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Managing the Bananas

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I learn by mistakes, usually after the second or third one! A year and a half ago my banana plant produced a stalk of bananas and I had no clue why. 

I also learn via research. The internet said, if I take care of the plants they may produce by design rather than by accident. It is 10-15 month cycle for the plant to bear, they won’t produce well if crowded and they like to be fed.  I am using fish emulsion and regular doses of my compost. 

The results for this season, have been two full stalks of the Burro banana and three of the Manzano. The dead or damaged leaves are now used for a layer of mulch/weed barrier. In some parts of Mexico the leaves are used to wrap tamales rather than using corn husks. 

Just change the topic and slide into more about bananas….,,

I recieved a call about some “free” bees in a TALL pine tree and my Goo friend John and I checked them out. They are 30 plus feet up in a the tree with multiple openings in a long split in the trunk. It will be a real challenge. Not sure I am the man for the job. 

 While looking over the yard I noticed a banana plant, a Burro banana plant, with a very nice stalk of nature bananas. Located behind that plant is what looks like a Manzano plant with a stalk developing. Wow!

So, I gave a lesson and cut a nice big hand of bananas for the home owners. I will definitely have to follow up. Here is a photo of a recently cut hand from my plant that is identical to the one I cut at the homeowner’s house.

From the photo you can definitely see where the term “chunky banana” comes from. 

Earlier in the day we went by one of my hives in the backyard of a friend. This is an 8 frame garden hive, two deeps and two medium supers, started from a package during the second week of April. This colony just exploded. Must be a great Queen and on top of that, a great location. The plan for the visit was the remove excess  frames, consolidate and ready the hive for the remainder of the summer. Well, the hive was over flowing and chock full. The result was 40 pounds of honey and we still left them with plenty. Added some hive beetle traps and closed them up. 


One of my garden hives pictured above from earlier in the spring. Just two deep boxes and no supers. Top bar hive in the background. 

Now, a day later, FYI, this is taking me three days to jot down, I need to visit my top bar hives and another set of garden hives before I run off on my Californua adventure. I was just reminded that I need to organize and clean up my hive work site – yes dear

TTFN

Bishop

Banana Bonanza

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2016 – the banana plants have been going bananas! Literally. Yes Plants not trees. The past two winters here in Houston have been mild resulting in the banana bonanza. I pulled up some info from the Texas A&M Horticulture website;

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/fruit-nut/fact-sheets/banana/

Here is the intro to growing the bananas;

“Banana

Julian W. Sauls Extension Horticulturist

Broad, long, graceful leaves and rapid growth-commonly reaching full size in just a few weeks-make banana a favorite plant for providing a tropical look to pool and patio areas. The development of bananas following a frost-free winter is a source of both pride and amazement to those unfamiliar with banana culture.

Banana is a tropical herbaceous plant consisting of an underground corm and a trunk (pseudostem) comprised of concentric layers of leaf sheaths. At 10 to 15 months after the emergence of a new plant, its true stem rapidly grows up through the center and emerges as a terminal inflorescence which bears fruit.

The flowers appear in groups (hands) along the stem and are covered by purplish bracts which roll back and shed as the fruit stem develops. The first hands to appear contain female flowers which will develop into bananas (usually seedless in edible types). The number of hands of female flowers varies from a few to more than 10, after which numerous hands of sterile flowers appear and shed in succession, followed by numerous hands of male flowers which also shed. Generally, a bract rolls up and sheds to expose a new hand of flowers almost daily.”

Ok – enough of the technical talk. The bonanza is a bit like your neighbor that is overwhelmed with zucchini – you hide when you see them coming. Yes, I gave away a lot of bananas. Once you cut the stalk off the ripening process speeds up. They are great in smoothies but one smoothie a day doesn’t take much of a bite out of the bounty. Eating fresh is a good idea too, but………you get the idea. The freezer is well stocked with both the Burro and Manzano bananas so now what?

Jam, yeah jam! Never heard of banana jam…..Google it! Yes Virginia, people do make banana jam!

Food.com, Yee Haw!

Banana  Jam by Chef GreanEyes on April 2nd 2009

4 cups of ripe bananas……no problem here!

6 ½ tbsp.  of lemon juice

6 cups of sugar – again no problem, I buy 25 pound bags to feed to the bees during lean times

3 ounces of pectin –

¾ cup of unsalted butter – I cut that back to a little less than ½ cup

Now the tough part…..it takes time and multiple steps to make the jam.

  1. Combine bananas, 3 cups sugar, lemon juice and let stand for an hour
  2. Add remaining sugar and cook over medium-high heat until sugar is dissolved
  3. Bring to a boil for two minutes
  4. Remove from heat and skim foam
  5. Bring back to a boil – boil 1 minute
  6. Remove from heat and skim foam, yes, again
  7. Add butter and bring to boil AGAIN
  8. Add pectin and stir constantly
  9. Boil for  1 minute
  10. Remove from heat and skim once again.
  11. Allow to cool for 7 minutes
  12. Add to sterilized canning jars
  13. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes
  14. Let sit for 24 hours

Then enjoy!

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On the stalk and very ripe.

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Boil and skim 1, 2 or 3…..

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Some of the skimmed foam, no, it didn’t go to waste.

 

Based on what is on the “plant” in my garden, I have more neighbors to overwhelm, more freezer space to occupy and maybe a few more batches of this jam. The first batch was with the Burro bananas, the next will be with the Manazano…..taste test comparisons sometime soon!

 

TTFN

Bishop

Bee Adventures

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Yesterday morning, yes too early for the bees  (mistake one), I went to check on and maybe harvest some honey from my original top bar hive. It has been intolerably hot lately, hot enough to make the wax comb very soft. This topbar hive is my gentle hive. See photo below;


I normally just smoke them a little and wear my veil as seen in the photo! Today I decided to gear up and wear my white overalls, gloves and the above veil.

Mistake two; The bees were agitated from the “git go!” No problem, I had smoke and protective gear. It was 8:45 in the morning and the top bar hive was still in the shade. Probably a thousand or more clustered on the outside and little evidence of foraging…..

The veil has long strings and the trick is to make sure that my collar is flipped up and the veil secured without gaps. Mistake number three, I failed to check the collar and the fit. All of a sudden I feel air from beating wings on my face.

“John, are the bees inside my veil?”  I ask.

“Yes, quite a few”, he responds.

I start heading out of the area and I have company both inside and out. They seem to be pissed at me and ignoring John. I took 6-7 or more in the back of my head and a few more on my forehead.

I wander back to my Suburban, licking my wounds and suit up. John is putting the bars back in place and the top back on. I return to take a peek at the other topbar hive and the two Langstroth hives.

The 8 frame is healthy but growing slower than my other three 8-frame hives. The 10 frame hive is doing nicely with a queen hatched from my original top bar hive. FYI,  my top bars sized to fit in my Langstroth hives. The second top bar hive was also cloned from a queen cell and a few  bars of brood, pollen and honey from the original hive.

Ok, I have orders from the sales manager (my wife for some cut comb and I know where to go. I have two 8 frame hives nearby and I have been anxious to harvest them. I pulled 11 frames, 3 beautiful ones for cut comb and we extracted the others.


I wound up with 12 – eight ounce squares and I also boxed up all the trimmings. I let them drain a bit on the rack before boxing them up. I love cut comb! I also wound up with over 30 pounds of liquid honey. Two more hives to visit in the next day or two to  on the honey production.

TTFN

Bishop

Going Bananas

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I am a lucky guy. Both varieties are producing bananas. The smaller bananas now have 3 stalks unfolding. The larger variety has two big bunches. I cut some of the green ones over the weekend and put them in bags with apples to speed up the ripening process. It is amazing how quickly they ripen. Both of my varieties are from Mexico.

The thicker banana is called a” Burro” banana. It is a very creamy textured and sweet banana. It is great in smoothies, adding a lot of thickness to the drink. The smaller is a “Manzano” banana, considered a dessert banana. It does have a hint of apple flavor, hence the “apple” banana translation.

Manazano banana development photos below. Scroll to see captions.

 

The Burro banana is longer and very plump.

Now I need to get busy and thin the plants  out so the fruit will fully mature.

The squirrels have found my tomatoes……….grrrrrrr……… but so far………They have left bananas alone!

TTFN

Bishop

 

Lots of Blueberries

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Yesterday, June 11th, was the day after the opening of Moorhead’ Blueberry Farm. The crowd was very large and traffic in and out was a zoo…..we learned a lesson, the smart people park outside the gate along the road….it is just a short walk in! I have been wanting to go gather blueberries at this farm for several years now but life seems to get in the way. Swim meets, soccer games, vacation, chores or the dreaded disease of age, CRS. (can’t remember shtuff).

http://www.moorheadsblueberryfarm.com/

On, Friday my “Goo” friend John and I had – (I just discovered an interesting tidbit, the difference between friend and fiend is a missing “R”) – Now back to the story. John and I had gone to inspect a house with bees in the wall. Structural cutouts are not my thing but the gentle man that called me to recue bees from a storm downed tree at his machine shop called me to help a friend. The owner of the house is an amazing creature lover, refusing to kill any insects. He wanted someone to safely relocate the bees.

The job was well out of my expertise, so I decided to decline. I knew the people in the house, the home owner’s daughter and children were anxious, as the bees had also found access to the babies bedroom…..just a few but disconcerting for the mother.  I knew two people that are “one with bees” to refer the owner to. One of them was booked for weeks the other, I leaned on him a bit, and he took the job as an emergency job.  I will share the full story later….I am going over to help/observe the removal in a couple of days.

On the return trip John and I wandered by a mutual friend’s house, one that is hosting one of my hives. He and his wife had just returned from the opening day of picking blueberries at Moorhead Blueberry Farm. Mike and Anette had 35 pounds of blueberries spread out to do the culling and drying before bagging and freezing. That piqued my interest as well as John’s. We decided to go on a berry picking adventure the next day. The wheels were turning and plans were being made. Mike and Annette suggested going early, they arrived at 7:00 AM and people were already leaving loaded down with bags of plump and ripe berries.

We didn’t take the advice to arrive early, but managed to gather three full buckets in a relatively short time. Entering and parking around 8:45 in the morning was very congested, thus the recommendation to park out on the road. John grabbed a small bucket, he put 6 + pounds into it. Kathy and I went big and each of our buckets ultimately held over 12 pounds of berries. Note for berry pickers; bring a couple of small towels. The buckets have a cord that hangs the bucket around your neck….one towel will provide cushioning and the other to wipe hands, sweaty brow and whatever else.

 

Berries 1

Two 12 pound buckets and a 6.5 pound bucket of plump and seet berries.

Berries 2

Kathy and John showing the fruits of our labor. We finished just before the rain hit.

Arriving home, we spread berries out in single layers on butcher paper to dry as we sorted them before bagging. Kathy over-filled 8 small freezer bags, labeled pint size, but they hold much more than that. I made two batches of jam, 10 cups of berries in each batch and we still have a bowl to eat fresh. YUM!

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Some of the many iterations of sorting and drying before bagging. In the background are some jars of wild plum jelly.

The first batch was straight up blueberry jam made with SureJell light….less sugar, only 4 ½ cups per batch. The result was 10 half pint jars. The second batch, also made with less sugar plus a vanilla bean steeped in the hot and boiling jam. FYI, scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean before using. In the future I may experiment with vanilla extract – vanilla beans are too friggin’ expensive.  The Vanilla Bean version made 4 pint jars and 2 half pint jars….identical yields…… and so very sweet!

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1o half pint jars of wonderful and sweet blueberry jam.

Now, plan a blackberry picking trip!

TTFN

Gathering the Honey

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I have been less than diligent in keeping up with my blogging. This Back Yard Farming effort has 3 or 4 posts in draft form waiting for me to get off of my butt and finish. I have also given equal procrastination to my Beer Blogging – that’s only fair isn’t it? So to catch up I am going to go in a bit of a reverse order, subsequent posts may be older but I will feel better if I clean-up my backlog, regardless of how I approach it.

So let’s talk about honey. My first ever hive is located further from my house than I would like but in the process of managing it I have made great friends. In addition I have created at least one and maybe two new beekeepers. Here is the synopsis;

August of 2015 while on a work assignment in Richmond, California, my wife phoned and read a letter from our HOA. Essentially it said, an unnamed neighbor has complained about my hive (it had been in my yard for 18 months already with no issues). They were utilizing a “protective clause” in the HOA covenants gave me 7 days to remove it. I am 1800 miles away and already burning days and I won’t be home until the deadline comes and goes. I am in a quandary! Mark, one of the managing engineers for the client overheard my lament and bailed me out. Mark has a piece of property north of Kingwood on a ranch just outside of Franklin, TX. His neighbor, Johnnie, had expressed interest in keeping bees, with a mentor of course. He made a call to her and I committed to relocating my hive. I did call the HOA and unfortunately, it is an insidious form of government with unbridled power. I do believe that the HOA is comprised primarily of people who had been bypassed as “Hall Monitors” in grade school. Nuff said!

The hive has flourished in the northern location. My best friend has now become a beekeeping assistant of sorts, i.e., whenever he has free time that coincides with one of my bee adventures, he raises his hand. I think he really just enjoys road trips and biscuits at the breakfast stops on the way. Actually, it has become more than that! I am still a novice and do make a few mistakes but, my “Goo” friend John is an internet surfing fool. He has learned a lot about beekeeping that aids me in a number of ways. Thanks John.

Beekeeper number two is Johnnie, she hosts my hive on her property. Her enthusiasm is boundless. She has attended two beekeeping schools, the last one was this past April in Brenham, TX. We actually sat through a couple of presentations together. She now owns two hives and the bees in them. I will attempt very soon to split my original hive…..should have done it in March….still learning! Mark now has two hives across the road on his property, one of mine and one he owns. I have 5 and soon/maybe/possibly to be 6 hives to manage up near Franklin, TX.

Saturday May 7th John was free and we headed north. It was a multi-objective mission. First order of business was to check on the four NUCs installed at the end of April and add some sugar water to the frame feeders. Secondly we were going to check on my original hive and see how they had progressed in the super I added nearly 6 weeks ago. I had a good idea from the peek I took when I installed the NUCs at the end of April, but did not look at the super below it. Good news, 9 fully capped frames of honey on top and 4 very good looking ones below. The third order of business was to extract honey. I brought a three frame extractor up with me and we got busy…..busier than I have time to explain here….we will do better next time and I will leave it at that.

I left 2 quart jars, about 6 pounds, for Johnnie and Mark. I brought the bucket home with about 19 pounds of honey. I let it sit for a week to let the bubbles rise to the top and the micro pieces of capping wax that fits through the 400 micron filter to rise to the top. It is not harmful at all but for aesthetic purposes, I don’t want it in the final bottled product. That left a little over a pound in a quart jar for my use! 17 – .75 lbs. bottles, 4 – 1 lbs. bottles and 6 honey bear bottles with about 6.8 ounces of honey in each.

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The labels will also include the zip code of the location of the hives. This batch was 77856, Franklin, TX. I have had this idea  for quite some time to really zero in on the “Local Honey” aspect by zip code. At the bee school in April, I took a marketing class from a gal named Tara Chapman. She stresses LOCAL in her approach down to the neighborhood level in the Austin, TX area using the term – “hyper-local”. My aim is similar, I have hives in area code 77339 and 77345. Hopefully soon across the river to 77346.

Check out Tara at – https://twohiveshoney.com

Honey work for the next week or so? I have built 10 supers for my 8 frame hives, that means 80 – 6 5/8 frames with foundation must be built. Then I need to build at least 10 supers for my 10 frame hives…..another 100 – 6 5/8 frames needed. I suspect that after building that many frames I may be able build them in my sleep! Another trip up north to feed bees and check on their wellbeing.

TTFN

Bishop

“Goo” Friends are Great Friends

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This past week was a very busy bee week….pun untended. Tuesday morning I received a call from an old cowboy down in the town of Porter. He had a tree filled with bees that fell last winter. He had been cutting it up to get it out of the way and came to a halt when he noticed bees exiting a split in the side of the tree. There it sat until Tuesday morning.

He mentioned something to Chuck down at the Knox feed store on Knox Rd in nearby Porter. The cowboy didn’t necessarily want to harm the bees, but if they wouldn’t leave, he would apply diesel and a torch. I gave my “goo” friend John a call to see if he wanted to join me on an adventure….I didn’t see his eyes roll but I am sure they did…….Let me back up, why do I call John a “goo friend”?

 

I posted a bit of our adventure on Facebook and fat fingered what should have read, “good friend”, but left the “d” off! An observant reader of the post caught the error…….But, it sounded good to me, I mean we are dealing with gooey honey! On top of that that, John was one of the unfortunate senior guys and in this downturn the Company gave him the opportunity to look for another career. Not sure he had being my assistant beekeeper on his list of options. He has been a good sport and we have had some “goo” adventures.

 

Back to the adventure. I picked up John and we went to check the tree out and figure out what options we had. The cowboy said that the bees didn’t seem too riled up when he was using the chainsaw so that became plan number one. We planned to open the hive with the chainsaw. The split where the bees were entering and exiting the hive seemed very busy! Lots of activity and lots of pollen going in. The log had several other cracks which turned out to be to our advantage. About 3 ½ feet to the left of where I planned a cut was the stub of a forked branch that showed evidence of being hollowed out. That turned out to be correct and helped us out on day two of the removal. Yes, two days for free bees!

 

At the end of day one…really about 3 hours of continuous work, we had about 14 frames with cut comb rubber banded into place. Operatiing a chainsaw in full gear, awkward positions and on a fairly warm sunny day took a lot of steam out of this 65 year old guy! Our close examination of the tree indicated a possible narrowing on the left end and a massive cluster of bees massed up on the log interior that was void of comb. Our guess was that the queen had run on up into that narrowing and the girls were clustered up with her. Packed up our gear and made plans for day two.

 

Day two now, in addition to the chainsaw I brought a reciprocating saw for making more controlled cuts. Long story cut short, we wound up borrowing the cowboy’s reciprocating saw as mine was sick and wouldn’t get up to speed. First order of business was to gather the clustered bees. Using sugar water and a misting spray bottle we swept bees into a plastic tub and a plastic feed scoop, “gotta” love a cowboy with lots of tools and equipment. Just guessing we scooped up enough bees to fill at least two packages of bees, maybe more. We were dumping them in on top of the frames and they were pretty much staying put. We made our fine cuts into the narrowing end and realized that we needed to go with the big gun and fired up the chainsaw.

 

Now luck worked into the equation. Realize now, that I am a rookie and my “goo” friend is a little less than a rookie but learning quickly. I fired up the chainsaw and feeling my way along, advice I heard in a video by a local beekeeper Tom Brueggan, cut out the narrowing portion. It came out in a half pipe like piece about 3 feet long and bees packed solid in the “trough’ like section. Poured and swept the bees into the open top of the box. We placed the top on the box and went about some clean up and organizing tools. John pointed out that the bees were now clustering on the top lid and marching in through the hole. I broke into a big grin and he said it first, “We have the queen don’t we?” Yes we did. It was a first for both of us to witness the “march”. They we packing themselves into the hive body.

 

Our cowboy kept his distance and watched as we finished cleaning up and putting away our tools. We battened down the top of the hive box, two deeps and a medium pretty well filled with bees and cut comb. I went over to visit with the cowboy as John shed his gear. I had my hood and gloves off while letting the sweat cool me off. About that time cowboy’s brother showed up and I knew him, couldn’t place exactly where but he had sat through one of the classes I teach in my consulting role. So now cowboy, Deon as best I can decipher how he says his name and brother Rocky are visiting with us. Deon has an ice cold Miller Lite in his hand and must have seen me eying it. As any good cowboy, he had an ice chest in the bed of his pick-up with a few more. Wow, that beer hit the spot.

 

We got permission to leave the hive box in place for a while, until I find the right spot to locate it. That will give the girls time to get comfortable and begin attaching the comb we cut out and placed into the frames.

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The hive box with 20 frames containing the comb rubber banded into the frames. added a super shortly after this.

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Interior back wall of the log. It was a bit of a challenge to cut with the chainsaw and be delicate enough to feel the hollowed out portion. Thanks again to Tom Brueggan for his hint.

 

Day three;

My “goo” friend and I head out to Navasota to pick up four packages of bees to be installed into four ready and empty hives. 10 minutes into the drive we were at the Hot Biscuit of Porter and yes, they make good biscuits. An hour and 20 minutes later we were at R Weaver’s place and enjoying the welcoming committee.

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Hello boys!

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Any goodies for us….They had plenty but was going to be a difficult meal….they were working on a poor box turtle that was cracked open in the road.

We were picking up the package bees, four to be exact and hopefully sans hitchhikers! We then turned around and headed back to Kingwood. First stop was at the Dacus place on Russel Palmer Road to install two of the packages. Max was home and came out to observe just as we were finishing up. Max is very new and we put his gear on and gloves to watch. Went very smooth.

Next stop was placing a package in the hive at Mike and Annette’s place. Mike watched from a distance and John reminded me to remove the plug from the queen cage….yes, I forgot….isn’t that what “goo” friends are for. Mike became a lot more comfortable and actually posed next to the hive in shorts, flip flops and a T-shirt……A great illustration that 99% or more of the time bees just want to go about their business while ignoring people.

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Mike was photo bombed by one of his new friends!

Package four went to Troy’s place out off Mills Branch Road. Troy was home so I had him suit up and watch the process. He is also very new to bees and very hungry to learn. It went very smooth and again the “goo” friend had to remind me again to remove the plug from the queen cage. Did I say that I was 65 yet?…..maybe. Troy also mention that he just picked up a few empty lots down the street from his house that I can use to expand if needed…..I think I know where the Cowboy hive is going to go!

 

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John and Troy and a glimpse of my topbar hive behind them.

So, a great “bee” week, a lot of learning and nice successes.

TTFN

Bishop

 

 

 

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