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Gardens, Bananas and Other Stuff

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The bees and some consulting work have occupied my time, keeping me from blogging about my sparse gardening activities. I am still getting dirt on my hands, planting a little for the fall winter garden as well as prepping the bees for winter.

The garden activities have also included photographing and marveling at the growth of my banana clusters. Three clusters of the Manzano and two of the Burro(chunky banana), both Mexican varieties. I suspect the weather will cooperate and allow them to mature before the threat of a freeze heads our way. They do tolerate some cold weather but the freeze this past January was both long enough and cold enough to damage the plants.

A project on my loooooooong hunny do list is/was to clean/organize my garage, a three car garage that does house a single vehicle. Lots of bicycles, hive bodies, beer making equipment, tools(multiples of the same type), camping gear and a bunch of miscellaneous stuff left behind when our children moved out. Why am I telling you this in a gardening blog? Well, I started the cleaning process and I am easily distracted, “Look a butterfly”,…..I found some dried bean pods gathered from several seasons back and rather than toss them I wandered out to the garden and planted them. Three days later they are sprouting! A check with google on the time to maturity for the Blue Lake pole bean variety, 60 days or so, and I might get lucky and have fresh green beans by Thanksgiving….

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Wow, in just three days this bean is leaping up. Looking around the base of the tepee towers, I see several others peeking through the leaf and compost mulch.

More gardening, I have several late summer plantings, a volunteer Matt’s Wild Cherry, a volunteer English cucumber in a pot(producing nicely and an heirloom Brandywine growing nicely. Beets and Swiss Chard are also in the ground hoping to get a good start before it does get cold. The asparagus ferns are starting to die back allowing me time to clear them off and add compost before next spring.

Our neighborhood is having its annual yard sale this coming weekend. I have been drafted to help! Yes Dear! I will help…..and have a table set up to sell my honey and jams. I have 40+ pounds of honey and about 40 jars of jams, strawberry, blueberry and blackberry, taking up shelf space. I will report out soon!

TTFN

Bishop

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Cutting Squares – Cut Honeycomb

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My topbar hive was becoming loaded, so heavy, that my poorly constructed hive support legs  were breaking. I needed to both harvest and stabilize the hive. Stabilizing was quick and easy but- we nearly tipped the hive over as one of the existing legs nearly failed completely as I lifted it to supports in place.  Now on to the harvest. 

I built a set of racks, half sheet wire cake racks, to keep the slabs from breaking up into less than desirable pieces that wont make “pretty” squares. The set-up will hold 4 slabs, stacked and spaced so the slabs hold their shape…… in theory! My Goo friend John helped me out. 

It was more or less successful, albeit, a little awkward! I will need to prevent the slabs from sliding around on the parchment paper I placed under each slab to minimze damage to the slabs, i. e., wire rack embedding in the soft wax. 


A nice full slab, beautifully capped, thick and very yummy. 

I filled 14 boxes of 3.25 X 3.25 inch squares of honeycomb. The slab pictured above was thicker than some of the others. The old shaped pieces were squeezed for the honey. 


I was able to get 5 nice squares out of the beautiful slab above! Almost perfect! 


I dropped 3 odd shaped chunks of comb into a pint jar. About 1.5 pounds of honey and honeycomb goodness! 

Looks like I have about $ 150.00 of product at my retail prices. I may be able to pull a little more from this hive but I won’t get too greedy! This hive is so strong and full,  I will more than likely split it again this year. 

TTFN

Bishop

Bees Again

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During the month of April I added 6 new hives installed from the six – 3 pound packages I picked up in Navasota. They are doing very, very well. I was able to start 5 off in Langstroth boxes with already drawn frames. That allows the queen to start laying immediately.

 The sixth box was a Topbar hive. I had two pieces of comb to start them out and I added two fully drawn bars and a partially drawn bar today when I fed the bees. 


The bar above is very similar in size to the two I added today. Albeit, without bees and honey. This should provide a good template for them to draw straight comb and accelerate the queen’s laying. 

One of my strong hives is really flying, buzzing and working hard. Below is a slo-mo video, starts and ends full speed! Love that iPhone feature! 


I could spend hours just watching the girls coming and going. 

TTFN

Bishop 

Yummy Late Season Surprise

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I went to check on of my 8 frame garden hives a few days ago and had a pleasant surprise. I had left a medium super on top the two brood boxes as this hive seemed to be a little slow this spring. Wow, I opened it up and it was wall to wall of beautiful capped honeycomb. The brood boxes were well filled out so I figured I should provide some room for the ladies! 
I pulled 4 frames of beautiful honeycomb. I replaced them with 4 four frames of drawn comb. It seems that this urban setting still has some nectar flow. I haven’t fed this hive at all this summer. I added a feeder just to help them out. I will cut 3.25X3.25 inch squares from 2 or 3 of the frames and squeeze the remainder. They look so nice. 


A garden update, bananas are still my proudest success but the Armenian cucumbers have grown beyond belief! They are essentially a melon, so even the large ones are edible. I am surprised that my relief gardener missed picking them at a more manageable size. 


Please, no rude comments! 

The Poblano and Serrano peppers are still thriving. I replanted some tomatoes for the fall and added some more pole beans. Would love to have some relief from the heat and humidity.  It was 78 F at 5:45 this morning and only 93% humidity! 
TTFN

Bishop

Bee Adventures

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Yesterday morning, yes too early for the bees  (mistake one), I went to check on and maybe harvest some honey from my original top bar hive. It has been intolerably hot lately, hot enough to make the wax comb very soft. This topbar hive is my gentle hive. See photo below;


I normally just smoke them a little and wear my veil as seen in the photo! Today I decided to gear up and wear my white overalls, gloves and the above veil.

Mistake two; The bees were agitated from the “git go!” No problem, I had smoke and protective gear. It was 8:45 in the morning and the top bar hive was still in the shade. Probably a thousand or more clustered on the outside and little evidence of foraging…..

The veil has long strings and the trick is to make sure that my collar is flipped up and the veil secured without gaps. Mistake number three, I failed to check the collar and the fit. All of a sudden I feel air from beating wings on my face.

“John, are the bees inside my veil?”  I ask.

“Yes, quite a few”, he responds.

I start heading out of the area and I have company both inside and out. They seem to be pissed at me and ignoring John. I took 6-7 or more in the back of my head and a few more on my forehead.

I wander back to my Suburban, licking my wounds and suit up. John is putting the bars back in place and the top back on. I return to take a peek at the other topbar hive and the two Langstroth hives.

The 8 frame is healthy but growing slower than my other three 8-frame hives. The 10 frame hive is doing nicely with a queen hatched from my original top bar hive. FYI,  my top bars sized to fit in my Langstroth hives. The second top bar hive was also cloned from a queen cell and a few  bars of brood, pollen and honey from the original hive.

Ok, I have orders from the sales manager (my wife for some cut comb and I know where to go. I have two 8 frame hives nearby and I have been anxious to harvest them. I pulled 11 frames, 3 beautiful ones for cut comb and we extracted the others.


I wound up with 12 – eight ounce squares and I also boxed up all the trimmings. I let them drain a bit on the rack before boxing them up. I love cut comb! I also wound up with over 30 pounds of liquid honey. Two more hives to visit in the next day or two to  on the honey production.

TTFN

Bishop

Gathering the Honey

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I have been less than diligent in keeping up with my blogging. This Back Yard Farming effort has 3 or 4 posts in draft form waiting for me to get off of my butt and finish. I have also given equal procrastination to my Beer Blogging – that’s only fair isn’t it? So to catch up I am going to go in a bit of a reverse order, subsequent posts may be older but I will feel better if I clean-up my backlog, regardless of how I approach it.

So let’s talk about honey. My first ever hive is located further from my house than I would like but in the process of managing it I have made great friends. In addition I have created at least one and maybe two new beekeepers. Here is the synopsis;

August of 2015 while on a work assignment in Richmond, California, my wife phoned and read a letter from our HOA. Essentially it said, an unnamed neighbor has complained about my hive (it had been in my yard for 18 months already with no issues). They were utilizing a “protective clause” in the HOA covenants gave me 7 days to remove it. I am 1800 miles away and already burning days and I won’t be home until the deadline comes and goes. I am in a quandary! Mark, one of the managing engineers for the client overheard my lament and bailed me out. Mark has a piece of property north of Kingwood on a ranch just outside of Franklin, TX. His neighbor, Johnnie, had expressed interest in keeping bees, with a mentor of course. He made a call to her and I committed to relocating my hive. I did call the HOA and unfortunately, it is an insidious form of government with unbridled power. I do believe that the HOA is comprised primarily of people who had been bypassed as “Hall Monitors” in grade school. Nuff said!

The hive has flourished in the northern location. My best friend has now become a beekeeping assistant of sorts, i.e., whenever he has free time that coincides with one of my bee adventures, he raises his hand. I think he really just enjoys road trips and biscuits at the breakfast stops on the way. Actually, it has become more than that! I am still a novice and do make a few mistakes but, my “Goo” friend John is an internet surfing fool. He has learned a lot about beekeeping that aids me in a number of ways. Thanks John.

Beekeeper number two is Johnnie, she hosts my hive on her property. Her enthusiasm is boundless. She has attended two beekeeping schools, the last one was this past April in Brenham, TX. We actually sat through a couple of presentations together. She now owns two hives and the bees in them. I will attempt very soon to split my original hive…..should have done it in March….still learning! Mark now has two hives across the road on his property, one of mine and one he owns. I have 5 and soon/maybe/possibly to be 6 hives to manage up near Franklin, TX.

Saturday May 7th John was free and we headed north. It was a multi-objective mission. First order of business was to check on the four NUCs installed at the end of April and add some sugar water to the frame feeders. Secondly we were going to check on my original hive and see how they had progressed in the super I added nearly 6 weeks ago. I had a good idea from the peek I took when I installed the NUCs at the end of April, but did not look at the super below it. Good news, 9 fully capped frames of honey on top and 4 very good looking ones below. The third order of business was to extract honey. I brought a three frame extractor up with me and we got busy…..busier than I have time to explain here….we will do better next time and I will leave it at that.

I left 2 quart jars, about 6 pounds, for Johnnie and Mark. I brought the bucket home with about 19 pounds of honey. I let it sit for a week to let the bubbles rise to the top and the micro pieces of capping wax that fits through the 400 micron filter to rise to the top. It is not harmful at all but for aesthetic purposes, I don’t want it in the final bottled product. That left a little over a pound in a quart jar for my use! 17 – .75 lbs. bottles, 4 – 1 lbs. bottles and 6 honey bear bottles with about 6.8 ounces of honey in each.

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The labels will also include the zip code of the location of the hives. This batch was 77856, Franklin, TX. I have had this idea  for quite some time to really zero in on the “Local Honey” aspect by zip code. At the bee school in April, I took a marketing class from a gal named Tara Chapman. She stresses LOCAL in her approach down to the neighborhood level in the Austin, TX area using the term – “hyper-local”. My aim is similar, I have hives in area code 77339 and 77345. Hopefully soon across the river to 77346.

Check out Tara at – https://twohiveshoney.com

Honey work for the next week or so? I have built 10 supers for my 8 frame hives, that means 80 – 6 5/8 frames with foundation must be built. Then I need to build at least 10 supers for my 10 frame hives…..another 100 – 6 5/8 frames needed. I suspect that after building that many frames I may be able build them in my sleep! Another trip up north to feed bees and check on their wellbeing.

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

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