Growing Tails

Beans, beans, the magical fruit. I love beans. Not just for their unending versatility in the kitchen as a food product, but for all the joy they bring in the garden as well. I’ve always had good luck growing beans and I remember as a second grader building teepees in the garden with my father in the late spring, and reading books in the late-summer shade provided by the mass of trefoil leaves and beans tying the poles together. They’re easy to grow; they’re good for the soil; they can be snacked on raw in the garden or dried for use in the winter. And to top it off when it comes to saving the seeds for planting next year’s crop, they’re probably the easiest thing going.

The major variety we grow in our garden is called Potawatomi – a pole lima bean – named after the Potawatomi Indians of southern Michigan and later Wisconsin. I acquired these seeds almost a decade ago through the Seed Savers Yearbook from a woman who actually lived in Michigan. (I’ve no clue of this line’s heritage before that; but for a more detailed account of the beans check this out.)

When it comes to food you can grow in your garden, I dare say beans are one of the top crops. The harvests are some of the most bountiful as the plants will continue to put forth new pods as you pick the maturing pods. For us, we can even get two harvests of dry beans thanks to an extra long growing season. On top of a large harvest, beans are a great source of protein, especially from the garden. And did I mention they’re super easy to preserve? If you pick them green they make awesome pickles or they can be blanched and frozen for later use. If you choose to let them dry, they can easily last all winter and even longer if you decide to keep them in the freezer.

Unfortunately, much like oats, dry beans contain an elevated level of phytic acid which hinders the bodies ability to absorb certain nutrients. However, in the same way that soaking oats and allowing them to ferment reduces the amount of phytic acid, soaking beans does the same thing. A good soak of the beans allows some of the phytic acid to be removed, but to really remove the phytic acid, you ought to let them sprout.

Sprouting beans before you eat them may sound daunting, but it’s really quite simple.

Two cups of beans at the beginning of the soak.

(You can even buy a kit with seeds from Amazon.) More often than not, we use our Potawatomi Limas for sprouting, but sometimes, we’ll find some store bought dried beans on our hands. Depending on the age of the beans and how they’ve been stored, they will still sprout, though, older beans will take longer and sometimes may not sprout at all. Fresh dried beans from the garden will sprout in a day or two, some store bought beans will take three or four days before they start making tails.

There are a variety of ways to sprout beans, though I’ve found

mid soak
Just about done soaking, they’ve almost doubled in volume.

the easiest to utilize a half-gallon mason jar. I start out by soaking the beans for 12-24 hours. Once they’ve sat and expanded, I’ll drain the water and cover the mouth of the jar with a coffee filter and a canning jar band. This allows for some air flow, but keeps potential flies and other things out. With the top of the jar semi-sealed, I lay the jar on it’s side someplace warm – in the winter this is on the wood stove hearth, in the summer it’s anywhere on the counter. (Ideal bean germination temps are in the high sixties-low seventies.) Then every six hours (or more frequently if I can remember); I fill the jar with tepid water, shake the beans around and then drain it. It is important to keep the beans clean and moist. (You don’t want to use hot water as it may kill the beans depending on your water heater temperature, and if you use cold water, you’ll slow the sprouting process a shade.)

full soak
Done sprouting, the jar is full!

Technically, when beans have sprouted about half an inch, you’re done, though I like to let mine get a little longer. As they get longer, the actual seed-coats may start to develop into the first leaves – cotyledons – and then you’ve got a sprout with some greenery. This is tougher to do with big beans, but can certainly be done with some of your smaller beans and peas.

Soaking the beans not only helps to change the nutrition profile for the better, but it makes cooking time a whole lot shorter. No hour plus boils or water changes. You can even eat some of the smaller bean sprouts raw, though I wouldn’t recommend it for the larger beans. You’ll notice as they cook, some of the beans will slough their coating. You can remove the coatings as they float to the top of the pot or you can just cook them in. Your call. Sprouting beans is a fairly simple task, and with semi-fresh beans, it’s a fairly consistent venture. I know some folks complain that it’s time consuming, but the time put into rinsing probably adds up to the time it takes to cook non-sprouted beans. It’s definitely a worthy experiment, so give it a go!

close up

Hale’s Hazardous Tales

As a kid I was a big reader. I could be found at night with the covers pulled up and the flashlight on illuminating my bed cover fort from within. I would spend the seemingly endless bus ride home from school, neck crook’d downward, eyes consuming words, head bumping off the glass window as we traversed the back country roads. I read a number of things, but they were all novels: words on paper – no pictures. As I progressed through middle school and high school, I kept to the same things. At some point, I’m not sure when, graphic novels started making their way into our culture. The first I recall were The Watchmen and Maus. While I had read a few comic books (X-Men 2099), I never really got into it, and to be honest, I kind of looked down on the genre. Using pictures to tell a complex story seemed like something of a cop-out. (I’m an English major, tell a story with words, not pictures!)

It wasn’t until I was actually teaching in Brooklyn that I read my first graphic novel: Persepolis. From there, I read a few more, but nothing struck me hard enough to be remembered a decade down the road; though they did make a spot for themselves in my cannon. They weren’t incredibly awful, and to some degree they do make literature more accessible to hesitant readers.

Since my time in Brooklyn, I’ve had a son who has grown to be also be a tremendously consumptive reader. He will read through a Magic Tree House book in a couple of hours. For Christmas he received the Indian in the Cupboard, read it in two days, and is on his second read. (To be honest, there is a bit of disbelief on my end, but when his comprehension questioned, he seems to know what is going on.)

His love of books fuels his love of the library. We spend quite a bit of time at the there, and he can get lost in the children’s section when his mother or I get to picking out books for school. As with any library, the children’s section is divided into sections: easy readers, young adults, and non-fiction. (They also have sections for holiday themed texts, and longer series’: Hardy Boys, Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, etc.) Our library also has a small section – it’s really a cart – devoted particularly to graphic novels. We first discovered the section when we took out The Monitor vs. The Merrimack, one in a series of “graphic battles of the Civil War.” For us, this was a major score, after all, what six year old doesn’t want to read comic books about war? When it came time to return it to the library, it wasn’t in the pile. It had migrated into my son’s room; who knows how many times he read it. In the car to the library, it was clear how much he really enjoyed the book as he kept recounting the battle for me and asking further questions; of course when we actually got to the library, I had to show him the graphic novel section. He was enthralled.

The booming graphic novel section.

There were a number of good texts and series on the shelf – and I may write about some of the others later – but there was one that really stuck out for us: Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales. Where as “Graphic Battles of the Civil War” details battles of the Civil War, Hale’s Hazardous Tales run the gamut of US History. In total there are seven texts from the Revolutionary War to World War II.

The author is actually Nathan Hale – or at least that is their pseudonym, the first in the series is also about Nathan Hale… – and he recounts historical stories that focus on some sort of harrowing or otherwise deadly tale. They read like typical comic books, but instead of kryptonite and heavily moustached detectives, there are actual believeable characters that may or may not have existed and conversations that probably didn’t actually happen. I wouldn’t say they are the end-all-be-all history texts, but they certainly set the framework and get kids excited and encouraged to learn more and go deeper. At around 120 pages, they are longer texts, but their comic book nature allows readers to plow through these books.

As like most of the books my son reads, he is constantly going back for these. Even though he has read all but the most recent, he continues to check them out and read and reread them. They may not be for everyone, and I suppose, are geared more towards young boys than young girls, but they are certainly approachable by all. While we haven’t built any units around these texts, they have all been a part of the unit when we covered that particular historical period. They are an excellent supplement or everyday read for those younger elementary aged students. While they may not all be found at your local library – ours only has three – they are all on Amazon, and you can also check out Hale’s website for some interesting facts and early proofs. (It doesn’t get very many updates, though.)

The seven texts are as follows:
One Dead Spy – A Revolutionary War story about the actual spy Nathan Hale
Donner Dinner Party – Westward Expansion, and of course the Donner Party
Big Bad and Ironclad</> – The history of the Ironclad warships of the Civil War
The Alamo Allstars – Texas, The battle of the Alamo
The Underground Abductor – Story of Harriet Tubman and her work as an abolitionist
Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood – World War I, trench warfare, etc.
A Raid of No Return – World War II bomber pilots over Japan

Each text focuses on a particular event in history, but also wraps in the political and social climates of the time. If you haven’t checked these texts out, I’d highly suggest it.

And The Whirlwind Expires

It’s been crazy around here the last couple of weeks without much respite. The Christmas season, while enjoyable, was a bit taxing this year with two new foster kids added to the roster. We always try to go small: a handful of small gifts that are more useful than pleasurable, but everyone trying to help out giving us presents for the foster kids, Christmas got bigger than it ever has been at our house. So while Christmas was enjoyable, as it wound down and into New Years, it was a bit of a relief.

That was until the 1.5 year old foster kid came down with RSV. Our daughter had RSV when she was a new born and it was scary business. We spent a few extra days in the hospital with her in the NICU and it was unpleasant to say the least. I was hoping that the foster kid was old enough to handle it on his own with a few breathing treatments at home: I was wrong. Wednesday night they sent us to the local hospital and held us hostage until Saturday night. What fun! Nothing like hanging out in a 12×12 room for three days. (It really made me think about how poorly I’d do in prison.)

We were discharged Saturday with instructions to administer breathing treatments every four hours. Yes, every four hours until our follow up visit a week later. Every four hours for a week. It also meant the wee one couldn’t go to day care or pre-school all week which meant homeschooling with a ‘Roid Rage baby running amok. It also meant sheer exhaustion. And to top it off, the Department of Family and Child Services was coming on Friday for their annual home-study. It doesn’t mean much, we have a safe home, but the anxiety of having someone come into your home and evaluate it something, not to mention all the cleaning that has to be done.

The home-study is done, the follow up visit took breathing treatments down to twice a day, and the super cold week didn’t kill all our cauliflower! It’s time to get back to normal – or at least some semblance of normal. The plan for today: get started on more firewood, and shoot a squirrel for home school – the eldest is studying skeletons. Not sure why, but I am giddy with excitement to wander off into the woods and start felling some trees.