I don’t know what will happen. The beans are sending out very long tendrils and really need to get into the ground. I may cash in my change jar and buy a couple of bags of soil just to get the beans planted.

Tomorrow is another day of labor. We are aching, exhausted and all scratched up.  See you on the flip side.