Soil Testing Results and a Plan

Late last year I talked about my program to improve our garden soil here at Happy Acres. Based on spotty performance in certain areas, I was concerned the soil was losing fertility, and I needed to come up with an action plan before the 2015 growing season. As a first step, I took soil samples and sent them to a lab (Logan Labs) for testing. I wound up getting tests from two garden areas: the main garden and the area I call the kitchen garden.

Let me drop back a bit and say I take a holistic approach to our soil and to gardening in general, and my overall goal is to encourage a healthy soil ecosystem here. I want to feed the soil so the soil can feed the plants, and they can ultimately feed us. Deciding how to go about that task can be complicated though, since every garden presents unique opportunities and challenges. And of course different scientists and garden gurus have different and sometimes conflicting ideas on the subject as well. After gardening for almost 40 years now, I am truly learning as I go along, and there is still much more for me to learn. However, the 2015 gardening season is upon us, so I need to go forward with a plan ASAP.

As I suspected, the soil in both areas tested low in phosphorus and potassium. The pH ranges from 6.4-6.7 which is good for growing most vegetables. The main garden has 4% organic matter and the kitchen garden has 7%. In an area with hot humid summers like ours, organic material disappears quickly, and my goal is to keep the level around 5%, which is in line with Purdue recommendations in their Home Gardeners Guide. So I am doing well in one area and almost there in another. Most of my organic material gets added in spring, as I work in the mulch (straw, paper, leaves) from last year and add new compost for the coming year. The soil test helps me know where to best use my limited supply of compost.

There are ample levels of calcium and magnesium in both areas, but they are low in sulfur and sodium. In the past, our area used to get plenty of sulfur from acid rain, but with stricter environmental controls our rain is less acid now and farmers must often add sulfur. Also, the soil in both areas is low in several of the micronutrients (or trace elements), including zinc, boron, manganese and copper. A little bit of research told me the manganese deficiency is actually pretty common in our area. I am guessing the soil was that way when we got here in 2007, though this is the first time I tested for those elements.

soil amendments and fertilizers

soil amendments and fertilizers

With all that in mind, I surveyed what materials were available locally and which ones I would have to order, and came up with the following action plan. To both garden areas I will be adding bone meal (4-12-0), potassium sulfate (0-0-50), soft rock phosphate (0-3-0), kelp meal (1-0-2), and pelleted chicken manure (5-3-2) plus small amounts of sea salt, borax, manganese sulfate and zinc sulfate. I will mix them up well and add these materials when I prepare each bed for planting. I will still add additional fertilizer to heavy feeding vegetables like broccoli, potatoes, tomatoes and peppers, either adding it at planting time or as side dressing depending on the individual vegetable and its needs.

In the kitchen garden area, I plan on growing potatoes this year in one bed so I will add a bit of elemental sulfur there to lower the pH and use an acid fertilizer (Happy Frog Acid Loving) to side dress the plants. Since the sulfur works slowly, it would have been better to add the sulfur last fall had I known the test results. Potatoes grow best with a ph of 5.0-6.5, so any lowering in pH should help the potatoes. At the same time, I don’t want to lower the pH so much that the next crop I grow there will suffer.

soil amendments ready for garden

soil amendments ready for garden

It took some calculations to determine how much of each amendment to use, and I used a combination of paper and computer to come up with my plan. First, I referred to the soil tests to determine how much of each element I needed to add per acre. Of course, my garden is nowhere near an acre in size, so then I had to scale everything down. Since an acre is 43560 square feet, and my main garden area is a little over 2000 sqft, I took the value needed per acre and divided by 21. For example, I decided to add nitrogen at the rate of 100 pounds of N per acre. That means I need 4.76 pounds of N for the main garden. For boron the amount was tiny. I needed 2 pounds of B per acre which scales to about .1 pound for my garden. Since borax contains 10% boron, I need to use 1 pound on the garden.

Since many of the amendments contain multiple nutrients, I used a spreadsheet to track all the amounts. I’m going to add 48 pounds of bone meal (two 24 pound bags) to the main garden, and based on the analysis of the brand I’m using that will add 1.92 pounds of nitrogen, 5.76 lbs of phosphorus, 1.2 lbs of sulfur and 5.76 lbs of calcium. The spreadsheet will also document what I actually added this year, and serve as a planning tool for future years. Since the main garden area is divided into 10 equal sized beds, I added a column that shows exactly how much of each material I need to add to the mix for each bed.

spreadsheet for soil amendments

spreadsheet for soil amendments

There are several other things I want to try this year, including adding a mycorrhizal inoculant (Mykos) when setting out plants. I’ve been using a soil mix for seed starting (Pro-Mix BX) that has mycorrhizae added, but I’m not sure that is enough to make a difference once plants are set out in the garden. I also want to add liquid kelp to my fish emulsion solution for liquid fertilizing. I’ve used it in the past, and I think what it brings to the mix is important. And I’m adding crab meal to the soil, which is not only a source of nitrogen and phosphorus but the chitin in the shells is a great fungal food. I’m probably going to use a water soluble product like Biomin Booster to add minerals like copper and some of the others in a chelated, bioavailable form.

I’ll share more on this subject throughout the growing season, and I’ll certainly report on results from the garden too. Until the next time, I wish you happy growing from Happy Acres!

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March Greenhouse Tour

There’s a lot of things growing in the greenhouse right about now, so I thought I would give a virtual tour. The below photo shows the view as you walk in, and amazingly there is actually room to walk at the moment. It was pretty crowded for most of the winter. I had several containers of mint that I overwintered in the greenhouse, and once they started growing and the weather moderated a bit I moved them outside. You can see I still have a small space heater in there, but it is time to move it out and hook up the ventilation fan I use most of the year to keep the air moving.

greenhouse view from the door

greenhouse view from the door

The benches aren’t completely full either. I have several potted chives that spend most of the time there, and they have greened up nicely in the last week or so. We have enjoyed the chives in several dishes, and they are handy to have. I also have them planted out in the ground, but those are just now thinking about coming up. In the below photo, the one on the left is a flat leaf kind while the rest are round leaf varieties. You can also see one of the yellow sticky strips that are part of my greenhouse natural pest control. It looks like it’s about time to put up new ones.

potted chive plants

potted chive plants

Next to the chives I have two mini salad boxes. One is planted with arugula, and a couple of those plants have started bolting. I’ll continue to harvest from this one until a newly planted one is ready. More on the replacement in a minute. Last fall I planted what I call the HA Cold Hardy strain from seed I have saved over the last few years.

mini salad box with arugula

mini salad box with arugula

The other salad box is planted with a mix of greens including pak choi, tatsoi, komatsuna, mizuna and mizspoona. Some of the greens have started bolting, so I need to replant this one too. I’ve just now started seeds for a new box, so it will be a couple of weeks before they are ready. This one still has quite a few edible greens left though. We have enjoyed them in salads and soups, and my wife added some to her scrambled eggs the other day.

mix of greens in salad box

mix of greens in salad box

In the greenhouse beds, I’ve got several different veggies and herbs growing, and I’ll show a few of them. One green I’m growing for the first time is called Mizspoona Salad Select. It’s a selection of a Frank Morton cross between mizuna and tatsoi that can be eaten raw or cooked. As you can see in the below photo, the leaves resemble mizuna though they are more substantial. It has a mild flavor like mizuna or tatsoi, and based on what I have seen and tasted so far it is a keeper. It survived near 0°F temps in the greenhouse this winter, so it has that going for it too. Wild Garden Seeds and Fedco are two sources for the seeds.

Mizspoona Salad Select

Mizspoona Salad Select

Next to the mizspoona is a planting of Calypso cilantro that has been going strong since last June. I’m still waiting for it to bolt, which is pretty amazing to me. I’ll be growing this strain again for sure. Cilantro pesto is one of my new favorite things, and after I took the below photo I cut the plants and made another batch of it.

Calypso cilantro

Calypso cilantro

Another first timer for me in the greenhouse is True Siberian kale. This variety came from Adaptive Seeds, and is supposed to be hardy and highly productive. We just got our first taste of it, and I will share my thoughts and photos on my next Harvest Monday post. I’ll let the six plants grow on until I need the space in the bed for something else. I found a fascinating article about kale titled All about Russian & Siberian Kale at the Seed Ambassadors Project website. Well, at least it was fascinating to me, and it might be to other kale fans as well.

True Siberian kale

True Siberian kale

On the other side of the greenhouse, that bed has a whole lot of spinach going on! I’ve got Viroflay, Amsterdam Prickly Seeded, Giant Winter and Space planted. The lighter green leaves in the below photo are the Giant Winter, which we have been enjoying for salads. You can also see plenty of chickweed in the bed, which seems to do amazingly well in the winter, even though I never plant it! I know it’s edible but I have to say I prefer the spinach. This bed has come a long way from how it looked back in December.

spinach in the greenhouse bed

spinach in the greenhouse bed

The thick leaves of the Amsterdam spinach are a dark green and very flavorful. I think spinach from the store is usually blah tasting, but not this one. I like the sturdy leaves for cooking. I think some of it is going in a batch of Spinach Lasagna Rolls later this week. The leaves usually get more pointed later in the season.

Amsterdam Prickly Seeded spinach

Amsterdam Prickly Seeded spinach

The lettuce plants have started growing finally, after not doing much all winter. That’s Simpson Elite in the below photo, growing next to the spinach. I also have Red Sails and Winter Density planted.

Simpson Elite lettuce

Simpson Elite lettuce

Last week I started another salad box of arugula to replace the one that is starting to bolt. This time I planted two varieties, Speedy and Apollo. I started the seeds back in February, so these plants will be giving us edible leaves in no time. It’s my first time growing Speedy. It’s the one I an holding, with the serrated leaves. Apollo is on the right in the below photo and has rounded leaves. Both are touted for their excellent taste, though I have to say I pretty much never met an arugula I didn’t like.

Speedy arugula in salad box

Speedy arugula in salad box

I have one last plant to show you, and this one isn’t exactly in the greenhouse. It is a volunteer Golden Corn Salad plant that has managed to grow all winter in a crack between the greenhouse door and the concrete pavers just outside the door. It has been covered in snow and ice, as well as frequently stepped on. Talk about a survivor!  Some of the leaves are a little ragged but I think it would look good on a salad. I let the plants go to seed last year, and now I have volunteers coming up all around the kitchen garden area. I got the seed from Michelle, and she did a spotlight on this close relative of mache. I will start some of this lovely salad green once I free up a salad box.

Golden Corn Salad volunteer

Golden Corn Salad volunteer

I hope you have enjoyed seeing what’s happening in the Happy Acres greenhouse in May. It will be a busy place for sure in the next couple of months as seed starting and transplanting activities get into full swing.

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Growing Peppers in Containers

This is another installment about growing vegetables in containers. Click on Gardening Tutorials to see more in the series.

I love growing peppers. There is such a wide selection of sizes, colors and shapes, not to mention flavors and levels of heat, that there is truly a pepper to suit everyone’s tastes. This easy to grow vegetable is a popular choice for backyard gardeners all over the world. But you can still grow them even if you don’t have a garden.

Growing peppers in containers is fun, and the plants make a decorative addition to patios, decks and balconies. Also, folks in colder climates can get a jump on the season by getting these heat-loving plants going in containers before the soil warms up. Even gardeners with in-ground gardens can grow a pepper (or two) this way, like I do.

Happy Yummy pepper

Happy Yummy pepper

To start, you’ll need a container at least 12 inches in diameter. Make sure it’s at least 12 inches deep too, and has a drainage hole. I prefer one a bit bigger, in the 14-16 inch diameter range. Bigger pots make for bigger plants and more peppers, plus you won’t have to water them quite so often. Smart Pots or Grow Bags are another good option, and those in the 10 gallon size should work well for peppers.

Water and light are two of the most important things a pepper plant needs. A location with full sun is the best, but in areas with hot summers they can tolerate a bit of afternoon shade. Peppers need a spot where they can get at least eight hours of sun in order to perform well. I sit mine where they get sun all day, and they do great.

Carmen peppers

Carmen peppers

You can grow all varieties of peppers in a container, but beginners might do better to start with some that were bred with containers in mind. Orange Blaze and Carmen are two All-America Selections sweet peppers that do great in containers, while Cayennetta and Holy Mole are two AAS hot peppers that are perfect in pots. Plant breeders are always working to introduce more vegetables that work well in containers, and this year the AAS selected three new pepper varieties: Pretty N Sweet, Emerald Fire and Flaming Flare. Plants for all these should be widely available in garden centers in the U.S., and seeds too if you want to start them yourself.

Once you’ve decided on a pepper, you need to fill your container with a good quality potting soil. Don’t be tempted to use soil from your yard or garden. The plants will prefer a loose, well-drained mix that is generous in organic matter. I like to use a peat based organic potting soil (like Pro-mix or FoxFarm) and add a handful or two of compost. I also add some slow release organic fertilizer (Espoma Tomato-tone) and mix it in well before planting. Your local garden center should be able to supply you with all the materials you need.

planting pepper in 14" container

planting pepper in 14″ container

Peppers like warm weather, so wait until all danger of frost is over for your area before planting. You can always move the container inside if a sudden cold spell threatens. Set the young pepper plant in the potting soil at the same height it was growing, or slightly deeper. Water well to begin with, and then check the soil often and water as necessary. Once the plant starts growing, and the weather warms up, you may need to water daily. And when the peppers start coming on, you may need to water twice daily.

hot pepper (Aji Angelo) two months after planting

hot pepper (Aji Angelo) two months after planting

The frequent watering required by the container plants will wash away nutrients faster than if they were planted in the ground. To compensate, every couple of weeks you should fertilize using a water soluble fertilizer. Avoid using fertilizers that are high in nitrogen, as they can promote lush foliage growth with fewer peppers. I like to use a fish and seaweed blend (Neptune’s Harvest 2-3-1) to make sure the peppers get all of the major and minor nutrients they need.

ripe Aji Angelo pepper

ripe Aji Angelo pepper

Growing peppers in containers is a great way for beginners and veteran gardeners alike to enjoy this popular and nutritious vegetable. With a little time and effort, you can be reaping the rewards of fresh homegrown peppers all summer and fall.

Shared at HomeAcre HopFront Porch Friday, Natural Family Friday and Old-Fashioned Friday

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Monday Recap: Greening and Flooding

If April showers bring May flowers, then what does a March deluge bring? One thing it brings is flooding, and our local rivers (like the Ohio) are out of their banks and well past flood stage. We have had almost 7 inches of rainfall here so far this month, and the ground is saturated to say the least. But at least we can see the ground, which is no longer covered in snow. The below photo shows the Ohio river flooding the historic old Dam #47 building, which was built in 1928 and has seen it’s share of river flooding over the years. To the left you can see lamp posts and the road which leads to the new dam site a bit upriver.

Old Dam #47 building on the Ohio River

Old Dam #47 building on the Ohio River

The Ohio is 10 feet above flood stage here, and a good 20 feet above its normal pool levels. Our town has a paved walking/running trail that runs for almost 3 miles along the river’s edge. The river is up so high you can almost reach down and touch it in places. It’s expected to crest before it gets over the trail and the nearby road. The river is still a good 10 feet lower than it was in the terrible 1937 flood, but this years flooding is getting close to top-ten territory. Fortunately Happy Acres is about a mile away from the river and well out of the flood plain. Being on top of a hill doesn’t hurt either! I have to say the river still looks majestic, especially in the early morning light when I captured these images.

Newburgh Rivertown Trail

Newburgh Rivertown Trail

I have done a lot of seed starting here lately. The petunia seed I started last week is coming up nicely with near 100% germination. The tiny seeds are usually sold pelleted, and need both light and heat to germinate. So I put them on top of moistened potting soil, spritz with a spray bottle to dissolve the pelleting material, and cover with plastic wrap to keep the seeds moist until they germinate. Then the pots go onto a heating mat under my plant lights, where they began sprouting in about four days. Margaret showed us her petunia sprouts last week, so I decided to show you mine. That’s Tidal Wave Pink in the below photo. If you look close you can see that 11 out of 11 seeds came up in this one. And for reference they are in a 3.5 inch pot.

petunia seedlings

petunia seedlings

In other news, the greenhouse spinach has really started growing now. We’ve been enjoying it in salads the last week or two. That’s Giant Winter in the below photo. It is still my favorite for eating raw, and it’s pretty tasty cooked as well.

harvest of Giant Winter spinach

harvest of Giant Winter spinach

The overwintered spinach in the cold frame bed is alive and well too. Now that it has thawed out it should begin growing again. The season here for spinach is fairly short, so we will enjoy it fresh while we can, and freeze the extra for use throughout the year.

overwintered spinach in cold frame bed

overwintered spinach in cold frame bed

Inside the greenhouse I have some early plants of lettuce, arugula and other greens that are ready for a home. Hopefully I can get them planted in one of the cold frame beds when the soil dries out a bit. That’s Baby Oakleaf lettuce in the below photo. I need to get it planted soon or else start cutting it for salads!

Baby Oakleaf lettuce plants

Baby Oakleaf lettuce plants

Outside, things are greening up all over. Daffodil leaves are poking up, and I’m guessing blooms will be here in a matter of days. Crocuses and snowdrops are already blooming. No signs of hosta yet, or asparagus.

snow drops (Galanthus) blooming

snow drops (Galanthus) blooming

We still have a few Purple Haze carrots left from last fall, and we’re using them on salads. I’m going to try one called Purple Sun this year, but Purple Haze will be the one to beat and I plan on growing even more of it this year. It is productive, tasty and colorful and that makes for a winning combo. I’m also giving Mokum another shot this year. It lost out to Yaya a couple of years ago, but I have learned a bit about growing carrots since then. We will see how the two compare this year.

spinach salad with Purple Haze carrots

spinach salad with Purple Haze carrots

I hope you have enjoyed this March update. To see what others are harvesting and cooking up, visit Daphne’s Dandelions where Daphne hosts Harvest Mondays. And thanks to Daphne for hosting every week!

 

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Sunny Calendula Goat’s Milk Soap

The cheery orange or yellow blossoms of Calendula (Calendula officianalis) are a familiar sight in many gardens, including ours here at Happy Acres. A native to the Mediterranean area, the Latin name Calendula refers to the fact that in mild climates it blooms every month of the year, while officianalis means that it is used in the practice of medicine. Those colorful flowers have powerful anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects that have made it a prized plant for centuries.

Calendula flower

Calendula flower

Calendula makes a beautiful display in the garden, and it’s easy to grow even if you don’t have a green thumb. It blooms prolifically from spring until frost, and a few plants will keep you supplied in plenty of blossoms. We dry calendula flowers in the dehydrator for later use throughout the year. Our Sunny Calendula Goat’s Milk Soap starts with dried calendula flowers, which are used to make an infused oil. And a few of the dried flowers are also ground up to add a little extra color to the soap.

Sunny Calendula Soap

Sunny Calendula Soap

The calendula infused oil can be made in either a few hours or a few weeks, depending on the method you use. If you’re in a hurry to use the oil, choose the hot infused method. And even if you don’t grow your own calendula, the dried flowers are available from a number of sources including Mountain Rose Herbs and Bramble Berry. I’ll have links to more information about growing calendula and making the infused oil at the end of this post.

dried Calendula flowers

dried Calendula flowers

For use in soap, I like to infuse the calendula in olive oil. This soap recipe calls for a little over six ounces of infused olive oil (180 grams), so be sure and use a bit more than that when infusing, since some of the oil will be absorbed by the flowers. Nine or ten ounces of oil should do it, and if you have any left over after making the soap you can keep it on hand for other uses. Calendula oil can be used on the skin to help heal minor cuts and scrapes, and for insect bites and skin irritations.

cold infusing calendula

cold infusing calendula

In addition to the calendula infused olive oil, this recipe uses goat’s milk instead of water for a liquid. Goat’s milk is loaded with vitamins and nutrients that are great for your skin, and adding it to cold process soap helps make a wonderful lather as well. I like to freeze the goat’s milk first in an ice cube tray. Freezing the milk helps keep it from scorching when it reacts to the lye, and I find the cubes easier to deal with than a big chunk of frozen goat’s milk.

calendula flowers

calendula flowers

This soap features a blend of olive, coconut and castor oils, plus 20% shea butter. Goat’s milk is used for its moisturizing and emollient properties as well as for the smooth and creamy lather. We use a small amount (up to 5%) of castor oil in most all of our soaps for its moisturizing and lathering properties. The soap is naturally colored orange by the calendula. We chose to add a blend of lemongrass and coriander essential oils for a spicy lemon scent, but you can choose your own fragrance or leave the soap unscented.

Please refer to the cold process instructions here if you are new to making soap. Always take the proper safety precautions (we wear rubber gloves and goggles when mixing and making the soap).

Sunny Calendula Goat’s Milk Soap Print This Recipe Print This Recipe
(A Happy Acres original)

Calendula Infused Olive Oil – 180 grams (40%)

Coconut Oil – 157.5 grams (35%)

Shea Butter – 90 grams (20%)

Castor Oil – 22.5 grams (5%)

Frozen Goat’s Milk – 171 grams

Lye – 63 grams  (7% superfat)

Added at light trace:

1 tsp finely ground dried calendula flowers

2 tsp lemongrass essential oil

2 tsp coriander essential oil

This recipe is for a 1 lb/450g batch (oil weight) of soap. We ran this recipe through a soap/lye calculator, and you should always run your recipes too before making them. This one at SoapCalc is our favorite.

NOTE: This soap is superfatted/discounted at 7%

For more recipes and soap information, check out my wife’s Soap Recipe page. I’ll be back soon with more adventures. Until then, Happy Growing (and soaping) from Happy Acres!

For more information about growing calendula and making calendula infused oil, check out the following:

Saturday Spotlight: Growing Calendula

Homemade: Calendula Infused Oil

 

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Monday Recap: Promises of Spring

The calendar says it is March, which is supposed to be the meteorological start to spring. However the weather itself must have missed getting that email, and dumped us with another load of snow last week. I measured a little over 7 inches, and we were lucky it wasn’t more since about 50 miles south of us they got over 20 inches. Then the cold air came in right behind the snow, making for daytime high temps around 20°F on Thursday. The average high in our area in early March is over 50°F, and you don’t have to be a math major to see we were 30 degrees below normal!

March snowfall

March snowfall

Of course, what’s normal anymore when it comes to the weather? I know folks from colder climates may well be saying “welcome to our world”, but it has brought some unusual challenges to gardening here. I am prepared for the greenhouse door to be snowed in, but I know I can shovel a clearing to get it open. But I was totally unprepared to get inside the greenhouse and find my potting soil was all frozen in big chunks! I had to bring it inside the house to thaw. While I was at it, I brought in a few small pots and a couple of plug flats so I will have what I need to start some seeds.

young Baby Oakleaf lettuce plants

young Baby Oakleaf lettuce plants

Once I had usable potting soil, I transplanted some seedlings I had started back in February. I now have parsley, arugula and lettuce going, as well as some Senposai and Mizspoona greens. Now I hope the cold frame bed will be thawed in a couple of weeks so I have a place to plant them! The seeds I started included broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi and a bit of spring kale. I’m also giving broccoli raab a try again, and hopefully this time I will figure out how I like it in the kitchen. This week I will start some peppers and petunias, with tomatoes to follow soon after.

kohlrabi seedlings

kohlrabi seedlings

The snow wasn’t all bad though. It gave my wife the raw material she needed to do some snow dyeing. I had a heavy white short sleeve t-shirt made by Comfort Colors I gave her to dye for me. I chose a green shade of dye (yucca). Can you tell I am ready for spring? I’ll take a green shirt until I see green in the garden. With snow dyeing you never know exactly how the colors will turn out, and I love the look on this one. I could wear it out in the garden, and hide amongst the foliage! The photo doesn’t really do the shirt justice.

snow dyed t-shirt

snow dyed t-shirt

It was my wife’s turn to cook last week. For one meal she stuffed some chicken breasts with a mix that included spinach and feta cheese. The spinach came from the freezer, some of our spring crop. To go with the chicken, we cut up a North Georgia Candy Roaster squash into slices, tossed with some oil and salt, and then baked them.

North Georgia Candy Roaster squash

North Georgia Candy Roaster squash

We both agreed that the squash was pretty much unremarkable, and lacked flavor. It was so bad, the leftovers wound up on the compost pile. We have too many good tasting winter squashes left that I would rather eat instead. We saw lots and lots of them last fall at the Ashville, NC farmer’s market, so I know they are popular. And I know this is supposed to be a tasty squash, but the only one I harvested last year left much to be desired, and I won’t grow this C. maxima type again this year. The baked stuffed chicken breasts are a favorite of mine though, even though dairy doesn’t always agree with me.

North Georgia Candy Roaster squash with baked chicken breasts

North Georgia Candy Roaster squash with baked chicken breasts

She also served up pita pizza for dinner last night, and that featured fresh arugula and spinach from the greenhouse. The spinach has really started growing in there, and we have enough for a salad or two already.

spinach and arugula for pizza

spinach and arugula for pizza

I hope you have enjoyed seeing some of what’s going on here in early March. To see what others are harvesting and cooking up, visit Daphne’s Dandelions where Daphne hosts Harvest Mondays. I’ll be back soon with more happening from Happy Acres.

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Featured Cooking Bean: Good Mother Stallard

This year I am on a mission to cook and eat as many different varieties of beans as possible. This is another in a series about my observations about those beans.

Good Mother Stallard is a dry shelling bean that I have grown for the last two years now. It is a pole bean with a vining habit, and a sturdy support system is advised if you are growing it. The pods turn a creamy white color as they mature, and inside there are 5-6 plump, maroon and white colored beans that can be harvested at the fresh shell or dry bean stage. With our hot humid summer weather, I generally harvest them before they are completely dry, and finish the drying process indoors where conditions are more favorable.

Good Mother Stallard beans

Good Mother Stallard beans

There is not much history available about this great tasting bean. It took a bit of digging to find that they are a family heirloom that was sent to Glenn Drowns at Sand Hill Preservation Center many years ago. The Seed Savers Exchange credits him for introducing this variety to their members back in the early 2000’s, according to their online listing for the bean. I think I first heard about this bean from fellow blogger Lynn at Wood Ridge. She is also a fan of this bean, and you can read her 2010 post on Good Mother Stallard as well.

Good Mother Stallard beans

Good Mother Stallard beans

In the kitchen, the beans lose their vivid colors when cooked, but hold their shape well. In my experience, almost none of them fall apart during cooking. This makes them an excellent soup bean, as well as for salads or pasta dishes.

cooked Good Mother Stallard beans

cooked Good Mother Stallard beans

In the book Heirloom Beans, bean grower extraordinaire Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo says it’s one of the first beans he reaches for in the pantry. I have used this versatile bean in several different soups, including vegetable soup and the bean and barley soup in the below photo. Like most dry beans, they freeze well after cooking, which makes it convenient when you’re in a hurry and don’t have the time to cook up a pot of beans.

bean and barley soup with kale

bean and barley soup with kale

They work well in dishes that might call for a borlotti or cranberry bean, such as the classic Italian Pasta Fagioli. If you look closely in the below photo of my version of Pasta e Fagioli, you can still see some of the markings on the beans even after cooking. Their rich and meaty taste also makes them great on their own as a side dish.

Pasta e Fagioli with Good Mother Stallard beans

Pasta e Fagioli with Good Mother Stallard beans

Seeds for growing this variety are available from several sources in the U.S. including Baker Creek and the Seed Savers Exchange. You can buy the beans for cooking from Rancho Gordo, Elegant Beans and Beyond, and the Seed Savers Exchange. As always, I would love to hear about others experiences with growing or cooking these beans.

Good Mother Stallard beans

Good Mother Stallard beans from 2014 harvest

I hope you have enjoyed this review of the Good Mother Stallard beans, and I will be back soon with another bean review. Until then, Happy Growing (and eating) from Happy Acres!

Shared at Mostly Homemade Mondays, HomeAcre HopFront Porch Friday, Natural Family Friday and Old-Fashioned Friday

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