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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

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Two More Batches of Jam

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Yesterday was a busy day in the kitchen. I had planned on making a batch of both strawberry and blueberry jams. My wife had decided to do some full week meal prep the same day. Communication on each of our endeavors was, how should I say it, absent. We did manage to get our respective tasks done but I was crowding my timeline to get off to my evening workout at the gym! We were both successful!

Not an advertisement but a graphic visual of the low sugar pectin I have had so much luck and success with.

A short clip at an awkward angle of what a “full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down” looks like! It is a common question of novice Jam/Jelly makers.

The delicious foam scraped off of the jam after removing from the heat. I wonder if there is market for such a thing!

Finished product cooling and waiting for labels. I know, the pink towel really doesn’t lend itself to a quality “Good Housekeeping” type of food photo. I need to brush up on the technique.

I have at least two more batches of Strawberry Jam to make and blackberry season starts this week at Blakelock’s Berries out in Grangerland at my apiary location!

FYI, I inspected the bees out there yesterday and saw the most beautiful and large blackberries! Yes, just to ensure they were ripe, I sampled a couple before the birds had a chance!

TTFN

Bishop

My Strawberry Jam

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I am about to give away the secret to making my very well received and highly praised, Strawberry Jam. A quote from one of my regular customers, “How can you go back to “Smucker’s” after tasting Bishop’s jam?”

Side Note – I have labeled it preserves in the past but a little research shows that I make jams!

Summary:

1.The differences between jam and preserves are:

2.Jam is made from chopped or crushed fruit.

3.Preserves are made from whole chunks of fruit.

4.Jam contains sugar, pectin, and lemon juice.

5.Preserves are only boiled in sugar.

6.Jam is allowed to jell.

7.Preserves are not jelled in the process of manufacturing.

http://www.differencebetween.net/object/comparisons-of-food-items/difference-between-jam-and-preserves/

It’s not that I do anything out of the ordinary to make my “jams”, other than the fact that every berry in the process is/was hand selected by me! In fact, 75% of the strawberries originate in my garden although I do supplement with strawberries picked, again, by me, at “Wood Duck Farm”, about 25 minutes north of Kingwood. They are grown, as are mine, with no chemicals of any sort.

Laying out some of the tools of the trade. Four cups of sugar minus 1/4 cup mixed with the pectin prior to cooking. I use the Sure Jell pectin for my jams, they are made with 1/3 less sugar than with regular pectin. A spoon to skim the foam and yes I rinse it off after every lick. Green handle magnet to save my pinkies. An 8 ounce ladle…It does help when filling 8 ounce jars. Jar tongs….indispensable for fishing jars out from the boiling hot water just prior to filling. Last but not least, my trusty old, at least 35 years old, canning funnel.

The start of the process; 1/4 cup sugar mixed with pectin and the measured volume of crushed strawberries, just a note here, follow the recipe very darned close!!!!! Too much of the fruit mixture or too little will impact the final results. I use a potato masher to, yes, mash up the fruit, so there are some nice chunks of berry in every jar, a dab of butter to help reduce the foaming. FYI – Not sure if it helps all that much but I can’t argue with the success of the final product.

Follow the recipe; bring the mixture to a full rolling boil, i.e., cannot be stirred down. Note the light pinkish foam around the edges.  Then add remaining sugar – 3 and 3/4 cups, return to full rolling boil for one minute….I just slowly count to 75 and it seems to work for me.

Skim the foam but don’t discard. You have several choices, place in a bowl, refrigerate and use as you would any jam or preserve, or, as my wife does, spread across an egg white & oatmeal frittata, or dig in with a spoon and place directly into your mouth…..my personal favorite!

Ready to can, foam has been skimmed, jars are in a boiling water bath for sanitation purposes, ladle and funnel are ready, magnetic stick finger saver, spoon (recently licked and rinsed properly)….use however you want and the jar lids in a bowl of very hot water to soften the seals.

Grab a hot jar, drain and fill to about 1/4 inch of the topic the jar with the strawberry jam mixture. FYI, there is a tool made to gauge that space but I rarely use it, wipe any excess Jam from rim of the jar, place the lid on and screw the metal band on snuggly.

Once all the jars are filled and sealed, return to the hot water bath, submerge the jars with at least one inch of water covering the jars. Bring to a boil for 10 minutes, remove and allow to cool. If you have done a good job you will hear the lids pop down as the jars cool, indicating s good seal.

Next step, distribute and bring smiles to the faces of the recipients!

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

Pomegranate Jelly

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I am very sure it won’t be as good as the Pomegranate Jelly that my Aunt Josie made – my first memories of her jelly are from Christmas time nearly 60 years ago. Just saying that phrase – “60 years ago” begins to make me feel a little old! My Uncle Jim was a Foreman for Western Water Works in Taft, CA. -( I think it is called West Kern Water District now….) Back to the pomegranate…..the main yard in Taft was surrounded by a hedge of pomegranate bushes. They seemed to ripen in the late fall which probably coincided with my Christmas season memories of Aunt Josie’s pomegranate jelly.

60 years ago I didn’t know much more about her jelly other than how wonderful it was on my toast! My forays into making jams and jellies is relatively recent, in the past 10-25 years or so. Key differences from those long ago times, Aunt Josie sealed hers with a cap of melted paraffin. I remember seeing a row of 6 or 7 jars on a table in the dining room adjacent to the kitchen. Almost every jar has a little dollop of jelly that had oozed through the wax somehow and …… if no one was looking I wiped my finger through it and into my mouth……probably considered unsanitary by today’s standards but I don’t believe anyone ever became ill.

Now, comparing my jelly to Aunt Josie’s. Several years ago I did make a batch from scratch – a lot of work to extract the seeds and squeeze and make jelly…..Today I took a shortcut. I bought some organic, unsweetened pomegranate juice. My batch from scratch was very much like my Aunt’s, both in color and flavor. My store bought juice resulted in a much darker jelly. My Aunt’s jelly was translucent, like rose pink tinted lens. My offering is dark crimson and only allows a hint of light to pass through the jars.

I terms of flavor….I would say my offering is a more robust and has a hearty pomegranate flavor – still, very pleasant. I made two batches, both resulted in approximately 6 – 8 oz. jars. Batch one was straight up pomegranate.

  • 3 1/2 cups juice
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 1 packet of Sure Jell brand low/no sugar pectin….pink package
  • 1 smidge of butter to reduce foaming.

I followed the Kraft website’s directions for pomegranate jelly. Jelled up very nicely.

Batch two. – I added two cinnamon sticks and steeped them in the pomegranate juice for about 15 minutes on very low heat. I left the sticks in as I added the Sure Jell pectin and brought the mix up to a full rolling boil. I removed the sticks and added the sugar and followed to recipe as written.

Both batches were processed in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

In the photos shown below;

The single jar is a small 110 ml jar. In bright sunlight there is just a hint of light passing through. Dark and yummy.

The two batches shown side by side; on the right the Pomegranate Jelly and the left Pomegranate with Cinnamon.

Bee News;

Yesterday I drove out to Blakelock’s Berries out in Grangerland, 23 miles out from the house, to add a honey super to the hive out at the farm.

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Added the medium super yesterday on top of the two deep brood boxes. The girls are bringing in lots of pollen and upon close inspection those without pollen appear to have a bit of a swell to the abdomen. Hmmmmm, could it be Blueberry nectar or some other source? Note: Bumble bee hovering around the entrance before the girls chased it away.

 

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

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

 

 

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