bean tunnel

Growing and Cooking Fava Beans

On Friday, the third grade (Room 14th) made a fantastic Fava Bean and Pancetta Bruschetta with the Fava Beans that they grew and harvested themselves. Everyone took turns and had a hand in each aspect of preparation. They were all eager to participate and excited to try the final result, especially once the pancetta and garlic started cooking! The fragrance wafted through the yard bringing more than one curious (and hungry) onlooker out to see what was going on.

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Once the treat was finished, they invited the other two 3rd grade classrooms to come out and share the deliciousness. It was a huge success, as there were many requests for seconds and declarations of the “best thing ever!” Ask your child how they liked it.

The recipe is below:

Fava Bean and Pancetta

Makes 4 servings

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces pancetta or unsmoked bacon, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups shelled and peeled fresh fava beans
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
8 slices country bread, toasted
4 ounces pecorino cheese, shaved or grated (optional)

1. Heat half the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 5 minutes.
2. Add the favas, season with the salt and pepper, and cook until the beans are tender, 6 to 8 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, drizzle the remaining olive oil over the bread slices and toast in a 450°F oven for 5 to 6 minutes.
4. With the back of a fork, mash the beans in the pan until the mixture is chunky.
5. Spread the beans on the toasts and top with the pecorino, if desired.


Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa)

Growing milkweed for monarchs

Article from

One of the keys to having monarchs—for their survival now and in the future—is having lots of milkweed. Because of modern changes, such as suburbanization and Roundup-Ready crops, there’s a lot less milkweed than there was in the past. This is a disaster for monarchs since monarch caterpillars can eat nothing but milkweed.

No milkweed, no monarchs!

We want lots of monarchs, so we plant lots of milkweed for them to lay their eggs on. We’ve tried to maximize our milkweeds in a number of ways—especially since it’s sometimes difficult to find them for sale or at least to find them for sale at an affordable enough price to buy more than just a few.

Pruning common milkweed
Pruning common milkweed helps keep it in control. (Be aware of keeping sap away from your eyes etc.!) Photograph by ©Janet Allen


NOTE: The specific milkweed species I discuss are for my part of the country. Check the sidebar to find milkweeds native to other regions.

Purchasing milkweeds: All milkweeds are of the genus Asclepias. When we look for milkweed seeds or plants to purchase, we always look for this name. Sometimes nurseries are afraid to call them milkweeds since people shy away from anything with “weed” in its name, and because milkweeds have an undeservedly bad reputation.

Some nurseries name them something innocuous like “pink butterfly plant,” but that doesn’t help people who are looking for milkweeds. Knowing the botanic nameis very useful and helps us find the real milkweeds (if the grower actually uses these more correct names).

Tender regrowth
Tender regrowth Photograph by ©Janet Allen

Local ecotype: Now that there is an organized campaign to restore milkweed, local ecotypes of milkweed species are becoming available. If we were to buy any new milkweeds, we would look for plants grown from seeds responsibly collected in our own region.

An aside: We wish nurseries would offer six-packs of small milkweed plants rather than large, pricey single plants. They grow quickly enough that these large plants aren’t necessary, and having one plant isn’t going to really help much.

Milkweed in a field
Milkweed growing in a local field – unfortunately slated for development Photograph by ©Janet Allen


How will a monarch find one isolated plant? Monarchs usually lay just one egg on a leaf, but they lay eggs on lots of leaves of more than one plant.

How could one or two plants be enough food for the caterpillars that develop from the eggs of even just one monarch? These caterpillars are eating machines!

Read full article here


California Pollinator Plants Native Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.)

Download the California Milkweed Guide here

Fifteen species of milkweed are native to California. These drought-tolerant plants play a critical role in supporting a tremendous range of pollinators, and occur in nearly all of the state’s eco-regions. The showy flowers of milkweeds offer abundant, high quality nectar to pollinators, making them notable honey bee plants in many parts of the country. However, an enormous range of other pollinators from hummingbirds to butterflies are frequent flower visitors.

Milkweeds are named for their milky, latex sap, which contains alkaloids and cardenolides, complex chemicals that make the plants unpalatable to most animals. The plants have fleshy, pod-like fruits (“follicles”) that split when mature, releasing the seeds. Fluffy hairs, known as pappus, silk, or floss, are attached to the seeds. These hairs aid in wind dispersal.

Milkweeds have a variety of ethnobotanical uses. Native Americans used stem fibers to make string, rope, and cloth. Also, the sap was used by some tribes to heal sores and cuts and for wart removal. During World War II milkweed floss was used to fill life vests and is currently used as hypo-allergenic filling for pillows and comforters. In addition to native species, California has three introduced milkweeds, A. curassavica, A. fruticosa, and A. tuberosa. While these species are widely available, there is debate among ecologists about their effects on wildlife and native plant communities. Given this uncertainty, they should not be introduced to natural areas. Though a few milkweed species are common in disturbed areas such as roadsides, railways, and fields, most require specific habitat conditions and are not common as cropland weeds.

Milkweed Pollination Milkweed flowers have a unique shape and are pollinated in a more specific way than most other insect-visited flowers. Rather than occurring as free grains that are accessible to any visitor, milkweed pollen is contained in pollinia, waxy sacs located inside vertical grooves of the flower. When an insect visits the flower to obtain nectar, one of its legs may slip into a groove (“stigmatic slit”), attaching pollinia to the insect’s leg. Fertilization occurs when pollinia are then inadvertently transferred by the insect to another milkweed flower. Monarch Butterflies Milkweeds are the required host plants for caterpillars of the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). Caterpillars sequester the plants’ chemical compounds, giving them protection by making them distasteful to predators.

Monarchs’ annual migration is a widely-known phenomenon, particularly the eastern populations that fly to Mexico. In the western U.S., each fall, over one million monarchs from an arc of states from Arizona to Washington and north into British Columbia, fly to more than two hundred groves along the California coast. These butterflies leave their overwintering sites in spring, and fly eastward to California’s Central Valley and the Sierra Nevada foothills and north to Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia in search of milkweeds on which to lay their eggs. Annual counts of overwintering monarchs on the California coast have revealed significant population declines. For example, in 1997, Natural Bridges State Beach near Santa Cruz had an estimated 120,000 monarchs. In 2009, only 1,300 butterflies overwintered (Frey et al. 2010). A major factor contributing to these declines is the loss of milkweed plants in the monarch’s spring and summer breeding areas across the United States. This loss is due to urban and agricultural development and the application of herbicides in croplands, pastures, and roadsides. The protection and restoration of native milkweeds is critical to reversing this trend.

Enhancing Pollinator Populations

Extensive research demonstrates that crops with sufficient nearby natural habitat can achieve all of their pollination from wild native bees alone, and that managed honey bees are healthier and more resistant to diseases when they have access to diverse and abundant floral resources. As highquality nectar producers, milkweeds play an important role in supporting bees.

Attracting Beneficial Insects

In addition to attracting pollinators, milkweed nectar supports beneficial insects that are natural predators of many crop pests. A recent study conducted in Washington state evaluated 43 species of native flowering perennials for their potential to attract beneficial insects.

Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) attracted the highest number of beneficial insects, including mite-eating ladybeetles, minute pirate bugs, hover flies, and parasitic wasps, of any plant species studied (David G. James, pers. comm.)

Insect Pests

Milkweeds are susceptible to infestation by specialistseed bugs (Lygaeus and Oncopeltus spp.), milkweed longhorn beetles (Tetraopes spp.), and oleander aphids (Aphis nerii). These insects are generally host specific and are not a threat to agricultural crops.

Commercially Available Species

Due to their ability to grow in a wide range of conditions, two species of milkweeds—narrow-leaved and showy—are the most suitable for the majority of restoration efforts.


Narrow-leaved milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis)
Narrow-leaved milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis)

Narrow-leaved milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis)

Elevation: 50 – 2,200 m (150 – 7,200 feet)

Flowering time: May – October Flower color: corolla pink, corona white

Maximum Height: 3 feet

Description: Narrow-leaved milkweed is the most widespread species in California, growing in every region of the state except the Sonoran Desert and the upper montane, subalpine, and alpine zones of the Sierra Nevada. Suitable locations include dry to moist soil in open, sunny areas. It is typically found in plant communities such as valley grasslands, wetland-riparian areas, foothill woodlands, and chaparral, and clearings within yellow pine, red fir, and lodgepole pine forests.


Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa)
Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa)

Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa)

Elevation: 0 – 1,900 m (0 – 6,250 feet)

Flowering time: May – September

Flower color: corolla pink, corona pink or white

Maximum Height: 5 feet

Description: Showy milkweed grows in dry to moist soil in open, sunny areas and occurs in many plant communities including wetlands, meadows, savannah, and forest clearings, as well as disturbed sites along roadsides, railways, and waterways. The species occurs in the forested montane regions of the Sierra Nevada, the North Coast Ranges, and the southern Cascade Ranges, and in the arid northern Central Valley and Owens Valley

Other Common Milkweeds

Four other native California milkweeds have a fairly wide distribution and occur in a variety of plant communities, but are not yet widely available from commercial sources. These species could be targeted for special conservation efforts where they occur.

California milkweed (Asclepias californica)
California milkweed (Asclepias californica)

California milkweed (Asclepias californica)

Elevation: 200 – 2,100 m (650 – 6,890 feet) Flowering time: April – July Flower color: corolla and corona both pink to purple

Maximum Height: 3 feet

Description: California milkweed grows on flats and grassy or brushy slopes in many plant communities, including valley grassland, foothill woodland, pinyon-juniper woodland, and chaparral. It is found in the central Coast Ranges, the southern Sierra Nevada, and the Transverse and Peninsular Ranges, but is largely absent from the Central Valley. Some authorities recognize two subspecies of this milkweed, with subspecies greenei occuring in the central part of the state, and subspecies californica occurring in southern California.

Heartleaf milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia)
Heartleaf milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia)

Heartleaf milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia)

Elevation: 50 – 2,000 m (150 – 6,650 feet)

Flowering time: May – July Flower color: corolla dark pink to purple, corona pink or white

Maximum Height: 3 feet

Description: Heartleaf milkweed grows in dry, rocky areas in woodlands, chaparral, and evergreen forest in the North Coast Ranges, the Klamath Ranges, the Modoc Plateau, and the foothills and lower montane zone of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Range. There are a few records from isolated hills within the Sacramento Valley.


Woolly milkweed (Asclepias vestita)
Woolly milkweed (Asclepias vestita)

Woolly milkweed (Asclepias vestita)

Elevation: 50 – 1,350 m (150 – 4,450 feet)

Flowering time: April – July Flower color: corolla yellow or pale green, corona yellow or white

Maximum Height: 2 feet

Description: Woolly milkweed grows within valley grassland, chaparral, and foothill woodland on dry plains and hillsides and in canyons in the South Coast Ranges, the Mojave Desert, the Transverse Ranges, the margins of the San Joaquin Valley, and the foothills of the central Sierra Nevada. Two subspecies of woolly milkweed, parishii and vestita, are sometimes recognized.

Learn More About Monarchs in Mt. Washington area Monarchs are Migrating through Mount Washington. Tagging Migrating Monarchs.

The Mount Washington Homeowners Alliance: See how the Elyria Canyon Monarch Caterpillars have grown!!!

LA Times: How to plant milkweed for monarch butterflies


Feeding the worms

When feeding worms, it is important to remember a few key tips:

1. The smaller the better. Smaller pieces of food will break down faster, thus speeding up the composting process. Chopping large chunks of food to feed worms is recommended but not necessary. You can puree, freeze, or microwave food scraps before adding them to your worm composter to help break down material. Make sure that food has returned to room temperature before adding it to your worm bin.

You can chop your worm’s food to speed up the composting process
You can chop your worm’s food to speed up the composting process. You can also freeze the food to speed up the process and to avoid vinegar flies (fruit flies).

2. The frequency and volume that you feed worms will depend on you and your family. You can add new food to the feeding tray at any time. Worms can eat up to half their weight in food per day in a fully established, well managed vermicomposter. Make sure that worms are actively engaged in eating the food you added most recently in the top feeding tray before adding more food. If they are not, this is a sign of overfeeding. On average, most people can fill a tray in about one month. It may take shorter or longer than that depending on how much kitchen waste you generate.

Make sure your worms are engaged with the last food you added before adding more. (Image courtesy of Albert Tansey, New Hampshire)

Make sure your worms are engaged with the last food you added before adding more.
(Image courtesy of Albert Tansey, New Hampshire)

What to feed worms in a worm bin:


When you feed worms always try to add equal portions of greens and browns!

Greens: Vegetable and fruit scraps, bread, pasta, coffee grounds and filters, teabags, dead plant matter from houseplants

Browns: Paper, junk mail, paper egg cartons, cardboard, dry leaves

All organic material will break down, some faster than others; however, there are some suggested foods to avoid:

Salty foods, citrus, spicy foods, oils (like those found in salad dressing), prepackaged foods with preservatives, meat and dairy products because they attract flies and can cause the vermicomposter to smell.

The Difference between BROWNS and GREENS as compost ingredients

This is a popular question among many first composters or organic gardeners. Regardless of the name, “Browns” and “Greens” are not differences in physical color. It is more technical than that. These terms are functions of the C:N (Carbon to Nitrogen) ratios in all once living creatures, plant or animal.

Browns and greens are nicknames for different types of organic matter to use in composting.

Browns to feed worms in a worm bin

Browns to feed worms in a worm bin

Greens to feed worms in a worm bin

Greens to feed worms in a worm bin

Browns are high in carbon or carbohydrates, thus they are organic carbon sources. These foods supply the energy that most soil organisms need to survive. Carbons also help absorb the offensive odors and capture and help prevent most of the organic nitrogen in the piles from escaping by evaporation or leaching. Carbons are also essential in the faster formation of humus from the organic matter in a composting process.

Greens are high in nitrogen or protein, thus organic nitrogen sources. These products help the composting microherd to grow, breed, and multiply fast in the piles, thus creating extreme internal temperatures in hot compost piles.

A simple test to determine if your organic matter is a “green” or a “brown”, is to wet it, and wait a few days. If it stinks, it is definitely a green. If not, it’s a brown.


Article is a repost from Nature’s Footprint.


Our adventure with the worms was great fun. Those who were a little dubious about touching them overcame that by the end of our session.

What to do with the pumpkin leftovers

Succulent Pumpkin Final

Create a Pump­kin Suc­cu­lent Planter!

These should last a few months as long as they are misted twice a week with reg­u­lar tap water and kept in a cool spot. They would do well with a dose of daily morn­ing sun, too! Enjoy this tuto­r­ial and get your pump­kins now before they are all gone from the stores and pump­kin patches!


Succulent Pumpkin
Large Fairy­tale Pump­kin — The flat top is easy to work with in this type of design. Tall nar­row pump­kins will offer more of a chal­lenge for the first-timer. (Pump­kin Beer is optional!)
Succulent Craft Glue
Craft Glue — Use the spray glue to attach the moss to the pump­kin and the tacky glue to attach the suc­cu­lents to the moss. We pur­chased these glues at Michael’s Craft store.
Succulent Pumpkin Moss
Sphag­num Moss — When work­ing with this, it’s best to wear latex or nitrile dis­pos­able gloves. This moss has some­times been linked to a long-term skin infec­tion caused by a fun­gus found in the moss.
Cut­ters and Scis­sors — Cut­ters for the suc­cu­lent plants and scis­sors to trim moss.
Tray of Assorted Suc­cu­lent Plants — Two-inch pots are good can­di­dates for this design as well as cut­tings from larger plants like jade and aeo­nium. Also, be sure to have some trail­ing type of suc­cu­lent like sedum or burro’s tail.

Steps to Make a Pump­kin Suc­cu­lent Planter

Step 1: Attach Moss — Spray the glue onto the pump­kin top and attach the moss. Press down the moss to attach firmly.
Succulent Glue
Step 2: Trim Moss — Trim moss to make it neat and tidy. Your goal will be to cover all the moss with suc­cu­lents, so you don’t want any stray strands.
Trim Moss on Pumpkin
Trim Moss on Pumpkin
Step 3: Attach Glue to Suc­cu­lent — Use the gel tacky craft glue to attach the suc­cu­lent to the moss. Just do one suc­cu­lent at a time. Glue then place…glue then place. NOTE: The suc­cu­lents will attract water from their leaves and send out roots to the moss from the other parts of their stems. It’s okay to cover the bot­tom of the stem with the glue.

Add glue to Succulent
Step 4: Build Design — Start at almost cen­ter with larger cut­tings and work your way out to the edges using smaller plants and cut­tings as you go. The glue will take about 30 min­utes to dry, so keep that in mind as you are work­ing. Also, don’t try to do this out­side on too cold of a day or the glue won’t set quickly.

Build design from center
Build design outward
Step 5: Add some Spilling Suc­cu­lents to Add Inter­est — Add some trail­ing suc­cu­lents to add inter­est to your design. Sedum is a good option.
Add Spiller Succulent
Step 6: Fill in any Moss with Small Suc­cu­lents or Leaves — Make sure the suc­cu­lents are well-packed within the design. In about a week, the plants will start to shrink a bit so you want all the holes well cov­ered before this hap­pens. Use smaller stems of suc­cu­lents or the leaves of suc­cu­lent plants to fill holes.
Fill in holes

Pump­kin Suc­cu­lent Planter Care Tips

  • Mist twice weekly with plain tap water. Don’t overwater…pooling water on top of the pump­kin will cause it to decompose.
  • For best results, keep out­side in a cool spot and give it a healthy dose morn­ing sun­light to keep plants healthy looking.
  • Place pump­kin on a trivet if out­side (will decom­pose if sit­ting right on top of con­crete) or on a plate or plat­ter inside to pre­vent any stain­ing if you are using for a centerpiece.
  • When the arrange­ment has faded or you are ready to start dec­o­rat­ing with a more win­ter theme, don’t throw the suc­cu­lents away. Instead care­fully remove them from the pump­kin moss, remove any dead leaves and plant in some light cac­tus mix. Any roots that have shot out will grab onto the cac­tus mix and the suc­cu­lents should grow. Even sin­gle leaves will root and send out lit­tle off­shoots that will become mature plants.

Here are a few lit­tle ones I did using the mini white and mini zebra pump­kins. I used just the tips of some small suc­cu­lent blooms to make these. The Zebra pump­kin is about 4.5 inches tall by 5 inches wide and the white pump­kin is 4 inches tall by 4 inches wide. These lit­tle ones make great gifts.
Mini Pumpkin Planters
Mini Zebra Pumpkin Succulents
Mini White Pumpkin Succulents

This is a repost from a blog: Flower Duet. Written by Kit WertzDesign by Flower Duet. Photo by: Kit Wertz