Northeastern Ohio Edible Garden Weeds

Just because you haven’t started your garden yet doesn’t mean it isn’t producing.

Looking at my garden, one would think I don’t do enough weeding.  That’s on purpose as my weeds are edible (not to mention beneficial to my garden’s productivity and soil quality).  Many of the plants others call “weeds” were brought to Northeastern Ohio via Europe or Asia as culinary herbs or vegetables.  I also admire these plants for their ability to survive the most harsh conditions (including human poisons).  I wish my regular garden plants had the same resilience.  Below is a list (in order of deliciousness) of some plants that will turn your weeding chores into simply picking dinner!

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

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One of my favorite weeds in my backyard, garlic mustard comes up early in spring and is ready to eat by Earth Day (April 22nd).   The scourge of environmentalists and naturalists as an invasive species, this plant is actually a culinary herb.  Garlic Mustard is a not related to garlic but instead is a mustard variety that just tastes like garlic.  It originally comes from Europe and has no natural predators in North America (except for the Snarky Gardener).

Best way to eat Garlic Mustard:  Garlic Mustard Pesto with pasta and cheese.

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

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Purslane via http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portulaca_oleracea

Purslane is one of those weeds that doesn’t really look like anything else in your garden.  It grows best on warm, dry, barren soil (like corn or squash mounds) once the heat of summer really hits.  A few years ago when we were going through a drought, this was my only produce from the garden until July and August.  Purslane is a succulent (reminds me of tiny little non-spiny cactuses cacti) so it tolerates low water when other plants in your garden are wilting.  As for eating, it’s not bad with a slightly sour and salty taste, though can be somewhat slimy.  Little known fact:  purslane contains more omega-3s than any other leafy vegetable source.

Best way to eat purslane:  in salads or pickled.

Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album)

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Lamb’s quarters are in the same family as spinach and beets and is closely related to quinoa.  I found this in my yard last year and actually saved some seeds and through them into my garden.  The plants I found almost didn’t make it as the friendly neighborhood groundhog seemed to prefer it over other things in the backyard.

Best way to eat lamb’s quarters:  same as spinach

Violet (Viola sororia)

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Violets (a perennial) not only show up in my garden, they are also spread throughout my yard.  I didn’t know until last year that they are edible but have been eating them ever since.  The leaves are pleasant and remind me of spinach.  Like many leafy greens, the earlier in the season the better.

Best way to eat violets:  leaves and flowers in salads

Plantain (Plantago major)

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Also known as white man’s foot, plantain is a yard and garden staple.  It loves compacted soil, so you’ll notice it growing near where there is a lot of foot traffic.  The leaves are full of nutrients with a spinach like taste.  Plantain can be used medicinally for bug bites and scrapes.

Best way to eat plantain:  same as spinach

Dandelion (Taraxacum)

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We all know the good old dandelion.  I laugh when people talk about eradicating them from their yards.  Not only can it be eaten, but it helps in other ways.  The yellow flowers give bees pollen early in the season when they need it the most.  Its long tap root brings up minerals and nutrients that are then utilized by your garden plants.  Just hoe the plant down and use the leaves as mulch around your veggies.  Don’t worry – the tap root stores plenty of energy and will help the plant grow back in no time.

Best way to eat dandelions:  young leaves in salads, flowers in fritters, and roots in beer or wine

Quickweed (Galinsoga parviflora)

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This weed took me three years to identify as it’s not common enough to show up online easily.  One season back a few years, after my last full tilling, this plant bolted like a banshee (is that a phrase people use?) and took over my garden (thus the quickweed name).  Wished I would have known it was usefulness in salads back then.  Would have had a delicious summer instead an endless weed battle that I eventually lost.

Best way to eat quickweed:  in salads

Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)

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Hairy bittercress is a bitter herb in the mustard family.  It’s winter hardy and will survive under snow and ice.  It’s pretty small but can be used in salads or as an herb.

Best way to eat hairy bittercress:  in salads before the plant goes to seed

Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum)

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In the mint family. purple dead nettle is a bee favorite.  It comes up early and often on bare ground in gardens.  As a salad addition, the taste isn’t the greatest but a few flowers at a time doesn’t hurt too bad.

Best way to eat purple dead nettle:  just a few flowers in salads

Ground Ivy/Creeping Charlie) (Glechoma hederacea)

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Ground Ivy or Creeping Charlie is a ground cover in the mint family.  It’s not my favorite food but the bees seem to love it.  Ground Ivy’s little purple flowers give plenty of nector to small native insects.  It’s strong mint-like flavor makes ground ivy a good companion plant and natural mulch.

Best way to eat creeping charlie:  it’s too strong for my taste 

See the Snarky Gardener Live

The Snarky Gardener (of Kent Ohio Food Not Lawns) will be presenting “Easy Lazy Food Gardening” at the Kent Free Library on April 22nd at 7 PM.

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The Kent Free Library begins a series of monthly programs focusing on backyard gardening with a presentation by Don Abbott of Kent Food Not Lawns on Wednesday, April 22 at 7:00 pm.

Abbott, a gardener, educator, and blogger, says that the biggest complaint most people have about gardening is that it’s too much work. He will suggest useful strategies you can start using this summer to have a productive food garden without all the hassle year after year.

All participants will receive free seed packets. Please contact the Information Desk at 330.673.4414 to register. Visit Upcoming Events for information about future gardening programs.

Registration is requested and is underway. Please visit or contact the Information Desk (330.673.4414) to register.

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How To Avoid Weeds In Your Garden

The Snarky Gardener tells you how to avoid weeds in your garden so you can do less work and produce more food.
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Several of the Snarky Gardener’s weed avoiding techniques are shown in this picture.

People and weeds have been enemies since the beginning of time. You plant the things you want and other plants have the audacity to grow instead.  Ever wonder why this is the case? Are there techniques you can use to lower or even eliminate the problem?  Of course there are – why else would I be writing this article?  (OK, maybe just to hear myself type, as my ego does take over at times).

Let’s start by understanding what weeds are.  In nature (and yes, your garden is in nature, despite what you try to do
to make it not so), weeds are used to cover and repair disturbances – fires, landslides, tree uprootings, volcanoes, sharknadoes, etc.  Bare soil is bad as the sun will damage it and water will wash it away.  Weed seeds are designed to sit in the soil for years and decades, just waiting for such an event.  Then they spring to action, coming up fast and producing lots and lots and lots of seeds.  After a year or two of this, other bigger species come in to take over (brambles, bushes, small trees, and eventually a whole forest).

When we till the soil, we are causing a giant disturbance.  It helps to cause this explosion of activity which our annual garden vegetables like, especially the cabbages (aka brassicas – kale, mustard, turnips, collards, broccoli).  Yes, I just called the vegetables we love to eat “weeds”.  Several years ago was my worst season for weeds.  It was also the last time I tilled my entire garden space.  Coincidence?  I think not.  So what can we smarter gardeners do about the weeds?

Weed avoidance strategies

1.  Don’t Till Very Much

Tilling should be kept to a minimum in your garden.  If you are converting lawn or have some really compacted soil, then till away.  I gave up my tiller a few years back and now use a broadfork instead.  It’s still technically tilling but it’s gentler (especially to the worms) and you can only do so much damage by hand (pant, pant, pant).  And to keep the soil from getting compacted in the first place, don’t step on the places where you want to grow stuff. Plan out your garden so it flows naturally, and then create permanent beds and paths.

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Using my broadfork Big Blue

2.  Use Mulch

Mulch is one of nature’s greatest inventions against weeds.  Weed seeds need light to grow and mulch keeps the sun away from them (be it leaves, straw, hay, food scraps, wood chips, newspaper, cardboard, or even man-made materials like plastic).  Plus organic mulch will break down and become more soil, helping your plants in the future.  Also, mulch not only your planting beds but your paths too.  Stomping on weeds keeps them at bay, but some actually prefer compacted soil.

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Great way to collect free mulch.

 

3.  Grow Cover Crops

Cover crops, like clover or mustard, will cover the ground and compete with weeds while making your soil better.

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Covering the soil, fixing nitrogen, and beautiful too! Also, the seedy looking plants behind the clover are corn salad going to seed, which is making an on purpose weed.

 

4.  Identify and Utilize Your Current Weeds

Have you ever looked up your garden weeds to see if they are edible or have other uses?  There are plant identification groups on the Internet (Facebook, etc) that will help you to figure out what your weeds are.  For example, I had one particularly obnoxious weed that would grow before anything else and would compete with my veggies.  Took me 2 years to ID it, but I finally confirmed that it was Quick Weed (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galinsoga_parviflora), an edible plant.  Now I just eat it.

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Lambs Quarters – a great wild edible “weed”

5.  Make Your Own Weeds

If you let your plants go to seed, especially the leafy green ones, you can establish your own edible ‘weeds”.  I currently have oregano, lemon balm, corn salad, turnips, mustard, and several others that just come up all over the garden.  Some are the first to be eaten in the spring before other less evolved gardeners are even planning their spring tilling.  Some people see these plants as “invasive”, but I just think of them as perennial annuals.

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Lots of “weedy” corn salad (aka mache)

Happy Gardening!

How to Grow Microgreens

The Snarky Gardener grew some microgreens this winter so he could get some fresh nutritious greens while the snow fell outside
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Started with a Container Herb Mix of parsley, borage, catgrass, and watercress tangy

 

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Took me a while to figure out that the fuzzy leaves are borage

I read a blog post last summer that made me rethink my winter gardening. Normally I just grow herbs (and sometimes cherry tomatoes and jalapeno peppers) in my AeroGardens while I wait until it’s time (after March 1 here at Snarky Acres) to start my plants for the coming summer garden. For some reason, it never occurred to me to just fill some pots and plant trays with soil and seeds.  Using an old AeroGarden and a sun lamp for light, I started with a Container Herb Mix from Burpee (parsley, borage, catgrass, basil, and watercress tangy) as it sounded perfect for indoor growing.  The room I started them in is somewhat unheated (averages around 50 degrees F), so the basil never took off, but as you can see by the above pictures, everything else did very well.

A few weeks later I decided to fill a seed starting flat with organic soil (though seed starting mix would probably be better) and spinach seeds.  Again, being a cooler room, the spinach sprouted within a week.  About a month after that, the baby spinach was ready for dinner, though I ate some during this time as I thinned.  The most difficult part of growing these is to remember to water every other day or so.  I also used a spray bottle to mist them from time to time.  I was hoping they would grow faster but I think the combination of chilly air and irregular watering have slowed them down.  Then again, I might just be too impatient.

Microgreens are leafy greens grown just to the first true leaves. According to the USDA, they are several times more nutritionally packed than their full grown versions.  So don’t be too worried about the their size (or lack there of).  Just add them to your salads for a winter time boost of vitamins and minerals.

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Spinach coming up on Jan 12, 2015

 

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First leaves on January 21, 2015

 

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Yummy spinach on 2/13/2015

 

 

 

Kent Ohio Food Not Lawns 1st Annual Seed Swap

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1st Annual Seed Swap

Kent Free Library
312 West Main Street
Kent, OH 44240
Upstairs Meeting Room

March 7, 2015 – 11 AM to 2 PM

Bring your saved and leftover purchased seeds to trade with others

Come meet other gardeners in the community and make some new gardening friends.

Donated seed will be available for those without seeds to trade.

Please bring a potluck dish to share.

Email don@kofnl.org with any questions

Akron’s Seed Sharing Library

The Snarky Gardener spent an evening with the Akron-Summit County Public Library’s Seed Sharing Library

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On a random visit to the the Akron-Summit County Public Library, I discovered that they have a seed library in their Science and Technology Division at their Main Branch in downtown Akron. A seed library is a collection of packaged seeds that can be “checked out” by community members.  Up to six packets of seeds a month may be checked out. Borrowers are encouraged to return seed saved out of their gardens at the end of the season but it’s not required.  Some plants that are straight forward to save seeds from, like tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, beans, and peas, are marked as “easy to save”.

With my Kent Ohio Food Not Lawns involvement, I have done research on seed libraries with thoughts of possibly starting one here in Kent. Currently there are efforts by state departments of agriculture to close down such libraries as they violate laws that were written for large scale seed producers.  The issue seems to be not the lending but the receiving of seeds back.  The concern is that the seeds of noxious or poisonous plants will be slipped into the system by unscrupulous people and that all seeds need to be professionally tested.  At this writing, there have been cases in at least 3 states – Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Maryland. In the Pennsylvania case, the library compromised with the Department of Agriculture by agreeing to host several seed swaps a year instead.

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A few weeks after my initial visit, I returned to the Seed Sharing Library, this time as a volunteer helping to split out donated seed into smaller packets. Most commercial packets have many seasons of seeds and can be divided into 4 or 5 packets without issue. Six of us spent 3 hours splitting out just a third of the donated and purchased seed. It became very tedious by the time we finished up. Nonetheless, if they have another packing event, I’ll be there with some of my Kent Food Not Lawns members. I’ll also be donating some of my own saved seed, including turnips, beans, tomatoes, and peppers.

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To find out more about the Seed Sharing Library please visit http://ascplst.akronlibrary.org/seed-sharing-library/

The Snarky Gardener’s Expansion Plans for 2015

The Snarky Gardener is expanding his food production area in 2015.
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The Snarky Gardener will be a broadforking fool in 2015

The Snarky Gardener is expanding his growing space by 100% in 2015. He has plenty of room east of his current fenced in primary 50 ft X 30 ft garden. The new area will be approximately 60 ft X 20 ft (1,200 square feet). It won’t be fenced in but instead will be planted with vegetables that groundhogs and rabbits find less desirable (see Groundhog Love for the complete list).  Garlic was already planted outside this fence during the fall.   The Snarky Gardener doesn’t usually believe in rototilling as it damages the soil so he will be strategically broadforking just what he needs and when he needs it.  He might also schedule a “broadforking class” a la Tom Sawyer through Kent Food Not Lawns or the Kent Community Time Bank to get additional assistance.

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Unfenced Backyard Garden plan for 2015. The trees are actually pine trees.

Potatoes will be planted next to the garlic in April or so. Since potatoes are in the nightshade family, animals normally leave them alone (unless they are really hungry deer). Tomatoes will be planted along 2 fences (50 foot long and 5 foot tall) running east to west.  These steel fences will be reused to fence in and protect other crops in future seasons. Added in between these tomato rows will be onions, leeks, peppers, and bush zucchini. Members of the Allium family (onions, garlic, chives, leeks) are generally avoided by animals, especially deer and rabbits. Some gardeners will specifically plant garlic around areas they want protected from unauthorized munching. The bush zucchini will be protected with fencing and/or cover until big enough to have protective spines. Years of groundhog intrusions (and watching the neighbor’s unprotected garden) have taught the Snarky Gardener that they won’t seem to mess with the spinier vegetables. Turnips, mustard, and clover will cover any other bare soil as living mulch. Turnips and mustard have been outside the fence for the years now at Snarky Acres without so much as a bite. Clover could be eaten by herbivores, but there’s plenty already out in the yard, so the SG is not concerned.

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Steel fencing used as tomato cages

 

The Snarky Gardener will also be adding more hugelkultur mounds to his property. Last fall, there were 4 raised beds built with much sweat and cursing. At least two more will added to the south of these in the spring. The six plus will be filled with plenty of annuals, including tomatoes, peppers, beans, and greens. There are additional plans to build hugelkultur beds north of the garden where big, giant pine logs (2 feet in diameter) have been attracting groundhogs, poison ivy, and brambles. These logs will be cut up and used to create perennial herb, onion, turnip, and rhubarb beds. All these can handle a little shade as this area is in the 4 to 6 hour daily sunlight realm and should be left alone by the aforementioned plant-eating wild animals.

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Those logs are where the new hugelkultur beds are going in
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Fenced Backyard Garden plan for 2015. The brown rectangles indicate the raised hugelkultur beds.

One more thing: the Snarky Gardener may be adding second-hand vegetables (aka livestock) to Snarky Acres in 2015 and will be writing about it in the spring.

Tierra Verde Farms

The Snarky Gardener toured Tierra Verde Farms, his favorite place to buy quality food, including grass fed beef, free range chickens and nitrate free pork.
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A curious cow.

Tierra Verde Farms (which roughly translates to Green Acres) is a local farm we discovered through a pamphlet at my doctor’s office of all places. A group of us from Kent Ohio Food Not Lawns showed up on a Sunday afternoon to get a personalized 2 hour tour from the owner, Mike Jones. We started in his store front as he explained that his farm is designed based on Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms system of rotational grazing with chickens pasturing after cows, etc. It was easy to see from his presentation that Mike considers the animals part of his family, with all the emotions and attachments that entails.

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One of these is Maynard, our Thanksgiving turkey

After our talk, we started the walking part of the tour with the Thanksgiving turkeys. The Snarky Gardener had ordered one a few months back and wanted to meet him/her personally.  We found them gobbling away out in the pasture.  They came up to us as we looked like people with food.  Sorry guys, no food here!  Trying to find our specific turkey was impossible as they didn’t have name tags.

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Chicken tractor

From the turkeys we moved onto the meat chickens.  They were housed in “chicken tractors” that are moved every day so the chickens can get fresh stuff to eat.  Mike’s tractors were very well designed as they had automatic waterers and lots of fencing to keep out predators (hawks, coyotes, etc.).  Would love to have a smaller version here at Snarky Acres but I think that’s a few years away.

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Foraging pigs. The pink ones are for Easter hams.

Next on the agenda were the pigs.  They were fenced in under a stand of trees as pigs are forest dwellers in nature.  With this type of farm, it’s important that the animals get to be themselves as much as possible so they are happy.  These pigs are able to root in the mud and eat plenty of forage, including acorns and other nuts, just like they would in the wild.  Mike let us go in to see the pigs closeup though I think his idea was to give the pigs people to play with as they kept nipping at the back of our shoes.

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Mooooo

From the pigs we moooooved onto the beef cow pasture.  Beautiful brown cows welcomed us by staying together as a herd and looking at us warily.  Cows are herd animals and their ancestors survived by keeping together.  These particular cows are hybrids, which helps them be productive, much like an F1 plant has hybrid vigor (an interesting concept in the least).

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Egg laying chickens

Our final tour stop was the egg laying chickens.  They were truly free range with a portable trailer coop to lay eggs and receive shelter.  The chickens have been trained to come in by a certain time before the automatic door leaves them out in the cold and vulnerable to predation.   Mike told us that after the chickens reach two years old he sells them off for $5 a piece to home egg producers.  These older hens don’t produce as many eggs per week (3 to 4 versus 6 for younger chickens), but for a home raiser that should be plenty.  Never thought of buying a used egg chicken before (hmmmmm).

If you are interested in learning more or purchasing some meat products (but not Maynard, he’s ours), please visit their website http://www.tierraverdefarms.com/

Building Raised Beds Using Hugelkultur

The Snarky Gardener built raised beds using hugelkultur
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The new bed joins 3 previously prepared beds.  The green plants are a cover crop of turnips with a volunteer dill plant in the foreground.  South is to the left of this picture.
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Same beds a month later.
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Same beds the following March.  This is the first area in the garden to shed its snow mulch and will be planted with peas, onions, and spinach before anywhere else.  Note: the south is to the right of the picture.

Hugelkultur is the German term for garden beds made with buried wood. The wood breaks down over time, providing garden vegetables with nutrients and moisture (as in you don’t have to fertilize and water as much, if at all!).  The wood does not have to be brand new as rotted wood is actually better is some ways.

This fall, I decided to utilize this technique to build four 8 foot long by 4 foot wide by 3 feet high raised beds.  In general raised beds are beneficial as they warm up earlier in the spring, keep humans (but not my dog) from compacting soil, and allow plants better drainage.  Usually raised beds are built with a frame around the soil, but my beds have no borders. After completing each bed, I planted cover crops (turnips, spinach and clover) to minimize winter soil exposure. My long term plan is to convert more of my garden into hugelkultur beds, but wanted to perform a trial first, as putting these beds in is labor intensive, with all the wood gathering, moving, and burying.

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Started with a dug out bed
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The middle of the hole is filled with heavy logs
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Branches, and bark fill in over the logs
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Dirt from the surrounding area is put on top of the wood

Many thanks to Paul Wheaton for his inspiring and detailed hugelkultur article – http://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur/

A cool related podcast about hugelkultur – http://www.permaculturevoices.com/podcast/hugelkultur-what-it-is-when-is-it-appropriate-and-when-isnt-it-with-javan-bernakevitch-pvp082/

Save the Beans

The Snarky Gardener is managing his herd of Jacob’s Cattle beans.
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Jacob’s Cattle beans before the herd was split up

Saving bean seed is really easy. Allow your bean plants with with beans still attached to turn yellow and die off. Collect the seed pods. Open up the pods and there are your seeds. You will want to let these dry out completely before putting them in an airtight container (I use old vitamin bottles though glass jars will work also). Make sure to keep an eye on them over the winter as they could mold up if there was any moisture in them.

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After I do my “shelling”, I like to divide them up based how they look. Some will be deformed or have some flaw that makes them less than perfect. These will be put into the “eat me” pile. Jacob’s Cattle beans are specifically “dry” beans (think kidney or black beans), but I do eat some green.

So, you might be asking “Why does the Snarky Gardener bother with saving bean seed when it’s so inexpensive to buy at the store or online?” In a word, adaptation. These plants grew up in my garden with it’s specific conditions. Plus beans make the soil better, especially through their nitrogen fixing nodules.

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Food Gardening Learning Center Kent Ohio