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The Sweetest of Times………….

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Valentines Day is approaching but that’s not what I am referring to!

This is what I am talking about. This my first berry of the season being grown in a 6” diameter, 5 foot tall strawberry tower.

My strawberries are just now setting fruit but nearby area farms have some organic pick-your-own offerings. While out exploring in the Conroe area a couple of weeks ago, I decided to visit a farm boasting ripe berries. I managed to pick about 7 pounds, even though pickings were slim. I was out the day after the MLK holiday and the out of school kids and families had descended on the strawberry patch nearly wiping out the ripe ones.

I arrived home with enough for two batches of jam. I cleaned them up and bagged them for the freezer. Pulled one bag out yesterday, let it defrost and started cooking the jam. I love the smell, or should I say, the aroma of the cooking berries.

Bringing the batch up to a boil. Mmmmmm good!
Ready to skim the foam off before filling the jars. The foam……never wasted…..trust me!

Seven more half pints of “sweetness” for the pantry. I am watching the weather and postings to drag me out on another picking adventure.

TTFN

Bishop

How to get the Kitchen Floor Mopped?

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It is a given that my wife married a man that is just a little sloppy with his activities, and yes, his(my) activities include use of the kitchen for;

Honey bottling

Jam and jelly making

Making beeswax lip balms

Beer making & bottling

And obviously cut up, shredding and prepping meats for the grill and smoker.

And I am sure there are some unnamed transgressions.

Today was a little busier than usual! I finished cutting up and bagging around 15 pounds of strawberries…….. note – yesterday I ran off to Wood Duck Farms in the morning and picked 6 buckets of strawberries, returned home, cleaned and packaged half the haul and made it into the shower for an on time departure to see George Strait at the Houston Rodeo.( English majors and other grammar police….I kinda like run on sentences)

As I said – finished the berries but then decided to make strawberry jam! It is a pretty simple process. I have determined that a gallon freezer bag stuffed full is perfect for a batch. I follow the SureJell package instructions very closely. Critical are the boiling sequence and times. Add pectin and a 1/4 cup of sugar, on high heat, mash and stir at the same time. Once at a full rolling boil, add the remaining 3 – 3/4 cups of sugar and return to a full rolling boil….count slowly to 72 while it boils and remove from the heat. Oh yeah, toss in a tbsp of butter to reduce foaming…….I am not sure it helps but the directions suggest it.

Skim the foam, yes there will be foam. Waste not, want not. My wife loves the foam on top of here egg white and oatmeal frittata. Three tablespoons of quick oats in a small non stick pan, add enough egg white to cover and cook to done. Smear a little strawberry foam on it and enjoy. Remove a jar from the hot water bath and fill to 1/4 inch of the top. Snug up sanitized lids. The process took a little longer as I made 19, 55ml jars, cute little things, and 5 – 7 ounce hex jars. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath and then set aside.

This is not a full rolling boil. There is foam and a few boiling bubbles but not what you are looking for.

Getting close! If it is still bubbling and spattering, even while stirring, you are there.

Processing for 10 minutes.

The finished product ready for labeling. To the right is the yummy foam my wife uses for her frittata.

Next up was prepping two chickens to be cooked “Beer Butt” style on the grill. It takes 75 minutes or so while trying to keep the closed grill temperature at about 350 F.

The final result. In the beer cans was a nice oatmeal stout and a few crushed garlic cloves. I used A rub and garlic salt seasoning.

A quick dinner with a nice quinoa cold salad before heading off to the gym. When I returned I still had the beer to rack over with the reminders of the spots on the kitchen floor still fresh in my ears. Got the beer, a nice Wit beer, racked and the floor mopped – Hun!

It says priming tank but has been put into service as a fermenter due to leaks in my original fermenting bucket.

I think it is bed time now.

TTFN

Bishop

Blueberry Bonanza

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I keep a handful of my beehives at Blakelock’s Berries, they have young, early season blueberries and three varieties of luscious blackberries. My wife and I both love blueberries and was able to satisfy some of our cravings from the early picking at Blakelock’s.

The go to place for blueberries on the north side of Houston has been out at Moorehead’s off FM 1314. The berries are abundant but the parking, traffic and lines at the checkout station are much more than my crowd anxiety can put up with.

Today I made a discovery, a Blueberry Bonanza! Pioneer Berries at 2512 Pioneer Lane north of Highway 105 and just west of Cleveland, TX. It seems like a looooong mile north of 105 but trust me, you won’t miss it on the right side of the road.

The blueberry plants are younger than Moorehead’s but much more mature than Blakelock’s. If you like to pick when the weather is cooler, hit up Blakelock’s – their berries are ready to pick in mid April and are done by the end of May. If you want to stock the freezer you have early and late choices.

How did I stumble across this place? Well, even a blind hog finds an acorn every now and then! I went the the bee supply store near Conroe and was headed to Splendora to check on my beehives. I chose Highway 105 as it was the most direct route. Cruise control was set at 60 mph, yes it really was, and I went right past the sign pointing north off of 105. Safe U-turn and I was on my way to Pioneer Berries.

Plenty of parking for the weekend crowd. They don’t get overrun like Moorehead’s.

Look close many ripe berries and many, many more to come.

Oops, the berries are not in focus but they are still very tasty, blurry image and all!

This typical. I picked for less than 15 minutes as I had the bees calling me.


3 Point 9 pounds of berries laid out to dry, sort through, remove stems and soft berries. Oh yes, a little to snack on before bagging and freezing.

The left bucket is some nice light honey from 77339, about 18 pounds has already been bottled. The right bucket is from 9 frames I extracted after berry picking today. It will be about 25 pounds after I clean up and drain the extractor and uncapping tank. The jars on the right are a nice dark red-amber honey – a little over 15 pounds. Part of this dark honey will be converted to Cinnamon Creamed honey by the end of next week.

The bees are really packing in the honey right now. I am looking forward to a very good spring/early summer harvest.

I will be off to Blakelock’s in the morning to round up some berry farm honey for what he expects to be a big day on June 2nd. I will be sell honey from zip codes 77345 & 77339 – Kingwood/Porter, 77328 – Splendora and 77302/77306 – Grangerland. I will also be selling my homemade jams, strawberry, blueberry and blackberry. Come on out for a good time picking Blackberries at Blakelock’s and if you want safe and sane blueberry picking, head on over to Pioneer Berries.

TTFN

Bishop

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

Too Busy is my Excuse

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I really have been busy. Bees, garden, substitute chicken farmer, setting up new apiary and more.

The bees first….two of the four top bar hives look very strong, one is toast and one may need an infusion of brood from a stronger hive. The remaining four Langstroth hives are doing very well. The swarm I rescued just after hurricane Harvey is now residing at Blakelock’s Berries out in Grangerland. At the berry farm I scored a major coup. An acquaintance of mine, through my consulting, had previously kept three bar hives(only one held a colony) out at Blakelock’s but life happened and he needed to step back from beekeeping. So, for a very fat and thick piece of comb honey I was able to take possession of the boxes. Thanks David!!!!!

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A wide shot of the new apiary at the back of the property. Great exposure to morning sun and should receive late afternoon broken shade. Paul, the berry farmer, has three varieties of blackberries and some relatively young blueberries growing on his property. The blueberries began blooming a few days ago. I set the Langstroth hive Saturday and visited the girls yesterday. I wandered through the blueberries and saw not a single honey bee, Apis millifera.  I did see a small variety of bumble bee, actually many of them, visiting the flowers. I am not a bumble bee expert but Paul may have a variety called the American Bumble Bee(Bombus pensylvanicus) working his blueberries. I struck out trying to capture an image with my iPhone. I will take a better camera and lens out on my next visit.

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A little closer look at the 8 frame Lang beautifully painted by my wife!!!!!! The small topbar in the background once held a colony of bees. I have cleaned it up, added swarm scent and a rescue bar with some comb from one of my other hives.

IMG_4453One of the rescue bars holding comb……I like the design of these and will build a few of my own going forward. Fingers crossed I get a swarm to move in. I do have some package bees coming in early April if I don’t have luck. I also gave to other two topbar boxes  a shot of swarm attractant.

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Day two on site and they are settling in. Undertaker bees hauling out the dead and dying.

“But I’m Not Dead Yet!”

“One of the most fascinating aspects of beekeeping is watching the numerous activities of the colony.  Every bee has a specific job, without which the hive as a whole could not exist.  There are bees that build wax; nurse bees to take care of the babies; field bees to collect water, propolis, pollen and nectar; bees to make honey; guard bees to protect the hive; and undertaker bees who clean the hive of carcasses…………..”

Excerpt from an article on http://www.beverlybees.com take a read….an amazing web site….informative and fun. Check it out.

https://www.beverlybees.com/bring-out-yer-dead-the-undertaker-bees/

Ok, I’m running out of steam….Very shortly look for garden stuff…..maybe even tonight.

Thanks to Paul for letting my set up a mutually beneficial apiary. Just an FYI, I have made many, many jars of blackberry preserves over the past two years featuring his berries. The blueberry plants are young but I was able to pick 10 pounds or so last year for fresh eating, freezing and jam making. Looking forward to more!!!!!!

TTFN

Bishop

 

 

End of the Week

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It has been a busy week. The bees have occupied some of my time, weeds too much of my time, lovely carrots so sweet when roasted, removing the fading sugar snap peas…..replaced with English Cukes & Straight 8 cucumbers, two loaves of sourdough bread just pulled from the oven moments ago…….fortunately we are  not web-camming as the drool drips from the corners of my mouth, trimming back banana plants to maximize production, making strawberry jam, yard cleaning/kitchen table office cleaning……sister-in-law arriving this evening…..I am already tired and ready for my nap.

The bees, the queen and brood going back into the original top-bar hive over the weekend seems to have gone very well. The companion Langstroth hive is filling with honey!!!!!! Yee Haw! I am also helping the property owner get his garden up and going, feeding his chickens, harvesting eggs and mowing his grass. The things a beekeeper will do to for the host!

The split in Splendora on the “Cowboy” hive failed…..I feel guilty, as it was my mismanagement that lead to the failure. The only saving grace is another lesson learned to add to my prior mistakes. The remaining hive out there is doing well but may have earned a re-queening this coming fall. They are a bit defensive…..yes another one popped me in the face….on the nose.

Strawberry Jam. My “Goo” friend John’s daughter gives me the ultimate compliment for my strawberry jam – when she runs out of mine she falls back to “Smuckers”, she says mine is sooooo much better than store bought…..According to Brittany. I am a fan of the low sugar recipe from Sure-Jell light. Seems to let the taste of the berries shine through. I use Sure- Jell light for all my berry jams!

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The jam, cooked, ready to skim the foam prior to canning. The foam does not go to waste, my wife uses it on her egg-white/oatmeal frittatas.

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Six half pint jars and 3 – 45 ml jars for fun and gifts.

I have to share more about my carrots. As I have mentioned before, my soil has lots of clay but the adding of compost for four years has improved the soil, somewhat. I plant varieties that are shorter, stockier and tolerate the heavy soil better. Well, either a seed mix up or a rogue carrot in my patch. This guy was pretty hefty!

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Frame of reference – I have to order XXL beekeeper gloves and would love to find some XXXL gloves.

Just had to add a bee picture.

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There she is….tucking some pollen away. The symmetry is almost mind-blowing! I just marvel at what nature can accomplish.

Now, butter, knife, warm bread and some strawberry jam. Next slice, butter, knife, warm bread and honey.  Next slice, butter, knife and warm bread! Why can’t I lose any weight??????

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Proofed for 28 hours…..the sourdough flavor is outstanding!

TTFN

Bishop

 

 

Good Things From the Yard

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Nearly started off with an interesting typo! “Good Thongs From the Yard” – that could have raised some eyebrows! Spring is here and good things are showing up. 

One of the yards that hosts a couple of hives also has chickens. For my garden I receive some chicken fertilizer…. nice way to say it! Almost as good are the excess eggs I receive. Yum! 

Little ones, medium ones and big ones! He has about 20 chickens and they are laying very well now! 

Carrots, I grow short ones because of my clay soil. They may be short but they are very sweet. 


Unwashed but yummy. I put them on the grill the other night with some asparagus and chicken. Very yummy. When the sugars carmelize they are so yummy. 

Snow peas and sugar snaps are blooming and producing. The early pods never make it to the house. Insert smiley face and tongue licking lips here! 


 And yes…..strawberries. I have made two batches of preserves so far. One plain and the other with vanilla. I am hoping for so much more. 


And bees too. The Meyer Lemons are blooming and the bees are working. Mine and many others. Such remarkable creatures!


Ok, enough for now! Just one sting today out of 6 hives inspected today! I can always attribute a sting to a faux pas on my part! Yes, I have made a mistake or two! Most of the time I have no swelling but this one……hit my left hand and sure enough –  a little ballooning on the back of my hand. Ok Hun- please kiss it and make it better. 

TTFN

Bishop

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