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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

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My War On Weeds

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I just cleaned out my carrot bed – one that I had allowed to be infested with too many weeds. It started innocently enough….the carrots were sprouting and I had made a halfhearted attempt to both thin the carrots and keep the weeds at bay. My work took me away for several weeks while the weather was perfect for the weeds…..I returned to a green mass with carrot tops poking through.

I harvested the carrots and decided to take a low tech approach to fight my “war on weeds”! I took bunch of newspapers and covered the bed about 3 sheets deep, some place a little more….it is a low tech approach so uniformity was not a big concern. My concern was coverage! After the newspaper I added a thick layer of shredded leaves from the bottom of my compost bin.  It looks very good now and at least for now, the battle is looking like a victory in the making.

The other beds have been well covered with shredded leaves and are relatively weed free. The covering of leaves help smother the weeds and those that do manage to make it through are leggy and easy to pull. I believe that extra barrier of newspaper will make it even more difficult on the evil weeds.

FYI, the  Houston Chronicle uses a water based, non-toxic ink. Non-toxic to readers and the environment. Newsprint will breakdown nicely in the garden as well as in the compost bin…..I use it both places.

Spreading the newsprint...spraying with water to keep it from blowing away!

Spreading the newsprint…spraying with water to keep it from blowing away!

Newsprint covered with the shredded leaves.

Newsprint covered with the shredded leaves.

Some of the carrots ....stubby due to my heavy soil but still very tasty!

Some of the carrots ….stubby due to my heavy soil but still very tasty!

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

Jammin’

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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

Preview of Father’s Day Gift

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My daughter Ashleigh is an organizing fool. She rode herd on my sons, Ben and Joe in order to clean out the two car portion of the garage. Over a year ago she scored a very nice wine barrel with the intent that I would make a compost barrel out of it. I did some research and also considered making a unique smoker…..I do live in Texas and the south, so, smoking meats of many types is the norm.

As the garage clean out progressed Ashleigh and Ben figured that the ” round tuit” in needed to finish the barrel and get it out of the garage was missing. As a surprise to me they tackled the job.

The barrel intact and ready for modification.

The barrel intact and ready for modification.

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They decided that they would support it in a horizontal fashion on a large wooden dowel. They used one of my Forstner bits and hopefully, centered the holes so it will tumble smoothly. Ashleigh vacuuming up the cutting….she is such a neat freak….

Doing the clean up

Doing the clean up

The work crew is shown below with the handiwork in the background. I can’t wait to get the hinged door installed and tumbling compost in the backyard!!!!

Come on Ash....smile

Come on Ash….smile

Ah that is better!

Ah that is better!

I promise some working photos and an update soon.

TTFN
Bishop

A Letter to Home

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Dear Kathy,

It seems that I have been on the road far too many times this year. I haven’t slept well on this trip and the only factor that comes to mind has nothing to do with the bed quality, the room or the hotel…….it has to do with missing you and not having you here with me. I wish that we had opportunities for you to travel with me when I am off on my consulting trips. One more day and I will be home! I do miss you.

By the way how is the garden coming along? I know that some of the lettuces and carrots were beginning to look good. While you were out in the garden watering, did you remember to pull the weeds that seem to be constantly invading the garden? If you get a chance pull the slats out of the compost bin and turn the contents over for me. The pitch fork is located next to the bins. Try doing it early in the morning Hun because you will work up a bit of a sweat while lifting the heavy fork loads, but take your time …. I don’t want you worn out for my return on Friday. I trust that you have been feeding the worms all of the vegetable scraps and pulverized egg shells – please use the coffee grinder to pulverize the shells but also remember to wipe it out so it won’t contaminate my coffee.

Here is an example of what the pulverized eggshells and coffee grounds should look like.

I wasn’t able to run the weed-whacker around the edges of the garden before I left so if you would fire it up and knock the weeds down if you would Hun! he engine can be a little temperamental – push the fuel bulb 6-8 times, put the choke lever over on full choke for a couple of pulls, then mid choke for a couple and then open and it should start. Make sure you wear eye protection….you know how much I love the beautiful star eye look…you know what I mean. Before it gets too warm please rake up the weeds and dump them in the freshly turned compost bin.
I know how good you are at tidying things up so if you would, try organizing the tool cabinet hanging over in the corner. I also have quite a few stakes piled up over  there too ….could you just move them around a little to make it look a little better. Please wear gloves when you handle the stakes…they have some spurs and slivers – I would feel so bad if you hurt your beautiful and loving hands. Oh, on the rack in that same corner would you also roll up the kayak straps and place them in the garage.

Again Dear, thank you and I am so anxious to get back home and spend some time in your warm embrace.

Your loving husband,

Bishop

Smile all y’all – some of the above was really tongue in cheek! Fortunately we don’t have a dog, I could be sleeping with the dog for a few nights….

TTFN

Bishop

 

Gardening Perspective – Thrifty or Cheap?

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Am I cheap or am I thrifty? I guess, if I were to answer my own question, I would say yes! I am a bit of both. For example, this morning I was out in the garden straightening a few things up. As I was removing some of the supports/stakes for the cucumber vines I started saving bits and pieces of twine to use next time I need to support my vines. Twine, jute garden twine is about $ 2.00 for a 200 foot roll, that’s about a penny per foot. In about 10 minutes I saved maybe 50 feet of twine, 50 cents worth. That works out to a $ 3.00 per hour rate of return….. That sounds cheap to me! I will probably continue to waste my time with this effort. The twine is a very slow decomposer in my compost piles.

My ball of twine salvaged!

A diffrent look at my salvage efforts.

$$$$$ Saved eh? Some twine and a few stakes/supports…about a 3 year life for the crepe myrtle limbs.

The supports/stakes I use in the garden are from my Crepe Myrtles. Ugh….Just read how to prune Crepe Myrtles and my technique has been labeled crepe murder! My technique does produce an abundance of tall straight limbs that I use to support vines and such in the garden. My technique produces knobby looking plants. This past year I looked at some of the professionally trimmed crepes and modified my technique but I inherited stumpy crepes when I moved in…. don’t take that statement as a political jab at the current administration…I would never do that. My Crepe Myrtle is definitely not better off than it was 4 years ago. But, I have saved money over buying commercial stakes/supports. A six foot bamboo stake will cost a buck and a half. I use 50 or so every year. I am saving at least $ 75.00 annually – I am discounting the labor cost because I have to cut the crepe myrtle every year regardless of the use of the limbs….I am also keeping waste out of the landfill – my verdict – thrifty and “green”!

An example of the mess I inherited! Murder is a strong word – lets just say brutalized!

The way they should be!!!

What aspire to accomplish…..may require removal of the brutalized example in my yard!

A link to a pruning lesson and the source of the photos…

http://thedailysouth.southernliving.com/2009/02/24/what-concerns-p/

A spring look at a portion of my garden using the crepe myrtle limbs –

Supports/Stakes in action this past spring.

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