Try Asparagus Beans This Year!

It’s time to buy seeds for this coming spring, so let me tell you about one of my favorites…

My mother has been growing the most wonderful asparagus “yard long” green beans for a few years now.  Last year I asked her to save some seeds for me so that I might try growing the bean myself.   My mother got her bean seeds from her sister, my Aunt Sue, who got her seeds from an on-line seed company.

Asparagus beans

These are the blossoms of the Asparagus Yardlong green bean. They seem to always come in twos and are gorgeous!

On the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds website, they have one called Chinese Green Noodle Bean that looked similar, but not exactly like my beans. On the Johnny’s Seeds website they have some called Gita, which are again pretty close, but not exactly the same. Over at Park Seed, they have one called Orient Wonder Yardlong, and at Mary’s Heirloom Seeds there is a Chinese Red Noodle Bean.  Check it out HERE.  I can’t wait to try that one out!

Asparagus yard long beans

These plants grow tall, so prepare!

My Aunt Sue got hers from Burpee, and they are called Asparagus Yardlong pole beans. I prefer to grow only organic, non-GMO, heirloom plants, and was glad to see that these were, indeed heirloom!

Most long beans are of the vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis.  Sesquipedalis in Latin means “foot and a half long”, and this subspecies which arrived in the United States via Asia is characterized by unusually long pods, which lead to the common names of yardlong bean, asparagus bean and Chinese long-bean.

The plant is a different genus from the common bean, but like the common bean, is a vigorous climbing annual. It’s actually a variety of cowpea!  When I was doing some research on the long bean, I read that the plant will attract many pollinators including ants and yellowjackets. In fact, my plants had lots of ants, and I mistakenly had tried getting rid of them with a home made solution of olive oil, dish soap and jalapeno pepper juice! That was a classic hand-to-forehead moment. 🙂 In hindsight, the ants weren’t doing any harm (they weren’t farming aphids on the plant), so next year I will just leave them alone to pollinate.

Chinese yard long beans

This is one of the beans, about halfway grown. When ready to harvest, they are about 14-18 inches long (not really a yard long) and a little less in diameter than a #2 pencil. You can see the purple at the end of the bean, which fades a bit as the bean matures.

The pods on my long bean plant hung in groups of two.  My mother showed me how to harvest the beans, cutting the bean off the plant at the top of the actual bean, because the plant will set more beans on the same stem if it isn’t damaged by harvesting!  My plants were a bit slow to get started, and I will assume that’s because I don’t live in a subtropical climate, which is where these beans originated. Also, I didn’t amend the soil much where I planted them (I have some serious mountain clay) and only gave them a bit of fertilizer, but once the plants started to flower and produce pods – hoooeee – I got a lotta beans!

Chinese asparagus beans

Not quite a yard, but these beans are really quite long!

 

Chinese Asparagus Green Beans

Cut the beans to fit into a wide mouth mason jar with about 1 inch head space, pack vertically, then pour in a vinaigrette. After a few days in the refrigerator they are delicious! Add a few jalapeno peppers for a spicy treat!

Just five or six bean pods make a side meal for Ray and I.  They are really good when marinated (just about any marinade is great) and thrown on the barbeque grill.  The best part is that they are so long, one rarely falls through the grates!  The beans are also excellent in a stir fry.  They are virtually stringless but stay fairly crisp and crunchy when boiled, barbequed, baked, etc..  Throw them in beef stew or roast them with tomatoes, peppers and onions – yum-o!

To preserve them, I think canning (jarring) is best. I also like cutting them long enough to fit into pint sized canning jars, pouring in a vinaigrette, and letting them steep in the fridge for a few days.  Mmmmm…  just like pickled green beans, but still with a nice crunch! Blanching and then freezing them makes them a bit mushy, though palatable.  I would like to try dehydrating the beans, but this season’s crop is pretty much done, so I will have to wait to try this next year.

Once the blossoms are pollinated, they turn yellow and then drop off. Here you can see two baby long beans - aren't they cute?

Once the blossoms are pollinated, they turn yellow and then drop off. Here you can see two baby long beans – aren’t they cute?  See the buds between the beans?  If you carefully cut the first beans when harvesting just right below the top of the actual bean, you won’t disturb the buds, and more beans will develop!

If you have room in your garden, you should certainly try some long beans.  The kids love growing them! Be aware, however, that the beans are not only long, but the plant itself is “long” also!

Yard long green beans

Be prepared to either harvest with a ladder, or have room to let the bean plant fold over. You could even let this grow up and over an arbor and harvest from below!

The bean plant grows very, very tall – at least 10 to 12 feet tall!  To handle this, let them get about 6-8 feet tall, let them crawl over the top of something (strings? Wire? Another trellis?) and then down the other side.  If you can walk under the plant, it makes finding and harvesting the beans easier.

Oh, and those beans you didn’t see on the vine until they have matured beyond fresh eating?  Harvest the pods, let the beans dry out completely, and they can be cooked just like any other dried bean.  Delicious!

I plan to grow these beans again this next spring.  Although mine were a bit slow to get started, I harvested some of the beans after they were fully matured, so that I could save the bean for planting again.  Hopefully, if I select the best beans from the best plants year after year, they will acclimate to my elevation, climate and soil conditions, and my harvests will get better and better!

So…   while you are perusing your seed catalogs this winter, consider the long bean (or asparagus bean, yard long bean, etc.).  You won’t be sorry!0001

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Using The WHOLE Orange!

recipe for orange peel and chocolate candy

We had the most marvelous navel orange tree at our home in the valley.  We planted the tree soon after we moved in and enjoyed it’s wonderful, healthful fruit ever since. That is, until we had to leave it behind when we sold our home so that we could move up to our new homestead.

We eat oranges for dessert with dark chocolate…

A bite of orange.  A bite of chocolate.  Repeat.  Good thing mandarins are just as good this way, because we were able to move our potted mandarin up to our new homestead.

How to candy orange peelA while ago I followed a recipe for candied orange peels that I found in a wonderful book called 1/4 acre farm. They were absolutely devine!  The orange peels ended up with a wonderful chewy texture and were beautifully translucent.  Really, you have to try this!  I was so proud of the fact that we were actually using the whole orange!

But then I made those candied orange peels again yesterday, and when the candy was done, I kept thinking about how good they smelled and how my fingers got so slippery when I was scraping the pith from the orange peel oil.

Orange oil.

Wait…      ORANGE OIL!

I wondered – if I saved the water that the orange peels were gently boiled in, would there be any orange oil floating on the top when it cooled down?  I had to try it, which meant I had to make another batch of candied orange peels.  Ah Shucks.  😉

But, instead of dumping the water the peels were boiled in (the orange peels are boiled in water 3 times), I saved it all in a large pan.  When the water has cooled enough to handle, I used a funnel and poured the water into a large glass bottle, like these…

Brewing Fermented Sweet Tea

I bought the front two, clear bottles at IKEA. The darker bottle in the rear was purchased at a craft brewery nearby.  Just flipping the bale and slowly decanting the water seemed to work just fine.

When filled to the brim, I inverted the bottle, and carefully placed it upside down into the refrigerator.  Why?  Oil and water separate – especially when chilled.  After a few hours of chilling, I slowly (very slowly), without inverting the bottle, let the water trickle out of the bottom.  My thought was that oil generally floats, so if I let the water out of the bottom, the oil would be left on the top.  I stopped decanting the water when there was about an inch or so left in the bottle.  Then I poured in more water and followed the same procedure. Once I had done this with all the boiled water, I could definitely see a sheen of oil on the top of the water.

Yes indeedy, I had orange peel oil!

I poured the oil with the last bit of water into another smaller amber colored bottle for storage.  Since this bottle had a dropper, I got rid of more of the water by sucking out from under the oil layer – remember, oil floats!  This is what I ended up with before sucking all of the water out from underneath:

How to make your own orange oil

can you see it… right there in the middle of the jar? Orange Oil! Wahoo!

I know if I had a small distiller, I would be able to get a lot more oil out of the orange peel, and I also need to experiment with different methods of extracting the oil.  I am also going to see if it makes a difference whether I separate the water and oil when it is still hot, or let it get cold first. Then, I want to see if I can do the same thing with our lemon and mandarin trees!

What will I do with my orange soap made from turkey fatoil? Make orange scented soap!  Or my version of lip balm! Or orange scented beeswax candles!  Or…  well…  you get the picture.  

The best part?  I KNOW this is organic oil because the peels came from my tree which we do not spray! We already miss that tree, since right now is the time the oranges are beginning to ripen. Hopefully, someday, if we can build a walipini, we will again be able to plant another orange tree.

Have you extracted oil from orange peels?  Do you have a better method you would like to share?

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Trailers and Tool Sheds

We have been starting to feel more comfortable on our homestead, though I still miss the home we owned in the valley for the past 25 years.

Building a Storage Shed

We made shelves for almost every wall, nook and cranny. Storage is key in a travel trailer!

We have added shelves for more storage units in our travel trailer, which is our current “home” while we build our new home.  Ray built me a nice shelf that fits over the sink for oils and vinegars and stuff, and then another spice rack to hold all those little bottles of spices and such.  We also put one of those over-the-toilet storage thingys in our bathroom, which helps tremendously.  Ray also built a drawer inside my closet so that I can utilize the space all the way to the back.

Build a storage shed

We found these wire racks at a local dollar store, Ray mounted them on a board and – voila – spice rack!

I will be honest with you – downsizing from a 2,400 square foot home to a 26 foot travel trailer has been difficult.  It seems we are always on top of each other, especially now that winter is coming and we had to take down our dining tent and outdoor living gazebo.  While we can still get away from each other on our five acres, we are side by side when in the trailer.  Literally!

That’s the good news.  The bad news?

Travel trailers were not meant to be lived in.

Case in point:  Ray spent the better part of a month replacing the bathtub/shower in the trailer.  Why?  Mostly because of carpenter ants!  Those little critters got into the wall studs of the trailer in the bathroom area.  We aren’t sure if it was the ants that weakened the structure which caused the tub to crack, or if the cracked tub leaked and dampened the wood, attracting the carpenter ants.  Either way, Ray had to replace a lot of wood and shore up the structure of the trailer before we could even address replacing the tub. Perhaps if the travel trailer had been traveling and not parked in one area for a couple of years, the carpenter ants may have found the trailer less tasty. That all happened in October, when it was still warm.  Thank goodness, because this is how we took our baths:

Building a Shed

Yup – this was our bathtub for a month! Next spring we plan to use it as a small pond with water plants in it. This will be great for our honeybees!

We bought this stock tank waterer at our local Tractor Supply store.  The guys at the store probably thought we were crazy when we sat in it to make sure we fit (especially Ray, who is 6’2” tall), but this was how we kept ourselves clean while the bathroom was being repaired! When Ray was halfway done repairing the bathroom, we stayed in a hotel while visiting relatives, and I will admit that I may have taken a long, hot, shower.  Two in one day.  I know we are in a drought situation, but those hot, wonderful showers were necessary for my sanity!

Anyway, with all the preparations and a new bathroom, we were ready for whatever winter was going to throw at us.  We had plans to start clearing the site for our garden and the chicken coop, finish clearing where our new home will be built (the architect’s plans arre coming soon, I can’t wait to show them to you!), burn the brush piles we had amassed, and on cold, wintery days, read and research new projects, order seeds, etc..  Well, the cold, wet, wintery days have arrived, but we can’t get these chores done – yet.

Why?

Remember when I said travel trailers are not meant to be lived in?

Well, when we got our first snowfall, it was cold.  Really cold.

Even the olive oil got too cold!

Even the olive oil got too cold!

Sure, we have a propane heater in the trailer, but it seemed it was running all the time – even when we had the thermostat set at 60 degrees!  Our travel trailer has 2” x 2” framing and very little insulation.  And the windows are single pane.  Even with the miniblinds shut and curtains closed, we could still feel the cold coming in.  Brrr…

To make matters worse, the air inside the trailer was very, very humid.  Every time I did dishes, cooked, made coffee/tea or we showered, the warm water evaporated in the cold trailer air and caused extreme humid, which is not good.  Our windows started weeping water.  The metal door was dripping wet.  Our clothes were always damp and, yes, even our bedsheets and blankets were damp.

This wasn’t going to work.  It was only November, with the coldest months come, and I was miserable.  And if I am miserable, poor Ray was even more so 😉

We decided that our best solution was to move into the tool shed.

The tool shed that has 6” very well insulated walls, a strong and very well insulated metal roof, a double pane window, and a sturdy bunkbed!  Remember our little wood stove we bought?  We would install that in the tool shed also!  Instead of burning an exorbitant amount of propane to keep barely warm, we would burn free oak wood and stay toasty warm.  Sounds like a great plan, right?

The only problem was that the tool shed was full of…   well…   tools!  We had to build something to put the tools in, and found a great shed kit from a big box store on sale.

Living in a Travel Trailer

The first thing we did was clear the site for the shed, level some concrete blocks, add a retaining wall and then put together the frame with joists for the floor.

First, we prepared the build site by clearing off some of the leaf mold and duff and leveling the ground somewhat.  Since this will not be the permanent location for this shed (it will be moved to my new garden/chicken coop area after our new home is built), we decided to just place it upon concrete blocks.  When the blocks were all in place and the tops level, we did add concrete and rebar to the first two rows because of their low position on the hill, which helped make everything more stable.

Building a Box Store Shed

The walls are all built, one on top of another, on the actual floor of the shed.

The shed really wasn’t too hard to put together – that is if you can read a Japanese Cookbook!  Luckily the illustrations were a bit better.  We added extra joists and also bought heavy duty plywood for the floor.  The walls are built on top of the floor, side walls first and then the back wall.  Then, you raise the back wall and brace it.  It was fairly heavy, but Ray and I were able to do it without too much sweat!  Now it was time to raise one of the side walls and attach it to the back wall. Once this was done, the other side wall was next. Once this was done, we stood back to view our work.  Not too bad!

Living in a travel trailer

Moving along…    The walls were still wobbly, but once the loft and shelves were up, it was beginning to be quite sturdy.

The next thing to do is put in A New Shed 8the shelves and loft, which helps shore up and secure the back and sides of the shed.  Once the front of the shed was on, it was time to put up the rafters and plywood sheathing for the roof!  The instructions said to use a comp roof, but we opted instead for a metal roof.  We live in the middle of a forest, and metal roofs are safer in a forest fire situation.  Also, every roof we have on our homestead is used to collect rainwater into large water storage containers, as will this shed.  From what I have read, asphault (or some people call them composition, or comp) can leach toxins into rainwater.  Since we use this water to irrigate our orchard, we prefer not to have toxins!

With the metal roof on, front doors hung and windows installed – this shed is ready for some tools!

Don't Live in a travel trailer

Here it is! It still needs some paint and rain gutters, but it is water tight and already filled up with lots of “stuff”.

And once the original tool shed is empty – we can fashion it into our tiny cottage!  Here is a sneak peak of the inside of our tiny cottage:

Building a Big Box Store Shed

Cooking beef stew on the woodstove in our new tiny cottage!

I can’t wait to take you on a tour of our new tiny cottage!  Stay tuned!

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