April 17, 2014
Composting, Gardening, Healthy Lifestyle, Vegetables
compost bin, newsprint compost, sheet composting, shredded leaves, Weeds
I just cleaned out my carrot bed – one that I had allowed to be infested with too many weeds. It started innocently enough….the carrots were sprouting and I had made a halfhearted attempt to both thin the carrots and keep the weeds at bay. My work took me away for several weeks while the weather was perfect for the weeds…..I returned to a green mass with carrot tops poking through.
I harvested the carrots and decided to take a low tech approach to fight my “war on weeds”! I took bunch of newspapers and covered the bed about 3 sheets deep, some place a little more….it is a low tech approach so uniformity was not a big concern. My concern was coverage! After the newspaper I added a thick layer of shredded leaves from the bottom of my compost bin. It looks very good now and at least for now, the battle is looking like a victory in the making.
The other beds have been well covered with shredded leaves and are relatively weed free. The covering of leaves help smother the weeds and those that do manage to make it through are leggy and easy to pull. I believe that extra barrier of newspaper will make it even more difficult on the evil weeds.
FYI, the Houston Chronicle uses a water based, non-toxic ink. Non-toxic to readers and the environment. Newsprint will breakdown nicely in the garden as well as in the compost bin…..I use it both places.
Spreading the newsprint…spraying with water to keep it from blowing away!
Newsprint covered with the shredded leaves.
Some of the carrots ….stubby due to my heavy soil but still very tasty!
March 13, 2014
berrries, Gardening, Strawberry
asparagus, birthday, gardening, Meyer lemon, peas, strawberries, tomatoes
This morning I woke up on the green side of the earth rather than the under side……That was a good thing and made even better with a handful of fresh picked strawberries – <strong>Yee Haw</strong> – the strawberry harvest has started. I picked a nice handful of red, ripe, sweet berries. Once in hand the self-talk started. Should I share them? Should I eat every one of them before I get into the house? A bit of a dilemma for me.
I didn’t share-(sorry Kathy) and I didn’t eat every one of them. The very best berries found their way into my mouth and several others started the frozen package being accumulated for the jam making later this spring. There is something so very special about berries picked at the peak of their flavor. That first berry I bit into caused a wonderful flood of true strawberry flavor and my mouth was overjoyed.
A handful of Birthday Berries for me!
A healthy berry bed….more berries on the way!
While wandering through the garden on this beautiful birthday morning I found a few early stalks of asparagus….Not enough to save for anyone other than the birthday boy. If you have never had asparagus picked and savored the freshest, you are missing the sweetness that is missing from commercially farmed and shipped from who knows where asparagus.
My lemon tree is showing signs of blossoming soon. I can’t think of a flower blossom that is any more intoxicating than that of citrus. It is amazing how some scents and aromas can cause flashback memories. When my lemon tree blooms I am always transported to a late night motorcycle ride from UCLA down Sunset Blvd., to Will Rogers beach. That cool night ride took us through what used to be extensive citrus orchards before the land was converted to homes and estates. Fortunately many of the home owners kept the citrus trees, helping to fill the air the night with that intoxicating citrus blossom scent…..I said <strong>intoxicating</strong> before didn’t I! Let me dive into the Thesaurus! Intoxicating is a good word for the scent filled night air but…..there could be a stronger word or something better able to convey the sweet olfactory assault that created the enduring memory!
How about “enthralling” – no, doesn’t capture the feeling/memory/brain recalled sensation. “stimulating” – not quite strong enough either. “Enchanting” – close. “ Exhilarating” – needs a little more to meet up with the sensations and emotions connected to the sensory memory . I’ll have to wave the white flag and give up on finding the perfect word….I will take any suggestions – English majors preferred! Just trust me…..it was an amazing memory.
The garden is shaping up nicely; onions, strawberries, snap peas, asparagus, beets, turnips and yes, tomatoes are in the ground and putting down roots. I’m another day older and the garden is entering the new growing season….It may sound trite but I feel renewed….not older – just entering a new phase…. TTFN Bishop
February 22, 2014
Canning, Decadent, Optimism, Philosophical, Relationships
lemon curd, Meyer lemon, texas, wife
I know, that’s not how the standard saying goes, but life is too short to be just ordinarily optimistic. I suggest that you amp up your response and make people wonder about your sly smile. Do something out of the ordinary when life gives you lemons….maybe, step out and do something decadent!
Life did give me lemons, some wonderful Meyer Lemons from my dwarf tree in the backyard. My wife left for Orlando yesterday with my daughter and on her way out the door she pointed to the bag of lemons and said, “Do something with those lemons!”
She wasn’t smiling and I wasn’t sure if the tone in her voice had any latitude or hint of humor!
I figured I just better give the standard Texas husband’s response and said, “ Yes dear,”
I had intended to deal with them on my own time and schedule but I never found one of those handy “ round to it’s” lying around …..Until her comment. That was a genuine “round to it” handed to me!
I had some errands to run and decided that if I am getting a “round to it”, I may as well be decadent and enjoy the thrill. I knew that if I was to be really, really decadent with the lemons I needed lots of eggs and lots of butter. Decadent Lemon Curd was going to my afternoon plan! The recipe to make one single pint of this luscious, sensual and decadent curd requires one stick of butter, six egg yolks, one cup of sugar and of course fresh squeezed lemon juice with zest.
I took a risk and made double batches, two to be precise. The yield was about 4.75 pints. I am licking my lips right now…..there was a trace of this Lemon curd from the toast I just consumed before starting the post! Oh my, yes a bit of a cliché, but, Oh My…..it is so good!
• 6 egg yolks
• 1 cup sugar
• 3 meyer lemons, juiced (you should get a generous 1/2 cup. Make sure to strain it, to ensure you get all the seeds out)
• 1 stick of butter, cut into chunks
• zest from the juiced lemons
1. In a small, heavy bottom pot over medium heat, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Add the lemon juice and switch to stirring with a wooden spoon, so as not to aerate the curd. Stir continually for 10-15 minutes, adjusting the heat as you go to ensure that it does not boil. Your curd is done when it has thickened and coats the back of the spoon. (my research finds that about 170 deg F is good).Drop in the butter and stir until melted.
2. Position a fine mesh sieve over a glass or stainless steel bowl and pour the curd through it, to remove any bits of cooked egg. Whisk in the zest.
3. Pour the curd (a single batch will make one pint of curd) into your prepared jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. If you want to process them for shelf stability, process them in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes (start the time when the water returns to a boil). According to So Easy to Preserve, it is best to process only in half-pint jars or smaller, as they allow better heat infiltration.
4. Eat on toast, stirred into plain yogurt or straight from the jar with a spoon.
Adapted from “The Martha Stewart Cookbook”
Step 4 is well stated – several years ago when I made my first batch of this decadent concoction, I made a comment about the uses for such a treat. One of my readers and author of the wonderful blog, “Promenade Plantings” suggested that the best way to use it is by the spoonful, straight out of the jar! She is spot on!
Give her blog a look….great stuff, stories and recipes. http://promenadeplantings.com/
I put three of the pints into pint jars….A bit much but once a jar is opened it doesn’t last long!
February 16, 2014
Gardening, Healthy Lifestyle
backyard bee keeping, bee keeping, environmentally friendly, honey, Round Rock Honey
I made use of the Christmas gift my daughter Lisa purchased for me. She gave me a three hour bee keeping class for two! Yesterday we took the short drive out of Kingwood to East Knox Drive about 10 minutes from my house. We were with a group of 12 or so other souls looking to learn a little bit about bees and bee keeping. The young man teaching the class under the umbrella of Round Rock Honey was top notch. He is a petroleum engineer cum bee keeper for a little over 2 years….being an engineer he has learned a lot by reading but it is backed up by his practical experience.
The best part….He lives in the Kingwood development where I live on probably a little smaller residential lot than I have…..along with more than a dozen hives in his backyard. We may be kindred spirits – he got permission from his wife for one hive….but as luck would have it his hive spun off some new queens and at the end of season “one” he had 4 more hives….My buddy John L will certainly see the connection!
The class was pretty interesting but there was a gentleman in attendance that must have been a “Geek” type engineer…. he had some close to on topic questions as well as TOO many off topic questions. We got into sugar molecule discussions, solar and electromagnetic disruptions to bee navigation and several other inane deeply trivial blather! He became fascinated with the frame base material, a thin plastic sheet imprinted with hexagonal patterns. The bees will build upon these sheets in the frames with beeswax and put to use as they see fit, pollen storage, honey storage, brood chambers of the various types. He spent a good chunk of time holding a sheet of the material up in front of sunlight and wondering out loud how he could add some LED lights for some cool light patterns! Hmmmmmm reminds me a little of my college days and altered states of consciousness…. I don’t think he emerged from those days fully intact. Our instructor is an engineer by education but seems to have his feet on the ground as a good ole Missouri boy graduating out of the University of Missouri Science and Technology in Rolla, MO! Very practical young man.
Daughter Lisa geared up and ready to play with the bees.
Honey….being added to a frame.
The Queen….her life is not as wonderful as we may have thought!
Standing in the way of the landing pattern. The returning bees were blocked and landed early on some class mates
Drone Bee – the one with the big eyes!
Pygmy goats in the feed store yard along with peacocks, pot belly pigs, miniature horses and burros….fun place to visit.
Wish me well folks as I go to the CFO for expenditure approval and the subsequent site request!
January 23, 2014
My last post I shared the details of construction with all y’all and I made an error. I was hoping to get a little further into 2014 before I made my first mistake but I failed to make in through January. Next year …. I am aiming at not making a single mistake.
The strawberry towers are made with FOUR INCH DRAIN PIPE !
I stated 3 inch in the post and that was my first mistake….hopefully the last one for 2014!
January 18, 2014
PVC, strawberry, strawberry towers, Vertical gardening
Version 3.1 is under construction with a couple of key changes. Version 1.0 was made with 2″ PVC (too small in diameter but close to being tall enough). The slots for planting were drilled with a hole saw. I shredded my fingers while planting the crowns because I failed to sand the rough edges. The density was very good but it was a challenge to keep them properly watered. Check out the start of my strawberry tower experiments here.
I toyed with, played around with…………poor choice of words…..I am always wanting to improve on the prior efforts so I have modified V 1.0 and V 2.0 and then V 3.0 ……. 3.0 was not well thought out and the added pockets on the short towers were not well spaced out. They were crowded, impinged upon the others and looked ugly….but the berries grew pretty well.
With V 3.1 I started with 3″ PVC drain pipe and I chose the version that created pockets rather than drilled holes. I spaced them a little closer and arranged them in a logical and orderly fashion. I should be able to get 28 plants in a space that would have held 2-3 plants in a matted row system and much easier for an old guy to harvest without bending over.
The photos below show the construction process. Some time soon I will fill the pockets!
Started with a center line snapped with a chalk line on 3″ PVC drain pipe.
I left a space of 12″ at the top for a water reservoir above the first pocket. I space the remaining slots at 9″ vertically between pockets. I snapped another snapped line at about 90 degrees left and right. The pockets were staggered to better spread out the plants.
A snapped chalk line as a starting point. First pocket at 12″ in order for reservoir at the top.
Using a saw and a slotted box to cut a slot to be shaped later with the heat from a paint stripper.
I use a paint stripper to heat up the plastic above the cut slot in order to shape the pockets.
Paint stripper used to heat the PVC pipe to soften the plastic so I can shape it. Posed picture but it pretty much shows the process.
I keep a leather glove on the hand that I use to shape the softened plastic PVC.
Using my gloved hand to mold and shape the pocket. Use a leather glove as the plastic is hot.
There is a blank space at the bottom. I use a post hole digger and plant the tower about 12 inches deep for stability.
Me with a tower.
Closer view with my Christmas t-shirt “Decker’s Homegrown Produce.
Closer look at the layout.
A pocket on a V 2.0 model with a Chandler plant, This is what the new tower will resemble once filled
January 14, 2014
greenhouse, PVC, strawberries, tomatoes
The strawberries are blossoming and the high achievers are beginning to ripen! You have seen my past posts on my strawberry towers and if you haven’t you can search going backwards in time. I have reloaded the towers with Chandler strawberries after adding a few more pockets to the shorter towers.
My newest adventure with the leftover pvc from my youngest son’s Engineering project at Texas A&M University is shown below. I did have to buy a couple extra joints beyond the 12″ of 3″ pipe he needed but what the heck! I have started construction on a mini greenhouse with the hope of getting my tomatoes off to an early start! Is it possible for me to have ripe tomatoes before May 1st? That will be my challenge!
I enjoyed a misshapen strawberry today and the harvest is just around the corner…found a perfect berry today that is two maybe three days away from being perfectly ripe. I hope to share a photo and a tasting critique…..Unless of course my 4 year old garden helper from down the street comes into the yard and finds it before I can pick it! He is all boy and into anything and everything!
A look at the towers
One of the early blossoms
The mini greenhouse awaiting the cover and tomato transplants
Quick photos by my iPhone….I continue to be amazed at the quality of the images!