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Compost Pile Moving Day

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Well, it just turned out to be one half of the move. Several soaked T-shirts later, I decided to spread the move out into the next day or two or three. It is 93 degrees F and feels like 106 degrees with the lovely Houston humidity…..keeps my skin from ever drying out and fills in the wrinkles….LOL. (34 C feels like 41 C) Lovely temperatures regardless of the scale!(July 25, 2017)

First part of the move was to finish emptying the left bin and spreading the compost/mulch where needed. I love to smother the weeds in layer upon layer of mulching materials and then let the worms takeover working it into the soil. I am essentially a “no till” guy now.  Besides, the thick layers make any successful weed long and leggy and very easy to pull.

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The left side was full at the end of the Fall leaf season and was slowly pulled out, layered between grass clippings on the right and spread throughout the spring and early summer as mulch. The right side has been gathering all my grass clippings, banana stems & stalks, coffee grounds and whatever else my composting worms don’t get.

I spread several trash “barrelfuls” of the good stuff around my sad looking lime tree, I thought it succumbed to hard freeze in January, and the recovering dwarf Meyer Lemon. The lime tree sent several new limbs up from above the graft post freeze so, I selected a stout one to someday become the trunk of the little tree.

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In my last post I talked about planting more beans, pole beans to add some detail. The previously planted beans were not pole beans…..I guess I should have read the package a little more closely. I try to minimize bending over to pick stuff….strawberries are an exception, oh, and carrots and beets get a pass too. I grow mostly stuff that I can pick in a mostly upright position.

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Bees, bananas and some clutter in the background. I smothered most of the existing bush beans, watered in the compost readying the ground for the pole beans. I grow them tepee style.

I also do a “minimal labor” style of managing my composting. The bin of the right will be “moved”, probably over the course of several hot, humid, yucky, disgustingly sticky days. No hurry, I just need it emptied before the fall. The last 18 inches or so will be some well aged compost begging to be spread, hopefully around the mounds of potato plants soon to emerge. The title is just a bit misleading….

Update, as of July 27th, 2/3 of the right been has been moved to the left bin. The bottom third is looking a lot like finished compost….Yee Haw!

TTFN

Bishop

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Backyard Farm – December Notes on Christmas Morning

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My postings for the past couple of months have slowed a little but I have tended to some of the chores!
• Spreading compost from the bin on the right and turning the bin on the left.
• Son Ben did a fantastic job adding gravel around the edges. Looks great! An early and well appreciated Christmas gift.
• Turned ad prepped the bed for potato planting.
• Cut back the Asparagus ferns and added a layer of compost and leaf mulch. Gotta love Houston, two days ago I noticed several young shoots about 6 inches above the mulch…my reward for taking care of the bed. NOW GO TO SLEEP DANG NABBIT!
• Carrots and sugar snap peas have emerged from the late fall plantings.
• Planted 6 Blueberry plants and 8 replacement bare root blackberry plants – Ben was a little overzealous when he added a pvc irrigation line in the blackberry bed. We had a good laugh!
• Planted more Chard and Beet seeds yesterday as well as some red onion seeds in the front portion of the potato bed.

December 4th I ate my first ripe strawberry – way too early, it was kinda small and misshapen but it was sweet! Inspection yesterday showed numerous blossoms and a few dozen green berries trying to fill out. It may be another stellar strawberry year and maybe, just maybe a few more jars of jam to share.

One of several confused strawberries. This was the little one I ate! Yum

One of several confused strawberries. This was the little one I ate! Yum

TTFN & Merry Christmas – share something wonderful with those you love!

Bishop

Jammin’

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This growing season saw a bumper crop of strawberries. The result was lots of fresh berries for snacking and tons for jam making, lots of jam! The blackberries were starting to look really good toward the end of May. I had high hopes for a good blackberry harvest based on the number of blossoms and the large size of the developing berries – and JAM!.

The blackberry harvest started out strong. When I was home more berries made the freezer bag than we used for fresh eating. During my out of town work assignments the ratio was reversed. I still thought I had a chance to load up the freezer but the local birds discovered my luscious, juicy and organically grown berries. I would see dozens of berries that needed another day to finish ripening only to discover them gone, missing – nowhere to be found the next day. Evidence of birds sitting trellis wire was abundant. I guess next year I will have to invest in some netting.

Friday this past week I needed to clear some freezer space for my wife. I had partial freezer bags of blackberries, strawberries and some wild dewberries. I spent an hour and a half scratching the living daylights out of my arms and legs as I braved the thorny dewberry patches only to be rewarded with less than ½ gallon of berries! They have great taste but they are, oh so small. I decided to make a mixed batch of berry jam! Problem solved, room in the freezer and a 9 +  jars and jam! I say 9+ because I fill a jar of the foam skimmings’ and the bottom of the pot for my wife. She makes an interesting oatmeal frittata with egg whites and tops it with the lower grade jam. Still tastes great but doesn’t look as nice in the jars.

Garden chores out of the way for today consisted of removing 5 tomato plants that gave their all against this brutal summer that Houston has been suffering through. I replaced them with some grafted varieties and hope to get them well established during the tail end of summer. I hope to have tomatoes through Thanksgiving again this year!

My son and his friend kept the garden well watered including all of those pesky weeds. I should have provided some more detailed instructions on weeding while watering – an alliterative activity that aids the garden. That said….I have been pulling weeds like crazy! They have made a nice layer in the compost bin. I added about 6 inches of leaf mulch and 10-12 inches of grass clippings on top of them. The pile should really heat up now!

I pulled the leaf mulch out of my second bin. I am nearing the bottom of that bin and found some nice finished compost. I spread about 8 – 5 gallon bucket loads of the compost into the bed holding most of the tomatoes and cucumbers. Today being a three t-shirt day in Houston I will postpone spreading the remaining compost for another day…..none of the upcoming days look to promising in the next week so I guess I will just have to suck it up through a few more days and shirts until the job is done.

Thorny, scratchy and very tasty wild dewberries.

Thorny, scratchy and very tasty wild dewberries.

 

Kathy's Frittata - Her first bite was followed by these words, "Ewww seeds, but tasty!"

Kathy’s Frittata – Her first bite was followed by these words, “Ewww seeds, but tasty!”

TTFN

Bishop

California – Fruit Basket and Nut Case

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I mean that in the nicest way. I am in the Golden State for a bit of work and then off to the coast to visit my Mom. Her to-do list has grown to two pages. I am keeping with the gardening theme as several tasks deal with re-potting and replanting! I get spoiled on my California visits….you can find a twig, stick into the soil, add water and it will grow.

Oh, there are some draw backs – this is the time of the year in and around Bakersfield when they are defoliating the cotton and the shakers are knocking the dust and almonds off the trees. The air is thick. I have also noticed that there is a familiar strong scent all over town. I grew up a little south of town near Larson’s dairy. This familiar scent reminds me of time spent across the road around the dairy….There is an earthy component in my Larson’s dairy memories but I am afraid that the proliferation of the mega dairies that have invaded the Kern County landscape have permeated the south end of the San Joaquin Valley with a scent that has gone beyond the earthy farm scent it is an odor…..it has begun to stink!

Shift gears – the good things are abundant….I drove over to Mom’s place through the Cuyama River Valley – truck loads of carrots were heading down to the processing facilities in and around Bakersfield – I passed through probably 10’s of thousand of acres of carrot fields….many just harvested and others dense with lush tops crowded into little green furry hedges. Melons lying in the fields leftover from the recent harvest, thousands of burlap sacks bulging with harvested onions waiting for the trucks to roll through. Sprinklers shooting the high arching streams of water irrigating the fields spreading across the valley floor in a seemingly endless vista. And yes, the big guys are here too – Grimway Farms and William H. Bolthouse – in the next week or two look at the label on a carrot bag…..I just drove by what you are eating now! (US based readers and maybe Canada too).

Los Osos, the bears in Spanish, is where Mom now makes here home….the cooler weather is home to the lettuce, cabbage, parsley and flower growers….I will try to shoot some photos today or tomorrow for another post….Pumpkins both large and small are peeking through the dying vines in the fields now…..beautiful, dark black rich soils contrasting  with the greens, yellowing leaves and bright orange of the pumpkins! Should have stopped then but I was on a timeline to catch a sunset!

Looking across the bay in Baywood adjoining Los Osos.

 

Lovely evening….I was one of dozens at water’s edge watching the sun put on it’s evening show – free of charge!

 

TTFN

Bishop

 

 

A Composting We Will Go!

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Hi Ho the Dairy Oh, A Composting We Will Go! This is a delayed post….I created this blog posting and set aside as a draft then forgot about it….such is life with CRS. (can’t remember shtuff) – 3 weeks ago maybe. Why can I remember my third grade teacher, Miss Keck with such clarity and can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday?

It is a hot and sweaty job in the Houston heat to turn the pile and harvest to black gold…no, not Texas Tea or commonly known as crude oil! I am talking about the organic ,material piled high in my bins and rotted down through microbial action of probably billions of too small to be seen critters’ munching away and converting the browns and greens into the almost black rich compost that every garden craves. The microscopic critters do get some help from the worms…just under the surface are the red wrigglers that have found their way out of the vermicomposting bin and the big ole earthworms the migrate to the deeper, cooler and more mature regions of the pile.

This recent turning of the pile has produced 2 and a half wheel barrow loads of rich compost. One load has been added to my most recently established raised bed. It is in need of big help. When I built this bed I used quite a bite of supposedly organic materials, existing heavy clay soil, organic compost, composted cow manure and topsoil. Not money well spent. The 4 bags of “Miracle Grow” organic labeled compost were primarily sawdust and very small wood chips. Technically, yes it is organic but it is a far from being a source of plant nutrition – the sawdust and wood products lock up nitrogen until they break down sufficiently…probably in a year or less for our hot humid climate. The composted cow manure was at least 30% sand and probably 10-15% wood chips… some readily available nutrients but not what I wanted. The top soil again was loaded with small wood chips, sand and some “soil”. I realized the error of my ways when most of the seedlings came up looking anemic and with most the growth was stunted. This recent wheel barrow load supplemented two other loads that I had added 3 months ago to this bed … growth is improving so I am feeling better.

The first of several loads heading to the garden.

Getting down to the bottom of the bin. What luscious yummy garden food!

I am pretty well done adding new beds to my backyard farm so from this point forward all additions will be Bishop made compost. I am looking for some well-rotted or composted horse manure and I may have located some.  Craigslist is for more than finding casual encounters, or at least it is here in Houston. The farm and garden section has me drooling….yes, not a pretty sight but when you can get a pick-up load of aged horse manure for little more than $40.00 – gas included, you can get a little excited. That is a little more than 2 cubic yards if not mounded high – about 2 cubic meters for those lucky enough to be on the metric system.

While typing that last paragraph it reminded me to remind Joe, my youngest son, to remember to mow the grass….and most importantly dump the grass into the left bin of my two bin compost pile. Although it should be obvious I decided to be a Dad and give explicit instructions…..leave nothing to chance with a teenager! Dear iPhone, please send my text message ASAP! The right bin has about a wheelbarrow and a half of luscious compost waiting to start feeding the hungry plants….I don’t want it buried under a couple of weeks of grass cuttings. The only cost of moving the grass cuttings over to the left side is copious amounts of Houston inspired sweat required for the task….I will sweat when I want and when I know that I must… I will try to conserve my sweating for NEEDED activities!

I am still in California( update left New Mexico yesterday in Midland TX this morning and back in Houston before night fall)  but I have traded the cool foggy evenings and mornings for the heat of the central California Valley in my “real” home town of Bakersfield California. I am trying to think of something that does not grow well here???????  My mother-in-law’s backyard, besides looking like a park, has a variety of citrus trees. The grapefruit tree is loaded to the point of sagging heavily. FYI, my mother-in-low just poked her head into the room and reminded me about the fresh apricots just picked off of the neighbor’s tree. My, my, my, California, if the government here wasn’t so broke I would consider returning – maybe!

A garden tool hook that reminds me of how easy it is to sweat in Houston and also a reminder of the fruits of hard labor!

TTFN

Bishop

New Year’s Garden – Much Better Than a Hangover

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My New Year’s Eve celebration was limited to a couple of Samuel Adams Winter Lagers, I just love the shape of the glass – the beer is pretty good too- while waiting in the airport in sunny Florida. I was lucky enough to be with my best friend, my wife Kathy and our “favorite” youngest child Joe.  I dozed off on the flight back to Houston dreaming of getting my hands back into the dirt in my little backyard garden. I was planning the work needed to prepare for spring……and the crazy thing is, our spring weather may start at any time during January! This morning though, it was a bit brisk  35 F, about 2 C for you folks on the other scale….so I wore a sweater with my short pants and to the horror of my children – socks with my sandals!

Yesterday was the 2nd day of the new year and a warmer than this morning. I knocked a few things off of my to-do-list. I have been anxiously waiting for the asparagus ferns to die…..they didn’t cooperate so I wacked them off – to my Australian friends, Geoff, Charles and Alan…do not manipulate the word wack….I know what is running through your brains, so, stop it right now! – back to the asparagus…I then top dressed with some good aged compost from my bins….2011 vintage, and then added a 3-4 inch layer of leaves to help smother the weeds- those nasty little buggers that can take over the bed if not managed.

I finally got around to removing the green bean vines and poles. It took just a few minutes and I don’t know why I waited so long….maybe it has to do with my usual tendency for procrastination ….as I wrote those few previous words I felt a little guilty because – here  I am, sitting on a half-finished project for a “paying” client and I am filling my free time with random & rambling thoughts. The paycheck for the real work is 60 days or more out into the future and the “fun” I have writing is my  immediate gratifcation…….I think I am contradicting some of the advice I have given my children…I have told them to work hard and not focus on the “instant gratification” sought out by so many!!!!! Sorry kids, you need to get a little instant gratification every now and then…it helps you smile! Dad also says…….don’t over do it!

Oh yes, the beans….. That bed, a 4X25 foott bed, is now sitting mostly idle as it is shaded most of the day. I had overseeded it with buckwheat in the early fall as a green manure. This bed is loaded with earthworms……to the delight of my 16 year son, who is a fishing fool! Fortunately he doesn’t fish day and night which could wreak havoc on the worm population! The winter solstice has come and gone allowing the shade to begin  creeping southward to start warming up the entire garden area. I also managed a quick courtesy call to John’s garden beds, I  watered, weeded and added some compost to the original bed. John, FYI – turnips and radishes are already up!

The photo below right  shows a good portion of my main garden beds. Unseen in this photo are two , 4X8 foot beds behind me, one of which has the asparagus and just beyond the fence along the back fence is a bed with 75+ strawberry plants….all ground level so the slugs and rollie-pollies can have a tasty snack in the spring. It really is a competition between me and the bugs to save the berries….chemicals would kill the critters but they would also find their way into my strawberry jam…I can’t have that, so, I am willing to share a little. You can just make out the edge of my compost bins to the left, also on the left are the strawberry towers, some blackberry vines, a potting table at the far end, a bit of storage to the right and lots of bare spots waiting for more seeds and warmth. The left photo shows a bit of what lies outside the gate to my dirt paradise. On the right side is one end of the ground level strawberries against my back fence. For some reason Sam Adams wanted a little more exposure so it is at the bottom of the post…..(I couldn’t figure out how to remove it without buggering up the post)  TTFN – Bishop

“Strawberry Towers Forever”

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Did I get the Beatles song wrong….. Strawberry Fields Forever? It just sounded like a good title and “towers” has such a nice ring to it.

I have been wanting to provide “all y’all” with an update on my strawberry towers experiment. It seems to be working pretty well…… even though I still think the 3 inch pipe is too small. The plants weathered the first freeze with no apparent injury. They are looking very healthy and I can’t wait until early spring when they begin to blossom.  The strawberry shown above was picked on February 14th, Valentines Day in 2010. It wasn’t until later, in fact someone sent me a note about the nearly perfect heart shape of the berry, that I noticed the shape. Too bad that I didn’t notice it when I took the picture because I could have said that I had planned it all along. I think it does pay to tell the truth…… that way you don’t have to remember what the lie was!!!!! Click photos fo a bigger image.

The towers seem to be supporting the growth of the transplants pretty well.  The receptacles at the top seem to work well for watering. Gravity takes over and down it flows. I had my good friend John swing by this past weekend and I showed him the experiment. I think he agrees with the idea of testing the 6″ set-up. I will use 6″ PVC drain pipe for phase two of the experiment. Over the Christmas break I will gather up the materials and put it into action. Photos to come.

John has a 4X4 bed that I put in his backyard 2 years ago that needs some attention. I told him that I would be over this next week and clean up the 2011 season remnants and install another 4×4 adjacent to the original. I know he wants one because he installed the irrigation piping to accommodate the expansion…..isn’t that right John? Seems like a good “how to” posting for a future blog. We have one significant challenge. John has his Golden Retriever “Pismo” hooked on vegetables, so much that she harvests ripe tomatoes for him. The next step in her training is to bring them up to the patio and leave them for the family. Unfortunately she loves homegrown tomatoes a bit too much!

My wife is out in California helping to manage some family issues. She saw the post on the turnips and wanted to know if I really ate them….Absolutely! I placed a nice pork loin in the crock pot with turnips, onion, garlic, potatoes and cabbage….wish my carrots were ready….that would have topped it off nicely……. So, yes hun, I ate them and they were excellent!

Plans for this week –

The fall leaves are falling….go figure! – I have to thank my mother for her help with my leaves and the leaves around the neighborhood. She “surprised” me with a nice machine to suck up and shred the leaves as well as chip branches up to about 1.5 inches in diameter.  Wow, mom I have to tell you, it works great. I have been able to deeply mulch one bed with shredded leaves and I have designs on several more. Any excess will find their way into my compost bins.

I fed the worms yesterday and I see  it is time to harvest their rich castings….now some people might refer to it as worm poop – castings sounds so much cleaner and more proper. I am continually amazed how well they do their work even when I don’t give them to attention that I should. Diligent critters they are!!!!

Seeds need to be planted……..More lettuce to replace what my son’s dog zeroed in on…..just doing what dogs do but she could have dug her holes somewhere else. More beets, more carrots, some spinach & chard, sugar snap peas, maybe some bok choy, turnips and a another row of radishes.

Six inch strawberry towers and find a source of winter strawberry plants to finish up the project.

Non-gardening……with my wife gone I have laundry, dishes to do, floors to mop, Christmas decorations to organize …… I am not sure how she finds time to do all that stuff. It kind of gets in the way of my gardening, wood-turning, fishing, bicycling, beer brewing/drinking and  coffee with my buddies down at Starbucks…….. in fact she contacted me at Starbucks this morning and cut my visit short……but hun, I am not complaining, wink,wink!

A note to Jane…..I loved the lemon curd you gave me a year ago and I have a bunch of Meyer Lemons ready to provide their juice for my curd making this week. I will see if I can work that in between some of my lingering tasks. Maybe I will wait until after the curd is done before mopping! John….I still think I can handle the expansion …….. what else can I defer???????

TTFN

Bishop

 

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