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Bees, Berries and Backyards

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Yesterday, Saturday the 7th of April, I drove over to Navasota to pick up 4 packages of bees from R Weaver Apiaries. Saturday was an unseasonably cool and misty day. Surprisingly it was 72 when I left the house in Kingwood and a brisk and damp 52 after the 75 mile drive through the oncoming cold front. I made a decision to wait and hive up the bees on Sunday.

Well, Sunday was a very brisk 44 and prospects for the high at 3:00 was only 55 or so. I waited until 1:30 in the afternoon and drove up to the berry farm. The process went very smooth.

I put the first package into one of the topbar hives. I decided to not shake out the bees and just allow them to migrate on their own.

The package box is leaning against the side with the queen attached to one of the bars. This is a bare hive box and the bees will set about drawing comb for the queen.

Here is her majesty in her cage. The bottom end of the cage has a candy plug. I poked a hole through it with a finishing nail. The girls should have it consumed and releasing the queen in about 3 days.

The second package went into a 10 frame Langstroth hive. Super smooth installation.

The package lying on its side, a can of sugar water is shipped with the package. Once they empty it in a couple of days then I’ll add a feeder. I’m lucky in that I have a full box of drawn comb and that will accelerate the growth of the colony.

The blueberries are plumping up out at Blakelock’s Berries. With our cool weather it may still be 10-14 days before they are ready to pick.

The clumps of berries look so good. If they ripen together it will be easy pickings. The adjacent blackberry patch is loaded with blossoms!

The berry farm was now complete and I headed off to hive a package in a big Kingwood backyard. This yard also holds a very strong Langstroth and a good topbar hive. The big Langstroth is booming, I had to add another super Friday and it was probably a week or more over due! Again, the process went smoothly.

Now over to Mike’s smaller backyard to fill his 8 frame Langstroth. My friend Mike, watched from a short distance away and I was a little distracted. Mike is a talker! I almost forgot to pull the cork and put a hole in the candy plug. Where was my Goo Friend John to keep me focused? Florida, hope you are having fun! FYI John – I was 4 for 4 but….it was close!

Now, Thursday, I pick up 6 NUC’s and will spend Thursday afternoon getting them situated. This could be a very sweet year!

TTFN

Bishop

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Random Stuff

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Today is my Birthday and I have been busy doing random stuff in my garden, with the bees and like any good A.D.D. guy, anything to get in the way of sitting down to finish my taxes.

Blueberries and Blackberries;

Drove out to Grangerland to take a look at my hive and add some corrugated plastic roofing to a couple of the topbar hives. IMG_4630

Got the smoker going and my new pair of goat skin gloves, Christmas present from my better half, are getting ready receive baptism.

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Evidence that the bees are doing their part to make the blueberries at Blakelock’s Berries big and flavorful. Can’t wait for them to ripen.

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Between my bees, and I am positive this is one of my bees……. and the local bumblebees the Blueberry blossoms are being well pollinated.

After Grangerland I rolled back to Russel Palmer in Kingwood to check on my suspect topbar hive. I was worried after my inspection a couple of weeks ago as it appeared that the hive beetles were taking over the hive. I cleaned and scraped and good rid of suspect comb but didn’t see much evidence of a healthy hive. It is amazing  what 10-12 days will do for a hive. I opened it yesterday, March, 11, day before my birthday and – WOW- they are kicking butt. Lots of capped brood(baby bees waiting to emerge), honey stores and bees hauling in pollen……abundant wild blackberries(dewberries) all over the area…….and very few hive beetles!

The topbar hive ready for inspection; lovely capped brood and tons of nurse bees; a dewberry blossom being serviced!

After that stop, it was off to Mills Branch at the back of Kingwood. Just a visual inspection of the three of the bees there, busy as bees usually are, hauling in loads of pollen. Fed the chickens, pulled some weeds from the raised beds and gave the chickens a green treat, gathered eggs and headed home.

I just love how fresh eggs have yolks that sit up so nicely and the whites don’t run everywhere! FYI, the little egg in the photo was found to be sans a yolk!

I did think about beer a bit….I will probably add a post over on my beer blog very soon. https://bishopsbeerblog.com/

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I almost forgot about this cute guy…..He is a little over a week old and being bottle fed at the Russel Palmer location. It was touch and go for a bit but it looks like the little guy will pull through……So a quick stop here evolved into a tour…..Ronnie’s garden, potatoes, blackberries, citrus, asparagus, figs, strawberries, cattle, rabbits, fresh tilled soil with rabbit manure, talk of tomato plants yet to be put in the ground, pinto beans, okra and on and on…..I love his place!!!!! Did I mention my A.D.D.?

Swiss Chard…….from my garden last week.

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Prepping the leaves to parboil before freezing……Mmmmmm good!

Enough for now….

TTFN

Bishop

Blakelock’s Berries

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http://blakelocksberries.com/

I went to visit Paul at Blakelock’s for a private blueberry picking session. In about 25 minutes , on very young plants, +\- 3 years old, I was able to gather about 9 1/2 pounds of the sweetest blueberries. My dilemma now is – I want to make some jam and Kathy wants them all frozen in small bags for snacking. There should be some middle ground don’t you think? 

Blakelock’s is primarily a blackberry u-pick farm. They should be open by mid May. I picked at his place last year and I got a ton of great blackberries. 


I love how the blueberries cluster up. Makes for easy picking. 


The blackberries are blossoming and forming good looking fruit right now! 

I have committed to placing 3 hives at Blakelock’s early next spring. Should be a win/win. Paul gets the benefit of improved pollination and I get some berry good honey! 


This is one 4.5 plus bucket of berries drying out before packaging for my lovely and loving wife! PS- can I now make some jam Hun? FYI- a handful of green beans in the background along with my sourdough starter jar! 

Check out Paul’s website;

http://blakelocksberries.com/
TTFN

Bishop

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

The Last of the Strawberries

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I used up the last of the 2014 strawberry harvest today. I made a low sugar recipe resulting in 2-12 oz. jars, 4- 8 oz. jars and 1-4 oz. jar of wonderful Strawberry Jam. This was a banner year for my strawberry harvest. I am not sure if my bees will make much difference next year as strawberries are largely self pollinated, but, they can’t hurt!

I do love my morning toast with a healthy dollop of backyard jam, whether it be my strawberry jam or my blackberry jam….wild or domestic! No domestic blackberries this year as they met with a breakdown in communication with my hired help. The sprinkler installation guy, my son Ben, was a little too rough with the existing plants, they all died….next year or the year after may be a good year.

So, what does lite jam mean? Standard recipe calls for 5 cups of strawberry mush and 7 cups of sugar…..so danged good. The lite recipe is also 5 cups of mush but only 4 cups of sugar. I really like the lite recipe as I think more of the fruit flavor comes through. I will admit that the last batch of Dewberry Jam, a wild blackberry, was made as a full sugar recipe….wow…very good!

An 8 ounce jar of my very good Strawberry Jam.

An 8 ounce jar of my very good Strawberry Jam.

Now…clean the kitchen and bottle my Russian Imperial Stout! – Tomorrow, I just sampled a couple of Kona IPA beers and they were awesome. That should be detailed in my beer blog in a day or so.

http://bishopsbeerblog.com/

TTFN

Bishop

 

 

 

 

TTFN

Bishop

 

Jammin’

2 Comments

This growing season saw a bumper crop of strawberries. The result was lots of fresh berries for snacking and tons for jam making, lots of jam! The blackberries were starting to look really good toward the end of May. I had high hopes for a good blackberry harvest based on the number of blossoms and the large size of the developing berries – and JAM!.

The blackberry harvest started out strong. When I was home more berries made the freezer bag than we used for fresh eating. During my out of town work assignments the ratio was reversed. I still thought I had a chance to load up the freezer but the local birds discovered my luscious, juicy and organically grown berries. I would see dozens of berries that needed another day to finish ripening only to discover them gone, missing – nowhere to be found the next day. Evidence of birds sitting trellis wire was abundant. I guess next year I will have to invest in some netting.

Friday this past week I needed to clear some freezer space for my wife. I had partial freezer bags of blackberries, strawberries and some wild dewberries. I spent an hour and a half scratching the living daylights out of my arms and legs as I braved the thorny dewberry patches only to be rewarded with less than ½ gallon of berries! They have great taste but they are, oh so small. I decided to make a mixed batch of berry jam! Problem solved, room in the freezer and a 9 +  jars and jam! I say 9+ because I fill a jar of the foam skimmings’ and the bottom of the pot for my wife. She makes an interesting oatmeal frittata with egg whites and tops it with the lower grade jam. Still tastes great but doesn’t look as nice in the jars.

Garden chores out of the way for today consisted of removing 5 tomato plants that gave their all against this brutal summer that Houston has been suffering through. I replaced them with some grafted varieties and hope to get them well established during the tail end of summer. I hope to have tomatoes through Thanksgiving again this year!

My son and his friend kept the garden well watered including all of those pesky weeds. I should have provided some more detailed instructions on weeding while watering – an alliterative activity that aids the garden. That said….I have been pulling weeds like crazy! They have made a nice layer in the compost bin. I added about 6 inches of leaf mulch and 10-12 inches of grass clippings on top of them. The pile should really heat up now!

I pulled the leaf mulch out of my second bin. I am nearing the bottom of that bin and found some nice finished compost. I spread about 8 – 5 gallon bucket loads of the compost into the bed holding most of the tomatoes and cucumbers. Today being a three t-shirt day in Houston I will postpone spreading the remaining compost for another day…..none of the upcoming days look to promising in the next week so I guess I will just have to suck it up through a few more days and shirts until the job is done.

Thorny, scratchy and very tasty wild dewberries.

Thorny, scratchy and very tasty wild dewberries.

 

Kathy's Frittata - Her first bite was followed by these words, "Ewww seeds, but tasty!"

Kathy’s Frittata – Her first bite was followed by these words, “Ewww seeds, but tasty!”

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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