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Tomato Heaven Has Opened It’s Gates in My Backyard

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May 10th 2013 I picked the season’s first red, ripe and redolent of traditional flavor – tomatoes – yes plural form of the word tomato, more than one – Yee Haw cowboy! The Sweet Million variety is the first to deliver the goods. My Celebrity plant will not be too far behind. My mouth will just have to wait a little longer to savor a BLT with one of MY red, ripe and redolent of traditional flavor – real tomatoes. I will have to admit that I am not so optimistic with my Mortgage Lifter tomatoes – at least so far this season. I have had blossoms, I put my bumblebee suit on and buzzed the flowers with the electric toothbrush but the blossoms close up and drop off! Another update – I have my wife to thank for having tomatoes to pick today….she was tempted yesterday…thank goodness they weren’t apples or margaritas!

(see- https://bishopsbackyardfarm.com/2012/10/02/a-vibrating-garden-visitor/ ) I also planted some grafted heirloom varieties purchased from Burpee so maybe I will have some better luck!

The May 10th tomatoes picked in the dark. Dark at 10:30 AM. Yes AM - today's storm is very dark. 4 inches per hour of rain heading our way!

The May 10th tomatoes picked in the dark. Dark at 10:30 AM. Yes AM – today’s storm is very dark. 4 inches per hour of rain heading our way!

The asparagus bed gets better each year…I think it is on year 5 for the oldest root crowns. Sometimes the spears never make the kitchen……they are so good freshly cut! Last night I snacked on a few after my return from McAllen Texas, down in the Rio Grande River valley. I also savored a few Alpine strawberries and a few full sized berries off of my strawberry towers. The white Pineberries seem to be busy sending out runners…..I may have to snip that behavior and try to force it until later this summer.

Finger sized asparagus spear....flash photograph at 10:30 AM!!!!!

Finger sized asparagus spear….flash photograph at 10:30 AM!!!!!

My friend John and I have cucumber seeds in the ground ready to start up the trellis. He is a bit more limited with space so he is only growing a slicing variety. Me, on the other hand have slicers, Armenian long style and “picklers” planted in my beds. I will promise my family….no more attempts at making dill pickle. I can’t compete with your favorites! So, sweet or bread and butter types will be my focus. Several years ago I made a spicy, mildly hot bread and butter recipe….I liked it! If I remember I will share that recipe later on this summer.

I am pleasantly surprised, my quiet strawberry beds, resting after an early spring burst of activity, are showing lots of blossoms….again, Yee Haw cowboy! I really don’t think a person can have too may strawberries! The arches over the garden entry I built with Crepe Myrtle pruning’s are supporting several varieties of pole beans. The blossoms are heavy on some of the supports indicating a potentially bountiful harvest. Once the vines are filled in a little better I will share a photo. I have a mix of red, purple and white pole bean blossoms showing. Fingers crossed that the vision in my head is reflected in the end result of the planting.

The pole bean arches with some red blossoms.

The pole bean arches with some red blossoms.

Chard, Brussels Sprouts and some tomatoes

Chard, Brussels Sprouts and some tomatoes

My Dwarf Meyer Lemon tree has set a good number of lemons, some are approaching egg size right now. What is interesting though is that there is evidence of many new blossom forming on the tree now. Not sure if this is in the realm of normal behavior but I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth….I will certainly take and enjoy any extra efforts by my little lemon tree!

Weather update….nearly 2000 lightning strike per hour in some areas just east of Houston. Flooding, hail and dark, dark skies! we are bracing for some very wet weather.

TTFN

Bishop

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Carrots out the Wazoo – Now What?

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On the heels of last nights awesome rainstorm across the Houston area, close to 2 inches overnight, I decided it was time to pull up the carrots. Some have just exploded with growth. See photo below.

Exploded/split carrot....they taste OK but my wife refuses to let me cook them.

Exploded/split carrot….they taste OK but my wife refuses to let me cook them.

I am in the process of prepping for cucumbers and squash plantings in the next week. The sugar snap and snow peas are still producing but the heat that disables them is just around the corner. My early planting of Yukon Gold potatoes is off to an amazing start. I am using a barrel, a big tub and of course – some planted in the back bed.

Yukon Gold Plants needing to be hilled up a little deeper!

Yukon Gold Plants needing to be hilled up a little deeper!

The Brussels Sprouts are still forming, I hope well enough to harvest before the heat sets in! Good looking plants, not sure what to expect as this is my first attempt at growing them. I found a good recipe and cooking advice over on – http://promenadeplantings.com/2013/04/11/brussels-sprout-cheddar-and-apple-salad/

The freezer is full of strawberries waiting to made into wonderful jam. As they fade in the garden I am loving the evidence of a potentially great blackberry harvest! I enjoy them fresh but he low sugar jam I make helps extend the enjoyment into the fall or if lucky….till 2014 arrives.

I added more strawberry scraps to the top level of my worm bins. I am now on level five and the migration up towards the top bin is underway. They seem to be a little chubbier than usual…..could it be the abundance of strawberries in their diet? – Quite possibly – they have been binge eating strawberries for many weeks now! I still recycle….lots of scraps going into my compost bins.

I need some variety in recipes for Swiss Chard – at the moment it is an abundant ornamental in the garden. I can only eat so much fresh in with salads or wilted like spinach….Help!

Carrots and more Carrots

Carrots and more Carrots

A look down the garden path toward the back beds. The poles in the foreground arch up over the entrance and soon will be covered in 3 varieties of pole beans.

A look down the garden path toward the back beds. The poles in the foreground arch up over the entrance and soon will be covered in 3 varieties of pole beans.

 

TTFN

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

 

 

Busy, Busy, Busy – Catching up in the Garden and the Kitchen

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I went out and picked a little this morning before the sky opened up and poured buckets of rain. I wound up with a bunch of cucumbers, a few ox-heart tomatoes and peppers. I will go out tomorrow and gather many more tomatoes and peppers. Into the kitchen now for a recipe experiment – I had a bowl of cucumber gazpacho in Carlsbad New Mexico this past week. It was very nice and refreshing but just a bit too peppery hot for my tastes. I searched the web and found a few similar recipes that seem to match my tastes.

My Cucumber Gazpacho

  • 7-8 Cucumbers – several varieties, seeded and cut into chunks
  • 2 Ancho peppers – warm enough and a very nice dark green in color – seeded
  • 2 – Anaheim peppers seeded – one that had turned red and the other a reddish-brown – for color and flavor
  • A couple of garlic cloves – skinned and crushed
  • 1 tsp coarse black pepper
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup ice water
  • ½ cup white tequila
  • Tabasco sauce – season to taste – added a lot more after taste testing on day two!
  • Lime oil
  • Chopped fresh mint leaves

Puree the cucumbers with the olive oil, water, lemon juice, tequila, garlic, salt, black pepper and Tabasco. Add the coarse chopped Ancho and Anaheim peppers and pulse to chop coarsely…leaves a little bits of pepper chunks for color and texture. Refrigerate overnight. Garnish with a bit chopped fresh mint and a few drops of lime oil.

Next up for the kitchen before my wife returns from California – brew my American IPA Ale with Cascade and Chinook hops, can my strawberry and blackberry preserves and possibly a few more quarts of spaghetti sauce…..the last batch was very good – now where did I put that recipe????

Enjoy the slide show from the garden and –

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TTFN

Bishop

Ahhhhhhhh – Back Home!

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I have been on the road for much of the past 6 weeks with brief trips home for laundry and repacking. The travels were not without a bit of fun and a few new learnings, but I am tired off the road. I received a nice goodnight text message from my wife last night – oh, by the way I am home but she is still visiting family in California – The message, ” ‘Night – sleep well in our bed Hun.” and I certainly did. I have been waking up multiple times every night in the hotel beds, tripping off to shed some water….last night – I closed my eyes at 10:30 and opened them at 6:30 – Yee haw!

I did a quick walk through the garden yesterday evening and Lisa did a wonderful job keeping things green. I will be picking tomatoes and cucumbers today. I will take a lesson learned from a restaurant in Carlsbad New Mexico, The Stock Exchange, and make some cucumber gazpacho. I may not add quite as much of the hot peppers but it was both refreshing as well as having a good “bite” in the mouth. I will post an update to my culinary efforts soon.

Today – weeding is high on the list – They seem to enjoy my garden beds and grow like – well weeds – with the water, warmth and sun. Rain has helped keep the water meter from spinning too much. Son Joe will need to crank up the mower and fill up the compost bin today – The grass  is ankle-deep – at least!

I may do something I haven’t tried in twenty plus years….I will try to direct seed a few tomatoes for fall replacements – The Oxheart, Mortgage Lifter and Early girl tomato plants are succumbing tot he Houston heat and humidity. In their place I will plant some Juliette seeds(couldn’t find plants this past spring…they do so well here) Arkansas Traveler and ????? not sure for the third yet until I review my seed inventory. The volunteer cherry tomato is still “kicking butt” – the term is not as violent as it sounds….it means “out producing everything in the garden”!

It is so nice to be home!

Ahhhhhh – Back Home & Back in the Garden

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I have just walked through the garden this warm and muggy Saturday morning. I picked a few spears of asparagus, a handful of blackberries –they  have been washed and sequestered in the freezer bag for jam-  and a handful of strawberries. I will let Kathy pick through the pretty ones for her snacks and the ugly ones will go into the neighboring freezer bag for strawberry jam. I wonder if the big jam and jelly manufacturers also use the ugly berries as I do? The ugly ones taste just as good and once cooked down their beauty is really from the inside……Naturally grown, no chemicals and caressed by loving hands.

Tomatoes are getting big! In some cases tipping the plants sideways. The Oxheart, I love the shape, are being grown in my garden for the first time and seem to be producing well. I have been dying to try one…I have a good sized one that is a uniform color of pink. A little reading the web shows a variety of possible colors when ripe of which pink in one. I will give it a squeeze today or tomorrow and use that as a gauge on its ripeness.

Yesterday was one of those days that epitomizes the value of “home”. I had returned form my trip to Louisiana Thursday night. My son Ben, 22, is home from LSU for a couple of weeks, Joe, 17, was off from soccer training that night so it was feeling very nice at the house/home. I usually rise early, a little late this Friday morning, about 6:15, you have to sleep in once in awhile!  Joe is a self riser and was down around 6:30 to make his coffee, grab a bite to eat and converse in his usual morning grunts. As is my normal morning habit I was heading out the door to bicycle down to my hangout at our local Starbucks® when I spotted a sticky note from Ben on the back door glass. – “Dad, if you are going down to Starbucks®, please wake me up so I can go with you.” Ahhhhh – that warms a father’s heart. I needed to finish a business proposal so asked Ben if it would be OK if while we sat I could bang out the email? It was agreed and off we went. A couple of my old cronies were there and were introduced to Ben, the Baristas called me a liar…..not in a mean way but when I ordered a Venti Caramel Frappacino it didn’t register and they they thought that maybe I was pulling their legs…..there may be a history of that behavior by some customers!!!!!!

Once we returned Joe was off at class, Ben was “fixin” to cut the grass and Kathy wandered out to the garden with me. She proudly talked about her efforts over the past week “keeping” the garden while I was gone. I was able to see firsthand how well things were doing rather than through the vicarious text message news feed. We puttered about a bit, I cut some asparagus spears and she expressed some surprise….”where did you find those? I just picked yesterday!”…. She was surprised because these were  quite tall and thick….I just grinned…

Later she came into the house with a monstrously large pickling cucumber. The week before I had brought a large one in and she said, “I was wondering if you would find that one…I hid it to see if you could.”  As she was showing me the large one she said, “This was the one I had hid from you on the vine….the one you brought in was one I didn’t see!” Big smile from both of us and to the both of us……warm and real.  That seems to be common with my cucumber plantings. I plant pretty dense and when the production amps up it is a bit like hide and seek with the cucumbers.

Such a nice morning in the garden. Family, green, green growings and a pace of life that just makes you sit back and say “Ahhhhhh!”

TTFN

Bishop

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