The Nursery Hoop, Cuban Black Beans and Escabeche


Our tiny 1/4 acre farm is three blocks off main street. The land is zoned residential. We have neighbors living across a six-foot cedar fence. Out my window right now I see lights on inside the church across the street. This is not a traditional agricultural setting. There isn’t an open vista with great views of the sunrise. There isn’t an old barn or broken down tractor (or these days a cell  tower or gas well head) anywhere on the property. Instead we’re surrounded by homes, kids, traffic, churches, schools and people just trying to live their lives. I love our little farm. I need and want our neighbors to love it too. I want to be nothing but a welcome addition to the neighborhood.


With that in mind, we’ve spent considerable energy working on systems that fit the scale and residential setting of our farm. One of our biggest challenges has involved hoop houses. Early on we’d planned to construct two 20×40 Quonset style greenhouses. They were intended to house our seeding operation, our plant nursery and to provide over 1000 sq feet of protected growing surface. They would have allowed us to produce almost all year around and revolutionized our growing. Unfortunately, said structures are very difficult to erect within the city. Meeting the regulatory requirements would have increased the cost 3-4 times above the acctual materials and labor expense. We just couldn’t afford it, which is probably just as well. Full greenhouses would have been out of scale on our little farm. They could easily have been a blight on the neighborhood.

In place of the greenhouses we adapted our seeding operation to include a basement growroom and an outdoor low-hoop, nursery house (it’s only 3ft tall at its apex). Plants start downstairs, under 6000k flourecent lights, and live there for a couple weeks. When they are hardy enough and have gown at least one set of real leaves we move them outside to this nursery hoop. We need to stay on top of moving plants. Our bulbs are not 6500k “full-spectrum” and if plants stay down there too long things get crowded and the plants get leggy.

The nursery hoop is built from bent 1/2-inch galvanized condiut hoops, secured with 1×2 wood purlins along the apex. The ground is covered with black barrier plastic, and the hoop is wrapped with our standard 6-mil greenhouse plastic. We begin moving plants to the nursery around the first of March, almost three months before the last frost. To protect from nightime cold we installed a small space heater controlled by a thermal switch. The switch was poached from a rooftop gutter heater system. It turns on at 35 degrees and turns off at 40. This switch system has been 100% succesful at keeping nightime temps above freezing and thus at keeping our plants thriving.

Currently we have just over 1,200 plants living in the nursery. 500 or so will be transplanted on the farm. The remaining will be sold as plants at early season farmers markets.


Recently, in the kitchen I’ve been cooking a lot of Cuban style black bean and rice dishes. Know as Cristos y Moros (christians and moors – a reference to the black and white elements of the dish) on the island and throughout the Caribbean and South America, the dish in its many incarnations is hearty, easy and at least reasonably healthy. Traditionally, Cristos y Moros is served with a garnish of diced raw white onion, jalapenos and vinegar. In the Big N.O. it’s made with red beans and served with a vinegar based hot sauce. I like to combine the traditional garnishes and top my beans with blend of pickled jalapeno and onion that’s a take-off on mexican Escabeche. It adds a great color to the plate and allows me to use some of the early jalapenos that are currently in the nursery but before I know it will be in the ground and yielding fruit.

Cuban Style Black Beans


  • 1 lb. dry black beans
  • 1 lg green bell pepper diced
  • 1 lg red bell pepper diced
  • 1 med yellow onion diced
  • 3 clove garlic sliced
  • 2 strips thick cut bacon 1/4 inch dice
  • 1 tb olive oil
  • 2 ea bay leaves


Clean and stone beans. Submerge them overnight in enough water to cover. Heat a large pot over medium fire, add oil and cook the bacon until it starts to crisp. Add onion sweat until it becomes aromatic. Add garlic cook until it’s aromatic. Add peppers and cook until their color brightens. Add bay, beans and the water beans soaked in plus four cups water. bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 3-5 hours until beans thicken. Season sea salt, white pepper and vinegar for brightness. Serve over rice and garnish with escabeche.


Mexican Style Pickled Veggies and Jalapenos


  • 4 c water
  • 1/2 c cider or rice vinegar
  • 1/4 c corse kosher salt
  • 5 clove garlic sliced
  • 1 ts coriander seed
  • 1 t cumin seed
  • 10 jalapenos seeded and sliced
  • 2 onions sliced
  • 2 carrots Julianne
  • 1 red pepper seeded and sliced
  • 1 c cauliflower chopped (optional)


Add water, vinegar, salt, coriander and cumin to non-reactive pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. In a separate pan blanch jalapenos and onions for two minutes. Shock and dry veggies. Add carrot and red pepper to jalapeno, onion mix in sealable jars. Top jars with cool brine and refrigerate fro 48 hours before eating. Escabeche will last 3-4 weeks in the fridge.

3 comments to The Nursery Hoop, Cuban Black Beans and Escabeche

  • Garden or farm as you put it, is resembling what real world is all about; the complexity and the interactions of many elements, factors, lives, and souls. I am sure your farm is an important addition to the neighbourhood. Just like the plate, there is a little bit of each, rice, beans etc… forming a menu. A garden completes a happy neighbourhood! ~bangchik

  • Garden and the bounty they produce are about connecting with those around you. May you connections be deep and strong. Kathy

  • I’ve been meaning to find that pickled carrot recipe for a while. Thank you!

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