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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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Garden Macro

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A few macro looks at stuff in the garden.

I have a little sugar water feeder in my backyard to attract neighborhood bees. Who knows, maybe word will get out and I will get some scout bees looking for a home in my swarm trap nearby!

Yum!!!! Strawberry season is kicking in. I have about 100 plants, about 1/3 newly planted so they won’t produce much. Love watching them mature and ripen up!

I put in some 2-3 year old blueberry plants in this winter. Looks like I may wind up with enough for a snack or two from my Backyard Garden.

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Blue Lake pole bean plant wending its way skyward. It is fascinating to see how the vines grab and wrap themselves in a ……….. I tried to google the direction question about the pole beans and became confused…….mine all seem to grab and twist to the right….is that counter-clockwise? I think it is!

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Signs of life. My Meyer Lemon tree was very hard hit by the winter’s extended freeze her in Houston. Over the past several weeks it began to leaf out. Closer inspection yesterday shows a handful of blossoms emerging. I do think it will survive! Yee Haw.

TTFN

Bishop

Random Stuff

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Today is my Birthday and I have been busy doing random stuff in my garden, with the bees and like any good A.D.D. guy, anything to get in the way of sitting down to finish my taxes.

Blueberries and Blackberries;

Drove out to Grangerland to take a look at my hive and add some corrugated plastic roofing to a couple of the topbar hives. IMG_4630

Got the smoker going and my new pair of goat skin gloves, Christmas present from my better half, are getting ready receive baptism.

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Evidence that the bees are doing their part to make the blueberries at Blakelock’s Berries big and flavorful. Can’t wait for them to ripen.

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Between my bees, and I am positive this is one of my bees……. and the local bumblebees the Blueberry blossoms are being well pollinated.

After Grangerland I rolled back to Russel Palmer in Kingwood to check on my suspect topbar hive. I was worried after my inspection a couple of weeks ago as it appeared that the hive beetles were taking over the hive. I cleaned and scraped and good rid of suspect comb but didn’t see much evidence of a healthy hive. It is amazing  what 10-12 days will do for a hive. I opened it yesterday, March, 11, day before my birthday and – WOW- they are kicking butt. Lots of capped brood(baby bees waiting to emerge), honey stores and bees hauling in pollen……abundant wild blackberries(dewberries) all over the area…….and very few hive beetles!

The topbar hive ready for inspection; lovely capped brood and tons of nurse bees; a dewberry blossom being serviced!

After that stop, it was off to Mills Branch at the back of Kingwood. Just a visual inspection of the three of the bees there, busy as bees usually are, hauling in loads of pollen. Fed the chickens, pulled some weeds from the raised beds and gave the chickens a green treat, gathered eggs and headed home.

I just love how fresh eggs have yolks that sit up so nicely and the whites don’t run everywhere! FYI, the little egg in the photo was found to be sans a yolk!

I did think about beer a bit….I will probably add a post over on my beer blog very soon. https://bishopsbeerblog.com/

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I almost forgot about this cute guy…..He is a little over a week old and being bottle fed at the Russel Palmer location. It was touch and go for a bit but it looks like the little guy will pull through……So a quick stop here evolved into a tour…..Ronnie’s garden, potatoes, blackberries, citrus, asparagus, figs, strawberries, cattle, rabbits, fresh tilled soil with rabbit manure, talk of tomato plants yet to be put in the ground, pinto beans, okra and on and on…..I love his place!!!!! Did I mention my A.D.D.?

Swiss Chard…….from my garden last week.

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Prepping the leaves to parboil before freezing……Mmmmmm good!

Enough for now….

TTFN

Bishop

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.

File Jul 28, 12 35 35 PM

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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

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

Gobs and Gobs of Green Beans

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Even with good friends to share with, I am overrun with green beans. I built two 6-pole tepees for my green beams and a set of vertical poles at the entrance to my hide-away garden. I prefer pole beans vs. the bush beans…..why? – The bush beans ripen pretty much all at once and I used to be 6’3″ tall…..too much bending over to pick! Two varieties seem to do so very well in the Houston area, Kentucky Wonder pole bean and the Blue Lake variety.

I had a long weekend over to the New Braunfels  area of Texas over this past weekend. My “Goo” friend John picked enough for his wife and made a bee run to feed my bees in my absence. When I returned, I picked over 3 pounds of green beans on Tuesday…..Gobs and gobs. I had instructions from my wife to deal with them ASAP…..I negotiated a reprieve until this morning….I am an early riser and would have them dealt with long before she awoke….I even managed to prepare 8 quarts of sugar water for the bees.

Unfortunately – most of the green beans were on the larger side of what I prefer, so, add, bacon, onions, garlic and a long slow simmer……Yum!

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Just beginning to simmer.

The color of the fresh green beans alone is appetizing and the aroma as they simmer, so tantalizing!

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A six-pole tepee with two bean stalks per pole. I soak the bean seeds in water overnight to help with germination before planting.

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At the entrance to the garden…..at 6’3″ I still need assistance when picking the tall vines….lends credence to the “Jack and The Bean Stalk” story….

Now to brag a little. It is April 26th and the tomato harvest has begun. I believe that it is the first time time in many, many years that i have had ripe tomatoes before May 1st! Not complaining…..! Another good surprise is the health and productivity of my Brandywine heirloom tomato plant. I have half a dozen large fruits developing….If you have never taste a Brandywine….find one and try it. It is the very best I have ever tasted.  I have been diligent with my buzz pollination, electric toothbrush technique this spring and it appears to be paying off. Expect some more bragging and photos when I harvest!!!!!

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A bunch of Juliet tomatoes ripening on the vine!

TTFN

Bishop

 

 

Green Beans Anyone? 

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A few days ago I wrote about enjoying late November strawberries. Today, November 29th, I cruised through the the garden and snacked on the only ripe strawberry as I picked a handful of green beans, a pole bean variety that I planted in early fall. They keep blossoming and they keep producing! 

  
In another two days, barring a freeze – not likely- I will have enough to share with my wife… Although, She would rather have Del Monte canned green beans but I will continue to expose her to fresh green beans. Don’t tell her, but I sneak a handful every now and then into the canned green beans….. I do have to overcook  them to disguise them! 

I will have to plant more beets. It seems like every time the seedlings have emerged, still fragile, we get a heavy rain and they get pounded flat! 

  
Poor little guy! They should look more like this! 

  
Replanting tomorrow. Not a bad approach, staggered planting a will spread the harvest out a little more through the spring and early summer. 

PS- the sugar snap peas are about a month away from producing. 

Honey. 

  
This was the remaining comb honey still taking up space in the freezer. We sold about half of the harvest leaving me 9 squares to squeeze. Too bad I waited so long. Between the low honey temperature and the fact that our house is mid 60’s in temperature….. The honey flows very slowly. 

  Dump a square in the pan and mash up with a potato masher. Hands work well but I decided to take a less messy approach……my bride tells me that my less messy approach is still messy! I am guessing almost 4 pounds of honey will be captured. 
  
Sitting in the sieve and waiting and waiting and waiting. It will be at least an overnight weight and if push comes to shove I could crank up the central heat to 70 or more! 

TTFN 

Bishop

All photos from my iPhone

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