Home

Snow? It Snowed In Houston

3 Comments

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

2 Comments

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

Meyer Lemon Jelly and Other Tidbits

3 Comments

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

An Early Spring – Maybe

1 Comment

February 6th was yesterday, bees were hauling in pollen and maybe even nectar. We had a bit of discussion at the Liberty County Beekeeper’s meeting two nights ago concerning pollen and nectar. The discussion; Can you tell if a Bee is hauling in nectar just by how the bee looks? It is very easy to tell if they are bringing pollen but nectar…..that is a different story. Most comments mentioned nectar hauling bees will be coming in “heavy” and rather clumsy and maybe a bit chubbier. That aligns with my observations! Watch the video below and look for chubby clumsy vs. those hauling pollen. This video is from one of my hives shot a few days ago.

I have left a feeder jar on this hive but haven’t used it. This hive had good stores and was heavy so I have just been monitoring. I suspect that there is a nectar source nearby. I hope that the bees don’t build up thinking it is spring and then get hammered by a freeze. Did you see any chubbiness or clumsiness in the slo-mo portion?

A front blew in today so it went from 82 yesterday, to mid forties this afternoon. Certainly puts a pause on Bee activities! So, I prepped a couple of swarm traps today and tackled a task that I had procrastinated on for too long! I have been out of my lip balm for more than a month……..today was the day!

Tube tray loaded and ready to fill. This is my Burt’s Bees clone recipe

First of two batches. 46 tubes filled and then another 38 with 3 tins.

A bowl full of creamy smooth lip balm. If you are Santa’s nice list you may score some!

I managed to squeeze in some beer brewing activity to help fill in the day. Ten days ago I brewed a SMaSH IPA. (Single malt – Marris Otter malt and single hop – Mosaic). The beer should roll in at 5.8% ABV. I racked it over into the secondary fermenter and will dry hop it with a couple ounces of Mosaic. It will be delicious. I may get frisky this weekend and bottle the 4+ gallons of wild Mustang grape wine that is now finished.

Beets, turnips, carrots and strawberries are looking good. I will plant sugar snap peas in a day or two along with some radishes and more carrots. I will pick-up a few buckets of rabbit manure this weekend and scrape out some chicken manure, will let it cool before using it on my lemon tree. That’s how my garden grows.

TTFN

Bishop

Strawberries, Beets and Other Musings

Leave a comment

Let’s start right out in the field.

IMG_4791

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/

IMG_4795

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.

IMG_4793

A few of the berries dedicated to our Easter  Luncheon

IMG_4864

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

Rain…..Yes it has Been Raining!

2 Comments

Almost 5 inches of rain over the past two weeks. I think the garden is well soaked!

I have three bee hives located nearby in a friends yard…..much more than a yard – it is essentially 3 lots, one with a house and guest house, one recently cleared for a Barndominium project.

Barndominium is a neologistic portmanteau of barn and condominium with multiple meanings.” That should clear it up!

An the third is wooded on the front portion facing the street and cleared on the back portion holding some raised beds, bee hives and chickens.

It is not my backyard but the owner has encouraged me, in my spare time to plant, play and invest my time in his yard. I have two of the three beds buried in several inches of leaf mulch, one bed is going to be a chore….wild dewberries have infested it…I have plenty of leaves to deeply mulch it but…….work, work, work……is certainly needed.

Sugar snap peas and two types of green beans are popping up in one bed…..more on this project later.

Now, my backyard. The unusual freezing weather we had damaged my Meyer Lemon and probably killed the twig of a lime tree I had. The bananas are burned to the ground but will  survive much to my wife’s chagrin….”Aren’t you done with that experiment?”, she asked yesterday.

In my head I thought….. “I think I am but…..it will be a lot of work digging out all of the corms/bulbs/rhizomes and gunk….Maybe just one plant each of the two varieties and then call it quits!” I was wise enough to stay silent and just nod my head.

So what else you might ask…..My wild native plum trees are blooming. They are still residing in large planters awaiting a move …… one of these days to a piece of ground! I like seeing them bloom…..I transplanted them from a ranch up north near Franklin Texas. Long story but briefly, the HOA made me relocated a hive in my yard and I had to act fast. A client’s wife was related to a woman who owned the ranch, Johnnie. Johnnie had always wanted bees and well, and we were connected. We developed a warm relationship before she passed away from lung cancer. We were kindred spirits, she made lots of jams and jellies, loved her bees and her quiet life. Her wild plum jelly was wonderful. The year before she passed I made some from her plums and asked for some plants. I was given permission but did not bring them home until early spring of 2017, after her death. The blooms are such a great reminder of her gentle spirit. I miss you Johnnie.

IMG_4495

The Blossoms are so tiny and delicate.IMG_4497 An up close look at the blossoms. Fingers crossed that we avoid another freeze and the tree can set more fruit. The area where this tree was dug out of is covered with trees well over 10 feet tall. They are prolific and can become invasive unless managed.

Everything you want to know about these wild plums is located in this link. It even has a recipe for sourdough utilizing the yeast on the skin of the plums. http://www.foragingtexas.com/2009/07/plum-wild.htm

Behind my fence and mostly out of sight are some other goodies. My strawberry plants, especially the mature ones, made it through the freezing weather pretty well. I added another 30+ plants at the beginning of February and all are doing well.

 

Strawberry jam/preserves on the “hoof”. I have had ripe strawberries before Valentines day, but obviously, not this year. My Birthday is March 12…..maybe by then.

IMG_4479One of several Swiss Chard plants that survived the freeze. All of my early sugar snap peas died during the freeze…..so much for my early experiment to get a jump on spring….oh well, seeds are cheap. IMG_4482A look down the active bed. Strawberries, barely visible sugar snaps coming up, right front more Swiss Chard(Red variety), up under the arches are beets, the surviving beets were covered and the new beets at the far end are sprouting.  Up against the fence are my new blueberries and some potted pineapples as well as a few banana plants kept in the garage during the freeze. The sad dwarf Meyer Lemon against the far fence is mostly green twigs! Yes, the garden could use some clean up and organization…organization and neatness are not my strong points!

Lets talk bees for a bit. One of my topbar hives is looking very weak….not sure that I have a queen. That said, it was loaded with slabs of honey, looking very much like the one my daughter-in-law Cheryl is pictured holding last Fall. I pulled 8 bars looking very much like this from the hive next to her. I left them with several more slabs and fingers crossed. Once the weather improves I do have a very strong small top bar hive that I can transfer into this weak one, freeing the small one up to receive a split from a very strong topbar hive.

File Jul 28, 12 35 35 PM

img_3802

A lovely slab from the topbar hives last summer, 2017. This one I cut into squares and and crushed the odd shaped pieces.

After crushing and squeezing the honey out of the comb I put the wax out in the garden for the bees to clean up the traces of yummy honey.

IMG_4481

This was the start before word got out in the neighborhood. 10 minutes later it was a swirling mess as the bees did their thing!

IMG_4483

The barren banana bed……I have two tepees set up for green beans, pole variety, I hate bending over to pick the bush varieties! Lots of work needed to dig out those beds…. and organize the mess! Yes Dear!

Ah, the sun is out right at he moment, time to put my rubber boots on and wade out into the garden.

TTFN

Bishop

Please Peas!

2 Comments

I have been trying to get my Sugar Snap Peas up and going for about 6 weeks. I have planted the pea seeds 3 times with no luck. I am usually gifted with a green thumb and most often have great results with my garden. I have been disappointed with my efforts to get the peas going this Fall. Yes, I have soaked them. Yes, the soil has been the right temperature. But……being a cheapskate, I dug through my box of unused pea seed packages from past years, rather than spend $ 1.89 on current year offerings. The date on the packages is usually just a guide and I have had seeds several years old germinate.

Apparently not this year! About 10 days ago I coughed up the $ 1.89 and bought “2017” dated pea seeds. I soaked them over night, actually a little over 24 hours before planting them. I was a bit concerned as the Houston weather was starting to cool off, soil temperatures should be above 40 degrees F for best germination. The weather cooperated and they have sprouted. Lucked out, it dipped 41 degree air temperature today so I dodged the bullet.

dsc_0557cropped-pkg

The key piece of information – lower right corner – Packaged for 2017

dsc_0559-croipped

Planted 7 days ago….the package info appears to be correct!

Yes dear, I read the instructions! The results are very encouraging. I hope to have some pods in 6 weeks or so….”fingers crossed”. The shoots are working their way up through the fall oak leaves and looking healthy.

I made the same mistake with my beets and Swiss Chard. I finally have some beets up through the soil, but , I am 6 plus weeks behind what I wanted. Yes, I just planted the 2017 beet seeds last week. I am soaking a few more for a second planting……with the cooperation of the weather. Swiss Chard…..2017 seeds in a day or so!

I did have some success with my 2-3 year old carrot seeds…..but I think I may have learned my lesson! Let me write that down so I don’t forget!

 

TTFN

Bishop

 

A Berry, Berry Good Time of the Year

6 Comments

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

Backyard Farm – December Notes on Christmas Morning

2 Comments

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

Shhhhh – Go to Sleep Asparagus

Leave a comment

It is October 29th and my asparagus just won’t lay down and go into their winter slumber. This morning we finally had a low 40 degree temperature so maybe they will get the message and stay in bed! As a parent I remember those days when the little ones did not want to stay in their beds. It was a tiring and a bit painful series of nights but the kids finally figured out that mom and dad were not going to give in. They finally stayed in their beds!

The asparagus, now that is a different dilemma. They do not listen….their cue’s are taken entirely from the environment and they ignore my planned schedule for their winter sleep. I trimmed them back several weeks ago but the stubborn root crowns are still sending up shoots. It is a mixed blessing, the nicer, thicker shoots have found their way into the kitchen and the skinny ones that reach on up are sending a little more energy back into the buried crowns. I would like to get the bed deeply covered in mulch and fertilized for the next spring but…..as with the kids, I need to be a little more stubborn than they are and a little more patient. Yes, easier said than done.

I harvested a few spears today and plan on incorporating them into a meal tomorrow night. I inspected the new strawberry plants that my wife has so nicely cared for in my recent absence – nicely done Hun, they look healthy! I planted another round of beets, Danvers carrots, Cozmic Purple carrots, Watermelon Radish seeds and pulled a bunch of never ending weeds. I have a lot of tomatoes that are needing to turn red or at least break that direction real soon. The lemons are mostly yellow now, my little buddy Caleb down the street wants to pick them now! A couple of cucumbers are nearly ready and I have some turnips that are maturing. I have a bin with some potatoes that seem to be doing well…..an extension of the spring’s experimentation. Oh, the Ancho pepper plants(2) are overloaded and will be donated at the farmers market on Thursday. Wish I knew how to do chili rellenos ….. these are perfect size and flavor…..

I feel blessed to have this weather, high of 70 today and mid 80’s by Thursday. I can’t help but pray for and wish the best for the folks on the East Coast in the path of Sandy. At least the 13 days I spent without power after Hurricane Ike was accompanied by decent weather. I hope all y’all are well prepared and will work to help your neighbors in need.

One for the kitchen, one for the root crowns and couple just starting to break the surface.

A squad destined for the kitchen. Thank you lads for being so persistent.

Strawberry Towers with Sweet Charlie plugs looking healthy and snug in their new home.

TTFN

Bishop

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: