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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

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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.

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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

 

 

Gardens, Bananas and Other Stuff

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The bees and some consulting work have occupied my time, keeping me from blogging about my sparse gardening activities. I am still getting dirt on my hands, planting a little for the fall winter garden as well as prepping the bees for winter.

The garden activities have also included photographing and marveling at the growth of my banana clusters. Three clusters of the Manzano and two of the Burro(chunky banana), both Mexican varieties. I suspect the weather will cooperate and allow them to mature before the threat of a freeze heads our way. They do tolerate some cold weather but the freeze this past January was both long enough and cold enough to damage the plants.

A project on my loooooooong hunny do list is/was to clean/organize my garage, a three car garage that does house a single vehicle. Lots of bicycles, hive bodies, beer making equipment, tools(multiples of the same type), camping gear and a bunch of miscellaneous stuff left behind when our children moved out. Why am I telling you this in a gardening blog? Well, I started the cleaning process and I am easily distracted, “Look a butterfly”,…..I found some dried bean pods gathered from several seasons back and rather than toss them I wandered out to the garden and planted them. Three days later they are sprouting! A check with google on the time to maturity for the Blue Lake pole bean variety, 60 days or so, and I might get lucky and have fresh green beans by Thanksgiving….

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Wow, in just three days this bean is leaping up. Looking around the base of the tepee towers, I see several others peeking through the leaf and compost mulch.

More gardening, I have several late summer plantings, a volunteer Matt’s Wild Cherry, a volunteer English cucumber in a pot(producing nicely and an heirloom Brandywine growing nicely. Beets and Swiss Chard are also in the ground hoping to get a good start before it does get cold. The asparagus ferns are starting to die back allowing me time to clear them off and add compost before next spring.

Our neighborhood is having its annual yard sale this coming weekend. I have been drafted to help! Yes Dear! I will help…..and have a table set up to sell my honey and jams. I have 40+ pounds of honey and about 40 jars of jams, strawberry, blueberry and blackberry, taking up shelf space. I will report out soon!

TTFN

Bishop

Blakelock’s Berries

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http://blakelocksberries.com/

I went to visit Paul at Blakelock’s for a private blueberry picking session. In about 25 minutes , on very young plants, +\- 3 years old, I was able to gather about 9 1/2 pounds of the sweetest blueberries. My dilemma now is – I want to make some jam and Kathy wants them all frozen in small bags for snacking. There should be some middle ground don’t you think? 

Blakelock’s is primarily a blackberry u-pick farm. They should be open by mid May. I picked at his place last year and I got a ton of great blackberries. 


I love how the blueberries cluster up. Makes for easy picking. 


The blackberries are blossoming and forming good looking fruit right now! 

I have committed to placing 3 hives at Blakelock’s early next spring. Should be a win/win. Paul gets the benefit of improved pollination and I get some berry good honey! 


This is one 4.5 plus bucket of berries drying out before packaging for my lovely and loving wife! PS- can I now make some jam Hun? FYI- a handful of green beans in the background along with my sourdough starter jar! 

Check out Paul’s website;

http://blakelocksberries.com/
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

 

 

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