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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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Going Bananas in the Garden

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The surprise success with plantings this year has been the banana “plant”….. Not really a tree but most folks refer to them as trees. This was the second year after panting the first corms. I was given one that should have produced “Manzano” bananas but has yet to fruit. The other was a mystery….If Marcelino’s father told me I must have not understood or heard. The unknown variety has produced a very nice large bunch and along the way I learned a lot about the growth habits of bananas. An internet search leads me to believe that the bananas  are “Pera”.

Once the plant matures a stem growing inside the pseudostem (trunk for lack of a better term) emerges from the top. As it curls downward it has what looks like a purplish heart looking bulb, an “inflorescence”. Looks like tightly wrapped paired leaves.

Female flowers beginning to expand.

Female flowers beginning to expand.

“A stem develops which grows up inside the pseudostem, carrying the immature inflorescence until eventually it emerges at the top. Each pseudostem normally produces a single inflorescence, also known as the “banana heart”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana#CITEREFStoverSimmonds1987.

It was interesting watching the top two leaves open up and expose the flowers. The first that are exposed are the female flowers that develop into fruit. Each time the purple leaves open it exposes another tier of flower bracts. As the bananas fill in, maybe 8 to as many as 20 tiers the heart now begins to produce male flowers that appear to be useless….once they appear, they dry up and drop off. At first I thought I had a problem but learned that was normal.

My hanging banana storage in the garden.

My hanging banana storage in the garden.

Once the banana has plumped up nicely and doesn’t seem to be enlarging I have been whacking off three or four at a time and allowing them to ripen indoors. They will stay nicely on the plant until the weather turns cold. After that I will cut the entire stalk and hang it in the garage to ripen slowly.

Several ripe ones with the most recently cut.

Several ripe ones with the most recently cut.

.Indoor hanging storage

Indoor hanging storage

Gardening activities have included building up a raised bed by adding more compost and mounding it up for planting strawberries. The cucumbers are done but the dang asparagus keeps sending up new shoots, not many but enough to snack on while weeding. The Matt’s Wild Cherry tomato plant has begun producing again….they are small but tasty….pea sized to a little less than cherry sized. My Poblano pepper plant is churning out tons of dark green peppers.

The beginnings of my fall strawberry planting's. I will ad at least 50 more plants.

The beginnings of my fall strawberry planting’s. I will ad at least 50 more plants.

Teeny tiny Matt's Wild Cherry tomatoes.

Teeny tiny Matt’s Wild Cherry tomatoes.

Hmmm - the beginning of some green beans....they better hurry - the air is cooling.

Hmmm – the beginning of some green beans….they better hurry – the air is cooling.

My bees are now residing elsewhere but I am making more local contacts that are willing to host hives for me. I have a home for the top bar hives about 5 minutes from my house – Yee Haw. The productive Langstroth is too far away but it is in a good home. I am aiming for 10-12 hives next year and possibly 20 the year following. The new Texas regulations allow me to sell at Farmers Markets now….as long as I do not exceed 2500 pounds per year….that is a lot of honey!

This will give you an idea how big the slabs of comb are. This one had an ear on the left hand side broke off.

This will give you an idea how big the slabs of comb are. This one had an ear on the left hand side broke off.

Side note; I bottled the Honey Blonde Ale a   few nights ago…..made with MY honey. It will be awesome! The color was perfect, a hint of honey flavor but not too sweet.

 

TTFN

Bishop

Spring Must Be Near

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I haven’t been faithfully keeping up with the posting here but I would like to offer up several excuses. I will give you the option to decide which one or, if you choose, you can pick several.

  1. Work – I am a consultant, albeit par-time by my choice, but I sometimes don’t say no often enough….. Yes, dear I do hear but may not always listen.
  2. I get to surfing the web becoming distracted by; seed catalogs, bee keeping supplies & information, fishing spots & advice, Politics…..ugly politics goading me into writing letters to the clueless, Facebook, Trivia Crack, Blog reader…..I think you get the picture.
  3. I am actually spending some time in the garden…..the weeds never take a day, an hour or even a minute of of their evil plan to overtake my garden.
  4. Football – can’t use too much of that now but then there is the Six Nations Rugby starting up this weekend – First round!
  5. Lazy….the fire in the fireplace lulls me into that comfortable kicked back, laid back and mellow mindset.
  6. There is a box with many thousand photographic slides that need to be digitized….I sometimes go through a few when other duties call. Distracted again.
  7. I have a bowl chucked up on my lathe that needs to be finished. I need someone to give me a “Roundtoit”
  8. Wifely pressure to do something more productive, i.e., the tax return, organizing my business files, storing my beer making gear somewhere other than the dining room(we only use that room twice every year – I have till next Thanksgiving don’t I?).
  9. Procrastination – I suppose their is an element in most of the above.

Ok, enough of that. Garden news. The strawberries are beginning to produce. I hope I can harvest quicker than the squrrels and my wife eat them “au naturale”. Hmmmmm…….Hun whatever makes you happy. The strawberry towers seem to be safe, at least for now, from the furry marauders but not from my sweetheart. I added 100 new strawberry plants to the towers this fall. This year’s harvest will be small compared to next year’s.  Once they become established I should/could be overwhelmed.

Some nearly ready and more on the way.

Some nearly ready and more on the way.

Good looking and almost ripe.

Good looking and almost ripe.

My blueberry plants are beginning to bud out now and if the buds are an indication I should a nice little crop this second year growth. I have 4 plants in containers and two in ground plants.  I also inspected my lemon and lime trees…..no evidence yet of budding and blooms….I am a bit concerned. If nothing by March I could be longing for my Meyer Lemon Curd at this time next year.

The bowl that needs to be FINISHED! The rim is undercut and I need to ad some more depth to the undercut before finishing.

The bowl that needs to be FINISHED! The rim is undercut and I need to add some more depth to the undercut before finishing.

My bees seem to be wintering well. I am hoping for 30 lbs. or more of harvestable honey. I have tried to be very good to my bees but apparently I made one mad yesterday evening. The little bugger stung my arm! Oh well – the life of a beekeeper!

More soon.

 

TTFN

Bishop

Rainy Day Garden Blog

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We had a rainy and stormy night last night. The thunder was the booming and it was the rolling type followed by the sound of heavy rain drumming rain on the roof. The last 24 hours brought 2.76 inches of rain in my neighborhood and as much as 3.64 a few miles away. As I write the sound of rain beating down of the roof is accelerating again…. Gotta love it!

Too wet to have coffee with the bees but I am enjoying my coffee. I am kinda sorta having coffee with my oldest daughter and her husband – they are out in Camarillo California to be precise, but with me in spirit. They sent the family a gift pack the past several Christmas’s from Harry & David, well known for their pears, but this pack had a 12 ounce package of coffee beans. The Northwest blend flavored – Hazlenut, Praline and Cinnamon. So, Melissa and Tayna….here’s to you! I am also snacking on my homemade sourdough bread, 30 minutes out of the oven…..still warm enough to melt the butter under a layer of my Serrano pepper and peach preserve.

Fresh and warm sourdough - Yum - I love making bread but even more so...... eating it!

Fresh and warm sourdough – Yum – I love making bread but even more so…… eating it!

I did check on the bees and the garden yesterday and they are busy buzzing away and gathering pollen. The strawberries are kicking out blossoms like crazy and I noticed a handful of blossoms on the sugar snap peas. I suspect I will be picking some snap peas well before New Years Eve. The carrot seeds sprinkled a few weeks ago are coming up nicely and should be ready to thin in another few weeks….I say should….seems like I have good intentions and always wind up with crowded carrots!

I will be picking my lemons this week and I need to decide how to reward my self, hmmmm – Lemon Curd is high on the list and may also be compatible with making Limoncello. How about both! Claire from “Promenade Plantings” gave the best advice for using lemon curd – open jar, insert spoon, pull out a heaping spoonful and insert into your mouth and let your taste buds celebrate….She said something like that

  • 1.5 Liters of Everclear – available in Texas
  • 14 Lemons
  • 1.5 Liters of water
  • 2.333333333333333333 pounds of sugar

Peel lemons taking care to not use the white portion of the peel…..just the yellow.

Place peels and Everclear in glass jars, seal tightly and place in a dark cool place for two weeks.

Mix sugar and water – heat and stir until dissolved. Let sit for an hour or so.

Drain lemon peels from the jars and mix with sugar water. Make a calculation a head of time in order to have on hand enough bottles to accommodate the new volumes.

Be patient and allow the bottled Linoncello to sit for a full month in a dark and cool place.

Store in the freezer and enjoy shots….I am looking forward to the fruits of my labors.

TTFN

Bishop.

The Last of the Strawberries

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I used up the last of the 2014 strawberry harvest today. I made a low sugar recipe resulting in 2-12 oz. jars, 4- 8 oz. jars and 1-4 oz. jar of wonderful Strawberry Jam. This was a banner year for my strawberry harvest. I am not sure if my bees will make much difference next year as strawberries are largely self pollinated, but, they can’t hurt!

I do love my morning toast with a healthy dollop of backyard jam, whether it be my strawberry jam or my blackberry jam….wild or domestic! No domestic blackberries this year as they met with a breakdown in communication with my hired help. The sprinkler installation guy, my son Ben, was a little too rough with the existing plants, they all died….next year or the year after may be a good year.

So, what does lite jam mean? Standard recipe calls for 5 cups of strawberry mush and 7 cups of sugar…..so danged good. The lite recipe is also 5 cups of mush but only 4 cups of sugar. I really like the lite recipe as I think more of the fruit flavor comes through. I will admit that the last batch of Dewberry Jam, a wild blackberry, was made as a full sugar recipe….wow…very good!

An 8 ounce jar of my very good Strawberry Jam.

An 8 ounce jar of my very good Strawberry Jam.

Now…clean the kitchen and bottle my Russian Imperial Stout! – Tomorrow, I just sampled a couple of Kona IPA beers and they were awesome. That should be detailed in my beer blog in a day or so.

http://bishopsbeerblog.com/

TTFN

Bishop

 

 

 

 

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

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

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