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A Morning in the Garden

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Nice, nice morning here in Kingwood on this 18th day of April and crazy, approaching 4 weeks of social distancing! It was a beautiful cool, at least for my neck of the woods, 62 degrees F today. I know the warm weather is coming as I wandering out into the garden this morning but enjoying the respite however brief. I gathered a rather large handful of sugar snap peas. They usually don’t last long…..I rinse them off and snack on them all day long. So crunchy and yes, sweet

These won’t last but 8 or 10 I pulled in the garden that didn’t make the trip into the kitchen. LOL

Tomatoes are beginning to form and we should be seeing them ripen within the week. Nothing tastes better than vine ripe tomatoes picked at the perfect time. These are not like the ones that I worked with in the produce warehouse back in Bakersfield years ago. We would unload boxes of “breakers”, tomatoes that are mostly green, shoulders pink and hard like baseballs. We stacked then in a special room that could be sealed and with controlled temperature & humidity settings. We would seal the room and pump in ethylene gas to “ripen” them. 3 days later they were all beautifully red and still baseball hard…….now you know!

Sweet million cherry tomatoes
Juliet, a small Roma shaped tomato that is very heat tolerant
Patio tomatoes for my wife, in a pot and yes, on the patio. They do well until it gets too hot. Four inches or so in size and very tasty. They will be on BLT’s with my tasty toasted sourdough bread soon!

Just wanted to add an update on the “bottom ends” of Romaine lettuce I plunked down into the soil in my garden. They sprouted well, I snacked on some of the leaves early on but now……..they have bolted, shot up, and beginning to display flower heads and the leaves are slightly bitter. Why do they bolt? I always thought it was the warmer weather but it appears that length of day is the primary factor. If I was really energetic and had nothing else to do, I should have limited then to no more than 8 hours or so of sunlight per day……..I may need to give it a try in the future.

Not your typical Romaine lettuce…..leaves are still edible but a bit stunted and turning bitter. I will maybe……..experiment next year or at the end of summer….

During the Spring of 2019 I planted two Muscadine grape plants. One died and the other thrived. I trained the vines to grow out in two direction. One went horizontally along a wire stretched out across my back fence. The other direction heads over to a wooden arch structure, similar to a small grape arbor. Last year there was no evidence of fruit. My unknown is whether the variety I bought needs a pollinator variety. I am crossing my fingers…….Muscadines grow wild in the are and a similar grape, Mustang grapes, which are similar, are also nearby. There is evidence of potential fruit all up and down this year’s vines!

Little teeny tiny beginnings of Muscadine grapes. I am hopeful……I want to make some jelly and maybe some wine.

My son is moving at the end of the month and has made me proud. He established two very good sized compost bins in his backyard. He has a lot of yard to mow and he has been amazed how quickly the clippings decompose and shrink. I spent some time pretty much emptying one bin last night, probably 14 good sized leaf bags full. I shouldn’t say full. Once I skimmed the newer layer- mostly leaves and grass, the bottom layer was dense and heavy……….so, small but heavier loads in those bags. If the weather holds I will return today and pull the contents of bin number 2.

TTFN

Bishop

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

Winter Composting

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I am visiting my daughter in Denver this week, totally different weather than my Houston clime! Her neighbor loves gardening but laments the fact that she doesn’t seem to be able to compost in the winter. I decided to to investigate cold weather composting tips….and yes, I can learn a little in the process.

I found a nice article from the Empress of Dirt. Granted, she is a little further north but the method should work as well. I think I would consider adding a microbe addition, similar to the type in the included link from Safer Brand. I have used some of their products in the past and really like them.

The winter composting also contains a link to composting basics, 101, that I thought would beneficial to folks new to composting! Because of my warmer climate I don’t utilize closed type bins, I utilize home built open enclosures. The 20 gallon galvanized can recommended in the article appears to be handy for holding scraps, especially in the grips of brrrrr type of cold, before adding to your pile.

Bottom line, COMPOST YOUR WASTES……. adapt to your climate, keep compostables out of the landfills! Landfills create methane….methane is 30 times stronger than CO2 as a green house!

Research from JPL NASA comes this piece of data;

“Emissions data like this can help facility operators identify and correct problems – and in turn, bring California closer to its emissions goals. For example, of the 270 surveyed landfills, only 30 were observed to emit large plumes of methane. However, those 30 were responsible for 40% of the total point-source emissions detected during the survey. This type of data could help these facilities to identify possible leaks or malfunctions in their gas-capture systems.

https://empressofdirt.net/easy-winter-composting/

https://www.saferbrand.com/resources/ringer-compost-plus-compost-starter-3050-6/images/4

I ran across a nice compost image that could be used in most climes and can help deter common pests. My old bins are becoming pretty ragged. I built them with fencing materials that were blown down during Hurricane Ike in 2008.

From ; https://www.backyardboss.net/

Besides being good looking it looks hell for stout!

TTFN

Bishop

Having My Morning Coffee With The Bees

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Took my little Nikon J1 camera out to the hive in the backyard to enjoy the nice morning, to also savor a good cup of coffee and share some time with the Bees. I could spend hours watching them come and go. I am easily entertained! The is something in bloom nearby that has the workers loading up on a nice yellow colored pollen. They are also draining a quart of sugar water in less than a day and a half. I am hoping to have a nice enough day on Sunday to take a look at the inside workings and to see how well they have recovered since the stormy upset this past summer.

I headed out to the backyard on a very nice and pleasant morning. I made a good cup of coffee and went out to drink coffee with the bees. I love watching them come and go, busy with the chores needing to be done to support the hive. Enjoy the slow motion show captured Saturday morning. Watch early on in the video for the clumsy bee that head butts the hive. Look closely and you will see a few bees with pollen laden legs.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/yyfgp1h2zpphttb/SLO%20MO%20BEES.wmv?dl=0

 

Coming and going....busy little bees

Coming and going….busy little bees

I have the restricted entrance opening now to keep the toads and mice out. They seem to be thriving!

I took my leaf vac/chipper over to the next door neighbor’s yard and picked up several loads of fallen leaves for my garden and compost bins. Another neighbor stopped by with her two year old son….he calls me Mr. Bishop. They followed me over to the garden and I let him pull a carrot  up and pick a lemon. Simple things can bring so much joy to little kids. I just love it. Hopefully, making some good memories for both Mom and son.

Strawberries are beginning to heavily bloom and we have seen them ripening…may be a banner year for my strawberries and jam making!

 

TTFN

Bishop

 

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

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

My Falling Into Fall Efforts

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I haven’t written much lately about the backyard garden but it has been slowly morphing into a winter garden. I harvested the last cucumbers two weeks ago because I knew that the Houston winter temperatures were coming. On the vines were a few edible and nearly a dozen immature cukes that became worm food.  The sweet potato vines finally showed their dislike for anything below 50 degrees F. They weren’t grown for tubers this year, but they did provide great ground cover. I found a couple of nice sized tubers and a bunch that were restricted by the heavy soil to  elongated sausage looking things. The dying tomatoes were pulled up along with the Poblano pepper plants.

I left the Serrano peppers in as the plant is still setting fruit. I made a batch of Serrano  Pepper jelly last week and may make another batch soon. This week I also made a couple of pints of lemon curd from my Meyer Lemon tree. What an amazingly rich treat – 4 very big lemons, 2 cups of lemon juice, at least 2/3 cup of zest, 12 egg yolks, two sticks of butter and two cups of sugar… I am afraid to calculate the calories per teaspoon! I will send a jar to my granddaughter – she loves it!

Over the past two weeks I pulled about 2 large wheel barrow loads of compost out of my bins to amend the beds. I fed a bunch to the asparagus bed hoping to get it producing better during this next spring. I added a bunch to a section of the beds that I have designated as the carrot patch. That same bed is also home to my sugar snap peas – hopefully this planting of peas will be the one that produces. I tried on two previous efforts to get them to sprout and the cool weather never showed up. They don’t like warm weather! I hope I didn’t miss the weather window!

Some of my strawberry plants are confused. Weeks ago I had a number of them blossom and I plucked the blossoms off. After traveling and working for a few weeks out of town, I ignored them. I now have green strawberries – about 3 plus months too early!  My 100 new strawberry plants planted in early October have settled nicely into their new home and will hopefully bring me a couple of good years of harvesting pleasure.

I have four pineapple plants started from tops nearly two years ago.  They are now beginning to leaf out vigorously and who knows, this may be the year. A little research says it takes 2 years and maybe more if it is cold, in order to flower. The leaves look like they are becoming mature so this could be the lucky year.  I put another top in the ground a week ago to add to my collection. According to the research the buggers will start spreading on their own. May wind up with 30 or 40 before long.

My little buddy Caleb and his now walking little brother Levi, stopped by for a visit a few days ago. Caleb is ALL boy….gotta keep an eye on him. Levi loves to munch on cucumbers off the vine and the cherry tomatoes, not so much for Caleb. They both enjoy the strawberries when they are in season. I hope to have them back this week to help plant my beets and turnips. I was in the process of harvesting the worm poop and adding another bin to the top of my worm composting bins during their visit. Being boys….they both loved touching and playing with the little wrigglers! Mom wasn’t as enthused or amused as the boys were! I sent them home with a couple of long stemmed roses for their mother……she left smiling!

The new carrot patch....waiting for the emerging tops.

The new carrot patch….waiting for the emerging tops.

The old sweet potato bed - cleaned out and what next ????

The old sweet potato bed – cleaned out and what next ????

Pineapples - or hopefully this year they will fruit.

Pineapples – hopefully this year they will fruit.

Those danged, confused strawberries.

Those danged, confused strawberries.

Strawberry towers planted with about 85 of the 100 new plants.

Strawberry towers planted with about 75 of the 100 new plants.

 

TTFN

Bishop

 

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