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If I Am Lucky – Muscadine Jelly From My Garden

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My vines are 4 years old now and put out a few bunches of grapes in 2020. It wasn’t enough to get too excited about so I combined them with the local Wild Mustang Grapes. I may not have quite enough this year for a discrete batch solely from my garden/backyard but it may be close. Timing may be an issue. ……. They may ripen when I am in Denver seeing my newest grandson.

Winter of 2021 I decided to learn how to prune the vines….my prior attempts were really just butchery. it was real actively simple if you follow instructions, not my long suite as my Goo friend John will attest too. If interested look into the archives for Goo Friend….. a typo that became a standard reference for my buddy, assistant beekeeper, beer drinking buddy, a long time ago mountain biking buddy and the list goes on.

Today June 11 marble sized
A few weeks earlier
Covering the new arbor, thanks Ashleigh for the construction assistance, and being trained along the back fence.

An FYI, I must be doing something right because I have captured 4 swarms in my backyard this Spring/Summer. I am hanging in there at 16 colonies now but……the rains have had a negative impact. In some cases lots of nectar but they can’t get it dried out enough for honey to be capped. I shoot for 18% water content or lower. Other wise the wild yeasts may begin to ferment the honey before it is consumed.

Bee swarm consolidating itself into one of my swarm boxes.

TTFN

Bishop

Snow? It Snowed In Houston

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Crazy as it sounds, a big blast of Canadian icy air made it as far south as Houston. For Houstonians it was brutally cold this morning, 16 degrees according to my backyard thermometer. It looks like it won’t warm much for a few days. Obviously my vegetable garden will nor fare well. I covered a new bed of carrots with fingers crossed that they will make it. I covered my strawberries with a couple of inches of leaves and I suspect they will survive. The Romaine lettuce had already started to bolt, so no loss there. My biggest concern was for my Meyer Lemon tree. I have it tented and a small light bulb included under the tent to keep it, hopefully, warm enough.

Lettuce is biting the dust. Upper left is a section of carrots that are covered and fingers crossed they survive. Top right is my topbar bee hive and I believe the colony is strong enough to survive.
I have put a bar in front of the opening to the hive and completely closed off the similar opening on the back side of the box.
There were a couple of bees slowly moving around near the entrance so I do have faith that most are clustered up tightly and keeping the central portion warm.
Swiss Chard standing defiantly against the freezing weather…..at least for today.

Roads are icy and I don’t have any place to go so, sit tight and hope the power stays on! A couple of my pineapple plants are in the garage and hopefully warm enough. If we do lose power at least my home brewed beer will stay cold…..always a silver lining. I was proactive enough to pull a good portion of my beets yesterday and ready to be roasted today!

TTFN

Bishop

Catching Up…..Spring is on the Way

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The quiet time of winter is over here in my backyard just north of Houston. I have been eating beets from the garden as well as some carrots. In fact, last night I grilled a spatchcock chicken along with a handful of freshly pulled carrots…….FYI, I should have pulled up a few more carrots!

I love this water color app called Waterlogue…..orange and a couple of yellow carrots freshly pulled.
Obviously not enough carrots. Olive oil, a little sea salt and rosemary. 8-10 minutes over direct heat and about 15 minutes over indirect heat with the foil sealed shut. FYI, this is a good size of carrot to cook through and not be crunchy in the center.

I have both red and gold variety beets growing along with Romaine lettuce, about 50 new Chandler strawberries. The radishes are done and I could probably plant more but I’m the only one that eats them! Sugar snap peas have been planted, along with some turnips and another round of beets.

Bees are doing well and the early spring bodes well if the weather stays wet enough for the early spring nectar flowers. For you folks in Texas here is a very good list, link attached. Late winter does include my Meyer Lemon tree as a good nectar source….. looks like it will bloom very soon. https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/travis/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/EAGF-2017-Central-Texas-Bee-Friendly-plants.pdf

My backyard topbar hive. Bees are storing honey…..this comb is a little wonky so I will pull it and maybe two other misshapen bars to crush and squeeze in a few weeks once I see more nectar flowers blooming.
Suited up but not for the backyard bees….my backyard bees are pretty sweet, no gloves or suit needed but I do always wear my veil. I was suited up here because I was cutting weeds and brush around some of my friskier bees!
Bonus image from our recent trip up to North Dakota. These two whitetail boys were sparring a bit, not real energetically but grunting a little.

More spring stuff in the works.

TTFN

Bishop

Honey Fermented Garlic Cloves

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I do enjoy fermenting, primarily beer, a bit of wine and mead. I had never heard about fermenting garlic cloves. In fact, it wasn’t even my idea! My wife suggested it and didn’t even ask for my expertise! FYI, I have no expertise in the category of fermenting anything that doesn’t include an ABV % attached to it.

So why? I asked my wife why she decided to embark on this adventure and her immediate response was to receive the benefits of the “Immune-Boosting Effects”. Upon digging a little deeper there are other benefits that should “Reduce Blood Pressure” & Improves Cholesterol Levels, both LDL and total cholesterol.

“Studies have shown that the fermentation process increases the amount of nutrients in garlic and makes them easier to absorb by the body. The highest protein content was available after 60 days of fermentation while the highest fat and carbohydrate content was found after 90 days of fermentation.” From “ WebMD, September 29, 2020”

How to go about it? First prepare the garlic cloves by peeling the skin off by lightly crushing them or buy a big jar of already peeled garlic cloves. She opted for the latter. Next, she took a 1/2 gallon jar of raw honey and filled 3 one pound bottles leaving about 3 pounds, or around 8 cups of honey behind. She then loaded up the jar with a whole lot of garlic…..not a very quantitative measure but accurate. As the garlic settled she added more until the jar was chock full, again, not quantitative but the photo below will illustrate the quantity.

Chock full!

The honey that was used is raw honey…….so what exactly does that mean? Raw honey is best described as honey as it exists in the hive. Raw honey has not been filtered nor heated, has all of the pollen, natural wild yeasts and beneficial enzymes intact. The wild yeasts are the star of the process. As the garlic cloves release water into the honey it becomes wet enough to allow fermentation. Ideally honey is harvested with less than 18% water in order to prevent the yeast activity. In this case we want the % water to rise and allow fermentation.

After the fourth or fifth day of adding cloves up to the chock full point and also flipping the jar over several times daily keeping the cloves covered…..the bubbles were appearing…..fermentation was under way. Now the flipping process includes burping the gasses off……smells very garlicky ….. go figure. Kathy has selected a date about 3 months out for the first taste test, March 12, 2021 when some old guy she knows turns 70……wow! The jar will be stored in a dark cool place once the fermentation slows down. The honey fermented garlic can be safely stored out beyond a year or more according to the researched recipes.

How to use? Just pop a clove to boost immunity response during cold or flu season, this is Kathy’s primary reason for the effort. Cooking, use as a marinade or as a glaze for meats and vegetables. I will attach a link to foraging and fermenting website. Check it out, suggestions include honey fermented cranberries as well as elderberries. I think I will do the cranberries next year prior to Thanksgiving! https://www.growforagecookferment.com/fermented-honey-garlic/

TTFN

Bishop

Tomatoes, Sourdough and a Mexican Pilsner

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I may have mentioned it in an earlier post, but my new favorite tomato, just a notch above #2 Brandywine, is Cherokee Purple.. I quizzed my wife today and she agrees with my assessment. It is not truly purple but has been described as “beautiful, deep, dusky purple-pink color, superb sweet flavor, and very-large-sized fruit. … From Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Both the color and flavor descriptions are dead on!

From Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds website.
From my garden next to a very large Brandywine…..the photo can’t quite capture the colors.

This tomato has become my favorite BLT tomato, especially when paired with my sourdough bread. Ok, just to pat myself on the back, no yeast used and allowed to ferment about 20 hours before baking. Of course, I also like to pair the sandwich with a beer, today it was a Pacifico, Mexican Pilsner!

I may try my hand at brewing one…….a bit more time consuming as it needs to be fermented at 50 degrees F and after a rest at room temperature, lagered at 34 degrees F for 6 weeks or so….
Yum!
Last night’s sourdough loaf. Damn I am pretty talented with a few things…..LOL!

Garden news, surprising success with summer squash this year, cucumbers are kicking in, pumpkin vines are going wild and the late summer tomato plants are in the ground. Cleaning out and spreading completed compost out of one bin in the next week or so. Honey harvest is dying down….maybe 300 pounds or so.

TTFN

Bishop

Sweet Variations

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It is honey season right now! Let me back up just a little, based on my March hive inspections I was anticipating a stellar season. I had nectar coming in and over the next couple of weeks I added honey supers. Some hives went up to two and several went to three. Mother Nature had different plans. April turned out to a a dry month…..bees were bringing in lots of pollen but upon a late April inspection it was like the taps shut off.

The inspections showed a lot of nectar, boxes were heavy but little, if any frames were being capped. In some cases the additional top supers were untouched. I adjusted to make sure I didn’t give too much room for the bees to defend against the small hive beetles. I put out a posting to my customers who were patiently waiting for their doses of local honey…..I hung my head and asked them to wait a little longer.

The rain began to pickup in early May. By the day of the third week of May I decided to see how much it had helped. Great progress on getting nectar dry and capped in many cases. The top supers were heavy with nectar but mostly uncapped. The local area Tallow tree flow was on and I felt better! I wound up with a pretty good haul from three locations.

Three locations, the darker honey is 12-14 miles from the location of the middle honey. The lightest honey is almost 20 miles from the darker honey and 6 miles due East of the middle location.

I bottle by the postal zip code in which the apiaries are located. I has it’s pluses and also drawbacks. The health benefits are pretty much identical but some folks have been hooked by the “hyper-local” concept. I aim to please and we, my sales manager wife and I, try to do our best to meet expectations. I still have two locations a little further north and east to be harvested in the next day or two……dodging thunderstorms now…..and the bees get a little pissy sometimes when inclement weather coincides with a planned visit.

Rainy days are good for me to make my creamed honeys, plain and with cinnamon……so good. It takes a little time but those that have tried it love it. During the off and on rains I place the extracted frames out in my garden and miles away from my hives for the local population to clean up!

The girls do a great job cleaning up the comb. I freeze it for a couple of days and may cycle some of the frames back into strong hives for a refill. Comb already drawn out accelerates the process.

TTFN

Bishop

Strawberry Fields – Not Quite Forever

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Last fall I planted about 75 Chandler June bearing plants……they began producing at the beginning with a “beauty” on February 14th, scored a few points by giving the first Berry to my bride…….yeah, almost June bearing LOL. Half of the new plantings were in plastic covered raised beds, about a quarter in version #4 of my strawberry tower and the remainder in a strawberry specific pottery vessel. The link included goes back into the history of my efforts with strawberry towers. The three inch diameter towers have been mothballed for a couple of years. Fall of 2019 I snagged a piece of heavy wall 6 inch pipe…..it was challenging to build the pockets.

Not perfect and the thick pipe wall created challenges making the pockets. I will need to write a separate post with details!

https://bishopsbackyardfarm.com/2014/01/18/strawberry-towers-forever-v-3-1/

Surprisingly this has been my most successful use of the pottery style planter for strawberries. Previous years were sparse.

My raised bed planting under the plastic sheet have been disappointing. The biggest source of my disappointment is with my poor choice of plastic covering. In fact, it was much more than disappointing, it was a bonehead mistake. Yes, in my haste, I grabbed the wrong material, didn’t read the label, installed it and planted all the berry plants before I realized my mistake. I will remedy the error at the end of picking season.

One of my 4’ X 24’ raised beds has been fallow for two years due to my laziness. Lazy no more! By the coming weekend it will be reframed and planted. Most likely candidates will be cucumbers and pole beans. I am growing potatoes in pots again this year and will place them strategically around the beds. The sugar snap peas went in late but I should be able to harvest before the Houston heat lays them low. Carrots and beets also went in late but …….. life goes on.

Bees will be keeping me busier as the summer approaches. It looks like it could be a very bountiful year. I sure wish I hadn’t wrecked my truck. Turns out it is too expensive to repair so I have to jump through the hoops to get the check and shop for another. I think I said it before……. life goes on.

FYI- gardening is a pretty good social distancing tool or activity. Frame building for the beehives also works well.

TTFN

Bishop

February Going, Going, Almost Gone.

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2020 is a leap year and we only have 3 days remaining in February. I have sugar snap peas up 2-3 inches, one round of carrots planted, two varieties of beets planted (February is considered a marginal time to plant), potatoes planted and strawberries are ripening. I have some Romaine lettuce seeds in trays in the house to germinate as well as some lettuce cutoffs that are growing leaves. My Meyer Lemon tree is loaded with blooms and it should be a good year.

In the bee world things are looking good. It was a mild winter and 15 of my 16 hives have survived but March can still be a tough month. Five hives were overflowing with bees so I added supers last weekend. Probably four more hives are needing supers very soon. I have 4 new swarm traps baited and set and 4 of my older swarm boxes out. Seven more swarm traps awaiting paint and locations to hang them.

An open air colony that seems to be surviving our mild winter pretty well.

I am putting together a plan to rescue this open air colony but ……. it poses a few logistical issues, 15-18 feet high and 10-12 feet away from the trunk. I promise to document the adventure. In the mean time I will hang a swarm trap to entice them, not likely, but worth a try. The rescue…. may require ladders and a long reach chain saw.

One of the new swarm traps on the oak tree in my yard.

A bit of boredom set in today so I thought I would attempt an Instapot sourdough bread recipe. Ideally I needed one with a yogurt setting, mine doesn’t, so I improvised.

After 25 minutes with the top in place.
This is after 8 minutes with the top off. Good texture and close to a real sourdough flavor.

TTFN

Bishop

Benadryl and Bees

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My buddy John and I went out to see the bees today, hitting 4 of the 6 apiary locations. That represents 12 of my 16 hives. John had all my gear loaded in his vehicle because I bashed my truck up pretty badly a few days ago. Long story but fortunately the other driver and were just beat up and bruised.

Simple tasks for today, feeding some sugar water and refilling the pollen sub feeders. My gear today, short pants, long sleeve T-shirt, veiled for most of the stops and for one apiary I did don my gloves….one of the colonies of the three at this location can be frisky. John was not geared up so he smartly stood a very safe distance away. Well, I easily filled the pollen sub feeder here, added sugar water to the two docile colonies and then….. lastly the hot colony.

First, I needed to add a sugar water feeder to this hot one…. a board man style external feeder. In order to do so I needed to remove the restrictor at the entrance in order to add the feeder. That agitated them as it was pretty well propolized into place…..a handful of guard bees herded me away and for some reason went after my black walking boot……Achilles injury and sure enough 3 or 4 stings……I walked off and circled back around to place a restricter guard in place and again agitated the girls. Two more ankle stings and one up the pant leg of my shorts…..not too far up but did lodge a stinger in my thigh.

Benadryl and bees……the Benadryl is carried in my disabled truck…..not in John’s vehicle. The ankle stings were through the sock so it was easy to deal with the stingers left behind. The one in the thigh…..well after walking back to the truck, stripping off the boot and fishing a few more bees down in the boot out, I got around to the thigh. Pulled out my pocket knife and scraped the stinger out….the pulsing venom bag attached had emptied its load…..the thigh is well filled with bee venom.

Time for my Benadryl! I have plenty at home!

The remains two stops went smoothly, in fact, I didn’t bother gearing up at all…..I know the girls in these 6 colonies and they are sweet hearts. Bought lunch for John as a thank you. Then home for Benadryl. I am entering season 7 and am much wiser……my big learning during my first season was a tremendous lesson and Benadryl wouldnt have helped. See hospital photos below.

70 to 80 stings in the head and face…..hard lesson that I have made sure won’t be repeated!
My Homer Simpson look!
Boardman style – an external feeder on a top bar hive.

The bee activity is looking very strong for all of my hives excepting only 1….. if that holds I will be in great shape for the spring nectar flow.

TTFN

Bishop

Meyer Lemon Jelly and Other Tidbits

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As I promised in the last post, I am reporting back on the tasting feedback and impressions…..

Visually most folks thought it looked like light spring honey, see below.

One comment…..”tastes like key lime”…..I can second that!

” I like the jelly but was expecting a more pronounced lemon flavor”……FYI Meyer Lemons really aren’t a lemon.

And so on….”good, nice, tasty, can I take a jar?”

I am going to pronounce it a success and will do another batch this rainy weekend. I will likely jar up a bigger number of sample size jars for give aways. I will also resurrect the jam recipe, much like a marmalade. I will post that recipe if it comes to fruition.

Tidbits

Bees….16 hives and, knock on wood…..they all seem to be doing well. With the mild November and December the bees have been active. I have not seen pollen coming in for the last 3 or more weeks. I decided to put out feeders with pollen substitute. Based on the first one placed the bees are doing a happy dance. In less than 24 hours they had zeroed in and were loading up. See slomo video below.

I love watching the slomo images. The iPhone is pretty awesome.

The charity trap out appears to have been a success. All the bees are out of the shed where they had made a home and now reside in my half size top bar box. The big unknown is – how big is the colony? I started feeding sugar syrup two weeks ago and they sucked it all down. I added pollen substitute yesterday. During the cold snap on Monday I will lock them in and bring them home to fatten them up.

The garden is bare except for the Meyer Lemon tree and 70 new strawberry plants that are developing nicely. Plans for beets and sugar snap peas for planting in late February are underway. I need to refurbish the timbers on one of the 4 X 25 foot raised beds.

Another relatively tedious project will be to rebuild my tandem 4 X 4 X 4 compost bins.

I was gifted a bat house for Christmas figuring I could put it up high on my large oak tree…….guess what, not recommended. So, I need to come up with plan B! Maybe I can build an owl house and put it up in the oak tree.

TTFN

Bishop

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