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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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Garden Macro

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A few macro looks at stuff in the garden.

I have a little sugar water feeder in my backyard to attract neighborhood bees. Who knows, maybe word will get out and I will get some scout bees looking for a home in my swarm trap nearby!

Yum!!!! Strawberry season is kicking in. I have about 100 plants, about 1/3 newly planted so they won’t produce much. Love watching them mature and ripen up!

I put in some 2-3 year old blueberry plants in this winter. Looks like I may wind up with enough for a snack or two from my Backyard Garden.

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Blue Lake pole bean plant wending its way skyward. It is fascinating to see how the vines grab and wrap themselves in a ……….. I tried to google the direction question about the pole beans and became confused…….mine all seem to grab and twist to the right….is that counter-clockwise? I think it is!

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Signs of life. My Meyer Lemon tree was very hard hit by the winter’s extended freeze her in Houston. Over the past several weeks it began to leaf out. Closer inspection yesterday shows a handful of blossoms emerging. I do think it will survive! Yee Haw.

TTFN

Bishop

Random Stuff

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Today is my Birthday and I have been busy doing random stuff in my garden, with the bees and like any good A.D.D. guy, anything to get in the way of sitting down to finish my taxes.

Blueberries and Blackberries;

Drove out to Grangerland to take a look at my hive and add some corrugated plastic roofing to a couple of the topbar hives. IMG_4630

Got the smoker going and my new pair of goat skin gloves, Christmas present from my better half, are getting ready receive baptism.

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Evidence that the bees are doing their part to make the blueberries at Blakelock’s Berries big and flavorful. Can’t wait for them to ripen.

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Between my bees, and I am positive this is one of my bees……. and the local bumblebees the Blueberry blossoms are being well pollinated.

After Grangerland I rolled back to Russel Palmer in Kingwood to check on my suspect topbar hive. I was worried after my inspection a couple of weeks ago as it appeared that the hive beetles were taking over the hive. I cleaned and scraped and good rid of suspect comb but didn’t see much evidence of a healthy hive. It is amazing  what 10-12 days will do for a hive. I opened it yesterday, March, 11, day before my birthday and – WOW- they are kicking butt. Lots of capped brood(baby bees waiting to emerge), honey stores and bees hauling in pollen……abundant wild blackberries(dewberries) all over the area…….and very few hive beetles!

The topbar hive ready for inspection; lovely capped brood and tons of nurse bees; a dewberry blossom being serviced!

After that stop, it was off to Mills Branch at the back of Kingwood. Just a visual inspection of the three of the bees there, busy as bees usually are, hauling in loads of pollen. Fed the chickens, pulled some weeds from the raised beds and gave the chickens a green treat, gathered eggs and headed home.

I just love how fresh eggs have yolks that sit up so nicely and the whites don’t run everywhere! FYI, the little egg in the photo was found to be sans a yolk!

I did think about beer a bit….I will probably add a post over on my beer blog very soon. https://bishopsbeerblog.com/

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I almost forgot about this cute guy…..He is a little over a week old and being bottle fed at the Russel Palmer location. It was touch and go for a bit but it looks like the little guy will pull through……So a quick stop here evolved into a tour…..Ronnie’s garden, potatoes, blackberries, citrus, asparagus, figs, strawberries, cattle, rabbits, fresh tilled soil with rabbit manure, talk of tomato plants yet to be put in the ground, pinto beans, okra and on and on…..I love his place!!!!! Did I mention my A.D.D.?

Swiss Chard…….from my garden last week.

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Prepping the leaves to parboil before freezing……Mmmmmm good!

Enough for now….

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

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

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

 

 

Musings – Something I do too Often

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My wandering mind, always a bit out of control.

Yesterday I was trying to cram too many activities into my day…..The guy at the mower shop called for the third time about my leaf vacuum and chipper that had been in the shop, ready for over two weeks….I had bees to feed, beers to drink, weeds to pull, strawberries to pick and the list went on.

My fat tired garden wagon was strapped to the rack on the back of my Suburban. I released the ratchet strap and placed the strap inside the vehicle…..got distracted…….maybe the bee swarm trap was attracting attention, another cup of coffee, my 5th, and…..oh yes go get the leaf Vac. Fired up the Suburban and headed off. Arrived at the shop, grabbed a strap to tie down the leaf vac and wandered to the back of the Suburban……..and i luckily made it the 8 miles to the shop with the garden wagon still resting on the rack…..Surprise, surprise. FYI, this is garden wagon number two……..I lost one a year and half ago….it was “strapped” down, but obviously not well. Fifteen miles of freeway driving followed the 6 miles from my house down Kingwood Drive to the freeway. I retraced the route, hoping for the best but, I was worried about a catastrophic event. It became obvious that I was lucky and I suspect someone else got lucky and picked up and $ 80.00 wagon…….maybe a little scraped and dented!

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The infamous rack and a peek inside my two “seater” Suburban. the wagon wheels are visible on the left side. I may need to invest in a truck soon!

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A closer look. My “Goo” friend John built me a box to organize my tools….again…my scattered brain always hunting for where the needed tools are. The box will also double a a swarm box if I encounter one…..Love it!

What else…..Oh yes the swarm. It is drawing “lookie lu’s”…..today looks promising. I have some old comb in the trap and that is generating lots of visitors into the open house. Fingers crossed.

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Swarm box with “lookie lu’s”. I hope they like the decor and invite the rest of the group.

Tomatoes

March 28 and I have lot’s of green tomatoes, Celebrity and Juliet are producing. I have been using my electric toothbrush to buzz pollinate the tomato blossoms….apparently successfully. Check out the old link to my article.

 

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