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Strawberries for my Birthday

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This morning I woke up on the green side of the earth rather than the under side……That was a good thing and made even better with a handful of fresh picked strawberries – <strong>Yee Haw</strong> – the strawberry harvest has started. I picked a nice handful of red, ripe, sweet berries. Once in hand the self-talk started. Should I share them? Should I eat every one of them before I get into the house? A bit of a dilemma for me.

I didn’t share-(sorry Kathy) and I didn’t eat every one of them. The very best berries found their way into my mouth and several others started the frozen package being accumulated for the jam making later this spring. There is something so very special about berries picked at the peak of their flavor. That first berry I bit into caused a wonderful flood of true strawberry flavor and my mouth was overjoyed.

A handful of Birthday Berries for me!

A handful of Birthday Berries for me!

A healthy berry bed....more berries on the way!

A healthy berry bed….more berries on the way!

While wandering through the garden on this beautiful birthday morning I found a few early stalks of asparagus….Not enough to save for anyone other than the birthday boy. If you have never had asparagus picked and savored the freshest, you are missing the sweetness that is missing from commercially farmed and shipped from who knows where asparagus.

My lemon tree is showing signs of blossoming soon. I can’t think of a flower blossom that is any more intoxicating than that of citrus. It is amazing how some scents and aromas can cause flashback memories. When my lemon tree blooms I am always transported to a late night motorcycle ride from UCLA down Sunset Blvd., to Will Rogers beach. That cool night ride took us through what used to be extensive citrus orchards before the land was converted to homes and estates. Fortunately many of the home owners kept the citrus trees, helping to fill the air the night with that intoxicating citrus blossom scent…..I said <strong>intoxicating</strong> before didn’t I! Let me dive into the Thesaurus! Intoxicating is a good word for the scent filled night air but…..there could be a stronger word or something better able to convey the sweet olfactory assault that created the enduring memory!

How about “enthralling” – no, doesn’t capture the feeling/memory/brain recalled sensation. “stimulating” – not quite strong enough either. “Enchanting” – close. “ Exhilarating” – needs a little more to meet up with the sensations and emotions connected to the sensory memory . I’ll have to wave the white flag and give up on finding the perfect word….I will take any suggestions – English majors preferred! Just trust me…..it was an amazing memory.

The garden is shaping up nicely; onions, strawberries, snap peas, asparagus, beets, turnips and yes, tomatoes are in the ground and putting down roots. I’m another day older and the garden is entering the new growing season….It may sound trite but I feel renewed….not older – just entering a new phase…. TTFN Bishop

When Life Gives You Lemons…….be Decadent!

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I know, that’s not how the standard saying goes, but life is too short to be just ordinarily optimistic. I suggest that you amp up your response and make people wonder about your sly smile. Do something out of the ordinary when life gives you lemons….maybe, step out and do something decadent!
Life did give me lemons, some wonderful Meyer Lemons from my dwarf tree in the backyard. My wife left for Orlando yesterday with my daughter and on her way out the door she pointed to the bag of lemons and said, “Do something with those lemons!”
She wasn’t smiling and I wasn’t sure if the tone in her voice had any latitude or hint of humor!

I figured I just better give the standard Texas husband’s response and said, “ Yes dear,”
I had intended to deal with them on my own time and schedule but I never found one of those handy “ round to it’s” lying around …..Until her comment. That was a genuine “round to it” handed to me!
I had some errands to run and decided that if I am getting a “round to it”, I may as well be decadent and enjoy the thrill. I knew that if I was to be really, really decadent with the lemons I needed lots of eggs and lots of butter. Decadent Lemon Curd was going to my afternoon plan! The recipe to make one single pint of this luscious, sensual and decadent curd requires one stick of butter, six egg yolks, one cup of sugar and of course fresh squeezed lemon juice with zest.
I took a risk and made double batches, two to be precise. The yield was about 4.75 pints. I am licking my lips right now…..there was a trace of this Lemon curd from the toast I just consumed before starting the post! Oh my, yes a bit of a cliché, but, Oh My…..it is so good!

The recipe;
Ingredients
• 6 egg yolks
• 1 cup sugar
• 3 meyer lemons, juiced (you should get a generous 1/2 cup. Make sure to strain it, to ensure you get all the seeds out)
• 1 stick of butter, cut into chunks
• zest from the juiced lemons
Instructions
1. In a small, heavy bottom pot over medium heat, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Add the lemon juice and switch to stirring with a wooden spoon, so as not to aerate the curd. Stir continually for 10-15 minutes, adjusting the heat as you go to ensure that it does not boil. Your curd is done when it has thickened and coats the back of the spoon. (my research finds that about 170 deg F is good).Drop in the butter and stir until melted.
2. Position a fine mesh sieve over a glass or stainless steel bowl and pour the curd through it, to remove any bits of cooked egg. Whisk in the zest.
3. Pour the curd (a single batch will make one pint of curd) into your prepared jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. If you want to process them for shelf stability, process them in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes (start the time when the water returns to a boil). According to So Easy to Preserve, it is best to process only in half-pint jars or smaller, as they allow better heat infiltration.
4. Eat on toast, stirred into plain yogurt or straight from the jar with a spoon.
Notes
Adapted from “The Martha Stewart Cookbook”
Step 4 is well stated – several years ago when I made my first batch of this decadent concoction, I made a comment about the uses for such a treat. One of my readers and author of the wonderful blog, “Promenade Plantings” suggested that the best way to use it is by the spoonful, straight out of the jar! She is spot on!
Give her blog a look….great stuff, stories and recipes. http://promenadeplantings.com/

I put three of the pints into pint jars....A bit much but once a jar is opened it doesn't last long!

I put three of the pints into pint jars….A bit much but once a jar is opened it doesn’t last long!

TTFN

Bishop

Rain, Rain – It’s Here to Stay

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Wow, – we may get 6 or more inches out of this storm and we have another day to go! I have tried to get a little more compost spread today but it will have to wait. The ground is very soggy and the river is rising….now, we needed some of that, the lake has been about 3 feet low the last 4 or 5 weeks now. Hopefully with the saturated ground it doesn’t get up to flood stage!

With the little break in weather yesterday my little curious gardening buddy, Caleb, his new 4 month old brother Levi and mom Lizzie came down for a visit. I didn’t grab my camera and missed the opportunity to capture some of the fun. I had put together a little picking bucket for Caleb, already loaded with two jars of home-made jam. The big Meyer Lemons caught his eye first so we grabbed a few for the bucket. He wants to make some lemonade!!!

Then on to the main garden. He wanted to pick some of the turnips so I said “why not”. Lizzie wasn’t sure what to do with them…I offered a few suggestions. I had some short stubby purple carrots for him to pick as well as some Danvers orange carrots, also short and stubby. The peppers caught his eye next… most the Poblanos have turned a bright shade of red and they were like a magnet for him. The bucket was getting full now. Lastly we added some red Romaine and red leaf lettuce to the bucket.

I am always fascinated how there is so much wonder in the world of a curious three-year old.  On the way back to his house he sat the bucket down, something in the gutter and water running through it had caught his eye. I stooped to see what he saw…..same old stuff to me but new, different and fascinating for him. My lesson….slow down and see what we take for granted. As I looked a little closer I saw some little plants in the cracks were waving and wiggling in the water as it moved past. It was pretty cool! He poked his finger in amongst the plants, stirred them around for a bit and then spun away to see something else! Don’t you just love it.

A couple of years ago we had a similar steady heavy rain and the river really came up ! See photos below. Fingers crossed!

The creek by the soccer field during a flood event a couple of years ago. Normally you stand by tree in the foreground on the bank.

The creek by the soccer field during a flood event a couple of years ago. Normally you stand by tree in the foreground on the bank.

The walkway along the river where the kids can fish. Usually 3 feet above the water.

The walkway along the river where the kids can fish. Usually 3 feet above the water.

Hopefully the creek don’t rise much higher than that!

TTFN

Bishop

 

 

 

 

2012 In Reveiw

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This blog got about 4,600 views in 2012. Target for 2013 is to exceed 15,000 views – Lofty goal but I am going to broaden my exposure both with my reader’s help and by linking to others of similar outlooks.

In 2012, there were 90 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 154 posts. There were 379 pictures uploaded. That’s about a picture per day.

The busiest day of the year was August 7th with 76 views. The most popular post that day was Hands in the Garden – And Fishing. I will spend a little more time digging into the climate change issues, educating myself and sharing with others. Editorial remark – climate change is real, that shouldn’t surprise anyone, but we should recognize that the climate has always been changing and always will. I will continue to look into the past to help predict the future.

Coaching I have received from my better half and personal commitments for my 2013 Backyard Farm;

  • Grow what we will consume – i.e., things that the family finds yummy.
  • Do a better job of sharing the excess production – I took several large bags of Poblano/Ancho peppers down to the local farmers market in exchange for a couple of nice tomatoes – I’ll do a little more of this.
  • Log and or journal what is planted where, plant type, days to maturity, seed and/or plant source, production notes, quality feedback, soil quality notes and additions and maybe more……..or maybe zero in a few important ones from the previous list. That sounds a bit ambitious!
  • Continue some of my experiments, i.e., strawberry towers, potato barrels, sweet potato growing, canning, cooking and eating!
  • Influence others to grow for themselves and consider buying from local sources!
  • Have lots of fun doing what I do in the garden and to help others smile a bit!
  • Gather more leaves and less moss!
  • Explore keeping a beehive…..
  • Think about a grand plan for 2014!!!!!!
Look close...an out of focus  lemon blossom is forming as of New Years Eve 2012 - Northern Hemisphere.

Look close…an out of focus lemon blossom is forming as of New Years Eve 2012 – Northern Hemisphere.

That little purple dot in the center is the first true blossom forming. I saw quite a number of very small buds that will become blossoms….should I treat them like the strawberries and pinch them off or ???????? It is sure early for citrus blossoms!  I still have some lemons to pick. I made lemon curd yesterday and it is so good! Claire, when you read this I want you to know I was thinking about you with the partially filled jar. I heard your advice in my good ear….”just dip the spoon and enjoy!” So, I did and I did….great advice! Thanks

Happy New Year to All Y’all!

TTFN

Bishop

 

Tomatoes – Hasta Luego en Espanol und Bis Spater auf Deustch

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The freeze or near freeze last night put the hurt on two of the 4 remaining tomato plants.  The Juliett plants showed significant freeze burn on the extremities and my potted patio plants have begun to droop. Some of the droop is due to the large number of tomatoes ripening and trying to ripen.  I picked quite a few today and will get the remaining in tomorrow. I saved some so my little buddy Caleb two doors down can pick some. During his last visit to the garden I had to do some coaching concerning what was ready and what needed to wait….poor little guy, there wasn’t much that he could pull! Tomorrow he can pick large and small tomatoes, Poblano peppers, Meyer lemons, turnips, carrots, radishes and some leaf lettuce. If his mother approves I hope to capture his joy and smile in some pictures to include in the near future.

A large mixing bowl with at least double that remaining. They may have to sit in the widow sill to finish ripening.

A large mixing bowl with at least double that remaining. They may have to sit in the widow sill to finish ripening.

A closer look at the tomatoes and a few radishes.

A closer look at the tomatoes and a few radishes.

December 11th, 2012……I will have to wait about 90 days before I can put my transplants out for 2013. With a little bit of shelter I might be able to get these tomato plants to over-winter, hmmmmmm, another potential experiment !

TTFN

Bishop

 

 

 

Enjoying it While We Can

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Just returned to Houston yesterday from a quick  meeting with a client in lovely Midland, TX. I guess there really is no rest for the old guys wanting to retire. I am not sure what retirement means because I don’t ever picture myself without an “avocation”.

NOUN:

  1. An activity taken up in addition to one’s regular work or profession, usually for enjoyment; a hobby.
  2. One’s regular work or profession.
  3. Archaic A distraction or diversion.

I think my vision of an avocation will be a blend of definition 1 and 3. Oh yes….I have been accused of being a bit archaic by my children……they seem to grow out of that phase but it does take some time. I can be a distraction and a diversion as well as being distracted on occasion. I am constantly diverting my attention between the large number of activities that fit in definition “one” above. Gardening is high on the list as is photography, fishing, bicycling, blogging, canning, sweating in the gym, day dreaming and I’m sure that Kathy would add a couple more to the list.

Definitions one and three in my life right now are pretty broad. I do love tending my garden. I did wait at least 25 minutes after my return home from this trip before wandering out into the garden to check on things. I have been advised that it does not bode well to go to the garden immediately upon return, I need to see and visit with Kathy for a bit and then wander off. I enjoyed my bicycle ride down to the local Starbucks this morning.Today at  5:45 AM it was dark, the air was crisp on the face and I had to smile a little inside at all of those folks rushing off to their definition “2” of the avocation term. I do not miss that morning rush one bit. I also thought of my best friend John, by the way – he was on his rush to work at least 20 minutes before my ride began, I know he is looking forward to the time where he can choose either 1 or 3. He is a bit like me and I am certain that he is capable of blending the two admirably.

Wow, the garden is taking off! The Yukon Gold potato plants in the wire cage are huge. Below is a picture from March 2nd. Yesterday, the 21st, I adding more shredded leaves bringing the level up to the brim. My estimate – the tops of the plants are now 30-36 inches above the planting depth. I am so anxious to see and yes, taste the results.

Back on March 2nd this is the image....yesterday the 21st the plants are over the top. The picture is straight - the cage is listing to the left.

The sugar snap peas are nearly finished….I did get to eat a handful while roaming around yesterday. I harvested a few more asparagus spears and they graced the table last night. Added a few more ugly and misshapen strawberries to the freezer. Hun, I am saving the best ones for you to eat fresh. The cucumber seedlings are all up, oh….not the pickling cukes….I planted them a week behind, so almost all are up! The pole beans, both green and purple, are ready to grab the poles for their upward spiraling dance. I have got to see if I can manage some room in John’s garden for a tepee of beans.

I noticed the absence of of the wonderful scent of the Meyer Lemon tree blossoms. If I could only find a way to capture and bottle that scent I could add another to my list of avocations – and maybe make a pot full of money doing it….I will stick that thought over into the already brimming full “day dreams” list. I have enjoyed the heavenly scent as well as the abundance of honey bees this year. Their hard work has the tree loaded with little green buds soon to become lemons. I will definitely have to do some thinning.

A tandem attack on the lemon blossoms.

The term” enjoying it while we can” started out in my head this morning as a reference to the weather, we are definitely enjoying this window of spring like weather. We have actually had the AC unit on several times in the past weeks but this morning was glorious. My head is also filled with the thoughts of all that I am able and capable of doing now….yes, I do enjoy it all!!!!

TTFN

Bishop

The Houston Chronicle Declares the End of Winter!

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Several times in my recent postings I have mentioned how mild this so called winter has been. Well, this past weekend the Houston Chronicle declared that winter is over! Just to cover their” paper derriere” they mentioned that February sometimes surprises us and that the official average last day of frost at Bush Intercontinental Airport is March 1st. I have been making my own observations on how the various plants in both my backyard farm and in the area have been responding. The results are mixed but the plant world seems to think that Spring is here!

Evidence that spring is here and winter (the winter that never was) has faded away include these observations;

  • The Ornamental pear trees have been in full blossom for over a week now
  • My strawberries are blooming like crazy –
  • I noticed plum and peach trees on sale at the nursery were blooming last week – Late January!
  • My potted pepper plants are still green and one has two bell peppers nearly ready to pick.
  • My overwintered upside down tomato plant is leafing out!

And low and behold,during  this morning’s walk through my garden I spotted an asparagus spear emerging up through the layers of leaf mulch!

My Meyer Lemon tree seems to be a little more reluctant to believe what is written in the paper. I looked closely at the tree this morning and although there is a  bit of evidence of bud formation, they are probably a week or two away from bursting open. It is not unusual for  lemon trees to blossom in February but today is just the first day of the month.

I need to get over to John’s garden today and thin the lettuce patch. I scattered about 4 different varieties in his bed and they found a home very much to their liking. They are thick, crowded and the thinning’s should be a nice addition to a garden salad. I will probably need to help his sugar snap peas continue their upward climb…. they seem to like his bed a little better than mine do…… I still get a few to eat from my yard but John should have many handfuls of the sweet green pods gracing his table soon!

I am being tempted………. not by whiskey ( well maybe a little) or younger women (hmmmmmm…..) insert a smile here as I pause to think…….Okay….I am tempted by many things but today the temptation at hand is about tomatoes!!!!! I want them and I want them early – before the brutal Houston heat sets in for the summer! I will wander down to Kingwood Nursery this week and see if the temptation will be realized… they carry both hybrids and heirlooms that do well in the local area…. If I get an early start and make provisions to shield the plants if, as the Chronicle noted, February surprises us…. I can be eating home grown tomatoes by the end of April – WOW!

TTFN

Bishop

PS – I have some 20 year old Pappy Van Winkle Whiskey and may be able to get my hands on the 23 year old this week – the whiskey!

Organic and Decadent

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Interesting title….. I want to run a little test to better understand what words cause a reader to read on. Lets take a vote. All of you who read the post primarily because of the word “Organic” please raise your hand….keep them up so I can get a count. Good, thank you. Now those of you that tuned into the word “Decadent” please raise your hands for a count, not both of them – just one hand will do…… good thank you.

Hmmmmmm. I am not sure if I have a statistically significant sample to accurately determine the results….. Some of you may have voted twice or got the word “Organic” mixed up with another word after you saw the word “Decadent” influencing your voting! All this tells me is that my original plan for the title, ” A Natural Lemon Curd” may not have attracted many readers. Really, Lemon Curd? In Texas you might hear the refrain, ” What the Hell is Laaaman Crud or whatever you called that stuff?”

Honestly, I have to admit that I had no clue what lemon curd was until two years ago….yes I know I am not much of a sophisticated foodie, but I am learning! A neighbor friend and fellow gardener gave me a jar of her homemade lemon curd two years ago this Christmas. She has Meyer Lemon trees in her yard and enjoys sharing the bounty. I loved the lemon curd so much that I planted a dwarf Meyer Lemon tree in a wine barrel in my back yard. For a little guy he was prolific. I harvested about 25 lemons this year. So I decided to try my hand at making the fabulous lemon curd. I am sure my friend over at Promenade Plantings could give me some lessons and advice on how to best use my Decadently Rich lemon curd.

Here is where the “Organic” and “Decadent” came about….. I grow everything without chemicals so the lemons are “organic” by my definition. I used certified organic unsalted butter in the recipe, a lot of it! The sugar, well it was not labeled organic but it is essentially pure glucose and nothing else. I used a lot of sugar too! When I looked at how much butter and sugar went into this recipe – it made only 6 half pint jars, I realized how decadently rich this stuff is…. oh my! When you think of a food as being organic you first thought is something healthy. But, here we have an organic product that is so decadently rich and….”unhealthy”? –

Here is how I can justify the dilemma in my little “ole” pea brain….. “organic” = good, “decadent” in moderation = pretty darned good. That being said, I will eat my lemon curd, probably share some with others and feel good about my choices…… unless I can’t moderate my decadent desires and it flames out on the pleasure side of the equation…..its not like I have never gone overboard with “pleasures”….how many times?????? I could probably sit down with a spoon and eat the entire jar! Please don’t dredge up any stories to share with my wife…… she has probably heard most of them but my kids may not have…. after all those years playing Rugby there are a few stories floating around – most have been embellished over time! I didn’t know I was that entertaining!!!! How did a hard partying rugger find his way into gardening? That is a great question. May wind up being a future topic.

Photos are my lemons Au natural and photo-shopped a little. Kind of fun to see what the computer can do.

The winter garden is doing well. My son’s dog Sierra is back but I now have a garden gate to protect my little lettuces! The sugar snap peas, although not plentiful, are outstanding. My shredded leaf efforts are up to about 64 cubic feet and growing. If the weather cooperates this weekend I should be able to more than satisfy my expected needs.

More work coming up, more strawberry tower experimenting, install the new 4X4 bed for John…parts are in and assembled – just need to place it and fill it. Spinach and chard transplants are almost ready and the turnips are kicking butt. Looks like no winter for Houston this year! Oh, I also need to harvest the worm castings….. I keep putting it off. Lets see, what else, work part-time, make beer, turn a few pieces on the lathe, ride the bike, spend some time at the coffee shop and most importantly spend some quality time with my wife…..I need more hours in the day.

I am also planning a series of 3 backyard farming features….. John with his 32 sq. feet, me with my 350+/- sq. feet  and hopefully a piece on my friends, Jane and her John – they are utilizing the entire back yard and have converted most of the front yard to edible landscaping. Maybe a couple thousand sq. feet of plantings. Should be a fun project

TTFN

Bishop

 

Where HAve All the Bees Gone????

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The honeybees are taking a break. I was down at my local nursery a few weeks ago and was asking about flowers that I could plant to attract honey bees for pollinating my blackberries. I picked up some great advice from the folks working at Kingwood Nursery. Rather than count on the honey bees, as they are having problems, they recommended ordering some Mason bees. It jogged my memory and reminded me of an article I read a few years back recommending the use of Mason bees.

I bought a bee house and was sent 6 males and 4 females from http://www.masonbeesforsale.com/

A week after I installed the bee house I see that the females are gathering pollen and laying their eggs. My early blackberries are being serviced and pollinated. I have blossoms on my Meyer lemon, tons of strawberries, tomatoes and other ornamentals to keep the bees busy. I think my tomatoes and strawberries are self-pollinated but I think the help won’t hurt. A little Google search confirms that strawberries are primarily self-pollinated but respond to help from the bees. Oh, by the way, I have a few blueberry blossoms but I am a year or two away from having enough to pick.

The female Mason bees are fun to watch as they lay eggs and move forward in the tubes before they seal them off. I am amazed at how quickly they do their work! I spent a few minutes observing this evening and saw probably 3 of the  females working three different tubes. Four tubes are plugged at the end already. They lay the female eggs at the rear and the males near the front opening. I wonder how they know the difference? The males exit first and eat their way out thus preserving the females. The bad news, from a guy’s perspective, is that the males emerge first, mate and then die!!!! I was hoping they would get to fool around for a season but it just doesn’t work out for the guys!

The bees aren’t cheap but it appears that they are preparing to multiply in a big way so it is an investment with multiple returns.

TTFN

Bishop

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