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Strawberries, Beets and Other Musings

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Let’s start right out in the field.

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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/

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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.

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A few of the berries dedicated to our Easter  Luncheon

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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

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Rain…..Yes it has Been Raining!

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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.

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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

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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

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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

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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

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

Shhhhh – Go to Sleep Asparagus

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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

Gardening Promises

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I promise to keep my promises this time.

I promise to thin the carrots I planted Monday. I will not let them crowd each other into a carrot top hedge of green. I helped my self by being a little less generous as I sprinkled the seeds into the rows.

I think I can grow bigger/longer carrots if I ask a few more to step up and become compost volunteers.

I promise to thin the lettuces as they emerge so they can develop into nice leafy heads of tender munching. New technique yesterday – I sprinkled seeds over a section that I am trying a no till approach. The area has a fairly deep mat of grass clippings, compost and some shredded leaves. After sprinkling the seeds I used a steel rake to tamp the seeds into the substrate, watered well and will monitor. I have read that lettuces like to be planted very shallow and benefit from exposure to light to germinate…..we shall see.

Lettuces and turnips crowded together in my friend John’s bed…I was just as guilty!

I promise to thin my beets so they can mature into good-sized globes of goodness. I started them in divots space about 4 inches apart – several seeds to each divot so I need to select the strongest to survive the thinning process.

I promise to thin my turnips – see reasons above.

A few made it to decent size but I had far too many nugget sized beets and turnips.

 

I added a few spinach seeds and a few chard seeds … may be a little early but I have many – many more….they may also need to be thinned as they sprout.

I should have reined in the sweet potato vines …. so if I plant some next summer I will do some thinning. We had two sweet potatoes that were sprouting in the kitchen so I just tossed them into the bed with my asparagus – no problems with weed control in that bed. The vines have overwhelmed the are smothering any chance the weeds may have had. The asparagus ferns are ginormous….also helping with weed control. The adjacent bed is also overwhelmed with the vines, also weed free. I did some trimming today but it is well after the fact…in hte process I have discovered new sweet potatoes….. how many more are hiding in the tangled jungle of vines?

This is an 8 foot bed by 4 feet wide. The sweet potatoes have covered this bed, choked out the weeds and climbed the cucumber trellis! WOW!

 

This is the asparagus bed – the two tossed out sweet potatoes landed here and spread like crazy! The asparagus ferns, if standing straight up are 6-8 feet tall. I used tall tomato cages to keep them partially upright! An 8 foot by 4 foot bed!

My long beds – 24 feet long – are somewhat cleared and seeded as discussed above. Some pruned tomato plants, some newer transplants in place, some cucumbers, are hanging on through the heat ( picked 3 this morning), a few flowers, ancho & anaheim peppers are still producing and i’m waiting for emerging seeds!

A look toward the asparagus bed and the sweet potato jungle. Early morning with a little shade from our big oak tree.

 

TTFN

Bishop

 

 

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