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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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The Garden Is Still There

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For whatever reason, I can come up with too many to list, I just haven’t written much about the garden in the past year or so. It does not mean that I am not active in the garden, in fact, up until a week ago I was buried with cucumbers! Then, the heat and white flies took their toll! The banana plants are growing like crazy but no hint of fruit……yet. They need 14-15 frost free months…..oops….fingers crossed for a mild winter. Looking at March of 2018……..

Tomatoes have finally bit the dust but a couple are hanging around……Yanked most of the vines out last week. Spread mulch and soon…..finished compost from my bins. I just planted some fall Irish Potatoes……only need 110 days or so….should be no trouble.

My Scarlet beans are still climbing skyward, soon to be replaced with Blue Lake….my favorite. Half of my strawberry plants are kicking butt, but, the half that was heavily shaded by the voraciously growing cucumbers look a little pathetic. Gotta give them some love!

I potted up 5 pineapple plants so I can shield them from potential freezes…..I didn’t do so well with those left in the ground last year. I really, really, really want to eat a homegrown pineapple! At the same time I potted up 3 Manazano banana plants…..it is a chore to stay ahead of the new growth that pulls nutrients away from the main stalks. The trimmed banana leave do make excellent mulch…….and they cover a lot of surface area….weed killer deluxe.

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Five pineapple plants, two are over a year old the other three are from early summer.

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One fat stalk and two smaller Manzano banana plants.

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Ok, not easy to see, but I have 6 potholes dug with cut pieces of potato buried……just waiting for some shoots to emerge.

Bees, yes I still have them – down to 12 hives……one became weak and I combined it with a stronger hive and wow, it is booming. I have work to do this week, three hives are overflowing with bees and I need to put a plan together……splits?, NUC’s?, or? The summer dearth is here so I am feeding the bees until the Fall flow…..Goldenrod is the mainstay but will have to see what else adds to the Fall nectar flow.

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This is the swarm I trapped in my backyard over the May weekend when my son Ben was married. I replaced the queen a several weeks ago and added a second brood box today… the new queen is really doing well.

Ok, enough for now…..more garden clean-up, sweat soaked shirts and bee business for the remainder of the week.

TTFN

Bishop

Something New in the Garden

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This find was unexpected up to a point. In the spring of 2014 I planted two varieties of banana tree in my garden. I was at the point of digging them out this year if they did not produce. The other drawback is the sheer size of the plants. They dominate their portion of the garden. 

This morning I went out to visit the garden after 10 days away. Daughter Lisa and son Ben kept things green while I was gone. I picked 4 nice cucumbers and have many more developing. The peppers are not doing well and the heat/humidity have done major harm to my tomatoes.  Looks like the potatoes in the cage will be good. There is always next year! 

  
My bees, two out of three hives look healthy. One of the top bar hives is in trouble. I will check it out later today. I have 4 gallons of honey to harvest this week! Yee Haw! 

Now, the surprise! I have bananas! Yessss! Now, I need to determine when to harvest. It is interesting to see how they develop and arrange themselves! I am looking forward to sampling the fruits soon! 

   
   
Now the wait!!!!!

TTFN

Bishop

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

Back in the Backyard

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Trying to balance work, travel and my backyard duties has been a juggling act. My hired help has had to step in and lend me a hand. My hired hand is a bit expensive but he does good, albeit slow, and deliberate work. Expensive in that I pay him an hourly wage and have to feed the 6 foot 5 inch behemoth too! He really is worth every grocery bag that he chomps through!

This week besides the usual lawn mowing and edging he harvested some long overdue Sago Palm pups. He did a beautiful job removing them and now we are in the process of potting them. Sago Palm pups can be a money making venture. I may ask him to cruise the neighborhood and remove the pups for our neighbors.

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A nice sized pup!

A nice sized pup!

Before I took off to Colorado last week I was replanting some of my strawberries. One of my beds was devastated by the brutal summer an then wiped out completely by my son as he did some irrigation work in the strawberry patch. It really turned out well for me in the end. I had a portion of my veggie beds where I had dropped some strawberry plants into several years ago. They took over that end of the bed! I am needing to clean that end out to plant some fall veggies so no harm done. I moved quite a few out last week and have more to do this weekend. Can’t wait for the spring harvest!

The newly planted strawberry bed

The newly planted strawberry bed

The white flies destroyed my cucumbers and devastated my friend John’s too. I replanted and the white flies returned only this tie I was ready! At first sign of the little buggers I blasted them with a good and safe insecticidal soap. They are looing really healthy! My discarded sweet potatoes have overwhelmed the 4X25 foot bed near the garage. Wow….I will be very curious to see the resulting harvest in a month or so.

My healthy cucumbers climbing the trellis

My healthy cucumbers climbing the trellis

Those pesky sweet potato vines!

Those pesky sweet potato vines!

 

The hummingbirds have been cruising through the Houston area on their way south. We love watching their antics around the feeders as the greedy ones chase others off.

Backyard Visitors

Backyard Visitors

Rain has been long overdue and we are getting a huge dose of it over the past several days! Needed but probably not quite enough to pulls us out of the state wide drought!

TTFN

Bishop

Foliar Feeding with Vermicomposting Leachate

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That is a bunch of technical gobble-di-goop that means I made a liquid feed sprayed on the leaves of my plants using the liquid that comes off the bottom of my new composting bins. I am now using “Worm Factory Tray Worm Composter”. It has a spigot on the bottom that allows me to collect the liquid leachate or as some call it “Worm Tea” off of the bottom. Many of the gardening forums are kind of split on the value of collecting the leachate and some say it is an indication a system that is too damp. The design of the “Worm Factory” lets the liquid to drop to the bottom and out of harms way and I am good with that.

My recipe, not exact science, about a pint or so of leachate(liquid off the bottom), a couple of tablespoons of agri molasses and two gallons of water. I ran an aerator for 24 hours before filling the sprayer and applying the mixture as a foliar spray. An online reference says – “Foliar feeding is a technique of feeding plants by applying liquid fertilizer directly to their leaves. It has been known for many years that plants are able to absorb essential elements through their leaves. The absorption takes place through the stomata of the leaves and also through the epidermis. Movement of elements is usually faster through the stomata, but the total absorption may be as great through the epidermis. Plants are also able to absorb nutrients through their bark.”

I used an old beer fermenter that had some deep gouges on the inside…good place for bad critters to hide that can give your beer off flavors …. or worse! A small aerator with a small air stone I have used in my bait buckets provided the tiny bubbles. The molasses provides some food for bacteria to grow….the web has lots of don’t use molasses and some say use molasses and I just do what I want….sprayed the plants two days ago and none of them appear to be complaining today. In Houston….avoid spraying your tomato plants….it could increase the chance of disease. I just poured a litle on the soil beneath the plants.

Mixing bucket and my litle sprayer.

Mixing bucket and my litle sprayer.

Gate to may Garden

Gate to may Garden

Gate to my garden with the pole bean arches seen behind the gate.

Gate to my garden with the pole bean arches seen behind the gate.

A look back toward my compost bins and strawberry towers

A look back toward my compost bins and strawberry towers

The second round of the strawberry harvest is under way now. They tend to be a little smaller bur I think sweeter. The blackberries are ready to start picking. I should have enough blackberries to make some jam if the the birds and my wife don’t eat too may fresh of the vine! Tomatoes, yes, homegrown and vine ripe tomatoes are finding their way into the kitchen now. Life would so empty without “real” tomatoes, not the gassed store bought varieies! My peppers, Serrano, Poblano and Bell type are all doing well. I had higher hopes for my asparagus this year!!!! Not sure what is up with that harvest. Last year was outstanding. The pole beans are climbing and producing very well. I still have Swiss Chard that looks good even in the Houston heat.

Yesterday was a light day in the garden in terms of labor. I only soaked through two T-shirts! I am always pulling weeds, that is a given. I added some soil to a couple of the potato bins, i.e., grown above ground in containers. I will get a harvest in another 20-30 days it appears. I added some grass cuttings to my compost bin and then layered in some brown material from the other bin. I will check temperatures of the pile today. The addition of grass clippings really heats the pile up.

Heading out in a few minutes to pick before it gets “way too hot”.
TTFN
Bishop
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The Other Garden “Ato” – the Potato

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I seem to celebrate the tomato as if it the crown jewel of the backyard farmer as many gardeners do. Tomatoes do seem to be a central theme with many garden bloggers, “how to” sites, mail order companies and farmer’s markets. That said, I would like to share my growing fascination with potato growing. I have tried barrel or basket growing in the past. This year I have a mix of conventional trenched and hilled in ground method, a barrel and two tubs.

I planted some Yukon Gold taters in the ground and the barrel at the same time. They are doing very well. I had a few leftover and a couple of weeks later I planted them in the Rubbermaid tub I had been using to house my vermicomposting worms. I need to add lots of soil to it tomorrow!!!! I planted another tub a week ago and the shoots have yet to break the surface.

The barrel planted potato eyes were placed in the barrel with about six inches of soil. They took off. I think they benefitted from the warming effect of the barrel. The soil level is up to about 40 inches now and I won’t add any more. The in ground potatoes are also doing very well. The plants are 30+ inches above the hilled up mounds. I have high hopes for a good harvest.

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An old garbage barrel with  holes in the bottom. Potato eyes at the bottom, 30 + inches below support the lush green growth.

An old garbage barrel with holes in the bottom. Potato eyes at the bottom, 30 + inches below support the lush green growth.

The newest tub was planted with supermarket spuds that sprouted in the pantry. Supermarket spids are not the best choice as they are sometimes treated to inhibit sprouting. The Yukon Gold are actual seed potatoes purchased at Kingwood Garden Center. Helpful folks, lots of knowledge and support organic gardeners!

The tub as it appears when the potatoes are planted. About 6 inches in the bottom,

The tub as it appears when the potatoes are planted. About 6 inches in the bottom,

Soil in this one is up about 10 inches and needs quite a bit more this weekend.

Soil in this one is up about 10 inches and needs quite a bit more this weekend.

I am looking forward to filching a few “new” potatoes down a foot or so a little later in early summer. I will be watching closely….once they flower and the tops die back I will harvest. The nice thing about using the tubs and barrels is the no digging to harvest. Just dump the container and sort through bounty!

PS – lunch was tomatoes picked today used in a wilted spinach and fresh Chard salad with grilled chicken breast. Dressing was simply EVOO and a blackberry flavored aged Balsamic vinegar. A little fresh ground pepper and sea salt! Just perfect!

TTFN

Bishop

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