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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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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

Tomato, Tomato Regardless of How You Say it – They Both Taste Yummy

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I should be rewarded with my first ripe tomatoes in less than two weeks and they will not be the commercial hothouse or worse varieties. There is just something special about YOUR tomatoes, picked at the peak of ripeness, sliced and savored! Granted, my first ones will be of the cherry variety so probably not sliced but nonetheless, savored.

Cherry type, Sweet Million - just love those clusters

Cherry type, Sweet Million – just love those clusters

Years ago I worked at a produce warehouse loading and unloading trucks at night while trying obtain a degree during the daylight hours. It was a bit of a challenge. I did learn quite a bit about produce! Some lessons were painful, i.e., thoroughly was your hands after handling Seranno or Jalapeno peppers! Apples had to be my favorite – the apple room was kept quite cold, a real blessing in the hot weather and because I was the tall guy, I stayed in the room to stack the boxes. The hand trucks carried boxes stacked 5 high, I had the job of adding 3 more boxes after the lads dropped them off. Crisp cool air and the wonderful scent of apples.

Here were other rooms at the warehouse that were not as pleasant. Tomatoes were shipped to us as “breakers”, meaning the shoulder of the tomatoes were just beginning to show color. The rest of the tomato was green and extremely firm! The tomato boxes are designed for air circulation for a reason. We stacked boxes in the tomato room “loosely” – each stack stood independently a few inches apart from the others. Once the room was full we shut and sealed the door, turned up the warmth, humidity and added ethylene gas. From Wikpedia –

“ Commercial ripening rooms use “catalytic generators” to make ethylene gas from a liquid supply of ethanol. Typically, a gassing level of 500 to 2,000 ppm is used, for 24 to 48 hours. Care must be taken to control carbon dioxide levels in ripening rooms when gassing, as high temperature ripening (68F) has been seen to produce CO2 levels of 10% in 24 hours.” http://ne-postharvest.com/ripening.htm#controlledatmosphereripening

It was a similar process in the banana room and once the fruit had been gassed and gasses evacuated, well mostly evacuated, then we moved them out and loaded the local delivery trucks. I would guess that we walked over 15 miles during an 8 hour shift, excepting the Friday night shift, which was typically 14 hours and more. The Saturday local runs were huge!

I have a diverse mix of tomatoes this year, two types of Cherry, Celebrity, Mortgage Lifter (standard and a grafted variety, Brandywine Red and Pink –both grafted varieties, Patio varieties – determinate, most of what I grow are the indeterminate types, Cherokee,  Juliet and a volunteer of some sort. The volunteer is starting to set fruit and it appears to be a smaller cluster variety. I had great luck with a volunteer plant last year….it was prolific!!!!

Celebrity Variety - 4-5 inch size and does well when it is hot.

Celebrity Variety – 4-5 inch size and does well when it is hot.

The newest tomato on the patio plant.

The newest tomato on the patio plant.

DSC_3072

One of the Patio varieties.

Other garden notes, the barrel and in ground potatoes are kicking butt! I have not had such vigorous and tall growth in my limited potato growing experience. The pole beans are reaching skyward on the arches made from the Crepe Myrtle cuttings, Snap Peas are in their last week of production, asparagus is coming up, I have Chard and more Chard…. I will use some Chard in a smoothie today and may even try some of the kale in a smoothie.

Some of my Swiss Chard

Some of my Swiss Chard

The Yukon Gold Potatoes as of the middle of April. They are much bigger now!

The Yukon Gold Potatoes as of the middle of April. They are much bigger now!

The blackberry vines have a heavy set going on and I hope I get to harvest before the birds find them. I also have my Pineberry – a white strawberry with red seeds and my Alpine strawberries producing. Hopefully I can propagate the Pineberries to make a bigger planting for next year and the Alpine berries…..so tasty but so tiny…fun, tasty but mostly ornamental!  I had to stop typing and step outside to sample the Pineberries and the Alpine berries. Very yummy. It is tough to gauge the ripeness of the Pineberries. The color change is minimal, my best gauge is the firmness and it appears that when ripe they pull off of the stem easily. I have lots of Pineberry runners showing up so hopefully I have a bigger patch next year.

A ripe Pineberry. At this stage it is almost overripe. The best stage is just a blush of pink and the seeds are red.

A ripe Pineberry. At this stage it is almost overripe. The best stage is just a blush of pink and the seeds are red. The flavor is similar to a pineapple with a hint of strawberry.

One of the many blackberry clusters.

One of the many blackberry clusters.

My commercial vermicomposting bins are working very well. I have added the third box on the top, two more to go before I harvest the bottom box. The design of the bins has a liquid collecting pan and spigot. I pulled about a quart of worm poop water off the bottom yesterday. I mixed a pint with two gallons of water and fed some of my potted plants and the strawberry towers. Everything seems to be happy in the garden right now! The summer, or at least a real summer heat has not appeared yet. May is tomorrow and the heat wave can start at any time!

TTFN

Bishop

Strawberries, Strawberries, Blackberries, Dewberries and More Strawberries

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This has been a banner year in my strawberry patch and it appears to be heading in the right direction for all of my berries. I have made three batches of strawberry jam, have 2/3 of a bag of the frozen ugly berries (I freeze the ugly berries and try to share the pretty ones with my family), snack on them while puttering in the garden and still have some to give away. The very warm and humid Houston growing environment is a real challenge. The moist air and damp ground will rot a berry quickly. One of my regular tasks and one that my wife is good at helping with is to flip the berry up onto the plant leaves keeping them off the ground!

My composting worms are being spoiled with the wonderful spoils. All of the bad berries, berry parts trimmed off the ugly berries and those that went beyond ripe go to the worm bin. If you didn’t already know, worms eat their body weight in scraps every day. What a life, eating your body weight in super sweet, soft and juicy strawberries every single day. This has been going on for a month now and will probably extend for another month. I hope they don’t revolt when their diet changes!

The strawberry plants are so thick that they hide the ripening berries unless you are vigilant at combing through the leaves to find them before the bugs and rot set in! I really love how the plants fill in over time and make a beautiful and edible border to the yard. I did not keep good records on which variety is planted where….over time they run together on their own. I have Chandler which is well suited for the south, Seascape, Sweet Charlie and Sequoia….. Added Alpine Strawberries and the Pine berry, the white colored strawberry….

I have “ June Bearing” and” Everbearing”….I don’t think I have any Day-Neutral  varieties…..yes I do Seascape! The link below is one of the better strawberry info websites I have found for US growers.

http://strawberryplants.org/2010/05/strawberry-varieties/

Which berries will develop next? Two years ago I saved some wild Dewberries I found in the woods nearby. I planted them in a big pot hoping for the best. Last year the birds robbed the few berries that tried to ripen. This year, for whatever reason, the vines are loaded with blossoms! Finger crossed and I rubbed my lucky rabbit’s foot in hopes of enough dewberries for more than just a garden snack.

Next I should be able to enjoy my Blackberries. I have thornless and thorny blackberries……I said thorny! They are beginning to bud out and a few brave blossoms are popping open. Last year was a disappointing blackberry season, both for me and for the local growers. I will double down on the good luck charms hoping for the Dewberry harvest to mirror the blackberry harvest.

I am hoping for a berry, berry good spring and early summer in the berry patch. FYI, April 2nd and I munched on my first asparagus spear of the season. They are so sweet picking straight from the garden…..do not pass go, just straight into my mouth! Yum!

Gardening gift from my wife.....I am always in the learning mode!

Gardening gift from my wife…..I am always in the learning mode!

Immature Strawberry

Immature Strawberry

I smell jam cooking!!!

I smell jam cooking!!!

Blackberry blossom.....

Blackberry blossom…..

Alpine Strawberry

Alpine Strawberry

Garden Helper - shifting between the brown to green phase.

Garden Helper – shifting between the brown to green phase.

Dewberry Blossom

Dewberry Blossom

He was so hard to spot....I first spotted him jumping from branch to branch.

He was so hard to spot….I first spotted him jumping from branch to branch.

TTFN

Bishop

Into Hot Water from my Backyard Farming

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Holy cow who would have thought that my love of backyard farming would create that very warm water bath that I have found myself in – not recently, but it has happened. This latest incident  was totally  unanticipated and unexpected! It started in an absolutely innocent fashion, simply and effort to continue to expand my gardening horizons.

How did it start? I was looking around for information on strawberries with “real” flavor. So many varieties in the commercial sector are bred more for looks, size and shipping. I found something that caught my eye. It is a strawberry cultivar that tastes a lot like a pineapple and aptly named the “Pineberry”. It is almost white when ripe, shaped like a strawberry and you pick it when the seeds turn red. See photo.

Pineberry image - can't wait to grow my own.

Pineberry image – can’t wait to grow my own.

Now how can this land you in hot water? I have been traveling quite a bit lately and falling behind on my blogging but always looking for something to ad to my garden. I ordered 50 seeds of this variety of “strawberry” and went on about my business. In fact I had nearly forgot about placing the order until this morning. I fly in from Midland, Texas last night, ran errands this morning and upon returning to the house my wife approached/confronted me with an envelope.  What had her much more than curious were the return address and the fact that the addressee portion – my name – was handwritten in very nice handwriting. The letter was sent from Brooklyn NY, and the “sendee” had a very Russian looking and exotic, at least from the perspective of my wife, name…..I will not publish the name but when I read the name I will have to admit it did conjure up an image of a very Russian “looking” female! – very “Katerina” like…

Kathy told me that she was very tempted to open the letter before I returned from my trip but resisted the urge. She brought the letter into the kitchen where I was dealing with some freshly baked squash and just stood there. Have been married to this beautiful and loving woman for over 30 years I knew that she expected me to open it NOW! I was clueless about the contents but didn’t hesitate…I really don’t have a secret alternate life so……… “The envelope please!” – Out popped the Pineberry seeds along with a bit of relief….I wasn’t really worried but there are people out there that fish the old fashioned way….via snail mail!

I am off the hook and not suspect of any misdeeds but because of my “ancient past” of which my wife knows there may always be that tiny seed of doubt out there……. I think it just adds a bit of mystique to our amazing marriage! Isn’t that right Hun!

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