The Bean Rules


Whenever someone sent me a text message to ask me what I was doing in the last two weeks when we were on holidays, my answer was pretty much always “beans”.  My sister is a slave driver.  And she has a lot of beans.  Remind me next time I decide to go visit her to try a different time of year, would you?

I didn’t have to go out to the garden to pick anything, though.  She and my brother-in-law did all the picking.  My grandchildren were thrilled to help with that sporadically too, although they’d never make any money at it since most of what they picked they also promptly ate.  Peas and cherry tomatoes were a big hit.  Cucumbers.  Giant zucchini.  Almost makes me want to get back into gardening.  Ha.  No it doesn’t.

But anyway, back to the beans.  There were green ones and yellow ones in buckets and bowls, delicious at every meal, but what do you do with the overflow?  I’m glad you asked.  It’s a complicated process.  There are rules.

The beans have to be sorted, putting all the straight ones in one bowl and all the crooked ones in another.  I thought they were kidding at first too.  But nope.  The crooked ones need the tops and bottoms cut off, and then they can be cut in half if they’re short and in thirds if they’re long.  They have to be washed.  Then they are blanched in boiling water, dumped into cold water to cool, and then drained and packed into plastic bags for freezing.  But wait!  Don’t seal the bags until you’ve poured in a cup or so of the water they were boiled in.  This gives them more flavour.  No one wants a bean that tastes like cardboard.  I found out the hard way that these bags are tippy, and if they fall over, all that precious juice flows across the counter.  Some cold day this winter when they cook up that bag of beans they will know who to blame for their tastelessness.  (Sorry).

The straight beans are destined for greatness.  If you have never had a dill bean in your Caesar, you have no idea what you’re missing.  The tops and bottoms are left on these.  They are also washed and blanched and popped into cold water to cool.  Then the real fun begins.  The beans have to be right side up. (Apparently it makes them easier to pull out of the jar later.) They must be painstakingly packed into sterilized mason jars containing a clove of garlic and some dill weed.  The beans have to remain straight, and the jar has to be full.  The whole time I was helping with this job I was trying to think of an easier way to do it.  Like buying some dill beans from a store, for instance.  If you use the flat side of a knife you can pack the beans in even tighter.  It’s practically an art.  I had no idea.

Finally, a mixture of bean water and vinegar is poured into each jar and they’re sealed. Something else I learned – when you open up a jar of these to put them on a vegetable tray, half of them will disappear before dinner.  I don’t know if this is also a rule, but I’ve seen it happen more than once.

My sister doesn’t even like dill, or dill pickled anything, but every summer she does this labor of love for the rest of the family who do.  Ever since I came home I’ve been toying with the idea of going to a farmers market, buying some yellow beans (do you suppose they’d be willing to sort out all the straight ones for me?) and doing up a jar or two.  But then I think it must be the heat making me think this way, and really, that’s a lot of Caesars to get through.  Plus I hate rules.

How To Grow Weeds In Your Own Back Yard

I am delighted to report that my defunct fire-pit/barrel-planter landscaping project is flourishing despite an almost complete lack of enthusiasm, personal interest, concern or care on my part, except for the odd brief confused and frowning contemplation of it, and subsequent picture snapping.  Because it’s pretty hard to describe this in mere words.

I catch a glimpse of it from my kitchen window and think, shit, I should do something about that.  But then I can’t think what, except maybe to destroy it, and really, it’s not hurting anybody, is it?

If anyone would like any pointers on growing unidentifiable (to me) green things in big pots by accident, I am definitely your go-to person.

While you’re thinking about that and wondering which one of us needs the most help, here’s some advice on pillow shopping.  If the plastic bag says “extra firm” you should take that seriously.  The two new replacement pillows for my bed which I brought home yesterday were hard to force into cases, there was so little give to  them. They took on the appearance of over inflated balloons with not a wrinkle to be seen.  No punching was required to get myself propped up in a comfortable position to read, but it was also kind of like placing my head on a slightly squishy rock.  This morning I wondered for a bit if my neck might be broken.  But it was just at some weird angle it’s not used to dealing with and seems to be straightening out as the morning progresses.

It’s been a long time since I’ve said anything about my beautiful, intelligent, astonishingly amazing grandchildren.  Here’s four of them and one large dog. They’re growing like weeds in their own backyard.   
Don’t think because I put them here that they’re less important to me than actual weeds. Sometimes it’s just fun to save the best thing for last.

My Inner Gardener

I was wandering around in my backyard in the rain yesterday because things are turning green and I thought it might be a good idea to see them up close and in more detail than I am able to discern from my kitchen window.  It was a sort of aimless and ultimately futile search for my inner gardener, which is buried so deep inside me that I fear it will never surface.  Due to lack of encouragement actually.  The above picture is not supposed to be of the dirty basement window or the stepping stone my sister-in-law made for me, but those lovely little white blossoms – or flowers – or whatever they are on my red leafed tree!  Or bush.  I guess it’s a bush.  They’re on only one branch so far.  More would be nice, but I never want to be too optimistic about such things.

This is my idea of a fun addition to the landscape.   It’s one of those creepy solar lights that never worked properly but is too hideous to throw away.  By that I mean that I’m hoping it will serve the purpose of making whatever is growing look awesome in comparrison.  Or something like that.  I haven’t got it all worked out in my mind yet.  But gruesome guy is not going anywhere.

I call this shot “Fake Owl and Strange Bird House Amidst Dead Branches”.  But the branches, on closer inspection, are actually covered in lots of little leafy buds so I trimmed way fewer of them than anticipated.  Plus trimming stuff is a lot like work and I soon got tired of doing it.  Less of them are overhanging onto the grass for now.  Mission accomplished.

I’m including this picture from the front yard because it illustrates how talented both W and I are at putting strange things in flowerbeds in a misguided attempt to draw your attention away from the fact that we can’t really grow anything worth looking at.  I can’t take credit for this amazing little floating head, although I am the one who originally purchased it when it was a cute and colorful ladybug with a body and wings which have since gone missing.  It should be in the garbage.  I have no idea why W felt it belonged here.  Perhaps he is mocking me.  I don’t know.

The fake sunflowers are faded but thriving amongst the empty yellow tomato cages.  And the snake-like garden hose.  We need a new dryer vent.

Ha!  Look at that – rhubarb growing, despite out best efforts to kill it.  I actually put some water on it, and on the place where the meter moving guys dug up our lawn and put down sod which is drying out and looking half dead already. I really don’t think that one is my fault.  And last night we got more rain, so I don’t know why I bother.

But before that, later in the afternoon, the Green Oasis weed control people came and sprayed and fertilized the lawn.  Proving that with a little help I can at least grow grass.

From This Moment

Well there’s a Shania Twain moaning whiner of a song that makes me shudder.  And has nothing whatsoever to do with this post, which is about this moment in time.  Which is why it will be categorized in the “Just Now” file.  Orphan Which clauses undo me.

But back to the moment.  The flower bed in front of our house has seven (count ’em – SEVEN) brand new BUSHES planted in a lovely row across the west three-quarters of our house.  Two of them are gooseberry I think.  One of them is already flowering, and the others I think are supposed to flower eventually, but if they don’t and decide to simply remain GREEN that will be completely acceptably pleasantly satisfactory for this budding shrub grower.  I just picked up random partial sun/shade growers from the perennial shrub and tree area, not even considering the fact that the stupid front lawn tree is gone until I got home.  There went a large part of the shade.  There is still the crazy overhang of the roof though, and the fact that the flower bed faces NORTH and gets only the morning sun.  When there actually IS morning sun.  GAWD this capitalization of random words needs to STOP.  I remember a couple of the little plastic information sticks said to expect growth to no more than five feet (although I don’t know if I looked for that on all of them, come to think of it) so hopefully nothing gets tall enough to block the view from the bedroom windows or knock off the roof overhang.  No worries, I’m very good at trimming.  Mostly because I’m never sure something is actually a weed until it gets big enough to be recognizable from the street and somebody tells me.

There are also three partially grown tomato plants in the back bed with brand new bright yellow cages (because either I threw out all the old broken metal ones or W did or he hid them somewhere obscure because I can’t find them) and one of them already has tiny little green tomatoes on it.  The plant of course, not the cage.  Although even if there are never any more tomatoes of any significance the cages are pretty awesome.  Adding a splash of brilliant color to the back yard.  They should match the yellow flowers on the bush that’s already flourishing back there.  What a relief when it finally turned green again for another season.  So this is how I garden.  Purchasing at exorbitant prices things that are already very strongly established and unlikely to croak while resigning themselves to my care.   The plants I love the most are the ones that adapt to me, being mature and hardy enough to continue to live in spite of whatever strange things I choose to do to them.  Ignoring them completely being very high on the list of possibilities.

I no sooner had my grand landscaping adventure completed when suddenly a gigantic Salisbury truck and trailer pulled up beside the next door neighbours front lawn and proceeded to rip up all their grass.  Damn.  Keeping up with the Joneses.  Impossible.  I’ve been watching the progress (or lack thereof) (they seem to have a lot of guys hanging around taking breaks) and there’s no sod down yet because they’re putting in some kind of bordered rock bed all around the house and now it looks like some kind of artistic horticultural rock infested thingey which is going to make my tree stump directly across from it look rather unimpressive in comparison. Sigh.  I can’t begin to imagine what all that must be costing them.   And how sad it’s going to make our front yard look when they’re done.

My sister Ann is coming for a visit, thus my sudden gardening sense of urgency.  Normally I would not think of doing any of this until well into the summer when it’s really too late to bother.  But her yard could be featured in a horticultural magazine, as could my brothers, and he and my sister-in-law are going to be here too, at least overnight, although I can’t count on the visit being entirely in the dark.  So I had to do something to save myself from being the subject of their pity and eye rolling and head shaking conversation about my rather serious botanic impairment for at least half their trip back home.  That could happen anyway, but on the bright side,  at least I will not have struck them dumb.  I hope.

Yesterday I bought a little wooden-like outdoor side table.  Not exactly a patio set, but it’s a pathetic start.  It’s made of all recyclable materials and absolutely  looks like natural wood but without the care required.  Big points from me for that.  Our Adirondack chairs are in a very sad state and probably no longer usable except maybe for firewood, so I was just going to bring out some canvas lawn chairs with the drink holder things in the arms (kudos to the brilliant inventor of those things) but I can find only two of them!  The rest must be at camp.  Honestly, for the garage being stuffed full of stuff it’s kind of amazing that there is nothing truly useful in there.

And speaking of firewood….which we weren’t really, but suddenly we are now because I just remembered something…..we no longer have a fire pit in the back yard because W. gave away the cement blocks and now there is just a little raised circle in the concrete filled with dirt and soot and possibly ants for all I know.  What the hell am I supposed to do with that?  Are there plants that thrive in soot?  It so sucks being agronomically challenged.  With a spouse like W. who thinks a pile of chopped wood is a perfectly acceptable back yard lawn decoration.

Ah well.  Better not get started on W. or we’ll be here all day.  He is down east again, probably for most of the summer, fishing his little brains out while I hold down the fort here in the burbs.  Trying to remember to water things.  And fertilize!  Crap!  I forgot to use those tomato spikes!  If I don’t do that RIGHT NOW I will no doubt discover the unopened package in the garage sometime after labor day.  Plus venturing outside will give me a chance to check out the progress next door.  And I have a little side table to put together and a soot filled hole to consider.  This is day four of my ‘time off from work’ which I refuse to call vacation or holiday, since it’s so far been rife with plant management related vexations.  Such a hard life I’m living.  Trying to stay focused on tomato spikes while I wrap up this fleeting moment in time.   Agriculture calls.  You probably do not want to hear my less than poetic answer.

Zodiac Arrest

Whatever you want or are trying to find may be hidden somewhere, Taurus, because
today’s entry of the Moon into your sign signals that you’re going to have to
dig for it. You’ll need to follow up on all leads and be willing to get your
hands dirty. You may even have to surrender some of your leisure time in order
to find what you’re seeking. Persistence is your key to success today; try to
find a little curiosity about what’s going on to go with it.

What the hell is that all about?  That’s what I asked myself when I first read todays horoscope.  But then suddenly it all came clear.

There are no plants in my flowerbeds that are not dogwood or weeds.  I’d be able to see that by the entry of the moon if I were foolish enough to wander out there in the middle of the night, but seriously, the sunlight is more conducive to checking out that kind of thing.  Which I may need to do, since there definitely could be more interesting plants hidden somewhere in the dirt.  God knows I’ve planted enough of them over the years and am eternally surprised when anything survives long enough to grow back for the second time.   Dig for it, get your hands dirty, surrender some of your leisure time.  Sod you, horoscope.  But I know you’re right.

Get thee to the Salisbury Greenhouse and set your curiosity free.  Find out what will grow in spite of you.  There’s got to be something.  Ask those guys behind the counter that are supposed to know what they’re talking about.  Even when you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about, they have been trained to figure it all out with the end result being the part where you hand over a lot of money and then pack many green living things into the trunk of your car and drive home very slowly wishing you had a ‘plants on board’ sign for your back window to explain to following motorists why you are taking no corners at warp speed.

So, what?  You didn’t get all that from todays reading?  Come on.  All it takes is a bit of introspection and a warped imagination.  And then one must just ‘go with it’.  I meant to go to the greenhouse yesterday but it was Saturday and probably crazy busy and besides, there was no SIGN from the stars like there is today.  Now I can no longer put this off.  The planets have aligned.