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Six Days Away From The Computer

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I just returned from a nice trip to Tennessee to watch my son compete in the SEC Swimming Championships held at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. I am impressed by the people and the beautiful countryside on every visit. Between the prelims and finals we were able to see some of the countryside. Some beautiful hills, farms and forests.  I am continually drawn to this state….we had a nice trip out here in November of last year and I passed through many, many years ago while in the military.

While I was gone and not blogging I was able to have a small window to view what was going on vis my iPhone…. I tried to not let the phone keep me overly distracted….. My friend John let me know about our plantings…..no stress, good temperatures and abundant rain. I found 3 inches in my rain gauge upon return…. almost too much! Some nice changes over the six-day absence – potatoes have emerged in one of the wire cages and looks like the other cage will have sprouts breaking through in a day or two. The 3 inch diameter strawberry towers are cranking out flowers and berries. The four-inch towers, different design and different variety are growing well but will be well behind the others. Not a bad thing….. it spreads out the harvest over a longer period of time.

Hands got dirty today pulling weeds, planting some heirloom french carrots, pulling up some turnips and snacking on sugar snap peas! The sink works just as I wanted to rinse both the produce and my hands….. My Valentine’s gift is working perfectly. I decided to smoke a brisket today while managing my backyard chores….man it smells so good. Plans for tomorrow…more weed pulling and more snacking on the peas!

Rainy Day Musings

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We have been blessed with a good stretch of rainy days over the past several weeks. This morning, early, it was dreary and looking like rain. I stepped out into the garden for a quick look at the kids, cut a few asparagus spears that are several weeks ahead of schedule and made sure the tomatoes had survived the very cool weekend weather. I was able to rinse my hands and spears in my “new” sink…thanks Hun! When finished, I started to hop on the bicycle and head off to Starbucks, my remote office with free WiFi! I thought to myself, self, it looks like rain! So I decided to drive the mile and a half down to the shopping center. I was very glad that I did because it opened up pretty good and the rain has been steadily falling for several hours now. The past several weeks of rain have put a large dent into the drought plaguing the state of Texas. Unfortunately the damage has been widesread and severe. Many thousands of trees in our area are dead. Estimates go as high as 500 million trees across the state have been killed – read the Reuters December 20th 2011, article link shown below. Prospects for this summer are not as bleak but the hole we are in is pretty deep.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/12/20/us-drought-trees-texas-idUSTRE7BJ20M20111220

I can spot the low spots (redundant-  huh!) in my yard and garden with ease….Just down the street is a pile of nice looking rocks and flat flagstones spread across the neighbor’s lawn… looks like the left overs from their recent landscaping work. I think I will wander down in a bit – when the rain eases up – and seee if I can make a deal for a few wheel barrow loads. I thinks they would look good in my yard, especially in the low spots.

I had a terrible time getting my Oatmeal Applesauce Raisin cookie recipe to format … I was trying to use a recipe card template…cut and then paste into the blog and it went “sideways”…that’s a Texas term for – it did not go as I had intended it to! Shown below is the old, faded and stained card on which I had jotted down my Aunt’s recipe. It too, was/is poorly formatted. I think I knew what I was doing when I jotted it down many years ago, but not so sure now. It is fun though to see an old term like “303 can” of applesauce. For those of you looking for conversions I have included a chart for you…I hope it formats OK

Can Size Volume of Food Weight of Food
No. 1 1.25 Cups 10.5 – 12 oz.
No. 300 1.75 Cups 14-16 oz.
No. 303 2 Cups 16-17 oz.
No.2 2.5 Cups 20 oz.
No. 2+1/2 3.5 Cups 27-29 oz.
No. 3 5.75 Cups 51 oz.
No.10 3 Quarts 6.5 lbs. – 7lbs & 5oz.

Has there ever been a more demonstrative illustration of why the US needs to go to the metric system. But, the nostalgia factor is also pretty cool. I have fond memories of buying No. 10 cans of pinto beans to “doctor” up with my seasonings for my signature chili beans… recipe not included – because I never wrote it down. I will tell you that it included said pinto beans, chorizo, bacon eneds, chopped stewed tomatoes, tomato paste, chili powder, garlic powder, black pepper and salt to taste. Also note that there is a lot of test-tasting during the course of preparation to tweak the flavors.

My Hand Written Recipe

Is it any wonder that I messed it up, another than being one of those people that does not deal with detail very well. Any excuse will do sometimes……

TTFN

Bishop

Oatmeal Applesauce Raisin Cookies

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I thought that I would deviate from my usual and share a recipe. One companion activity to gardening is cooking!  – I do love to cook and bake…I’m a little weak on the clean as you go part! This recipe was one of my favorites growing up. My Aunt Lula – yes that was here real name, used to make these when we visited. They are better after being stored a day or so, they become more chewy/soft. The are a prize winner too…. I won first prize with this recipe two years running in the Junior Division – fruit cookie category-  at the Kern County Fair so many years ago! The  Junior Division is 16 and under. There is a long story associated with the competition that I won’t share but, my sister Denise will remember the details!

Ingredients

Amount Ingredient
2 Cups

1 Cup

2 ¼ Cups

½ cuo

1 Cup

1 tsp

1 tsp

1 tsp

1 tsp

Pinch

Applesauce

Raisins

Flour

Butter or margarine – I like butter

Oatmeal – Old Fashioned

Allspice

Cinnamon

Ground cloves

Soda

salt

Directions

  1. Mix applesauce, sugar, butter and raisins in saucepan. Heat up until very warm – just short of boiling.
  2. Mix flour, spices and salt in a separate bowl.
  3. Add 1 tsp soda to warm mixture, it will foam up pretty strong sometimes,  stir.
  4. Add warm mixture to bowl with dry ingredients and mix well.
  5. Spoon the sticky dough onto cookie sheet in ball shapes – adjust size of ball as desired after first sheet is done.
  6. Do not lick fingers between each spoonful! Wait……
  7. Eat and enjoy …… homemade cookies have many fewer calories than store bought….. Don’t quote me though!

Pre-heat oven to 350 deg F

Bake 17-20 minutes

TTFN
Bishop

Let Me Redeem Myself

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No more polls….or at least polls that seem to be a little too personal. It was all tongue in cheek but my sense of humor tends to be a bit “off” the garden path. By the way the sink looks great and the book is on display sitting on the mantle. So let’s rev-up the disjointed train of thought and let it hurtle down a track, any track because the destination changes quite often…..

Now for the weather;

Today
partlycloudy Mostly sunny until late afternoon then becoming partly cloudy.Highs in the lower 50s. North winds 10 to 15 mph.
It must have been a dream …….. Could the Houston Chronicle have been wrong?

 

The Lament –

Breathe deep the gathering gloom,
Watch lights fade from every room.
Bedsitter people look back and lament,
Another day’s useless energy spent.
Impassioned lovers wrestle as one,
Lonely man cries for love and has none.
New mother picks up and suckles her son,
Senior citizens wish they were young.
Cold hearted orb that rules the night,
Removes the colours from our sight.
Red is grey and yellow white.
But we decide which is right.
And which is an illusion?

The Moody Blues –

Tonight – The the cold hearted orb is 3 days past full – The positive attributes of a waning moon include – A time to review endeavors and correct mistakes. Settle disputes and make amends. Yes dear are two words that come to mind! I will ask forgiveness and maybe the frigid night will spare my tomatoes!
nt_partlycloudy Partly cloudy. Lows in the lower 30s.Northeast winds 10 to 15 mph.

I have wrapped the lower portions of my tomato cages with clear plastic and if I am sincere in making amends the cold weather will not do any damage. John, your tomatoes are similarly protected but if you need to make any amends, do it tonight before the temperatures drop.

I used the turnips the other night as an add in for a Butternut Squash soup. I am expanding my horizons by adding previously avoided items into my cooking. Earlier this winter I tried baked Butternut squash and found it to be very nice. The soup was superb! If the early offerings of strawberries are an indication, I may be wonderfully overwhelmed with strawberries this year. I had a great crop last year and still have 7 or 8 jars of jam leftover…. looks like some friends and neighbors may get a jar before I start “jamming” again.I see asparagus poking up in several spots now….please be tolerant of this, hopefully last, blast of chill! The onions, garlic, lettuce, beets, radishes, snap peas, carrots and spinach should all be fine!

Note to Bev – you asked “what’s up with the soy beans?” well here is a link for “what’s up with the soy beans”… http://www.edamame.com/ I have already planted some in my yard and will plant some for you and John today. Between the two plots we ought to have enough to enjoy.

I will finish hooking water up to the sink today and plumb it up so I can use the rinse water for spot watering. The soil rinsed off will fall out in the bucket under the sink and I can also dump the dirt where I want…a win/win for the garden. Photo documentary for the project coming soon.

The Crepe Myrtle has been trimmed/pruned/butchered……. I drove around a bit over the past several days to see how some of the professionals are pruning the Myrtles and I see several styles – “….we decide which is right and which is an illusion?” I will get another chance next year to correct my mistakes…in the meantime I get to use the long upright trimmings to support my beans, peas and cucumbers. The unusable trimmings passed through the chipper and are now residing in the compost bin….nearly zero waste.

OK conductor…pull the stop cord for a brief respite.

TTFN

Bishop

Pre-Valentine’s Day Blog and Poll

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Shown above are key elements of the poll to follow….but first I need to place everything into context so you, the readers, can make the appropriate vote. The poll will be good for only one week so be prompt. Click on the image to see more clearly which gift is the Best!

The context;

I 2009 my wife Kathy and I were able to extend one of my work trips to the Islands for an additional week. We chose to hop over to the island of Kauai and we spent a wonderful week there. I always have my cameras with me and I  filled up a big memory card with the stunning scenery on the island – aptly named the “Garden Isle”…. The memory card helps support my 60+ year old brain….so far so good but…..

The Book

I have been painfully slow getting the photo book put together and printed. (I used Blurb – simple enough even for me)  I was thinking about a gift for this Valentine’s Day so I actually planned far enough out to finish the book, started 10 months ago and recently revived, so that I could deliver it to her on or before Valentine”s Day. The finished book arrived on February 8th, yesterday…well before the day I needed it. I was so excited to, both get it done and wanted to see the surprise/enjoyment on her face…..that I gave it to her yesterday. I will not share how it was recieved in order to not bias your votes nor spend time on the couch. Don’t let that last comment taint your response.

The sink

…….after Kathy looked through the book, she smiled and said, “I got your Valentine’s present out in the back of the car. I followed her out and I was impressed! I had just mentioned to her a week or so ago that “if” she spotted one on Kingwood Yard sale or Craig’s List – for a good price – to grab it. I know how much she loves finding those treasures out there but didn’t expect this kind of quick result. I immediately removed the faucet so I could trace the outline of the sink on the potting bench in preparation for installing it. I think she laughed a little because I was right in the middle of pruning the Crepe Myrtle and just dropped everything to start the sink project. I did manage to get the sink set yesterday before dark but it won’t be functional until the weekend after I plumb up the lines and fittings. It is going to be so perfect….don’t let that influence your vote! I still have a bit more to prune on the Crepe Myrtle……manana, maybe.

So, all ya’ll……those that really do read the blog….please go back up to the poll and select the appropriate answer. I am curious to see which gift is “the best” !!!!!

Just a note for today in the garden – picked a couple more asparagus spears, a couple of strawberries, a handful of sugar snap peas and the remaining lemons…it is going to be a good spring….with a very early start. I have 6 tomato plants in the ground and looking healthy! Note to Bev…I found the soy bean seeds to plant in John’s garden….it is so nice that you have taken an interest in the plantings…and I aim to please.

TTFN

Bishop

Recycle/Reuse/Re-purpose/

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A recent call from my Mother got me thinking about the topic. She is 82, a child of the depression, frugal not cheap and has an interesting creative streak that she displays often. She called me to brag a little on her latest recycle/reuse/re-purpose discovery. A couple of years ago I made her a calendar featuring family photos for the various months. Fully opened it measured 11X17 inches, so each sheet is 8.5X11 inches – a standard US paper size. She needed more file folders to aid in organizing her papers and statements and hit upon the idea of using the out of date calendar. She was able to create 6 folders with the photo(s) of family on the outside of the folder ( so she could gaze on our lovely faces) and the meaningless dates on the inside. How clever…….I believe she noticed that when she finished the photos were upside down……I am sure that is fixed by now….

Greeting cards sent to Mom will find their way back in a re-purposed condition with the added bits of this and that she has lying about. Many of the bits and pieces she has lying about become awards that she hands out as outstanding achievement recognition for her 16 or so Tai Chi students…. complete with Chinese characters that she makes up – including some bogus definition & they all seem to believe her! She is a recycled Tai-Chi instructor from one of her previous lives….  She will re-gift and as far as I know it has not boomeranged on her  – yet! Yard sales provide a treasure chest full of goodies for which her creative side will find a use for each and every item – eventually. So, Mom, I must come by some of it naturally and I do think Dad’s genes must be an influence….although he was not nearly as creative as you are…. he had lunch boxes, jars, cigar boxes and file cabinets filled with things that may be needed somewhere down the road…and yes I have a bit of his collection – brought back to Texas after he passed. Note to Kathy – my wife – I needed a hook latch for the new gate I just hung and I knew I had one in my collection….thanks to daughter Ashleigh, I found it in one of the bins that she had organized – result – no trip to the hardware store to buy something that I already had but couldn’t find!

Let’s see if I can tie this back to my little backyard farm…..hmmmmmmm. Second try – just lost 400 words and a photo – the words should still be fresh in my head – operative word is “should” – I do have the photo – the computer is a little more reliable, most of the time.

I know that I have mentioned my recycled fence screening my wife’s portion of the yard from my garden/backyard-farm in previous posts. The fence materials as well as most of the lumber used for the compost bins were from the recycling and remixing done by the Hurricane Ike winds. The eye of the hurricane took well over an hour to pass over our house and neighborhood. The fences that were leaning hard one way were violently whipped to the other direction as the back side hit and the 110 mph winds did a 180 degree turn. In hindsight I could have and should have made a concerted effort to salvage many more down fences…..I could probably still be building for my friend John – he needs a fence as his Golden retriever loves ripe and vine picked tomatoes, as well as many others. I even saved the pulled nails and carefully and patiently was able to straighten and reuse the nails! I have been the recipient of some wine display props no longer needed and heading toward the trash heap…..shelves, wheel barrow, signs, barrels and other do-dads. My garden potting bench was rescued from a garage clean out and until recently my garden hoses were also rescue hand me downs……some work needed like end pieces and duct tape for the minor leaks. My wife helps the community recycling effort through” Kingwood Yardsale”, an online posting site. She buys and sometimes sells through the site…..remember Hun, I am still looking for a small sink to add to my potting bench.

Recycled fence, pots, barrow, bricks - gate is a mix of old & new - arbor - not!.

Both Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Ike  downed literally thousands of trees in our area. From the downed oak trees I have turned out a handful of items on my wood lathe – bowls, boxes, pen & pencil sets, travel mugs and a duck call. This area of Texas is in the midst of a major drought and thousands of dead trees are being removed, most of which become mulch after grinding them up. I have noticed many of the dead trees are being sectioned and sent to some of the small lumber mills that dot the country side. The landfills can’t absorb the massive volumes being generated right now. The photo below was taken a couple of days ago along one of our many “Greenbelt” paths…becoming more and more bare! I have plenty of pieces to work with but I still have my eye out for something special…a burl or a  nice crotch – like from a tree!!!!! or anything that may lend itself to another purpose.

The disappearing green of the green belt.

Those 400 lost words – those words above are parts of what I could remember plus a few more…..I had written some words concerning allotments – a British passion – that were lost  –   those words will find their way into a future post….if I remember!

TTFN

Bishop

Mason Bees – An Update to My March 2011 Post

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The pictures above are from my original post in 2011. Click on picture for a larger image.

I went out to visit he Mason Bee house in my garden yesterday and I have to report that there is an absence of activity, Looks like I will need to buy some more cocoons to replenish the population. Last season I watched as they went about their business and at one time there were 16 tubes filled and packed with developing Mason Bees. Over time they all hatched out and zoomed off to wherever they go. My dilemma now is how to increase the pollinating activities in my yard. On the positive side I have seen a few honey bees in the yard….so I know that they are around and hopefully healthy.

I may look into ordering some more bees this week…. Here is the a listing for the small company that I used last year;

http://www.masonbeesforsale.com/

The process was real simple and the instructions were pretty darned good. The challenge is to make sure you keep the female cocoons separate from the males and then load them into the tubes properly…..I guess they don’t deliver breach very well! Most of what I grow tends to do pretty well as the plants mostly self pollinate but they do benefit from mother nature stepping in and having her little helpers buzz around.

Mason Bees are helping many commercial growers contend with the problem of  honey bees disappearing all across North America. The biologists call it “colony collapse disorder” and they don’t understand why! Lots of theories but no definitive answers yet. There is some evidence that bee colonies used in organic farming sites do not seem to be as hard hit by the colony collapse disorder. I hope they are on to something…so much of the commercial growing is dependent on honey  bees for pollination.

As I was writing this blog I was doing a little research and I may not have to be too concerned about my Mason Bees. One of the tubes in my “bee house” had a plugged end and now I notice that it is missing. So, that may mean I have some mason bees already working for me. I don’t pay real well but I try to set a nice and chemical free table for them. There is also a good chance that I will attract some that are native in the area to my” house”. Fingers are crossed and I will be looking at everything in blossom now for evidence.

The new experiment is underway. I have built two circular wire cages for my spud growing. Many years ago I had seen an article about growing potatoes in wire cages and in barrels. Last summer I tossed some sprouted and soft potatoes into my compost bin and they found it to their liking. This year I am “intentionally” growing them above ground. Once they emerge I will begin posting some pictures. Anyone that is interested can find lots of great information with a search on the web. I chose wire cages because I was concerned that the barrels may hold too much heat from the Houston summer temperatures. I harvested a handful of “new” potatoes from the compost bin last year and hope to significantly increase my harvest this year.

TTFN

Bishop

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