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Strawberry Fields – Not Quite Forever

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Last fall I planted about 75 Chandler June bearing plants……they began producing at the beginning with a “beauty” on February 14th, scored a few points by giving the first Berry to my bride…….yeah, almost June bearing LOL. Half of the new plantings were in plastic covered raised beds, about a quarter in version #4 of my strawberry tower and the remainder in a strawberry specific pottery vessel. The link included goes back into the history of my efforts with strawberry towers. The three inch diameter towers have been mothballed for a couple of years. Fall of 2019 I snagged a piece of heavy wall 6 inch pipe…..it was challenging to build the pockets.

Not perfect and the thick pipe wall created challenges making the pockets. I will need to write a separate post with details!

https://bishopsbackyardfarm.com/2014/01/18/strawberry-towers-forever-v-3-1/

Surprisingly this has been my most successful use of the pottery style planter for strawberries. Previous years were sparse.

My raised bed planting under the plastic sheet have been disappointing. The biggest source of my disappointment is with my poor choice of plastic covering. In fact, it was much more than disappointing, it was a bonehead mistake. Yes, in my haste, I grabbed the wrong material, didn’t read the label, installed it and planted all the berry plants before I realized my mistake. I will remedy the error at the end of picking season.

One of my 4’ X 24’ raised beds has been fallow for two years due to my laziness. Lazy no more! By the coming weekend it will be reframed and planted. Most likely candidates will be cucumbers and pole beans. I am growing potatoes in pots again this year and will place them strategically around the beds. The sugar snap peas went in late but I should be able to harvest before the Houston heat lays them low. Carrots and beets also went in late but …….. life goes on.

Bees will be keeping me busier as the summer approaches. It looks like it could be a very bountiful year. I sure wish I hadn’t wrecked my truck. Turns out it is too expensive to repair so I have to jump through the hoops to get the check and shop for another. I think I said it before……. life goes on.

FYI- gardening is a pretty good social distancing tool or activity. Frame building for the beehives also works well.

TTFN

Bishop

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

February Going, Going, Almost Gone.

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2020 is a leap year and we only have 3 days remaining in February. I have sugar snap peas up 2-3 inches, one round of carrots planted, two varieties of beets planted (February is considered a marginal time to plant), potatoes planted and strawberries are ripening. I have some Romaine lettuce seeds in trays in the house to germinate as well as some lettuce cutoffs that are growing leaves. My Meyer Lemon tree is loaded with blooms and it should be a good year.

In the bee world things are looking good. It was a mild winter and 15 of my 16 hives have survived but March can still be a tough month. Five hives were overflowing with bees so I added supers last weekend. Probably four more hives are needing supers very soon. I have 4 new swarm traps baited and set and 4 of my older swarm boxes out. Seven more swarm traps awaiting paint and locations to hang them.

An open air colony that seems to be surviving our mild winter pretty well.

I am putting together a plan to rescue this open air colony but ……. it poses a few logistical issues, 15-18 feet high and 10-12 feet away from the trunk. I promise to document the adventure. In the mean time I will hang a swarm trap to entice them, not likely, but worth a try. The rescue…. may require ladders and a long reach chain saw.

One of the new swarm traps on the oak tree in my yard.

A bit of boredom set in today so I thought I would attempt an Instapot sourdough bread recipe. Ideally I needed one with a yogurt setting, mine doesn’t, so I improvised.

After 25 minutes with the top in place.
This is after 8 minutes with the top off. Good texture and close to a real sourdough flavor.

TTFN

Bishop

The Sweetest of Times………….

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Valentines Day is approaching but that’s not what I am referring to!

This is what I am talking about. This my first berry of the season being grown in a 6” diameter, 5 foot tall strawberry tower.

My strawberries are just now setting fruit but nearby area farms have some organic pick-your-own offerings. While out exploring in the Conroe area a couple of weeks ago, I decided to visit a farm boasting ripe berries. I managed to pick about 7 pounds, even though pickings were slim. I was out the day after the MLK holiday and the out of school kids and families had descended on the strawberry patch nearly wiping out the ripe ones.

I arrived home with enough for two batches of jam. I cleaned them up and bagged them for the freezer. Pulled one bag out yesterday, let it defrost and started cooking the jam. I love the smell, or should I say, the aroma of the cooking berries.

Bringing the batch up to a boil. Mmmmmm good!
Ready to skim the foam off before filling the jars. The foam……never wasted…..trust me!

Seven more half pints of “sweetness” for the pantry. I am watching the weather and postings to drag me out on another picking adventure.

TTFN

Bishop

Benadryl and Bees

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My buddy John and I went out to see the bees today, hitting 4 of the 6 apiary locations. That represents 12 of my 16 hives. John had all my gear loaded in his vehicle because I bashed my truck up pretty badly a few days ago. Long story but fortunately the other driver and were just beat up and bruised.

Simple tasks for today, feeding some sugar water and refilling the pollen sub feeders. My gear today, short pants, long sleeve T-shirt, veiled for most of the stops and for one apiary I did don my gloves….one of the colonies of the three at this location can be frisky. John was not geared up so he smartly stood a very safe distance away. Well, I easily filled the pollen sub feeder here, added sugar water to the two docile colonies and then….. lastly the hot colony.

First, I needed to add a sugar water feeder to this hot one…. a board man style external feeder. In order to do so I needed to remove the restrictor at the entrance in order to add the feeder. That agitated them as it was pretty well propolized into place…..a handful of guard bees herded me away and for some reason went after my black walking boot……Achilles injury and sure enough 3 or 4 stings……I walked off and circled back around to place a restricter guard in place and again agitated the girls. Two more ankle stings and one up the pant leg of my shorts…..not too far up but did lodge a stinger in my thigh.

Benadryl and bees……the Benadryl is carried in my disabled truck…..not in John’s vehicle. The ankle stings were through the sock so it was easy to deal with the stingers left behind. The one in the thigh…..well after walking back to the truck, stripping off the boot and fishing a few more bees down in the boot out, I got around to the thigh. Pulled out my pocket knife and scraped the stinger out….the pulsing venom bag attached had emptied its load…..the thigh is well filled with bee venom.

Time for my Benadryl! I have plenty at home!

The remains two stops went smoothly, in fact, I didn’t bother gearing up at all…..I know the girls in these 6 colonies and they are sweet hearts. Bought lunch for John as a thank you. Then home for Benadryl. I am entering season 7 and am much wiser……my big learning during my first season was a tremendous lesson and Benadryl wouldnt have helped. See hospital photos below.

70 to 80 stings in the head and face…..hard lesson that I have made sure won’t be repeated!
My Homer Simpson look!
Boardman style – an external feeder on a top bar hive.

The bee activity is looking very strong for all of my hives excepting only 1….. if that holds I will be in great shape for the spring nectar flow.

TTFN

Bishop

Meyer Lemon Jelly and Other Tidbits

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As I promised in the last post, I am reporting back on the tasting feedback and impressions…..

Visually most folks thought it looked like light spring honey, see below.

One comment…..”tastes like key lime”…..I can second that!

” I like the jelly but was expecting a more pronounced lemon flavor”……FYI Meyer Lemons really aren’t a lemon.

And so on….”good, nice, tasty, can I take a jar?”

I am going to pronounce it a success and will do another batch this rainy weekend. I will likely jar up a bigger number of sample size jars for give aways. I will also resurrect the jam recipe, much like a marmalade. I will post that recipe if it comes to fruition.

Tidbits

Bees….16 hives and, knock on wood…..they all seem to be doing well. With the mild November and December the bees have been active. I have not seen pollen coming in for the last 3 or more weeks. I decided to put out feeders with pollen substitute. Based on the first one placed the bees are doing a happy dance. In less than 24 hours they had zeroed in and were loading up. See slomo video below.

I love watching the slomo images. The iPhone is pretty awesome.

The charity trap out appears to have been a success. All the bees are out of the shed where they had made a home and now reside in my half size top bar box. The big unknown is – how big is the colony? I started feeding sugar syrup two weeks ago and they sucked it all down. I added pollen substitute yesterday. During the cold snap on Monday I will lock them in and bring them home to fatten them up.

The garden is bare except for the Meyer Lemon tree and 70 new strawberry plants that are developing nicely. Plans for beets and sugar snap peas for planting in late February are underway. I need to refurbish the timbers on one of the 4 X 25 foot raised beds.

Another relatively tedious project will be to rebuild my tandem 4 X 4 X 4 compost bins.

I was gifted a bat house for Christmas figuring I could put it up high on my large oak tree…….guess what, not recommended. So, I need to come up with plan B! Maybe I can build an owl house and put it up in the oak tree.

TTFN

Bishop

Mmmmmmmm………..Meyer Lemons!

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The Meyer Lemon is not really a lemon. Bottom line, Meyer Lemons are both sweeter and less acidic than a true lemon.

“Citrus × meyeri, the Meyer lemon, is a hybrid citrus fruit native to China. It is a cross between a citron and a mandarin/pomelo hybrid distinct from the common or bitter oranges.[1]

Mature trees are around 6 to 10 ft (2 to 3 m) tall with dark green shiny leaves. Flowers are white with a purple base and fragrant. The fruit is rounder than a true lemon, deep yellow with a slight orange tint when ripe, and has a sweeter, less acidic flavor.”

From Wikipedia.

My Meyer Lemon tree has finally become productive after the hard freeze of …. I think 2017! I thought it had killed my lime tree and it obviously heavily damaged the Meyer Lemon. I trimmed the Meyer Lemon back and ignored the lime tree. As spring arrived the Meyer Lemon was sprouting new growth but the lime was bare. As I ripped the lime out of the ground I saw new growth….. too late – the was likely below the graft. Task done!

Meyer Lemons make a lemon curd that is both heavenly and bursting at the seams with both flavor and calories. Today’s cooking adventure does not involve lemon curd – it involves a first for me…….lemon Jelly. This will be a variation of the Meyer Lemon Honey jam I have made in the past. I have to give credit for the inspiration to Max Moszkowicz….he makes “lime jelly” and I just thought….Why not Meyer Lemon Jelly!

The process creates a wonderful aroma throughout the house. The aromatic lemons were thickly sliced and left soaking overnight in the kitchen. Then the aroma really amps up as they boil for 2 hours!

You can almost smell the aromas emanating from the photo of the boiling pot!

I am posting the recipe which includes the jelly variation. A disclaimer……only the Meyer Lemons are organic in my version……I know that for a fact as I have 100% control over the lemon growing. The honey is also mine, not lemon blossom, but it is local and raw – I can’t guarantee that it is organic………I tell bees to stay away from non-organic sources but I am not sure they pay much attention to me.

Once the jelly is done and allowed to set for a few days I will post a taste test update.

Meyer Lemon Honey Jam

INGREDIENTS 

*3 lbs Lemons (Meyers, of course!) 

*6 cups filtered Water 

*5 cups Organic Cane Sugar 

*1/4 cup Organic Lemon Honey (or other delicately flavored honey like Orange or Clover) 

*6 drops pure Lemon Essential Oil (1 drop for each cup of juice) 

 

INSTRUCTIONS ~ WASH lemons. 

~ TRIM off ends. Cut into fat slices. REMOVE pits (if making Jelly) 

~ COVER with filtered water. Leave to soak overnight or 7-8hrs

~ BOIL for 2 hours covered. ~ Then STRAIN through a jelly bag. COMMENT: Don’t be tempted to squeeze the bag or your jelly won’t be clear! ———————- 

NOTE: If you want to make Lemon JAM, skip the straining & whir the hot lemons and water carefully with an immersion blender. You definitely wouldn’t want the pits in the mix for jam though! So pick them out.

~ MEASURE juice. ~ ADD 1 cup sugar per cup of juice. STIR to dissolve sugar over low heat. ~ BOIL again until set. (15-30 minutes) ~ FILL sterilized jars as usual. ~ STORE in a dark cool cupboard. Jelly will keep for 1-2 years, but the flavor & color tend to fade beyond that time. 

Recipe from – http://www.figswithbri.com/

One of the web sites suggested that a slice of lemon would enhance the beauty of the jelly in the jars. I thought it would look great too! I sliced up a lemon, filled the jars, placed the jars in the canning water bath, turned around and what did I discover? You guessed it.

They will pretty good on top of some grilled salmon filets! LOL.

Almost looks like a light spring honey as a finished product!

TTFN

Bishop

Additional trivia for those that are curious……

“The citron (Citrus medica) is a large fragrant citrus fruit with a thick rind. It is one of the original citrus fruits from which all other citrus types developed through natural hybrid speciation or artificial hybridization.”

“Mandarin – mandarin orange

Pomelo – “The pomelo is one of the original citrus species from which the rest of cultivated citrus have been hybridized. 

Winter Composting

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I am visiting my daughter in Denver this week, totally different weather than my Houston clime! Her neighbor loves gardening but laments the fact that she doesn’t seem to be able to compost in the winter. I decided to to investigate cold weather composting tips….and yes, I can learn a little in the process.

I found a nice article from the Empress of Dirt. Granted, she is a little further north but the method should work as well. I think I would consider adding a microbe addition, similar to the type in the included link from Safer Brand. I have used some of their products in the past and really like them.

The winter composting also contains a link to composting basics, 101, that I thought would beneficial to folks new to composting! Because of my warmer climate I don’t utilize closed type bins, I utilize home built open enclosures. The 20 gallon galvanized can recommended in the article appears to be handy for holding scraps, especially in the grips of brrrrr type of cold, before adding to your pile.

Bottom line, COMPOST YOUR WASTES……. adapt to your climate, keep compostables out of the landfills! Landfills create methane….methane is 30 times stronger than CO2 as a green house!

Research from JPL NASA comes this piece of data;

“Emissions data like this can help facility operators identify and correct problems – and in turn, bring California closer to its emissions goals. For example, of the 270 surveyed landfills, only 30 were observed to emit large plumes of methane. However, those 30 were responsible for 40% of the total point-source emissions detected during the survey. This type of data could help these facilities to identify possible leaks or malfunctions in their gas-capture systems.

https://empressofdirt.net/easy-winter-composting/

https://www.saferbrand.com/resources/ringer-compost-plus-compost-starter-3050-6/images/4

I ran across a nice compost image that could be used in most climes and can help deter common pests. My old bins are becoming pretty ragged. I built them with fencing materials that were blown down during Hurricane Ike in 2008.

From ; https://www.backyardboss.net/

Besides being good looking it looks hell for stout!

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.

JBD_7684

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

The variety and freshness of the offerings are pretty amazing.

JBD_7685

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!!!!!

JBD_7688

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

Bee Rescue – Giving Back

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I am in the midst of a trap out for a woman that can’t afford to pay the usual $400.00 to do a cut out. My wife made the connection with the woman and I was reluctant because I don’t want any part of the work and effort to do a cut out. I hemmed and hawed for a week, then asked for a photo…….good news, the location seemed to lend itself to a simple trap out. My biggest concern is Fall……once out I will need to baby the bees for them to make it through the winter.

The location- in the wall of an out of service cold box with wood clad external sides. Apparently a knot in the wood rotted out and left a very nice 1 inch diameter hole. The flat surface of the cold box simplifies the process. First build the escape cone.

Start with 1/8 inch(#8 hardware cloth), create a cone with an exit hole a little larger than than a pencil thickness. I drilled a 2 5/8 inch hole in a thin piece of plywood, sized so 6 or 7 inches of the cone protruded through. Trimmed the fat end to create wings, covered the wings with duct tape and secured with staples.

The bees were foraging and calm when I installed the cone.

The wire cone and small escape hole is not well seen by the bees complex eyes.after escaping to forage they return and are locked out. They mill around, they smell their hive and scramble trying to find a way back in. Sometimes there are other access holes and they will find a way back in. Fortunately, I got lucky….just a single entry hole.

Now I need to make them comfortable. I have a short topbar box needing bees and it has 4 bars of drawn comb, some old heavily propolized bars and a packet of queen scent. Today was day three and the escapees have found a home. I just hope that the weather holds long enough to starve out the queen. Workers are bringing pollen in and I will add a feeder shortly.

Love watching the girls work and drawing in more recruits. If the weather was warmer I would be tempted to bring this box a bar of eggs and brood. I really need to get the queen to recognize that no resources are coming in and choose to leave. I will give her a little time and may poke another hole to pump some smoke into the cavity to encourage her to leave.

Update….. 8 days later and the bees have found some rotted out wood at the base of the old cold box back around the backside. I have sealed up the area but will have to wait for flying weather after our cold snap to gauge my success. Looking for something north of 50-55 degrees F to check it out.

TTFN

Bishop

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