Archive for August, 2012

The Beans of Bos

Among my close friends and relatives, it’s common knowledge that I’m quite set on one day owning a small farm. When I have little else to do, I’ve been known to peruse

Honestly, who wouldn’t want to see these little guys in their backyard every day?

chicken catalogues, ponder the logistics of utilizing cows as petrol-free lawnmowers, and daydream about the day I’ll finally be able to purchase my own herd of ridiculously adorable Olde English Southdown Sheep. However, while my current occupation as a full-time student is helping me realize my dream of becoming a high-school English teacher, the amount of time (and money) required to make it through the world of higher-ed has proven only to hinder my dreams of moonlighting as a part-time farmhand. So, what’s an aspiring homesteader to do? Well, grow cowpeas of course!

Nearly indistinguishable from their moo-ing namesakes!

Granted, while the plants classified under the moniker of “cowpea” (or “Vigna unguiculata” for the Latin-minded) have no relation to our milk-giving friends in the genus Bos, a particular strain of this prolific crop seems to indicate otherwise. This strain, known as the holstein cowpea (available for purchase here), has won my heart, and now stands as one of my all-time favorite crops (especially in a land devoid of actual holsteins)!

Not only are the beans of these peas delightful to the eye, but they’re a blessing to a busy gardener as well! To be sure, this crop has been the one plant in this year’s garden which has yet to worry me. While I was fighting flea beetles on the eggplants, squishing cabbage worms around the broccoli, and pondering over how to get the forever-climbing gourd vines out of the nearby trees, these peas grew unencumbered and without issue. The only difficult (if one can call it “difficult”) aspect of planting this legume is deciding where and how to plant it in your space. So, I thought I’d provide a few tips and tricks for adding cowpeas to your yearly harvest!

Picking a Location for Your Cowpeas

1. Climate
As these plants originate from Africa, they are not particularly cold-hardy, therefore, warmer climes will ensure a stronger start for your plants.

2. Sun and Moisture
Since these legumes put out a high volume of fruit, a spot in your garden that receives full sun for most of the day is essential for the well-being of your peas. An area with well-draining soil is also a plus for peas: too much moisture can cause leaf-yellowing, disease, and rot.

When and How to Plant Cowpeas

1. Timing
Plant your seeds after the last frost date, and when the soil is at least 65 degrees F (if you

Even though my peas are probably a bit too crowded, they’re still faring wonderfully!

plant tomatoes, put these two crops in at the same time).

2. Spacing
Officially, cowpeas should be planted with 3 inches between each plant, in rows 3 feet apart. However, most cowpea varieties can withstand and thrive in more crowded conditions. If your peas are a vining variety, you can also train your plants up trellises or tripods (this is the method I chose to use with my holsteins, with help from this video guide: “How to Lash a Bamboo Tripod”).

Waiting and Harvesting

1. Germination

Within approximately a week to 10 days, you’ll
see the little cotyledon (seen below) begin emerging from the ground. This is a particularly vulnerable period for the plant, as any significant damage to the cotyledon will prevent the pea from regrowing buds. Placing a small cage or fence around your baby beans can be useful if you have seedling-devouring critters in your area!

2. Harvesting

As your peas begin growing, they can be harvested in three different forms. First, the young leaves can actually be eaten as greens, and can add a rather attractive touch to a garden salad!

Most commonly, however, the fruit, or bean, of the plant is what you’ll be after. While the pods are still young, the beans can be collected and eaten “green.”
If you’d like to store your beans as seed, or you have a favorite recipe which calls for dried beans, you’ll have to wait a few extra days, and harvest the pods when they are dry and yellow.

When the time comes to finally pick your peas, don’t be alarmed if you see a cloud of wasps orbiting your plants! Although the sight of these predatory, stinging insects can be quite alarming, they’re actually there to help make your job even easier! It would seem that the wasps are drawn to a sap excreted by the peas, and then stick around to eat the harmful insects that would like nothing more than to bite into your hard-earned harvest! From my own experience, the wasps paid no attention to me as I plucked the pods around them; and, after a few trips to the vines, I was able to actually enjoy watching these typically fearsome creatures go about their work!

Whether you are, like me, yearning for a bovine imitation, or would simply enjoy growing a deliciously obscure variety of pea, I really cannot recommend the holstein pea highly enough! Hopefully you’ll consider adding this eye-catching and nitrogen-fixing legume into your garden next year!

Until next time, happy gardening, baking, and doing whatever it is that brings you joy!

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A Scholar’s Return

If you’ve been counting (and I really hope you haven’t), it’s been a good year or more since I last wrote of my own volition. Throughout this past year, I have had to write countless classroom management portfolios, several declarations of teaching style, at least two reports on my effectiveness as a prospective educator (complete with pie charts and bar graphs), and, interestingly enough, one analysis of the Biblical book of Esther; but, until now, I have not  truly written for myself. And, for quite a while, I was more than ok with that. For a time.

Recently, however, my attempts at staving off the desire to assemble words have failed, and I have been led to attempt the act of literary creation anew. The first method which I found capable of sparking my writing spirit came in the form of a new haiku-themed Twitter account (which you can follow in the top-right corner of the main page), wherein I have been attempting to limit my thoughts to seventeen syllables (a delightfully mind-bending, yet altogether peace-bringing exercise). But, while I continue to enjoy the realm of measured, poetic language, I felt that a fresh foray into the unfettered fields of prose was in order. So, at long last, I will be again presenting you with written snapshots of the photographic records I’ve kept over the past year, as well as detailing my favorite plants, hobbies, and recipes that I’ve picked up throughout my travels in the Scholar’s Garden.

Since my time today is a bit limited (no matter how much you prod them, cowpeas just won’t shell themselves!), I thought I’d leave you with my most fun-to-make recipe from this past spring: robin’s nest cookies. I attempted this recipe during the Easter season, when my fascination with the rebirth of plants and animals was at its peak. And, while this cookie may be geared more for the vernal months, it really is perfect anytime you need a dash of springtime in your life!

Robin’s Nest Cookies

Ingredients for the Nests

1 cup of softened butter
1/2 cup of packed brown sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups of finely chopped walnuts

Ingredients for the Eggs

2 tablespoons of softened butter
3 tablespoons of light corn syrup
Approximately 2 drops of blue food coloring
Approximately 1 drop of green food coloring
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Instructions

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C)

2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks and stir in the vanilla. Stir in the flour until everything is completely mixed.

3. Beat the egg whites in a shallow dish (I used a small bowl) until foamy.

4. Spread the chopped walnuts on a flat surface, such as a plate or waxed paper.

I had a bit too much fun with my fondant...5. Roll a spoonful of dough into a ball, roll the ball in the egg whites, and then roll it in the walnuts. Place the balls 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet. Indent each cookie with your thumb, so that they take on a nest-like shape.

6. Bake nests in your preheated oven for 12 minutes.

7. While the cookies are baking, cream together the last 2 tablespoons of butter with the corn syrup, food colorings, and almond extract. Gradually stir in the confectioners’ sugar. After the mixture incorporates into fondant, begin rolling 1/2 teaspoons of the fondant into egg-shaped balls.

8. After the cookies have finished baking, place your eggs in the nests!

And that’s all there is to making a nutty set of robin’s nest cookies! Due to my lack of proper food coloring (I actually had to rehydrate the few flakes of pigment still left in the bottles), my eggs didn’t exactly capture the brilliant greenish hue that robin eggs are known for having; but, I did discover that if you add a touch of color to the fondant ball after its already in its final form, and then continue to fold it, you can create a rather striking marbled effect with your eggs.

Well, the garden, and its never-ending list of tasks, is calling my name; so, I must bid you a fond farewell for now!

Until next time, happy gardening, baking, and doing whatever else brings you joy!

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