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Rainy Days in the Garden

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A slow gentle two inches of rain over the past couple of days and the garden is happy.

Little by little I have completed the raised bed in the fallow section of my garden. I had 88 feet of 2X10 boards inherited from my neighbor a couple of years ago. I immediately used 56 feet to replace the rotted boards on one 24’X4’ raised bed to the right in the photo below, but was a little short to do the fallow bed of the same size. So…….the remainder languished for a future date on my procrastinating and ever growing list of what I should or could be doing. Social isolation got my gardening project going. My list of possibles is still huge, nonetheless.

Looking down the length of the resurrected bed looking toward the Meyer Lemon tree.

The new bed was begging for something to be planted so I stuck a 4 pole planting for some pole beans, Blue Lake. I used to set the poles up teepee style but the growing vines became very congested at the congregation point making bean pods difficult to find, let alone pick them. At the top of the 4 poles I used the circular wire portion of a damaged tomato cage. Looks a bit goofy but I will experiment a little more ……. I will put two more sets in and should have it figured out soon.

Four uprights from crepe myrtle prunings’, a couple of handfuls potting soil and two soaked seeds……..they germinate quicker if I soak them.
A bit messy in the background but you can see the top two rounds of the old tomato cage.
The butt end of the celery I planted a few weeks ago is looking good.
The romaine lettuce is also doing well. I have three of these cut end plants almost ready to pluck leaves from.
I have 8 pots where I planted seed potatoes. I placed an inch or two of soil in the bottom and continue to add as the plant grows. I will mound it up eventually.
I also poked some seed potatoes deep into my compost pile. These are two of the 6 that are developing nicely
My muscadine grape vine has really burst out after a “long winter sleep”……we really did have a winter but it was pretty durn mild.

Not much new to report on the bees, scouts are still visiting but no takers yet. Finished off another swarm trap to hang soon. I’m seeing more and more reports of other keepers in the area having great luck. I will poke my head into a few hives this weekend to get a feel for how well the girls are doing.

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

Facebook Memes…..Do They Work? Or – Doing it “My Way”

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If you follow Facebook there are multiple memes showing how to grow vegetables from your kitchen scraps. I don’t know about you, but they seem a bit too good to be true. Ok, raise your hand if you have tried…….hmmm, how many hands are up?

Well, I am going to raise my hand now. If you have followed me for a long time you have seen some of my experiments. At the top of that list are my strawberry towers, with reasonably good results, but only for the initial growing season. I do have an update coming, but will hold off for a few more weeks.

Let me start with celery. I didn’t follow the instructions in the meme, surprise, surprise! I did it my way as Frank would have sung. As a side note, I heard that Frank hated singing that song.

From a Wall Street Journal article, June 2nd, 2009.”Frank Sinatra may not have always been the easiest guy in the world to get along with, but he was nothing if not consistent. One attitude that rarely varied was his opinion of “My Way,” a song whose 40th anniversary is being heralded with the reissue of the 1969 album. “My Way” was quite possibly the single most popular number from the final act of Sinatra’s career. And in concert after concert over a 25-year period, he never hesitated to tell audiences exactly what he thought of it:

— “I hate this song — you sing it for eight years, you would hate it too!” (Caesars Palace, 1978)

— “And of course, the time comes now for the torturous moment — not for you, but for me.” (L.A. Amphitheater, 1979)

– “I hate this song. I HATE THIS SONG! I got it up to here [with] this God damned song!” (Atlantic City, 1979)”……………..

Ok, back to the celery, did it my way and just poked the stub into the ground in the garden and walked away. A week later it was showing life. Now, at three weeks, it looks like a young celery plant. See photo below.

I hope it survives the coming warm weather so I can finish the experiment by eating some!

Well that worked pretty well. I next took a couple of cut off ends from some Romaine lettuce, and yes, I did it my way. They too were just poked into the dirt and allowed to fend for themselves.

One of the twin plantings
I poked this one in the ground a couple of days ago and the center is sprouting!

One more little tidbit, I have been a no till gardener for about three years now and it seems to be working. I use layers of leaves, grass clippings and buckets full of compost out of my bins. This has made a very dark and rich looking soil.

Stay tuned for more gardening done “My Way” ……. sorry Frank I just had to do it!

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

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

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

Mmmmmmmm………..Meyer Lemons!

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The Meyer Lemon is not really a lemon. Bottom line, Meyer Lemons are both sweeter and less acidic than a true lemon.

“Citrus × meyeri, the Meyer lemon, is a hybrid citrus fruit native to China. It is a cross between a citron and a mandarin/pomelo hybrid distinct from the common or bitter oranges.[1]

Mature trees are around 6 to 10 ft (2 to 3 m) tall with dark green shiny leaves. Flowers are white with a purple base and fragrant. The fruit is rounder than a true lemon, deep yellow with a slight orange tint when ripe, and has a sweeter, less acidic flavor.”

From Wikipedia.

My Meyer Lemon tree has finally become productive after the hard freeze of …. I think 2017! I thought it had killed my lime tree and it obviously heavily damaged the Meyer Lemon. I trimmed the Meyer Lemon back and ignored the lime tree. As spring arrived the Meyer Lemon was sprouting new growth but the lime was bare. As I ripped the lime out of the ground I saw new growth….. too late – the was likely below the graft. Task done!

Meyer Lemons make a lemon curd that is both heavenly and bursting at the seams with both flavor and calories. Today’s cooking adventure does not involve lemon curd – it involves a first for me…….lemon Jelly. This will be a variation of the Meyer Lemon Honey jam I have made in the past. I have to give credit for the inspiration to Max Moszkowicz….he makes “lime jelly” and I just thought….Why not Meyer Lemon Jelly!

The process creates a wonderful aroma throughout the house. The aromatic lemons were thickly sliced and left soaking overnight in the kitchen. Then the aroma really amps up as they boil for 2 hours!

You can almost smell the aromas emanating from the photo of the boiling pot!

I am posting the recipe which includes the jelly variation. A disclaimer……only the Meyer Lemons are organic in my version……I know that for a fact as I have 100% control over the lemon growing. The honey is also mine, not lemon blossom, but it is local and raw – I can’t guarantee that it is organic………I tell bees to stay away from non-organic sources but I am not sure they pay much attention to me.

Once the jelly is done and allowed to set for a few days I will post a taste test update.

Meyer Lemon Honey Jam

INGREDIENTS 

*3 lbs Lemons (Meyers, of course!) 

*6 cups filtered Water 

*5 cups Organic Cane Sugar 

*1/4 cup Organic Lemon Honey (or other delicately flavored honey like Orange or Clover) 

*6 drops pure Lemon Essential Oil (1 drop for each cup of juice) 

 

INSTRUCTIONS ~ WASH lemons. 

~ TRIM off ends. Cut into fat slices. REMOVE pits (if making Jelly) 

~ COVER with filtered water. Leave to soak overnight or 7-8hrs

~ BOIL for 2 hours covered. ~ Then STRAIN through a jelly bag. COMMENT: Don’t be tempted to squeeze the bag or your jelly won’t be clear! ———————- 

NOTE: If you want to make Lemon JAM, skip the straining & whir the hot lemons and water carefully with an immersion blender. You definitely wouldn’t want the pits in the mix for jam though! So pick them out.

~ MEASURE juice. ~ ADD 1 cup sugar per cup of juice. STIR to dissolve sugar over low heat. ~ BOIL again until set. (15-30 minutes) ~ FILL sterilized jars as usual. ~ STORE in a dark cool cupboard. Jelly will keep for 1-2 years, but the flavor & color tend to fade beyond that time. 

Recipe from – http://www.figswithbri.com/

One of the web sites suggested that a slice of lemon would enhance the beauty of the jelly in the jars. I thought it would look great too! I sliced up a lemon, filled the jars, placed the jars in the canning water bath, turned around and what did I discover? You guessed it.

They will pretty good on top of some grilled salmon filets! LOL.

Almost looks like a light spring honey as a finished product!

TTFN

Bishop

Additional trivia for those that are curious……

“The citron (Citrus medica) is a large fragrant citrus fruit with a thick rind. It is one of the original citrus fruits from which all other citrus types developed through natural hybrid speciation or artificial hybridization.”

“Mandarin – mandarin orange

Pomelo – “The pomelo is one of the original citrus species from which the rest of cultivated citrus have been hybridized. 

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