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Christmas Eve in the Garden

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It was “77 degrees F” yesterday and I actually worked up a sweat raking leaves to add to the compost bin. It wasn’t too bad….just barely a one T-shirt job. Summer jobs in Houston are typically 3 or more T-shirt changes.

I gathered up the ripening, the dropped and the green Juliet tomatoes. Even covered, the last freeze hit the plant hard.

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Well the last freeze has made the Juliet tomato plant look pretty sad. I grabbed this handful, green ones included, as the last of the harvest. Yummy Christmas cookies in the background….my secret recipe. Ask for it…

The freeze didn’t bother the strawberries. They handle it well. If I see temperatures in the teens I will definitely cover them. I added another 100 plants last fall……need to treat my babies well!

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December 24th and the strawberries are making their appearance.

The colder weather of last week finally started killing off the asparagus ferns. I will find a nice day next week to cut them back and top dress the asparagus bed.

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A tangled mess. I didn’t get to it but I will cut back the asparagus ferns next week and dream of spring spears.

I will make some Meyer Lemon Honey Jam in a week or two and maybe a small batch of lemon curd….so rich and so yummy.

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My sad transplanted dwarf Meyer Lemon. I moved it from it’s wine barrel home of 4 years to my garden last spring….hope for better results this next year.

My experimenting will continue into 2017. Mike and Annette, who host one of my hives, have two volunteer papaya trees that bear fruit. Fruit tossed into their compost bin several years ago took off and bear very nice papayas. I saved some of their seeds and put them in a small pot. They are doing well. I will repot and protect the young ones for spring.

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Papaya….I have a hive in a yard here in Kingwood that has two papaya trees. I dropped a handful of seeds into this pot and have been rewarded. Now to transplant them.

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Merry Christmas

TTFN

Bishop

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Do You Really Know Your Honey?

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No, I am not talking about the person you met through “Match.com” or for that matter, your significant other. I am talking about the liquid gold in the bottle called “Honey”. I have done my own sleuthing on the local supermarket shelves and I have been surprised. There is not much truth in labeling at the supermarket. Local raw honey is a real treat, if you spend the time and effort necessary to verify the moniker, “Local Raw Honey”!

I ran a cross this article while looking around and thought it did a great job illustrating the point….”do you really know your honey?”

“…..Research at Texas A&M University shows that most honey labels aren’t telling the truth, and 75% of the honey in the U.S. is not what it says it is on the label. And this could apply to as much as 90% of the nation’s honey, according to lead federal honey investigator.”

Dr. Vaughn Bryant is an anthropologist and a bit of a honey sleuth at Texas A&M University. He utilizes A&M’s extensive pollen library to identify where honey originates by it’s pollen “fingerprint”. A Michigan TV station did a little test of honey off the shelf at a local store.

“……..So, we took some samples and sent them to Texas A&M University. Our five samples included a bottle from the company formerly known as Groeb Farms, Honey Tree’s Michigan Great Lakes Raw Honey, Organic Rainforest honey, plus a Meijer brand and a Spartan brand.” Just an FYI, every bottle of “USDA” labeled honey I found in local supermarkets comes from either Brazil, Argentina or Mexico….the USDA labeling is based on the country certifying that the honey meets the standards. Long story….

So, what did Channel 17 learn from the samples? You have to read it to believe it….3 of the 5 samples had no pollen present…..it is a great way for distributors/bottlers to disguise the origin of the honey by ultra-fine filtration and usually done under high temperatures, destroying any beneficial properties.

Local raw honey will be cloudy due to fine bubbles and pollen in the honey….

“Most of them were not what they claimed to be,” said Bryant.

First, he looked at the honey bottled from the company formerly known as Groeb Farms. They were previously fined for mislabeling Chinese honey. The label on this particular bottle said “Pure Honey Clover.” Although Dr. Bryant said the sample wasn’t from China, he said there was still a problem with the label. “It turned out not to be clover honey.”

There was “not enough clover pollen to warrant the honey being called a unifloral clover honey,” his report said. The other flower pollens found in the honey included “soybeans, chestnut, mesquite, and eucalyptus.”

“A little bit of clover pollen in here,” said Vaughn. “But it would not qualify as clover pollen. So here’s the case where it’s sold as pure clover honey, but it’s really not.”

Onto jar number two, a jar labeled Great Lakes Raw Michigan Honey. This honey appeared much more true to form according to Dr. Bryant’s analysis. He said there was “sumac” pollen in this sample, which grows commonly in the state. “It could well be from Michigan,” said Bryant. However, a few other suspicious pollens were discovered, too, which could indicate there was other honey mixed in from southern regions, or it could simply mean that the pollen accidentally got in there some other way. Bryant’s report showed pollen from citrus:  lemon, orange, sweetgum, mesquite, eucalyptus and magnolia.

“Those could have been contamination from some other source,” said Bryant. “Or, they could have been part of a mixture. It’s hard to tell.”

Chris Olney, the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Honey Tree said that the pollen from southern regions likely came from hives that were used in Florida, then brought to Michigan.  He said 50% of the hives are transported by beekeepers to southern regions like Florida to pollinate citrus crops, then they are brought back to Michigan to pollinate crops here in the summer.

Now on to sample 3, which was labeled Organic Rainforest honey. “We don’t know what it is,” said Bryant.

The label had the abbreviation “BR” on the back, which stands for Brazil. However, Bryant couldn’t prove it came from rainforest flowers. It came back from testing as a question mark, because someone had strained all the pollen out. “We have no idea whether it’s organic,” said Bryant. “We have no idea whether it’s from the rainforest or anything else.”

Sample 4, the Meijer Pure Clover honey, had stamps for USA, Canada, and Argentina on the label, but for Bryant, it remains a question mark because, according to the test, “all of the pollen has been removed.”

Sample 5, the Spartan premium golden honey had the markings of “AR” and “CA” stamped on the back. AR stands for Argentina according to country code listings, and CA stands for Canada. However, Bryant couldn’t prove where this sample was from either country. “One certainly could not prove that the contents of this honey is what is claimed on the label.”

So, what is your best option? Know who your beekeeper is, ask to go see the hives, maybe even ask to help gather the honey……. This maybe a little TMI, but you will be tempted to lick your fingers every once in a while as you go through the extraction process……FYI I do keep a bowl of sanitary water in the extraction area to dip fingers and hands in while working with the very raw honey. Just saying! Link to the article below.

http://fox17online.com/2014/02/25/the-truth-behind-the-honey-labels-a-fox-17-investigation/

 

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This is hand crushed honeycomb from my topbar hive.

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Here is a shot of me squeezing the honey from the wax. I would squeeze and compact the was as tight as I could. I then place it out near the hive and the next several days it is wild watching the bees from the neighborhood clean the wax.

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A nice capped section of honeycomb ready to be cut off the bar.

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Honey….being added to a frame. Not ready to extract but looking good.

Buy Local and know your honey.

TTFN

Bishop

 

 

 

 

Fall Tomatoes and Other Notes

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The Juliet tomato is a prolific tomato in the Houston growing environment. Here it is, November 6, 2016, and I still have ripening tomatoes on the plant as well as blossoms! The tomato is sweet but does have a bit of a tough skin. Doesn’t bother me but some may notice. They look like a miniature Roma and make great sauce. The plants are indeterminate and again, to repeat myself, prolific. Two plants can overwhelm a family.

Stovetop Juliet Tomato Sauce

By Analiese Paik

Ingredients: (double or triple as necessary)

  • 1 pound of Juliet tomatoes, preferably organic.
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2-3 T olive oil
  • fresh basil, oregano or parsley (optional)

Method:

  1. Rinse tomatoes and set aside. Chop garlic while heating a pot large enough to fit the tomatoes on the stove. Add olive oil to the pot and when it shimmers, add the garlic and stir until fragrant over medium heat, a minute or 2.
  2. Add tomatoes to the pot along with 1/4 cup of water so the garlic doesn’t burn. The tomatoes will take at least 5-10 minutes to soften up and begin releasing their juices. I like to put a lid on the pot to speed this up.
  3. Once the tomatoes begin to release their juices and the skins start to burst, remove the lid and simmer for another 10 minutes or so until the tomatoes have all lost their skins or are quite soft
  4. Use an immersion blender to puree the sauce right in the pot. Add salt to taste and a chopped herb if you’d like. The flavor of the sauce, with the garlic alone, is rich and complex.
  5. Strain the sauce through a large strainer or food mill heavy enough to hold the seeds and skins. Be sure to push down on the solids to release all the sauce. Cool the sauce and store in the refrigerator in glass containers. When making large quantities, be sure to chill in the refrigerator before freezing.

http://fairfieldgreenfoodguide.com/2013/09/11/juliet-tomato-sauce/

 

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Bright Red Juliet tomato and more ripening

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More and more and hint at how they grow in clusters.

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A good number of the 100 Chandler strawberries in the ground planted through a weed barrier. Hope to keep the berries cleaner.

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The banana flowers begin to turn upward as they mature. The flower hangs down and the bunch develops and points skyward now.

Other Notes

The Burro banana plant has put on a nice bunch going into, what Houston calls , winter. As I have noted before, last winter I had a bunch survive and ripen even though the plant lost all of the leaves. I left the bunch on and I was rewarded with 40 plus Burro bananas. Fingers crossed I have the same luck.

The Burro and Manzano plants are trying to get ahead of me by sending up shoots. I dug up and potted one of each for a member of the Facebook page, “Texas Small Farming and Homesteading” group. Kim and Jeff live nearby and I delivered the potted plants to them yesterday. Surprise, surprise….they are also beekeepers! Smaller world than we’ll ever know. I guaranteed more if these two died.

I recently put Chandler Strawberry plants out into the garden. I am looking forward to spring and hopefully an epic strawberry jam making explosion. Today will be another round of adding beet, turnip and lettuce seeds. I soaked some snap peas and hopefully they will take off. The previous planting went into the ground without presoaking and sure enough….nothing germinated. I have some accidental pole beans growing from volunteers. Enough for a couple of handfuls for dinner.

Bee stuff……during the next two weeks I should finish prepping all the hives for winter and then make plans for 2017. Hopefully my strongest hives will be ready to split in the spring. I will also build a few more swarm traps…..no luck with the three I set out this year. I made about 8 pounds of “creamed cinnamon honey” this past week. Inventories are getting low…..can’t wait for spring!

Bonus; I am passing along my recipe for cinnamon creamed honey. Not sure I should do this but…..if you really wanted to make it you could do a search and find it just the same….

http://www.tc.umn.edu/~reute001/htm-files/Creamed%20honey%20recipe.html

 

Ok…..enough for today.

TTFN

Bishop

So Local You Can Feel it and Taste it!

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Extremely local Papaya and hyper local Manzano bananas.

I had an incredibly fresh and local fruit snack for this afternoon. How local? I should  probably label it all hyperlocal but I will differentiate. The papaya is from a few blocks away at Mike and Annette’s yard, also hosts to my very productive 8 frame garden hive. There are two mature Papaya trees growing from their compost bins….the discarded seeds apparently liked the environment, therefore, the Papayas are very, very local. The Manzano  bananas are 29 steps from my back door, in my little plot, obviously, very hyperlocal.

Hyperlocal – “”The term hyperlocal has been used in journalistic circles since the late ’80s, but with the changing face of journalism and the development of online media, has now begun to filter into more mainstream use.” http://www.macmillandictionary.com/buzzword/entries/hyperlocal.html

I was going to give Tara Chapman of Two Hives Honey credit for the term “hyperlocal”.  She is an Austin, Texas, based beekeeper with a very interesting background. I took her marketing class at the Brenham Beekeepers school. She markets her honey as “hyperlocal” – named for the Austin neighborhood hosting her hives….I market mine by the zip code of the hive….a little larger than hyperlocal. Check out her website.

http://www.twohiveshoney.com/

Lets get back to my snack. A little google search and I had my papaya prep instructions…a first for me. Sliced lengthwise, de-seeded and sliced into strips, carefully  removed the skin and then cut into chunks. The banana was cut in half lengthwise and then sliced. A sprinkling of lime juice and chill for a bit. Yum.

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The starting point. Yes, the papaya is ripe as are the tasty Manzano bananas.

My  next step? Seed saving and growing my own Papayas…..about 29 steps from my back door…..so very  hyperlocal.

 

TTFN

Bishop

 

 

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BeeWeaver Honey Tasting

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I need to tell you folks out there of a new development at the Bee Weaver Apiary, Navasota TX. My “Goo” friend John** and I were visiting the apiary to pick up 4 queens for a fall requeening effort. BeeWeaver Apiary will soon be a honey tasting bar, beekeeping equipment store, selling bee themed jewelry and ties and more. They have also built a  unique observation hive into the wall – cool looking hexagon designed windowed frames. The walls are paneled with hive body parts, the floor has inlayed “scroll W” brand emblems. Very cool.

I have purchased, NUC’s and queens from Beeweaver and have been very pleased. They have a great reputation and people come from all over the state to buy bee stuff. My friend John and I arrived a bit earlier than the 10:00 pick-up time, firmly held time, and we both bumped into a few  other likeminded beekeepers. Ryan, a young firefighter from just outside of Austin area, was just getting off shift and had several battle wounds from his morning adventure with his bees. He was picking up some NUCs and heading home for a nap. John visited with a mature gentleman…..about my age, down from the Kilgore area.

The store and honey tasting bar is technically not open but, Laura Weaver gave us a quick tour of the store under construction, some Weaver beekeeping history and let us know that they are shooting for a soft opening on October 15th. Visitors need to be aware that there is a related operation, RWeaver Apiaries, on the same corner. If you choose to visit, and I hope you do, pay attention to the turns and routing. New signage will help travelers coming off the short jaunt from Highway 6, a few miles south of Navasota.  Take FM 2 to the east off of Highway 6. At the crest of the hill turn left (north) on County Rd 319. Not far up the road there will be a sharp right corner. You will see the RWeaver Apiaries shed just before the corner. Drive 200 feet around the corner until you see signs letting you know that you have arrived at BeeWeaver Apiaries. 

 

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One pound Muth jars of honey. I just love the retro look of Muth jars.

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The porch will display many essentials and tools for beekeeping.

All photos with my iPhone …… didn’t carry my good camera and  lens. Next time!!!

http://www.beeweaver.com/about-beeweaver

** Read and older blog –

“Goo Friend”https://bishopsbackyardfarm.com/2016/04/

The “Requeening” Adventure will be a tale for another day.

TTFN

Bishop

 

Managing the Bananas

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I learn by mistakes, usually after the second or third one! A year and a half ago my banana plant produced a stalk of bananas and I had no clue why. 

I also learn via research. The internet said, if I take care of the plants they may produce by design rather than by accident. It is 10-15 month cycle for the plant to bear, they won’t produce well if crowded and they like to be fed.  I am using fish emulsion and regular doses of my compost. 

The results for this season, have been two full stalks of the Burro banana and three of the Manzano. The dead or damaged leaves are now used for a layer of mulch/weed barrier. In some parts of Mexico the leaves are used to wrap tamales rather than using corn husks. 

Just change the topic and slide into more about bananas….,,

I recieved a call about some “free” bees in a TALL pine tree and my Goo friend John and I checked them out. They are 30 plus feet up in a the tree with multiple openings in a long split in the trunk. It will be a real challenge. Not sure I am the man for the job. 

 While looking over the yard I noticed a banana plant, a Burro banana plant, with a very nice stalk of nature bananas. Located behind that plant is what looks like a Manzano plant with a stalk developing. Wow!

So, I gave a lesson and cut a nice big hand of bananas for the home owners. I will definitely have to follow up. Here is a photo of a recently cut hand from my plant that is identical to the one I cut at the homeowner’s house.

From the photo you can definitely see where the term “chunky banana” comes from. 

Earlier in the day we went by one of my hives in the backyard of a friend. This is an 8 frame garden hive, two deeps and two medium supers, started from a package during the second week of April. This colony just exploded. Must be a great Queen and on top of that, a great location. The plan for the visit was the remove excess  frames, consolidate and ready the hive for the remainder of the summer. Well, the hive was over flowing and chock full. The result was 40 pounds of honey and we still left them with plenty. Added some hive beetle traps and closed them up. 


One of my garden hives pictured above from earlier in the spring. Just two deep boxes and no supers. Top bar hive in the background. 

Now, a day later, FYI, this is taking me three days to jot down, I need to visit my top bar hives and another set of garden hives before I run off on my Californua adventure. I was just reminded that I need to organize and clean up my hive work site – yes dear

TTFN

Bishop

Bee Adventures

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Yesterday morning, yes too early for the bees  (mistake one), I went to check on and maybe harvest some honey from my original top bar hive. It has been intolerably hot lately, hot enough to make the wax comb very soft. This topbar hive is my gentle hive. See photo below;


I normally just smoke them a little and wear my veil as seen in the photo! Today I decided to gear up and wear my white overalls, gloves and the above veil.

Mistake two; The bees were agitated from the “git go!” No problem, I had smoke and protective gear. It was 8:45 in the morning and the top bar hive was still in the shade. Probably a thousand or more clustered on the outside and little evidence of foraging…..

The veil has long strings and the trick is to make sure that my collar is flipped up and the veil secured without gaps. Mistake number three, I failed to check the collar and the fit. All of a sudden I feel air from beating wings on my face.

“John, are the bees inside my veil?”  I ask.

“Yes, quite a few”, he responds.

I start heading out of the area and I have company both inside and out. They seem to be pissed at me and ignoring John. I took 6-7 or more in the back of my head and a few more on my forehead.

I wander back to my Suburban, licking my wounds and suit up. John is putting the bars back in place and the top back on. I return to take a peek at the other topbar hive and the two Langstroth hives.

The 8 frame is healthy but growing slower than my other three 8-frame hives. The 10 frame hive is doing nicely with a queen hatched from my original top bar hive. FYI,  my top bars sized to fit in my Langstroth hives. The second top bar hive was also cloned from a queen cell and a few  bars of brood, pollen and honey from the original hive.

Ok, I have orders from the sales manager (my wife for some cut comb and I know where to go. I have two 8 frame hives nearby and I have been anxious to harvest them. I pulled 11 frames, 3 beautiful ones for cut comb and we extracted the others.


I wound up with 12 – eight ounce squares and I also boxed up all the trimmings. I let them drain a bit on the rack before boxing them up. I love cut comb! I also wound up with over 30 pounds of liquid honey. Two more hives to visit in the next day or two to  on the honey production.

TTFN

Bishop

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