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Jammin’

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Although I have been quiet with my blogging I have been staying busy with the garden, the bees, the beer sampling and trying to make sense of the crazy politics. I promise that I will not bring politics into the mix…

I started picking my first strawberries in late December…not really enough to call a harvest but those that survived the trip from garden to kitchen were cleaned up and placed in a freezer bag. I tend to snack on the goodies when out in the garden, berries, snap peas and now the asparagus spears that are poking through. Thanks to a Valentines gift from my wife several years ago I have a little sink with running water in my garden. A quick rinse and I have a garden fresh snack.

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I don’t believe this one survived the trip into the kitchen. March has been a better month for strawberries and based on blossom count April should be awesome. I celebrated the first day of spring yesterday by whipping up a batch of strawberry jam. Results, 6 –  1/2 pint jars, 2 – 1/4 pint jars, 1 – 12 oz. jar and a miscellaneous sized cute jar found in amongst my canning supplies. FYI, I use the “SureJell” low sugar pectin and recipe as it allows, in my opinion, more of the fruit flavor to come through.

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Yum! I decided to label my jars with the label being used for my honey. The design for “Bishop’s Bees and Honey” is under revision….I hope to have a new logo and label design before first honey harvest around May 1st! By the end of April I should be managing 12-13 hives. I still have swarm traps out so that number could grow. I am more excited about those numbers than my wife is, but, she does do an amazing job selling my honey. My “honey” really knows how to move my honey!

Another brief note on berries…….the trails around our area are covered up with Dewberry blossoms. Dewberries are a small but tasty blackberry that grows wild here. This is the most amazing display of blossoms in the 12 years we have lived in Kingwood. I am looking forward to the harvest time….should be a good one.

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Just a sampling of what is to come.

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

A Berry, Berry Good Time of the Year

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With 10 half pint jars of low sugar strawberry jam in the pantry and enough berries for another batch….. am Berry happy. As noted in the title…..this is a Berry good time of the year. My strawberries have been in full production and recent exploration of the local woods show a bumper crop of Dewberries ripening.

Dewberries pose a challenge though. Number one they are small and it takes a LOT of picking to make a batch. Secondly the vines have tiny hook like thorns…..curved perfectly to snag a stray hand, finer and/or arm…..it is usually AND! I will head out this weekend to gather some up….A lesson learned from last year – I will wear long sleeves and wear some gloves, thin enough for dexterity and thick enough to prevent the hundreds of micro-scratches!

Wild Dewberries...tiny but very tasty!

Wild Dewberries…tiny but very tasty! – Shaky iPhone photo

The strawberries may be slowing down…..the” June Bearing” varieties peaked in late March early April. I have about 100 new” everbearing” types that will give me a light crop through the summer and go like gangbusters next year. Those added this year are the Ogallala variety.  Les prolific in my backyard farm are my Pineberries. They are hardy and spread like crazy but the berries tend to be small. They are a taste treat……It was a bit of a learning curve to tell when they are ripe.

So - Which berry is ripe? They both are. The berry on the left is the Pineberry. When the seeds are red and a hint of pink is showing....it is ready to pick, taste, consume and enjoy!

So – Which berry is ripe? They both are. The berry on the left is the Pineberry. When the seeds are red and a hint of pink is showing….it is ready to pick, taste, consume and enjoy!

The Pineberry taste is a mix….the first is the tart-sweet and then an instant later a pineapple like flavor. I have decided to just add them to my freezer bag for the strawberry jam making! These Pineberries throw off a huge number of runners. I would say that they would be an ideal edible ground cover!

What else am I eating from the garden…..asparagus, not too much this year but the newly planted crowns will create a good crop next year. The snap peas are done and just harvesting mature seed pods for next year. Lettuce….good crop but showing signs of bolting. Harvested the red and white onions yesterday and letting them dry out….not real big but so fresh and tasty. White radishes and beets….I will let the beets go another week and then pull them up. Elephant garlic is looking very good and healthy. The red potatoes have about another 40 days to harvest although I am tempted to did down and gather some babies! Tomatoes are looking very robust and healthy……a new variety for me this year is the “Mater Sandwhich” variety. I looks like an heirloom and I am anxious to taste test it. The unfortunate truth is that is a hybrid variety. I like the looks of the fruit…..can’t wait to taste test! Cucumbers are coming up nicely and I hope to be overwhelmed with Cucumbers in about 45 days or so.

 

TTFN

Bishop

Strawberries for my Birthday

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This morning I woke up on the green side of the earth rather than the under side……That was a good thing and made even better with a handful of fresh picked strawberries – <strong>Yee Haw</strong> – the strawberry harvest has started. I picked a nice handful of red, ripe, sweet berries. Once in hand the self-talk started. Should I share them? Should I eat every one of them before I get into the house? A bit of a dilemma for me.

I didn’t share-(sorry Kathy) and I didn’t eat every one of them. The very best berries found their way into my mouth and several others started the frozen package being accumulated for the jam making later this spring. There is something so very special about berries picked at the peak of their flavor. That first berry I bit into caused a wonderful flood of true strawberry flavor and my mouth was overjoyed.

A handful of Birthday Berries for me!

A handful of Birthday Berries for me!

A healthy berry bed....more berries on the way!

A healthy berry bed….more berries on the way!

While wandering through the garden on this beautiful birthday morning I found a few early stalks of asparagus….Not enough to save for anyone other than the birthday boy. If you have never had asparagus picked and savored the freshest, you are missing the sweetness that is missing from commercially farmed and shipped from who knows where asparagus.

My lemon tree is showing signs of blossoming soon. I can’t think of a flower blossom that is any more intoxicating than that of citrus. It is amazing how some scents and aromas can cause flashback memories. When my lemon tree blooms I am always transported to a late night motorcycle ride from UCLA down Sunset Blvd., to Will Rogers beach. That cool night ride took us through what used to be extensive citrus orchards before the land was converted to homes and estates. Fortunately many of the home owners kept the citrus trees, helping to fill the air the night with that intoxicating citrus blossom scent…..I said <strong>intoxicating</strong> before didn’t I! Let me dive into the Thesaurus! Intoxicating is a good word for the scent filled night air but…..there could be a stronger word or something better able to convey the sweet olfactory assault that created the enduring memory!

How about “enthralling” – no, doesn’t capture the feeling/memory/brain recalled sensation. “stimulating” – not quite strong enough either. “Enchanting” – close. “ Exhilarating” – needs a little more to meet up with the sensations and emotions connected to the sensory memory . I’ll have to wave the white flag and give up on finding the perfect word….I will take any suggestions – English majors preferred! Just trust me…..it was an amazing memory.

The garden is shaping up nicely; onions, strawberries, snap peas, asparagus, beets, turnips and yes, tomatoes are in the ground and putting down roots. I’m another day older and the garden is entering the new growing season….It may sound trite but I feel renewed….not older – just entering a new phase…. TTFN Bishop

Backyard Farm – December Notes on Christmas Morning

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My postings for the past couple of months have slowed a little but I have tended to some of the chores!
• Spreading compost from the bin on the right and turning the bin on the left.
• Son Ben did a fantastic job adding gravel around the edges. Looks great! An early and well appreciated Christmas gift.
• Turned ad prepped the bed for potato planting.
• Cut back the Asparagus ferns and added a layer of compost and leaf mulch. Gotta love Houston, two days ago I noticed several young shoots about 6 inches above the mulch…my reward for taking care of the bed. NOW GO TO SLEEP DANG NABBIT!
• Carrots and sugar snap peas have emerged from the late fall plantings.
• Planted 6 Blueberry plants and 8 replacement bare root blackberry plants – Ben was a little overzealous when he added a pvc irrigation line in the blackberry bed. We had a good laugh!
• Planted more Chard and Beet seeds yesterday as well as some red onion seeds in the front portion of the potato bed.

December 4th I ate my first ripe strawberry – way too early, it was kinda small and misshapen but it was sweet! Inspection yesterday showed numerous blossoms and a few dozen green berries trying to fill out. It may be another stellar strawberry year and maybe, just maybe a few more jars of jam to share.

One of several confused strawberries. This was the little one I ate! Yum

One of several confused strawberries. This was the little one I ate! Yum

TTFN & Merry Christmas – share something wonderful with those you love!

Bishop

My Falling Into Fall Efforts

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I haven’t written much lately about the backyard garden but it has been slowly morphing into a winter garden. I harvested the last cucumbers two weeks ago because I knew that the Houston winter temperatures were coming. On the vines were a few edible and nearly a dozen immature cukes that became worm food.  The sweet potato vines finally showed their dislike for anything below 50 degrees F. They weren’t grown for tubers this year, but they did provide great ground cover. I found a couple of nice sized tubers and a bunch that were restricted by the heavy soil to  elongated sausage looking things. The dying tomatoes were pulled up along with the Poblano pepper plants.

I left the Serrano peppers in as the plant is still setting fruit. I made a batch of Serrano  Pepper jelly last week and may make another batch soon. This week I also made a couple of pints of lemon curd from my Meyer Lemon tree. What an amazingly rich treat – 4 very big lemons, 2 cups of lemon juice, at least 2/3 cup of zest, 12 egg yolks, two sticks of butter and two cups of sugar… I am afraid to calculate the calories per teaspoon! I will send a jar to my granddaughter – she loves it!

Over the past two weeks I pulled about 2 large wheel barrow loads of compost out of my bins to amend the beds. I fed a bunch to the asparagus bed hoping to get it producing better during this next spring. I added a bunch to a section of the beds that I have designated as the carrot patch. That same bed is also home to my sugar snap peas – hopefully this planting of peas will be the one that produces. I tried on two previous efforts to get them to sprout and the cool weather never showed up. They don’t like warm weather! I hope I didn’t miss the weather window!

Some of my strawberry plants are confused. Weeks ago I had a number of them blossom and I plucked the blossoms off. After traveling and working for a few weeks out of town, I ignored them. I now have green strawberries – about 3 plus months too early!  My 100 new strawberry plants planted in early October have settled nicely into their new home and will hopefully bring me a couple of good years of harvesting pleasure.

I have four pineapple plants started from tops nearly two years ago.  They are now beginning to leaf out vigorously and who knows, this may be the year. A little research says it takes 2 years and maybe more if it is cold, in order to flower. The leaves look like they are becoming mature so this could be the lucky year.  I put another top in the ground a week ago to add to my collection. According to the research the buggers will start spreading on their own. May wind up with 30 or 40 before long.

My little buddy Caleb and his now walking little brother Levi, stopped by for a visit a few days ago. Caleb is ALL boy….gotta keep an eye on him. Levi loves to munch on cucumbers off the vine and the cherry tomatoes, not so much for Caleb. They both enjoy the strawberries when they are in season. I hope to have them back this week to help plant my beets and turnips. I was in the process of harvesting the worm poop and adding another bin to the top of my worm composting bins during their visit. Being boys….they both loved touching and playing with the little wrigglers! Mom wasn’t as enthused or amused as the boys were! I sent them home with a couple of long stemmed roses for their mother……she left smiling!

The new carrot patch....waiting for the emerging tops.

The new carrot patch….waiting for the emerging tops.

The old sweet potato bed - cleaned out and what next ????

The old sweet potato bed – cleaned out and what next ????

Pineapples - or hopefully this year they will fruit.

Pineapples – hopefully this year they will fruit.

Those danged, confused strawberries.

Those danged, confused strawberries.

Strawberry towers planted with about 85 of the 100 new plants.

Strawberry towers planted with about 75 of the 100 new plants.

 

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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