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Snow? It Snowed In Houston

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Crazy as it sounds, a big blast of Canadian icy air made it as far south as Houston. For Houstonians it was brutally cold this morning, 16 degrees according to my backyard thermometer. It looks like it won’t warm much for a few days. Obviously my vegetable garden will nor fare well. I covered a new bed of carrots with fingers crossed that they will make it. I covered my strawberries with a couple of inches of leaves and I suspect they will survive. The Romaine lettuce had already started to bolt, so no loss there. My biggest concern was for my Meyer Lemon tree. I have it tented and a small light bulb included under the tent to keep it, hopefully, warm enough.

Lettuce is biting the dust. Upper left is a section of carrots that are covered and fingers crossed they survive. Top right is my topbar bee hive and I believe the colony is strong enough to survive.
I have put a bar in front of the opening to the hive and completely closed off the similar opening on the back side of the box.
There were a couple of bees slowly moving around near the entrance so I do have faith that most are clustered up tightly and keeping the central portion warm.
Swiss Chard standing defiantly against the freezing weather…..at least for today.

Roads are icy and I don’t have any place to go so, sit tight and hope the power stays on! A couple of my pineapple plants are in the garage and hopefully warm enough. If we do lose power at least my home brewed beer will stay cold…..always a silver lining. I was proactive enough to pull a good portion of my beets yesterday and ready to be roasted today!

TTFN

Bishop

Catching Up…..Spring is on the Way

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The quiet time of winter is over here in my backyard just north of Houston. I have been eating beets from the garden as well as some carrots. In fact, last night I grilled a spatchcock chicken along with a handful of freshly pulled carrots…….FYI, I should have pulled up a few more carrots!

I love this water color app called Waterlogue…..orange and a couple of yellow carrots freshly pulled.
Obviously not enough carrots. Olive oil, a little sea salt and rosemary. 8-10 minutes over direct heat and about 15 minutes over indirect heat with the foil sealed shut. FYI, this is a good size of carrot to cook through and not be crunchy in the center.

I have both red and gold variety beets growing along with Romaine lettuce, about 50 new Chandler strawberries. The radishes are done and I could probably plant more but I’m the only one that eats them! Sugar snap peas have been planted, along with some turnips and another round of beets.

Bees are doing well and the early spring bodes well if the weather stays wet enough for the early spring nectar flowers. For you folks in Texas here is a very good list, link attached. Late winter does include my Meyer Lemon tree as a good nectar source….. looks like it will bloom very soon. https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/travis/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/EAGF-2017-Central-Texas-Bee-Friendly-plants.pdf

My backyard topbar hive. Bees are storing honey…..this comb is a little wonky so I will pull it and maybe two other misshapen bars to crush and squeeze in a few weeks once I see more nectar flowers blooming.
Suited up but not for the backyard bees….my backyard bees are pretty sweet, no gloves or suit needed but I do always wear my veil. I was suited up here because I was cutting weeds and brush around some of my friskier bees!
Bonus image from our recent trip up to North Dakota. These two whitetail boys were sparring a bit, not real energetically but grunting a little.

More spring stuff in the works.

TTFN

Bishop

Armenian Cucumber

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“The Armenian cucumber has a bit of an identity crisis.

Botanically, it’s considered a melon, with seeds and a mushy center that resembles a cantaloupe and a raw aftertaste akin to watermelon rind. Gardening enthusiasts like to compare it to zucchini. But if it’s picked at the proper time, it has the crispiness and flavor profile of a garden fresh conventional cucumber, so that won out in the naming convention.” https://www.mysanantonio.com/food/recipes-cooking/article/Armenian-cucumbers-stand-out-for-size-and-11949986.php

This one is a midsized fruit, 14 inches long by 3 1/2 inches wide.
Ready to be seasoned after coating in olive oil.

I thought that I had allowed the fruit to zoom past right size for picking but apparently that is not true. Up to about 18 inches long they mimic an English cuke in flavor. The really big ones apparently become sweeter and more melon like in flavor. I suspect the larger and sweeter ones may caramelize while grilling adding even more flavors. I will have to report back with results in the near future.

Unfortunately I composted this one before educating myself!

Grilled Armenian cucumber…….I am happy to report that it turned out well. Next time I will season it a little spicier but one thing I really liked is that it retained it’s crunch after grilling. I like grilled zucchini but it zooms past retaining it’s crunch far too fast while grilling…..mush! “While the grill is heating up, slice the cucumber into 1½ to 2-inch chunks and lightly coat both sides with olive oil and sprinkle each side with Spice Rub to taste. Place the chunks on the side of the grill opposite of the coals, and cook for 15 minutes with the lid on the grill closed, flipping once midway through. Move the chunks over to the area directly above the coals. Sear for 2 minutes per side and transfer to a plate and enjoy.”

Turned out very well. It is a keeper and I will do some experimenting to find a spicier rub mix. All in all, we enjoyed the Armenian Cucumber. My “Goo Friend”, chef last night also grilled the zucchini nicely.

TTFN

Bishop

Goo Friend….. there is story there somewhere in my archives. https://bishopsbackyardfarm.com/2016/04/

Facebook Memes…..Do They Work? Or – Doing it “My Way”

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If you follow Facebook there are multiple memes showing how to grow vegetables from your kitchen scraps. I don’t know about you, but they seem a bit too good to be true. Ok, raise your hand if you have tried…….hmmm, how many hands are up?

Well, I am going to raise my hand now. If you have followed me for a long time you have seen some of my experiments. At the top of that list are my strawberry towers, with reasonably good results, but only for the initial growing season. I do have an update coming, but will hold off for a few more weeks.

Let me start with celery. I didn’t follow the instructions in the meme, surprise, surprise! I did it my way as Frank would have sung. As a side note, I heard that Frank hated singing that song.

From a Wall Street Journal article, June 2nd, 2009.”Frank Sinatra may not have always been the easiest guy in the world to get along with, but he was nothing if not consistent. One attitude that rarely varied was his opinion of “My Way,” a song whose 40th anniversary is being heralded with the reissue of the 1969 album. “My Way” was quite possibly the single most popular number from the final act of Sinatra’s career. And in concert after concert over a 25-year period, he never hesitated to tell audiences exactly what he thought of it:

— “I hate this song — you sing it for eight years, you would hate it too!” (Caesars Palace, 1978)

— “And of course, the time comes now for the torturous moment — not for you, but for me.” (L.A. Amphitheater, 1979)

– “I hate this song. I HATE THIS SONG! I got it up to here [with] this God damned song!” (Atlantic City, 1979)”……………..

Ok, back to the celery, did it my way and just poked the stub into the ground in the garden and walked away. A week later it was showing life. Now, at three weeks, it looks like a young celery plant. See photo below.

I hope it survives the coming warm weather so I can finish the experiment by eating some!

Well that worked pretty well. I next took a couple of cut off ends from some Romaine lettuce, and yes, I did it my way. They too were just poked into the dirt and allowed to fend for themselves.

One of the twin plantings
I poked this one in the ground a couple of days ago and the center is sprouting!

One more little tidbit, I have been a no till gardener for about three years now and it seems to be working. I use layers of leaves, grass clippings and buckets full of compost out of my bins. This has made a very dark and rich looking soil.

Stay tuned for more gardening done “My Way” ……. sorry Frank I just had to do it!

TTFN

Bishop

Central California Coast – Farmer’s Market

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We are out of Houston and loving the weather, the scenery and the people on the Central California Coast. We, my bride and I have been sampling all kinds of beer over the past day and a half, and probably could have written a good post on my beer blog, https://bishopsbeerblog.com/ , but we had such a good experience at the Los Osos/Baywood Park Farmers Market, I just had to capture the visit.

The morning was spent wandering up the coast to the Sea Elephant rookery before heading back south. Lunch in Cayucos and then south to the Los Osos area. We drove through the area where my my mother lived For 20+ years before she passed away three years ago. It is a bit bittersweet as so many great memories came flooding back. By happenstance, we stumbled onto the Monday Farmer’s Market in Los Osos/Baywood Park…..I think I already mentioned that. It is a small but colorful market.

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My lovely bride striding off into the small but very colorful market.

The variety and freshness of the offerings are pretty amazing.

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I could have bought every loaf and with a lot of butter it would have been a meal. Kathy had a better, at least from a health perspective, choice for our evening meal. I did steer her to to a small brewery in Cambria Pines before arriving back to the motel. Dinner cost…$ 13.50!!!!!

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Number one… We should have bought more strawberries. We only bought one small basket of very sweet and wonderful strawberries…..Main course was a quart of Jack Fruit soup. Oh my, very flavorful and very satisfying. Appetizers were had at the 927 brewery in Cambria, I had a flight of their beers, Toyon Amber Ale – Slab Town Pale Ale – Summerdale IPA – Beer Inoculus IPA and for Kathy an Ollalberry beer with a nice tart finish.

TTFN

Bishop

Because She Loves Tomatoes

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She didn’t grow up loving tomatoes! She had only been exposed to those from the supermarket. Here is a little info that may influence where YOU but tomatoes in the future;

I worked at a produce warehouse in Bakersfield California….we received produce by the truckloads and placed them into the appropriate storage room. We would then load trucks for the local stores 5 nights per week with the produce items they had ordered. The tomatoes we received were not any where near red when they arrive but 3 days later they were red and headed to the shelves at the local markets. What was magic about the 3 days?

Answer: A room with controlled temperature, humidity and a big dose of ethylene gas. The tomatoes went into the room hard, firm( the hard and firm part is to help in transit) and with some evidence of a pink at the stem attachment, three days later, very red but still hard and firm tomatoes were sent out to the markets. It is no wonder that she didn’t like them!

Along about 1982 she married me…..lucky for me and I suppose lucky for her too as I introduced her to “worldly” things like vine ripened tomatoes! She couldn’t believe how flavorful they could be. Her first taste of an Heirloom tomato, a Brandywine to be exact, blew her mind. Her comment was that it tasted like a perfect tomato with a dash of salt…..but no salt was added. Unfortunately I struggle to grow Brandywine tomatoes here in Houston but Bakersfield was perfect for them.

On the patio near the house I keep a determinate variety of tomato for her pleasure. She can keep a daily eye on it and removes the ripening tomatoes before her friends, the damn squirrels, can get to them…..I have proposed a solution for the squirrels but she won’t acquiesce.

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The patio plant sans ripe tomatoes….they have been removed before tempting the squirrels.

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One of her favorite combinations – vine ripe tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion(not shown) No ethylene gas room used in the ripening of this tomato…..unharmed in the natural process!

Recipe…..

Whatever ratio of chopped tomatoes and quarter slice cucumbers that you desire. Chopped red onion to flavor and mix with a 50/50 mix of an Italian dressing and Ranch dressing. Let marinate for a bit…..she usually can’t wait, still taste heavenly! I will sometimes add fresh ground black pepper to my bowl.

The Sweet Million cherry tomatoes are kicking in and they can also be used….usually just cut in half.

I have a couple of Roma Tomato plants that are loaded up with green tomatoes and lots of blossoms.

Bee stuff for a moment. I extracted a couple of supers last week and put them out in the garden for the local bees, not my bees, to clean up before returning to their respective hives. They do a great job and helps the local feral bee populations.

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I hope you have access to vine ripened tomatoes….if not try a Farmers market but be picky. If you spot produce boxes behind the tables ask questions about the source!!!!! A gentle squeeze test will also indicate whether the are vine ripened or coerced into turning red…..not ripe but just beautiful red!

For you Hun;

“Don’t tell me it’s not worth trying for
You can’t tell me it’s not worth dying for
You know it’s true
Everything i do, i do it for you”

(“(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” is a song by Canadian singer and songwriter Bryan Adams. Written by Adams, Michael Kamen and Robert John “Mutt” Lange,)

TTFN

Bishop

A Return to the Garden

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This morning I caught a 5:40 AM flight from Lafayette, Louisiana back home to Houston. I had a short consulting job……gotta find a way to pay for my hobbies and vices…..landing here in Houston before 7:00 AM. I bought my Goo friend and driver, John, breakfast as his “Uber driver” payment for bringing me home. I was back home in the garden by 8:20 AM.

The strawberries are slowing down but the pole beans, both green and purple, are really kicking in! Here is the haul on the first pass! A token yellow squash was also discovered. On my next trip out I will pick a bucket full of sugar snap peas and an armful of Swiss Chard. The peas will give way to cucumber plants over the weekend. Side note; I have so much Chard that I can’t give it all away… the chickens at one of my apiary locations nearby happily accept every armful!!! Somehow I have earned the label – “The Chicken Whisperer” at this location. They all seem to love my visits!

FYI, I only planted one mound of squash. I have not had much luck with summer squashes in the past but it looks promising this year!

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

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

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

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