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Strawberry Fields – Not Quite Forever

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Last fall I planted about 75 Chandler June bearing plants……they began producing at the beginning with a “beauty” on February 14th, scored a few points by giving the first Berry to my bride…….yeah, almost June bearing LOL. Half of the new plantings were in plastic covered raised beds, about a quarter in version #4 of my strawberry tower and the remainder in a strawberry specific pottery vessel. The link included goes back into the history of my efforts with strawberry towers. The three inch diameter towers have been mothballed for a couple of years. Fall of 2019 I snagged a piece of heavy wall 6 inch pipe…..it was challenging to build the pockets.

Not perfect and the thick pipe wall created challenges making the pockets. I will need to write a separate post with details!

https://bishopsbackyardfarm.com/2014/01/18/strawberry-towers-forever-v-3-1/

Surprisingly this has been my most successful use of the pottery style planter for strawberries. Previous years were sparse.

My raised bed planting under the plastic sheet have been disappointing. The biggest source of my disappointment is with my poor choice of plastic covering. In fact, it was much more than disappointing, it was a bonehead mistake. Yes, in my haste, I grabbed the wrong material, didn’t read the label, installed it and planted all the berry plants before I realized my mistake. I will remedy the error at the end of picking season.

One of my 4’ X 24’ raised beds has been fallow for two years due to my laziness. Lazy no more! By the coming weekend it will be reframed and planted. Most likely candidates will be cucumbers and pole beans. I am growing potatoes in pots again this year and will place them strategically around the beds. The sugar snap peas went in late but I should be able to harvest before the Houston heat lays them low. Carrots and beets also went in late but …….. life goes on.

Bees will be keeping me busier as the summer approaches. It looks like it could be a very bountiful year. I sure wish I hadn’t wrecked my truck. Turns out it is too expensive to repair so I have to jump through the hoops to get the check and shop for another. I think I said it before……. life goes on.

FYI- gardening is a pretty good social distancing tool or activity. Frame building for the beehives also works well.

TTFN

Bishop

Another Hiatus – Ended

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It has been too long between posts so I wanted to let all y’all know that I am still kicking and busy. Well, for a couple of weeks I was busy relaxing in Los Osos California “braving” the chilly 52 degree F mornings as my garden and friends back in Houston were sweltering. Damn, I had to put long sleeves on, slept with the window open under a comforter….wow, I could get used to this. All good things are subject to change….I had to pack up and return to Houston.

Upon my return my cucumbers had succumbed to the heat and the white flies, yes, I knew it would happen. A couple of the tomato plants had also passed away…RIP….But they were making way for an August planting to provide good veggies into the Fall. I will replant!

Cucumbers are going int first. I will load the bed up with compost and plant a couple of varieties. The English cukes did really well this year so more of them and then a bunch of Straight 8 variety. The local honeybees love visiting my Cukes!

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August appears to about normal in term of temperature and maybe a bit more damp than normal so it should be good.

With my tomatoes, I may try an heirloom or two. Get them established while it is warm and hopefully enjoy the cooler temperatures going into the fall. Pink Brandywine and Cherokee Purple will be high on the list.

TTFN

Bishop

Because She Loves Tomatoes

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She didn’t grow up loving tomatoes! She had only been exposed to those from the supermarket. Here is a little info that may influence where YOU but tomatoes in the future;

I worked at a produce warehouse in Bakersfield California….we received produce by the truckloads and placed them into the appropriate storage room. We would then load trucks for the local stores 5 nights per week with the produce items they had ordered. The tomatoes we received were not any where near red when they arrive but 3 days later they were red and headed to the shelves at the local markets. What was magic about the 3 days?

Answer: A room with controlled temperature, humidity and a big dose of ethylene gas. The tomatoes went into the room hard, firm( the hard and firm part is to help in transit) and with some evidence of a pink at the stem attachment, three days later, very red but still hard and firm tomatoes were sent out to the markets. It is no wonder that she didn’t like them!

Along about 1982 she married me…..lucky for me and I suppose lucky for her too as I introduced her to “worldly” things like vine ripened tomatoes! She couldn’t believe how flavorful they could be. Her first taste of an Heirloom tomato, a Brandywine to be exact, blew her mind. Her comment was that it tasted like a perfect tomato with a dash of salt…..but no salt was added. Unfortunately I struggle to grow Brandywine tomatoes here in Houston but Bakersfield was perfect for them.

On the patio near the house I keep a determinate variety of tomato for her pleasure. She can keep a daily eye on it and removes the ripening tomatoes before her friends, the damn squirrels, can get to them…..I have proposed a solution for the squirrels but she won’t acquiesce.

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The patio plant sans ripe tomatoes….they have been removed before tempting the squirrels.

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One of her favorite combinations – vine ripe tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion(not shown) No ethylene gas room used in the ripening of this tomato…..unharmed in the natural process!

Recipe…..

Whatever ratio of chopped tomatoes and quarter slice cucumbers that you desire. Chopped red onion to flavor and mix with a 50/50 mix of an Italian dressing and Ranch dressing. Let marinate for a bit…..she usually can’t wait, still taste heavenly! I will sometimes add fresh ground black pepper to my bowl.

The Sweet Million cherry tomatoes are kicking in and they can also be used….usually just cut in half.

I have a couple of Roma Tomato plants that are loaded up with green tomatoes and lots of blossoms.

Bee stuff for a moment. I extracted a couple of supers last week and put them out in the garden for the local bees, not my bees, to clean up before returning to their respective hives. They do a great job and helps the local feral bee populations.

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I hope you have access to vine ripened tomatoes….if not try a Farmers market but be picky. If you spot produce boxes behind the tables ask questions about the source!!!!! A gentle squeeze test will also indicate whether the are vine ripened or coerced into turning red…..not ripe but just beautiful red!

For you Hun;

“Don’t tell me it’s not worth trying for
You can’t tell me it’s not worth dying for
You know it’s true
Everything i do, i do it for you”

(“(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” is a song by Canadian singer and songwriter Bryan Adams. Written by Adams, Michael Kamen and Robert John “Mutt” Lange,)

TTFN

Bishop

BCT Sandwich

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So, no lettuce in my summer garden so I had to sub for it! English cucumbers made a nice and flavorful replacement. For the tomato portion of the sandwich I sliced up a ripe Brandywine heirloom variety. Yummy so far. I also have a bit of homemade involved with the bacon. 

The bacon is lamb bacon, cured and smoked in my backyard/kitchen. 

I had just finished slicing it up, making it ready for packaging. I have another whole one in the freezer waiting for Fall recipes. Each lamb breast used for the bacon recipe is about 3.5 pounds.  The flavor is just amazing! 


Posing with the cucumber and lamb bacon is another variety of tomato that handles the Houston summers pretty well, Celebrity. 

The bees are also keeping me busy this summer. I am off to Navasota to pick-up five new queens. The queen’s in my two captured swarms are not laying well and will need to be replaced. I have, what should have been a new queen this spring, that is not laying well, so, down the road she goes. The last two will replace two older queens. 

It will be hotter than Hades tomorrow, requiring a beer or two to cope with the heat. I have some of my Honey Blonde Ale on tap to stave off my thirst. Bee season will slow down a bit later on then,  time to brew more beer. No rest for the wicked! 

TTFN

Bishop

Blogging Again

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A brief one to get the ball rolling…

The garden is still producing but not like in years past. The saving grace have been the cucumbers….Can’t give them away fast enough! The tomatoes are just pitiful looking specimens…..Oh, I pick a stray cherry tomato now and then but that is about it. The other success story is one of the banana varieties. I cut the stalk just below the female flowers after the plant switched to producing only male flowers. Those female flowers are developing nicely….time will tell.

I have a bee problem now…..a neighbor that has not been easy to get along with discovered my bee hive during a recent fence repair and filed a complaint. Almost 18 months with no issue but…….The HOA does not forbid bees but apparently there is a provision that if a resident “needs” protection from harm, i.e., bees, then I am the bad guy. They bees need a new home, far away from my yard.

The neighbor directly behind me is fully supportive of my bee keeping efforts. My neighbor to the east is a friend and fully supportive. The wicked witch to the West is the problem. Well, no honey for her! I have harvested about 8 gallons (about 90 pounds) from one hive and should have another good harvest just before fall.

My top bar hive is getting full. Tomorrow I am drafting my wife to give me a hand pulling some honeycomb and honey for my first harvest from this hive. It is a very healthy and strong hive. I am anxious to have it open tomorrow and show my wife how they build the comb and organize the activities inside the hive.

Nearly full width comb and deep into the box. We should see many, many more tomorrow.

Nearly full width comb and deep into the box. We should see many, many more tomorrow.

In two days I will move two of my hives to a farm, a little further than I wanted, but, I have a very interested woman that has been wanting bees. So off they go, both the large Langstroth hive and my top bar hive. I  retain ownership but, will have to travel to manage the hives. The second top bar hive was not to the bees liking when I installed them in May. They swarmed and moved off. Over the last few days there has been a small football sized mass of bees under some boards in the corner of my garden….they are now in my second top bar hive……I will see if I can keep it from scrutiny until it grows to the point that I can move it.

Took the cappings’ from today’s extraction of 6 medium frames. About two gallons of honey, 22 pounds was the result. I am using my solar “melter” to separate the wax and residual honey….nice, simple and easy way to do it. The solar box has a glass lid that helps hold the heat!

I mash the wax up on the top side of the SS pan. Still a bit of honey oozing out. Tomorrow the wax will be sitting on top of the water.

I mash the wax up on the top side of the SS pan. Still a bit of honey oozing out. Tomorrow the wax will be sitting on top of the water.

The melting process under the sun's heat melts the wax, drops out the trash as it drifts down to the water as relatively clean wax. I will later melt and filter it again through cheese cloth.

The melting process under the sun’s heat melts the wax, drops out the trash as it drifts down to the water as relatively clean wax. I will later melt and filter it again through cheese cloth.

Busy day today….I also transferred my Session India Pale Ale into the secondary fermenter. I added an ounce of Amarillo and an ounce of Simcoe hops……”dry hopping”. Should be amazing once finished. In a few days I will drop the temperature down to 34 degrees to get all the goodies to settle and bottle it. Can’t wait, but I will. Next up a beer using my honey as a component.

TTFN

Bishop

Playing in the Rain and in the Garden

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I do believe that I am a 6 year old trapped in the body of a 63 year old man. We have had a couple of good downpours today – I wish I could send some to my California friends – mixed with gentle sprinkles. During one of the misty lulls I went out to the garden inspect and snack….

Inspecting how the bees were doing, I am happy to report that they are doing very well. Here is where the curiosities of a 6 year old kick in. I stand off to the side of the take off and landing pattern. I marvel at the roles visible at the entrance….some bees just hang out there as guard bees preventing “robbers” from getting in and fanning at the entrance to help maintain proper hive temperature. The others that were zooming in and out are the foragers, the last period of a worker bee’s life. They are on a mission! When they arrive at the entrance from a foraging flight, it is all business and they disappear inside immediately. The foragers departing don’t display quite the same sense of urgency…. some wander around for a few moments…possibly checking out the proposed flight plan and then off they go. Others, the hesitation is very brief and then off they go. I feel such a sense of wonder, almost mesmerized, as I watch the choreographed activity!

If you haven’t had the opportunity, follow a 3-6 year old child as they wander around outside. Watch to see what they find fascinating and attempt to see it through there eyes….some amazing things are taken for granted in this natural world around us….never lose the ability to see and appreciate the simple wonders around you.

Post rain - the bees are slowly beginning to forage and defend the entrance.

Post rain – the bees are slowly beginning to forage and defend the entrance.

Snacks…My Juliet tomatoes are such a sweet snack. I picked a large number of the little cherry tomatoes and have about a dozen or more of the Juliets ready to be picked for the kitchen. Post rain they are so picturesque! Beads of rainwater still clinging to their skins and begging to be picked and consumed. Who am I to argue! Several found their way into my mouth!

Small, probably 2 ounces, but prolific and tolerant of the Houston heat and humidity.

Small, probably 2 ounces, but prolific and tolerant of the Houston heat and humidity.

Going vertical….Cucumbers and yes, even watermelons. My pickling cucumbers succumbed to the nasty white flies….the Lady Bug beetles were working hard but not enough to keep them in check. I still have Straight Eight and Armenian type growing and beginning to develop fruit.

An Armenian Cuke developing.

An Armenian Cuke developing.

I am growing a variety of small watermelons. A refrigerator  type and growing them vertically. As the fruit develops I will have to hang a sling to keep them up off of the ground…..I can’t wait. In the background is a banana plant that should bear fruit next year. I met a Mexican worker on a pipeline job that I am supporting that gave me the corms. He grows many varieties of bananas in his yard south of Houston. It is an apple banana, Manzano Banana tree! Looking forward to harvesting!

A developing melon. Full sized will be just a bit smaller than a volleyball.

A developing melon. Full sized will be just a bit smaller than a volleyball.

The vertical climbing vines with the banana tree in the background.

The vertical climbing vines with the banana tree in the background.

I finally got a “round to it” handed to me concerning my worm farm. We have all used that phrase I am sure….”Yeah, I’ll get a round to it.” – But we never do…..I had a coworker who had a bunch made up – they look like wooden nickels and he hands them out to procrastinators…..I received one…what does that tell you about me? Yes, I fit the description! I harvested at least 10 pounds of wet worm poop and made several gallons of diluted worm poop tea! After spreading the gathered goodies I heard some “oohs” and “ahs” as the garden absorbed the delicious feeding!

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

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