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Rainy Days in the Garden

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A slow gentle two inches of rain over the past couple of days and the garden is happy.

Little by little I have completed the raised bed in the fallow section of my garden. I had 88 feet of 2X10 boards inherited from my neighbor a couple of years ago. I immediately used 56 feet to replace the rotted boards on one 24’X4’ raised bed to the right in the photo below, but was a little short to do the fallow bed of the same size. So…….the remainder languished for a future date on my procrastinating and ever growing list of what I should or could be doing. Social isolation got my gardening project going. My list of possibles is still huge, nonetheless.

Looking down the length of the resurrected bed looking toward the Meyer Lemon tree.

The new bed was begging for something to be planted so I stuck a 4 pole planting for some pole beans, Blue Lake. I used to set the poles up teepee style but the growing vines became very congested at the congregation point making bean pods difficult to find, let alone pick them. At the top of the 4 poles I used the circular wire portion of a damaged tomato cage. Looks a bit goofy but I will experiment a little more ……. I will put two more sets in and should have it figured out soon.

Four uprights from crepe myrtle prunings’, a couple of handfuls potting soil and two soaked seeds……..they germinate quicker if I soak them.
A bit messy in the background but you can see the top two rounds of the old tomato cage.
The butt end of the celery I planted a few weeks ago is looking good.
The romaine lettuce is also doing well. I have three of these cut end plants almost ready to pluck leaves from.
I have 8 pots where I planted seed potatoes. I placed an inch or two of soil in the bottom and continue to add as the plant grows. I will mound it up eventually.
I also poked some seed potatoes deep into my compost pile. These are two of the 6 that are developing nicely
My muscadine grape vine has really burst out after a “long winter sleep”……we really did have a winter but it was pretty durn mild.

Not much new to report on the bees, scouts are still visiting but no takers yet. Finished off another swarm trap to hang soon. I’m seeing more and more reports of other keepers in the area having great luck. I will poke my head into a few hives this weekend to get a feel for how well the girls are doing.

TTFN

Bishop

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

Cutting Squares – Cut Honeycomb

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My topbar hive was becoming loaded, so heavy, that my poorly constructed hive support legs  were breaking. I needed to both harvest and stabilize the hive. Stabilizing was quick and easy but- we nearly tipped the hive over as one of the existing legs nearly failed completely as I lifted it to supports in place.  Now on to the harvest. 

I built a set of racks, half sheet wire cake racks, to keep the slabs from breaking up into less than desirable pieces that wont make “pretty” squares. The set-up will hold 4 slabs, stacked and spaced so the slabs hold their shape…… in theory! My Goo friend John helped me out. 

It was more or less successful, albeit, a little awkward! I will need to prevent the slabs from sliding around on the parchment paper I placed under each slab to minimze damage to the slabs, i. e., wire rack embedding in the soft wax. 


A nice full slab, beautifully capped, thick and very yummy. 

I filled 14 boxes of 3.25 X 3.25 inch squares of honeycomb. The slab pictured above was thicker than some of the others. The old shaped pieces were squeezed for the honey. 


I was able to get 5 nice squares out of the beautiful slab above! Almost perfect! 


I dropped 3 odd shaped chunks of comb into a pint jar. About 1.5 pounds of honey and honeycomb goodness! 

Looks like I have about $ 150.00 of product at my retail prices. I may be able to pull a little more from this hive but I won’t get too greedy! This hive is so strong and full,  I will more than likely split it again this year. 

TTFN

Bishop

Do You Really Know Your Honey?

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No, I am not talking about the person you met through “Match.com” or for that matter, your significant other. I am talking about the liquid gold in the bottle called “Honey”. I have done my own sleuthing on the local supermarket shelves and I have been surprised. There is not much truth in labeling at the supermarket. Local raw honey is a real treat, if you spend the time and effort necessary to verify the moniker, “Local Raw Honey”!

I ran a cross this article while looking around and thought it did a great job illustrating the point….”do you really know your honey?”

“…..Research at Texas A&M University shows that most honey labels aren’t telling the truth, and 75% of the honey in the U.S. is not what it says it is on the label. And this could apply to as much as 90% of the nation’s honey, according to lead federal honey investigator.”

Dr. Vaughn Bryant is an anthropologist and a bit of a honey sleuth at Texas A&M University. He utilizes A&M’s extensive pollen library to identify where honey originates by it’s pollen “fingerprint”. A Michigan TV station did a little test of honey off the shelf at a local store.

“……..So, we took some samples and sent them to Texas A&M University. Our five samples included a bottle from the company formerly known as Groeb Farms, Honey Tree’s Michigan Great Lakes Raw Honey, Organic Rainforest honey, plus a Meijer brand and a Spartan brand.” Just an FYI, every bottle of “USDA” labeled honey I found in local supermarkets comes from either Brazil, Argentina or Mexico….the USDA labeling is based on the country certifying that the honey meets the standards. Long story….

So, what did Channel 17 learn from the samples? You have to read it to believe it….3 of the 5 samples had no pollen present…..it is a great way for distributors/bottlers to disguise the origin of the honey by ultra-fine filtration and usually done under high temperatures, destroying any beneficial properties.

Local raw honey will be cloudy due to fine bubbles and pollen in the honey….

“Most of them were not what they claimed to be,” said Bryant.

First, he looked at the honey bottled from the company formerly known as Groeb Farms. They were previously fined for mislabeling Chinese honey. The label on this particular bottle said “Pure Honey Clover.” Although Dr. Bryant said the sample wasn’t from China, he said there was still a problem with the label. “It turned out not to be clover honey.”

There was “not enough clover pollen to warrant the honey being called a unifloral clover honey,” his report said. The other flower pollens found in the honey included “soybeans, chestnut, mesquite, and eucalyptus.”

“A little bit of clover pollen in here,” said Vaughn. “But it would not qualify as clover pollen. So here’s the case where it’s sold as pure clover honey, but it’s really not.”

Onto jar number two, a jar labeled Great Lakes Raw Michigan Honey. This honey appeared much more true to form according to Dr. Bryant’s analysis. He said there was “sumac” pollen in this sample, which grows commonly in the state. “It could well be from Michigan,” said Bryant. However, a few other suspicious pollens were discovered, too, which could indicate there was other honey mixed in from southern regions, or it could simply mean that the pollen accidentally got in there some other way. Bryant’s report showed pollen from citrus:  lemon, orange, sweetgum, mesquite, eucalyptus and magnolia.

“Those could have been contamination from some other source,” said Bryant. “Or, they could have been part of a mixture. It’s hard to tell.”

Chris Olney, the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Honey Tree said that the pollen from southern regions likely came from hives that were used in Florida, then brought to Michigan.  He said 50% of the hives are transported by beekeepers to southern regions like Florida to pollinate citrus crops, then they are brought back to Michigan to pollinate crops here in the summer.

Now on to sample 3, which was labeled Organic Rainforest honey. “We don’t know what it is,” said Bryant.

The label had the abbreviation “BR” on the back, which stands for Brazil. However, Bryant couldn’t prove it came from rainforest flowers. It came back from testing as a question mark, because someone had strained all the pollen out. “We have no idea whether it’s organic,” said Bryant. “We have no idea whether it’s from the rainforest or anything else.”

Sample 4, the Meijer Pure Clover honey, had stamps for USA, Canada, and Argentina on the label, but for Bryant, it remains a question mark because, according to the test, “all of the pollen has been removed.”

Sample 5, the Spartan premium golden honey had the markings of “AR” and “CA” stamped on the back. AR stands for Argentina according to country code listings, and CA stands for Canada. However, Bryant couldn’t prove where this sample was from either country. “One certainly could not prove that the contents of this honey is what is claimed on the label.”

So, what is your best option? Know who your beekeeper is, ask to go see the hives, maybe even ask to help gather the honey……. This maybe a little TMI, but you will be tempted to lick your fingers every once in a while as you go through the extraction process……FYI I do keep a bowl of sanitary water in the extraction area to dip fingers and hands in while working with the very raw honey. Just saying! Link to the article below.

http://fox17online.com/2014/02/25/the-truth-behind-the-honey-labels-a-fox-17-investigation/

 

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This is hand crushed honeycomb from my topbar hive.

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Here is a shot of me squeezing the honey from the wax. I would squeeze and compact the was as tight as I could. I then place it out near the hive and the next several days it is wild watching the bees from the neighborhood clean the wax.

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A nice capped section of honeycomb ready to be cut off the bar.

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Honey….being added to a frame. Not ready to extract but looking good.

Buy Local and know your honey.

TTFN

Bishop

 

 

 

 

Beekeeping Lesson 11

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I rescued a bee colony from a tree that broke off during a storm. The tree snapped at a large knot hole, splitting the colony into two sections. When I arrived the bees were calm and well behaved in the section that was on the ground. To get a better look into the cavity holding the bees, I pulled some of the vines from the trunk section. Here is part A of the lesson; try to identify the vine species prior to handling it, especially if you are highly susceptible to poison ivy or poison oak!!!!!! I am highly susceptible and I am now paying the price.

Lesson 11 – it has several elements. Part A above.

Helpful tips;

B. Thoroughly wash with hot soapy water, any skin surface that may have come into contact with the vines. Touching body parts with hands coated with the plants oils leads to a spreading of the rash. Trust me – sensitive skin parts should never be touched! Nuff said.

C. Contaminated clothes, like my bee suit, should be washed in hot water. Sometimes it may require several washings. I am putting my bee suit back int to wash for a second go…… Yes, I am dealing with a second round of rash breakout.

D. Aveeno works well on the rash. I have also found, at least for me, a very hot shower, as hot as you can physically stand, blunts the itching for 4-5 hours.

Unfortunately, I seem to discover lessons the hard way! I will keep you posted on my future adventures that become lessons for others.

Suited up - the end of the section is open to the colony. Bees were buzzing before I secured the end. Suit is in the wash.....again

Suited up – the end of the section is open to the colony. Bees were buzzing before I secured the end. Suit is in the wash…..again

 

TTFN

Bishop

Going Bananas in the Garden

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The surprise success with plantings this year has been the banana “plant”….. Not really a tree but most folks refer to them as trees. This was the second year after panting the first corms. I was given one that should have produced “Manzano” bananas but has yet to fruit. The other was a mystery….If Marcelino’s father told me I must have not understood or heard. The unknown variety has produced a very nice large bunch and along the way I learned a lot about the growth habits of bananas. An internet search leads me to believe that the bananas  are “Pera”.

Once the plant matures a stem growing inside the pseudostem (trunk for lack of a better term) emerges from the top. As it curls downward it has what looks like a purplish heart looking bulb, an “inflorescence”. Looks like tightly wrapped paired leaves.

Female flowers beginning to expand.

Female flowers beginning to expand.

“A stem develops which grows up inside the pseudostem, carrying the immature inflorescence until eventually it emerges at the top. Each pseudostem normally produces a single inflorescence, also known as the “banana heart”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana#CITEREFStoverSimmonds1987.

It was interesting watching the top two leaves open up and expose the flowers. The first that are exposed are the female flowers that develop into fruit. Each time the purple leaves open it exposes another tier of flower bracts. As the bananas fill in, maybe 8 to as many as 20 tiers the heart now begins to produce male flowers that appear to be useless….once they appear, they dry up and drop off. At first I thought I had a problem but learned that was normal.

My hanging banana storage in the garden.

My hanging banana storage in the garden.

Once the banana has plumped up nicely and doesn’t seem to be enlarging I have been whacking off three or four at a time and allowing them to ripen indoors. They will stay nicely on the plant until the weather turns cold. After that I will cut the entire stalk and hang it in the garage to ripen slowly.

Several ripe ones with the most recently cut.

Several ripe ones with the most recently cut.

.Indoor hanging storage

Indoor hanging storage

Gardening activities have included building up a raised bed by adding more compost and mounding it up for planting strawberries. The cucumbers are done but the dang asparagus keeps sending up new shoots, not many but enough to snack on while weeding. The Matt’s Wild Cherry tomato plant has begun producing again….they are small but tasty….pea sized to a little less than cherry sized. My Poblano pepper plant is churning out tons of dark green peppers.

The beginnings of my fall strawberry planting's. I will ad at least 50 more plants.

The beginnings of my fall strawberry planting’s. I will ad at least 50 more plants.

Teeny tiny Matt's Wild Cherry tomatoes.

Teeny tiny Matt’s Wild Cherry tomatoes.

Hmmm - the beginning of some green beans....they better hurry - the air is cooling.

Hmmm – the beginning of some green beans….they better hurry – the air is cooling.

My bees are now residing elsewhere but I am making more local contacts that are willing to host hives for me. I have a home for the top bar hives about 5 minutes from my house – Yee Haw. The productive Langstroth is too far away but it is in a good home. I am aiming for 10-12 hives next year and possibly 20 the year following. The new Texas regulations allow me to sell at Farmers Markets now….as long as I do not exceed 2500 pounds per year….that is a lot of honey!

This will give you an idea how big the slabs of comb are. This one had an ear on the left hand side broke off.

This will give you an idea how big the slabs of comb are. This one had an ear on the left hand side broke off.

Side note; I bottled the Honey Blonde Ale a   few nights ago…..made with MY honey. It will be awesome! The color was perfect, a hint of honey flavor but not too sweet.

 

TTFN

Bishop

Top Bar Bee Hive

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I recently built two top bar hives to go along with my large Langstroth hive in my backyard.

On May 15th I drove  over to Navasota, TX, and picked up two packages of bees with health young queens . I installed them that same day and left them pretty much alone for 9 days or so. I inspected to ensure that they were building straight comb and in the orientation that I wanted. “Yessiree they were doing good.

Today, June 1st and I opened them up again to see how they were progressing. I am again impressed. They have built out to the 5th bar on both hives and appear to be happy. Below is a picture of bar 5 in my hand.

They are building comb on the wax base strip I added.

They are building comb on the wax base strip I added.

On most of  the top bars a routed a 3/8 inch wide slot about 16″ wide, centered in the 19″wide  top bar. On 6 bars for each hive I switched to a 1/4″ router bit and did the same. In the 1/4″  groove I used some beeswax cell material cut into a narrow strip and used hot beeswax to hold it in place. It appears that they are using it as a reference. I spaced out the bars with the base material alternating the standard bars with the 3/8″ grooved. On the3/8″ grooved bars I have a 3/8 X 3/4 spline glued into the groove and painted with melted beeswax. It appears to be working.

Top bar number 4 is really looking good! Sorry about the washed out photo….flash was a bit too bright.

Nearly full width and deep into the box.

Nearly full width and deep into the box. Sun was a little bright and the flash washed it out a little.

The second TBH was almost identically drawn out so I didn’t photograph any of the comb. The next photo shows the top of the hive with the corrugated plastic roof removed.

The bars fit flush across the top made of standard 1X2 lumber so replacement parts won't be a problem.

The bars fit flush across the top made of standard 1X2 lumber so replacement parts won’t be a problem.

The bees were gentle  and quiet. I did use my hood and a little smoke but no gloves. Soon…I will share a story of my stupidity and a veil filled with angry bees. Wonderful lesson learned.

Tomorrow is my planned day to open the Langstroth hive and extract honey. The two top medium supers are packed full and I should have a bountiful harvest.

Base entrance to the hive...very busy and they seem to be enjoying a sunny day without rain! Me too!

Base entrance to the hive…very busy and they seem to be enjoying a sunny day without rain! Me too!

TTFN

Bishop

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