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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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Getting My Hands Dirty – Real Dirty

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It has been a long “dry spell”- if you will, a drought for my Gardening Blog. I haven’t stopped gardening but have found/made little time to write about getting my hands dirty in the garden. My beer blog….I seem to find more time to write about my favorite beverages!!!! http://bishopsbeerblog.com/

The garden has slowed down at the end of a long hot summer. All of the tomato plants have been pulled save one. It looks like I may be able to squeeze out a couple more “maters”. The asparagus patch is over head high with ferns and if I peek under the foliage I can still find a few spears to snap off and eat as I work. I shared one with a visitor last week and she couldn’t believe how sweet the spears were! I have carrots coming up, beets have sprouted, the sugar snap peas are climbing, strawberry beds are looking good and my two banana trees have started to dominate their locations……not sure if they will become permanent members because of their size. One of then is a bit unique, a manzano (apple) banana. I have also heard it referred to as a manzanillo….Regardless of the name, I am told that they are very sweet.

Strawberries….I added 50 Chandler plugs and 50 Sweet Charlie plugs on the day before Halloween. I like the ease of planting the plugs I order form Ison’s Nursery. http://www.isons.com/

I used my wood lathe to turn a dibble; From Wikpedia – “A dibber or dibble is a pointed wooden stick for making holes in the ground so that seeds, seedlings or small bulbs can be planted. Dibbers come in a variety of designs including the straight dibber, T-handled dibber, trowel dibber, and L-shaped dibber. ” I found some images on my internet  search and I must say….some people can turn some very nice ones….Mine was a quick utilitarian effort….it works and was sized to match the plugs! The strawberry towers are filled and I can’ wait for the February/Spring crop!

Strawberry plugs in the tray from Isaon's

Strawberry plugs in the tray from Ison’s

My home made dibble sized for the strawberry plugs.

My home made dibble sized for the strawberry plugs.

My beehive is humming along…..sorry about the pun! The mouse guard is in place for the winter and has obviously kept the fat toad out of the hive. My daughter had seen him hanging out near the entrance but I actually found him nestled inside with his head poking out through the entrance….wonder how many he ate! I shooed him away and installed the barrier.

Back to bananas for a moment – The Mexican family that that gave me the corms, also gave me a family tradition for making tamales. They use the banana leaves! They hold the leaf over a gas burner moving it back and forth until it becomes pliable. They then use the banana leaf like you would the corn husk. Here is a pork tamale recipe. I think I will give it a try. Marcelino  tells me that they are much more moist than the traditional method. http://www.food.com/recipe/pork-tamales-in-banana-leaves-tamales-con-puerco-381926

PS – while out to dinner last night at the restaurant my wife looked at my hands and shook her head. I know what she was thinking….”you have nice gardening gloves yet you choose to just let your hands get dirty!!!!!!!” I tried, I really did try to scrub everything clean. The problem –  I have a fingernail on my right hand that was crushed many years ago and it grows goofy looking creating a dirt trap. So, as she was looking and shaking her head my mind quietly said, “yes dear!!!!!!!”

 

Paused for a week…..computer issues and then one of my many trips to Williston, North Dakota.  Now, about those very dirty hands. I had ignored my composting worms for too long. The drain off the bottom of the bin was plugged up and I knew the bottom tray was probably getting saturated. Oh yes, absolutely full. No problem, I made up a 5 gallon bucket of worm compost tea. I fed the majority of the tea to the newly planted strawberry pugs now thriving in the strawberry towers. My sugar snap peas are starting to climb but appear fragile. I harvested about 4 pounds of worm poop and spot fed the peas as well as giving a good dose to my asparagus ferns. I am very hopeful for a huge asparagus crop next spring.

My wife had the paper shredder fired up taking all of the probable confidential mail to create worm bedding.  The identity thieves will certainly have a tougher time putting the stripss back together. I also use the worms to take the ground up eggshells and make some calcium rich fertilizer. Between the worms and my big outdoor compost bins I send very little to the landfill.

Now wash hands thoroughly and make a sandwich with my homemade sourdough bread. Later on today I need to make the sourdough sponge for tomorrow’s baking day!

 

TTFN

Bishop

Worm Food

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My silent workers toiling away in the darkness of the worm bin have been overjoyed of late! My daughter Ashleigh asked me “ Dad, how do you know that they are overjoyed?”

“It’s simple, they wiggle more!”, was my knowing response.

There is a little more to it than that. The red composting worms I use,  (Eisenia fetida or Eisenia andrei), are surface or near surface feeders. For most of the summer, up until two weeks ago, they weren’t wiggling much at all. In fact they either stayed buried deeply in the bins or, possibly succumbed to the brutal heat. During the weather change I took some groceries out to the little guys. Not much sign of activity. I was afraid that this long hot summer had been too much for them. I spread the meal out, put the lid on and hoped for the best.

Two days later I took another bowl if groceries out and on the surface, especially on the strawberry trimmings, it was swirling with red wrigglers.

Yes they were overjoyed!

A bowl of yummy wormfood

A bowl of yummy worm food

My overjoyed workers wiggling, waving and eating!

My overjoyed workers wiggling, waving and eating!

 

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

Tomato, Tomato Regardless of How You Say it – They Both Taste Yummy

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I should be rewarded with my first ripe tomatoes in less than two weeks and they will not be the commercial hothouse or worse varieties. There is just something special about YOUR tomatoes, picked at the peak of ripeness, sliced and savored! Granted, my first ones will be of the cherry variety so probably not sliced but nonetheless, savored.

Cherry type, Sweet Million - just love those clusters

Cherry type, Sweet Million – just love those clusters

Years ago I worked at a produce warehouse loading and unloading trucks at night while trying obtain a degree during the daylight hours. It was a bit of a challenge. I did learn quite a bit about produce! Some lessons were painful, i.e., thoroughly was your hands after handling Seranno or Jalapeno peppers! Apples had to be my favorite – the apple room was kept quite cold, a real blessing in the hot weather and because I was the tall guy, I stayed in the room to stack the boxes. The hand trucks carried boxes stacked 5 high, I had the job of adding 3 more boxes after the lads dropped them off. Crisp cool air and the wonderful scent of apples.

Here were other rooms at the warehouse that were not as pleasant. Tomatoes were shipped to us as “breakers”, meaning the shoulder of the tomatoes were just beginning to show color. The rest of the tomato was green and extremely firm! The tomato boxes are designed for air circulation for a reason. We stacked boxes in the tomato room “loosely” – each stack stood independently a few inches apart from the others. Once the room was full we shut and sealed the door, turned up the warmth, humidity and added ethylene gas. From Wikpedia –

“ Commercial ripening rooms use “catalytic generators” to make ethylene gas from a liquid supply of ethanol. Typically, a gassing level of 500 to 2,000 ppm is used, for 24 to 48 hours. Care must be taken to control carbon dioxide levels in ripening rooms when gassing, as high temperature ripening (68F) has been seen to produce CO2 levels of 10% in 24 hours.” http://ne-postharvest.com/ripening.htm#controlledatmosphereripening

It was a similar process in the banana room and once the fruit had been gassed and gasses evacuated, well mostly evacuated, then we moved them out and loaded the local delivery trucks. I would guess that we walked over 15 miles during an 8 hour shift, excepting the Friday night shift, which was typically 14 hours and more. The Saturday local runs were huge!

I have a diverse mix of tomatoes this year, two types of Cherry, Celebrity, Mortgage Lifter (standard and a grafted variety, Brandywine Red and Pink –both grafted varieties, Patio varieties – determinate, most of what I grow are the indeterminate types, Cherokee,  Juliet and a volunteer of some sort. The volunteer is starting to set fruit and it appears to be a smaller cluster variety. I had great luck with a volunteer plant last year….it was prolific!!!!

Celebrity Variety - 4-5 inch size and does well when it is hot.

Celebrity Variety – 4-5 inch size and does well when it is hot.

The newest tomato on the patio plant.

The newest tomato on the patio plant.

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One of the Patio varieties.

Other garden notes, the barrel and in ground potatoes are kicking butt! I have not had such vigorous and tall growth in my limited potato growing experience. The pole beans are reaching skyward on the arches made from the Crepe Myrtle cuttings, Snap Peas are in their last week of production, asparagus is coming up, I have Chard and more Chard…. I will use some Chard in a smoothie today and may even try some of the kale in a smoothie.

Some of my Swiss Chard

Some of my Swiss Chard

The Yukon Gold Potatoes as of the middle of April. They are much bigger now!

The Yukon Gold Potatoes as of the middle of April. They are much bigger now!

The blackberry vines have a heavy set going on and I hope I get to harvest before the birds find them. I also have my Pineberry – a white strawberry with red seeds and my Alpine strawberries producing. Hopefully I can propagate the Pineberries to make a bigger planting for next year and the Alpine berries…..so tasty but so tiny…fun, tasty but mostly ornamental!  I had to stop typing and step outside to sample the Pineberries and the Alpine berries. Very yummy. It is tough to gauge the ripeness of the Pineberries. The color change is minimal, my best gauge is the firmness and it appears that when ripe they pull off of the stem easily. I have lots of Pineberry runners showing up so hopefully I have a bigger patch next year.

A ripe Pineberry. At this stage it is almost overripe. The best stage is just a blush of pink and the seeds are red.

A ripe Pineberry. At this stage it is almost overripe. The best stage is just a blush of pink and the seeds are red. The flavor is similar to a pineapple with a hint of strawberry.

One of the many blackberry clusters.

One of the many blackberry clusters.

My commercial vermicomposting bins are working very well. I have added the third box on the top, two more to go before I harvest the bottom box. The design of the bins has a liquid collecting pan and spigot. I pulled about a quart of worm poop water off the bottom yesterday. I mixed a pint with two gallons of water and fed some of my potted plants and the strawberry towers. Everything seems to be happy in the garden right now! The summer, or at least a real summer heat has not appeared yet. May is tomorrow and the heat wave can start at any time!

TTFN

Bishop

Carrots out the Wazoo – Now What?

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On the heels of last nights awesome rainstorm across the Houston area, close to 2 inches overnight, I decided it was time to pull up the carrots. Some have just exploded with growth. See photo below.

Exploded/split carrot....they taste OK but my wife refuses to let me cook them.

Exploded/split carrot….they taste OK but my wife refuses to let me cook them.

I am in the process of prepping for cucumbers and squash plantings in the next week. The sugar snap and snow peas are still producing but the heat that disables them is just around the corner. My early planting of Yukon Gold potatoes is off to an amazing start. I am using a barrel, a big tub and of course – some planted in the back bed.

Yukon Gold Plants needing to be hilled up a little deeper!

Yukon Gold Plants needing to be hilled up a little deeper!

The Brussels Sprouts are still forming, I hope well enough to harvest before the heat sets in! Good looking plants, not sure what to expect as this is my first attempt at growing them. I found a good recipe and cooking advice over on – http://promenadeplantings.com/2013/04/11/brussels-sprout-cheddar-and-apple-salad/

The freezer is full of strawberries waiting to made into wonderful jam. As they fade in the garden I am loving the evidence of a potentially great blackberry harvest! I enjoy them fresh but he low sugar jam I make helps extend the enjoyment into the fall or if lucky….till 2014 arrives.

I added more strawberry scraps to the top level of my worm bins. I am now on level five and the migration up towards the top bin is underway. They seem to be a little chubbier than usual…..could it be the abundance of strawberries in their diet? – Quite possibly – they have been binge eating strawberries for many weeks now! I still recycle….lots of scraps going into my compost bins.

I need some variety in recipes for Swiss Chard – at the moment it is an abundant ornamental in the garden. I can only eat so much fresh in with salads or wilted like spinach….Help!

Carrots and more Carrots

Carrots and more Carrots

A look down the garden path toward the back beds. The poles in the foreground arch up over the entrance and soon will be covered in 3 varieties of pole beans.

A look down the garden path toward the back beds. The poles in the foreground arch up over the entrance and soon will be covered in 3 varieties of pole beans.

 

TTFN

Bishop

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