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Strawberries, Beets and Other Musings

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Let’s start right out in the field.

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This was the first of three buckets I filled in about 20 minutes of picking. The result was 14 pounds of luscious hand picked berries. Wood Duck Farms just 25 minute north form Kingwood….Organically grown and very sweet. http://www.woodduckfarm.com/

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A little clean-up and sorting….I had intended to freeze all of the berries but as it was the day before Easter my bride suggested that I make a plate of the nicer looking berries for fresh eating at our Easter luncheon……Yes Dear! I still manged to sort, clean and slice up about 10 pounds for the freezer to be made into jam. I have picked enough for two batches from my garden so I will have plenty for gifts and for a sale or two or three or more.

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A few of the berries dedicated to our Easter  Luncheon

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Two batches of low sugar strawberry jam….Sure-Jell light recipe, pink box….just 4 cups of sugar per batch vs 6 cups of the regular recipe…..And three pints of Pickled Beets.

Side note on the beets….. I used about 12 medium sized beets and roasted them in the oven at 400 deg. F for 40 minutes inside of a foil pouch. Included in the pouch were 2 tsp olive oil, 2 peeled shallots and two sprigs of Rosemary. What a great aroma….peeled and thinly sliced the beets and layered them into the pint jars with Frenched Red onions….I also learned how to French to onions……old dogs can learn. The brine was boiled for a while to allow the spices to meld. Processed in boiling water bath for 30 minutes.

  • 1 1/2 cups Tarragon wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 Cinnamon stick
  • 2 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 tbsp of pickling spice.

The bees are coming – can you hear the buzzzzzzzzzzz – 4 packages of bees from Navasota on Saturday April 14 and 6 NUC’s from Jennings, Louisiana on the 12th of April…..looks like I will be a busy boy this spring!

I have decided that my experimenting with banana growing is halting… not enough joy! lots of space consumed and the returns are minor….I need to do this in Belize…..OK – I can dream. I’ll stick with mostly tried and true….with an experiment or two along the way.

Hoisted a swarm trap up onto the big oak in the back yard today. A lot of reports coming in on the “Beek” forums here in Texas with success stories. I need to be careful and not exceed my self imposed limit of ….. No more than 25 hives.

Three more batches of strawberries in the freezer awaiting their fate….Jam is such a sweet fate…And more pickings everyday from my garden. A few asparagus sprouts are being snacked upon, more beets to be picked, snap peas for a bit longer, cucumbers and beans are climbing, potatoes in pots and a few quarts of blueberries in a few weeks. I should also haul in a big load of blueberries from Blakelock’s Berry Farm in a few weeks –  Yum.

 

TTFN

Bishop

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Rain…..Yes it has Been Raining!

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Almost 5 inches of rain over the past two weeks. I think the garden is well soaked!

I have three bee hives located nearby in a friends yard…..much more than a yard – it is essentially 3 lots, one with a house and guest house, one recently cleared for a Barndominium project.

Barndominium is a neologistic portmanteau of barn and condominium with multiple meanings.” That should clear it up!

An the third is wooded on the front portion facing the street and cleared on the back portion holding some raised beds, bee hives and chickens.

It is not my backyard but the owner has encouraged me, in my spare time to plant, play and invest my time in his yard. I have two of the three beds buried in several inches of leaf mulch, one bed is going to be a chore….wild dewberries have infested it…I have plenty of leaves to deeply mulch it but…….work, work, work……is certainly needed.

Sugar snap peas and two types of green beans are popping up in one bed…..more on this project later.

Now, my backyard. The unusual freezing weather we had damaged my Meyer Lemon and probably killed the twig of a lime tree I had. The bananas are burned to the ground but will  survive much to my wife’s chagrin….”Aren’t you done with that experiment?”, she asked yesterday.

In my head I thought….. “I think I am but…..it will be a lot of work digging out all of the corms/bulbs/rhizomes and gunk….Maybe just one plant each of the two varieties and then call it quits!” I was wise enough to stay silent and just nod my head.

So what else you might ask…..My wild native plum trees are blooming. They are still residing in large planters awaiting a move …… one of these days to a piece of ground! I like seeing them bloom…..I transplanted them from a ranch up north near Franklin Texas. Long story but briefly, the HOA made me relocated a hive in my yard and I had to act fast. A client’s wife was related to a woman who owned the ranch, Johnnie. Johnnie had always wanted bees and well, and we were connected. We developed a warm relationship before she passed away from lung cancer. We were kindred spirits, she made lots of jams and jellies, loved her bees and her quiet life. Her wild plum jelly was wonderful. The year before she passed I made some from her plums and asked for some plants. I was given permission but did not bring them home until early spring of 2017, after her death. The blooms are such a great reminder of her gentle spirit. I miss you Johnnie.

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The Blossoms are so tiny and delicate.IMG_4497 An up close look at the blossoms. Fingers crossed that we avoid another freeze and the tree can set more fruit. The area where this tree was dug out of is covered with trees well over 10 feet tall. They are prolific and can become invasive unless managed.

Everything you want to know about these wild plums is located in this link. It even has a recipe for sourdough utilizing the yeast on the skin of the plums. http://www.foragingtexas.com/2009/07/plum-wild.htm

Behind my fence and mostly out of sight are some other goodies. My strawberry plants, especially the mature ones, made it through the freezing weather pretty well. I added another 30+ plants at the beginning of February and all are doing well.

 

Strawberry jam/preserves on the “hoof”. I have had ripe strawberries before Valentines day, but obviously, not this year. My Birthday is March 12…..maybe by then.

IMG_4479One of several Swiss Chard plants that survived the freeze. All of my early sugar snap peas died during the freeze…..so much for my early experiment to get a jump on spring….oh well, seeds are cheap. IMG_4482A look down the active bed. Strawberries, barely visible sugar snaps coming up, right front more Swiss Chard(Red variety), up under the arches are beets, the surviving beets were covered and the new beets at the far end are sprouting.  Up against the fence are my new blueberries and some potted pineapples as well as a few banana plants kept in the garage during the freeze. The sad dwarf Meyer Lemon against the far fence is mostly green twigs! Yes, the garden could use some clean up and organization…organization and neatness are not my strong points!

Lets talk bees for a bit. One of my topbar hives is looking very weak….not sure that I have a queen. That said, it was loaded with slabs of honey, looking very much like the one my daughter-in-law Cheryl is pictured holding last Fall. I pulled 8 bars looking very much like this from the hive next to her. I left them with several more slabs and fingers crossed. Once the weather improves I do have a very strong small top bar hive that I can transfer into this weak one, freeing the small one up to receive a split from a very strong topbar hive.

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A lovely slab from the topbar hives last summer, 2017. This one I cut into squares and and crushed the odd shaped pieces.

After crushing and squeezing the honey out of the comb I put the wax out in the garden for the bees to clean up the traces of yummy honey.

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This was the start before word got out in the neighborhood. 10 minutes later it was a swirling mess as the bees did their thing!

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The barren banana bed……I have two tepees set up for green beans, pole variety, I hate bending over to pick the bush varieties! Lots of work needed to dig out those beds…. and organize the mess! Yes Dear!

Ah, the sun is out right at he moment, time to put my rubber boots on and wade out into the garden.

TTFN

Bishop

Snow in Houston Means Banana Harvest Time!

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I was holding off until it got cold before harvesting!( code for “round tuit”)!

https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/round_tuit

Well the snowfall in Houston last night convinced me it must be time to harvest, albeit – at least a day late!

Three bunches of the Manzano variety and two bunches of the Burro(chunky banana). Brought a few hands into the house to ripen and the rest are stored in the garage for the time being!

Early this morning. Just putting a little chill on the bananas.

The harvest.

Fingers crossed I will have enough ripening to make some banana jam!

TTFN

Bishop

Gardens, Bananas and Other Stuff

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The bees and some consulting work have occupied my time, keeping me from blogging about my sparse gardening activities. I am still getting dirt on my hands, planting a little for the fall winter garden as well as prepping the bees for winter.

The garden activities have also included photographing and marveling at the growth of my banana clusters. Three clusters of the Manzano and two of the Burro(chunky banana), both Mexican varieties. I suspect the weather will cooperate and allow them to mature before the threat of a freeze heads our way. They do tolerate some cold weather but the freeze this past January was both long enough and cold enough to damage the plants.

A project on my loooooooong hunny do list is/was to clean/organize my garage, a three car garage that does house a single vehicle. Lots of bicycles, hive bodies, beer making equipment, tools(multiples of the same type), camping gear and a bunch of miscellaneous stuff left behind when our children moved out. Why am I telling you this in a gardening blog? Well, I started the cleaning process and I am easily distracted, “Look a butterfly”,…..I found some dried bean pods gathered from several seasons back and rather than toss them I wandered out to the garden and planted them. Three days later they are sprouting! A check with google on the time to maturity for the Blue Lake pole bean variety, 60 days or so, and I might get lucky and have fresh green beans by Thanksgiving….

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Wow, in just three days this bean is leaping up. Looking around the base of the tepee towers, I see several others peeking through the leaf and compost mulch.

More gardening, I have several late summer plantings, a volunteer Matt’s Wild Cherry, a volunteer English cucumber in a pot(producing nicely and an heirloom Brandywine growing nicely. Beets and Swiss Chard are also in the ground hoping to get a good start before it does get cold. The asparagus ferns are starting to die back allowing me time to clear them off and add compost before next spring.

Our neighborhood is having its annual yard sale this coming weekend. I have been drafted to help! Yes Dear! I will help…..and have a table set up to sell my honey and jams. I have 40+ pounds of honey and about 40 jars of jams, strawberry, blueberry and blackberry, taking up shelf space. I will report out soon!

TTFN

Bishop

The Garden Is Still There

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For whatever reason, I can come up with too many to list, I just haven’t written much about the garden in the past year or so. It does not mean that I am not active in the garden, in fact, up until a week ago I was buried with cucumbers! Then, the heat and white flies took their toll! The banana plants are growing like crazy but no hint of fruit……yet. They need 14-15 frost free months…..oops….fingers crossed for a mild winter. Looking at March of 2018……..

Tomatoes have finally bit the dust but a couple are hanging around……Yanked most of the vines out last week. Spread mulch and soon…..finished compost from my bins. I just planted some fall Irish Potatoes……only need 110 days or so….should be no trouble.

My Scarlet beans are still climbing skyward, soon to be replaced with Blue Lake….my favorite. Half of my strawberry plants are kicking butt, but, the half that was heavily shaded by the voraciously growing cucumbers look a little pathetic. Gotta give them some love!

I potted up 5 pineapple plants so I can shield them from potential freezes…..I didn’t do so well with those left in the ground last year. I really, really, really want to eat a homegrown pineapple! At the same time I potted up 3 Manazano banana plants…..it is a chore to stay ahead of the new growth that pulls nutrients away from the main stalks. The trimmed banana leave do make excellent mulch…….and they cover a lot of surface area….weed killer deluxe.

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Five pineapple plants, two are over a year old the other three are from early summer.

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One fat stalk and two smaller Manzano banana plants.

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Ok, not easy to see, but I have 6 potholes dug with cut pieces of potato buried……just waiting for some shoots to emerge.

Bees, yes I still have them – down to 12 hives……one became weak and I combined it with a stronger hive and wow, it is booming. I have work to do this week, three hives are overflowing with bees and I need to put a plan together……splits?, NUC’s?, or? The summer dearth is here so I am feeding the bees until the Fall flow…..Goldenrod is the mainstay but will have to see what else adds to the Fall nectar flow.

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This is the swarm I trapped in my backyard over the May weekend when my son Ben was married. I replaced the queen a several weeks ago and added a second brood box today… the new queen is really doing well.

Ok, enough for now…..more garden clean-up, sweat soaked shirts and bee business for the remainder of the week.

TTFN

Bishop

Musings – Something I do too Often

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My wandering mind, always a bit out of control.

Yesterday I was trying to cram too many activities into my day…..The guy at the mower shop called for the third time about my leaf vacuum and chipper that had been in the shop, ready for over two weeks….I had bees to feed, beers to drink, weeds to pull, strawberries to pick and the list went on.

My fat tired garden wagon was strapped to the rack on the back of my Suburban. I released the ratchet strap and placed the strap inside the vehicle…..got distracted…….maybe the bee swarm trap was attracting attention, another cup of coffee, my 5th, and…..oh yes go get the leaf Vac. Fired up the Suburban and headed off. Arrived at the shop, grabbed a strap to tie down the leaf vac and wandered to the back of the Suburban……..and i luckily made it the 8 miles to the shop with the garden wagon still resting on the rack…..Surprise, surprise. FYI, this is garden wagon number two……..I lost one a year and half ago….it was “strapped” down, but obviously not well. Fifteen miles of freeway driving followed the 6 miles from my house down Kingwood Drive to the freeway. I retraced the route, hoping for the best but, I was worried about a catastrophic event. It became obvious that I was lucky and I suspect someone else got lucky and picked up and $ 80.00 wagon…….maybe a little scraped and dented!

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The infamous rack and a peek inside my two “seater” Suburban. the wagon wheels are visible on the left side. I may need to invest in a truck soon!

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A closer look. My “Goo” friend John built me a box to organize my tools….again…my scattered brain always hunting for where the needed tools are. The box will also double a a swarm box if I encounter one…..Love it!

What else…..Oh yes the swarm. It is drawing “lookie lu’s”…..today looks promising. I have some old comb in the trap and that is generating lots of visitors into the open house. Fingers crossed.

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Swarm box with “lookie lu’s”. I hope they like the decor and invite the rest of the group.

Tomatoes

March 28 and I have lot’s of green tomatoes, Celebrity and Juliet are producing. I have been using my electric toothbrush to buzz pollinate the tomato blossoms….apparently successfully. Check out the old link to my article.

 

Blogging Hiatus

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Oh, I hope it is over! I am long overdue. I have an excuse for the hiatus….actually multiple excuses. It has been a bit of slow times in the garden, Holidays, travel and building/prepping bee equipment that I will claim for my excuses. Let me add the distraction of my Christmas gift, Kitchen Aid mixer for making bread and creamed honey for your consideration! I have more if you want to ask!

January 2nd, my wife and I embarked on an epic 4,125 mile road trip. We got as far north as Billings,MT. Why Billings…… it had something to do with beer, snow and stubbornness! Torrington, WY to see my great grandsons….. and granddaughter. Four days in Breckinridge, CO for a family gathering – skiing, tubing and snowshoeing and family bonding. Albuquerque, NM  to visit with my cousin. All in all an interesting trip.
Upon return we witnessed the remnants of the Houston freeze that decimated my bananas and plants, destryed the 14 papaya plants, killed my young lime tree and ruined 3 dozen or so of my Meyer lemons!On  the positive side, lots of dead foliage for mulch and compost!

Bees- building more boxes, painting more boxes and experimenting with new semi-transparent stains. My wife gets involved putting her touch, stenciling and stamping bees and other images on the boxes. Teamwork, I do the mindless hammering, painting and staining and she does the creative elements. Works for me!

The blue stain looks gray, the green stain looks very nice and the natural stain always looks good. I am purging white painted boxes and making them yellow! Not quite so boring!

Green medium boxes with the first coat in place.

Kathy has stamped some bee images on the medium boxes now with a second coat.


A mix of natural stain and yellow boxes. You can see some more intricate stenciling from last year’s efforts. Time consuming and probably overkill.


The “blue” gray stained boxes. The black bees show up nicely. Thanks Hun! And yes dear, when I stack the boxes on the hives I will make sure the bee images alternate and not line up, one over the other!

Can’t wait for Spring……and it looks like it might “bee” early!

TTFN

Bishop

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