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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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Wine Barrel Reuse Number 2

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The first reuse of the wine barrel was a rotating composter built for me by my daughter Ashleigh and son Ben. It was a gift for Father’s Day, June 16, 2013. It was well appreciated. As a compost tumbler it was a mechanical  success  but lacked the volume to be an effective creator of  compost. The Houston wet weather finally wreaked havoc on the support stand but left the barrel intact.

So, Ashleigh and Ben, your gift has been repurposed and is still fondly remembered as the Father’s Day gift you had intended – something useful in my garden!

After securing the metal bands with a few extra screws, I sawed the barrel in half starting at the compost tumbler door. I did salvage the hardware for a future project. I made the cut such that the back side was a bit taller than the front lip. See photo below.

You can see the darkened wood where the door was. Trust me, the backside is taller than the front lip.

You can see the darkened wood where the door was. Trust me, the backside is taller than the front lip.

The barrel had a rod run through it so that it could rotate. The hole make a great drain hole. I covered the hole with a wire screen and as seen in the next photo, covered with gravel before adding soil.

The barrel had a rod run through it so that it could rotate. The hole make a great drain hole. I covered the hole with a wire screen and as seen in the next photo, covered with gravel before adding soil.

I piled a small bucket load of gravel over the hole to aid in retention of the garden soil.....I suspect it will work well.

I piled a small bucket load of gravel over the hole to aid in retention of the garden soil…..I suspect it will work well.

The  first half  barrel has been planted with strawberry plants destined to provide luscious red berries for next spring’s jam making.

Strawberries....can't  wait!

Strawberries….can’t wait!

The remaining barrel sits ready and I am waiting for the boss to tell me what to plant! Yes dear, I am listening!

Bonus question……Where does TTFN come from?……hint,  think HONEY!

TTFN

Bishop

Having My Morning Coffee With The Bees

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Took my little Nikon J1 camera out to the hive in the backyard to enjoy the nice morning, to also savor a good cup of coffee and share some time with the Bees. I could spend hours watching them come and go. I am easily entertained! The is something in bloom nearby that has the workers loading up on a nice yellow colored pollen. They are also draining a quart of sugar water in less than a day and a half. I am hoping to have a nice enough day on Sunday to take a look at the inside workings and to see how well they have recovered since the stormy upset this past summer.

I headed out to the backyard on a very nice and pleasant morning. I made a good cup of coffee and went out to drink coffee with the bees. I love watching them come and go, busy with the chores needing to be done to support the hive. Enjoy the slow motion show captured Saturday morning. Watch early on in the video for the clumsy bee that head butts the hive. Look closely and you will see a few bees with pollen laden legs.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/yyfgp1h2zpphttb/SLO%20MO%20BEES.wmv?dl=0

 

Coming and going....busy little bees

Coming and going….busy little bees

I have the restricted entrance opening now to keep the toads and mice out. They seem to be thriving!

I took my leaf vac/chipper over to the next door neighbor’s yard and picked up several loads of fallen leaves for my garden and compost bins. Another neighbor stopped by with her two year old son….he calls me Mr. Bishop. They followed me over to the garden and I let him pull a carrot  up and pick a lemon. Simple things can bring so much joy to little kids. I just love it. Hopefully, making some good memories for both Mom and son.

Strawberries are beginning to heavily bloom and we have seen them ripening…may be a banner year for my strawberries and jam making!

 

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

 

“Doin’ The Dew”….Wild Dewberry Jam

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In the woods around Kingwood…..my home location – the wild dewberries have been ripening up. We had a good spring…plenty of rain and the crop is massive. There is a good patch of low growing dewberries at East End Park….a nice, well used area with miles of walking and biking gravel trails…. lots of berry pickers! http://www.eastendpark.com/about.html

I will share two locations and keep a few others secret. As I mentioned above, East End Park has a nice low growing patch in the open area to the right as you go through the barriers at the entrance. The other location….and I really like this one because many of the berries grow in an upright manner….helps the “old Man” save his back while picking. This other location is in River Grove Park across the walking bridge to the soccer fields and then a short walk over to the East edge of the fields. Based on what I saw yesterday, next weekend will be an outstanding weekend for berry pickers.

I brought home enough from two separate expeditions to cook up a batch of dewberry  jam today. In fact, I had a little too much for one batch and the freezer holds the start of the next batch. I always make the low sugar version of jams, strawberry, blackberry and dewberry. I use 1/3 less sugar than the regular homemade jams.

I started with 6 ½ cups of mashed up dewberries …. The recipe called for 5 but I used about 5 ½ cups of berries, bagged a cup for the future and went to work. My “go to” pectin is Sure Jell Light. I do try to follow the recipe sheet and measure everything!!!!! I fudge just a little but try to stay within reason with my deviations from the recipe.

The mashed of dewberries coming up to a boil.

The mashed of dewberries coming up to a boil.

Filling the hot sterilized jars with the yummy mix!

Filling the hot sterilized jars with the yummy mix!

Tools of jam making.

Tools of jam making.

The idle food mill - sorry Hun - you will have to live with the extra seeds.

The idle food mill – sorry Hun – you will have to live with the extra seeds.

I am having a banner year for jams and other canning goodies so far. I made a double batch of lemon curd from my homegrown Meyer Lemons. Horribly rich so I just use a little dab when I indulge. I have about 18 half pint jars of my homegrown strawberry jam and now 8 half pint jars of Dewberry Jam. The pantry is looking good!

The Pantry - Lots of Strawberry, Lemon Curd and Dewberry. Also a dab of 2013 leftovers, Pomegranate Jelly, Chipotle Peach jam, a blended jam - Blackberry/Dewberry/Strawberry and some Serrano Pepper Jelly.

The Pantry – Lots of Strawberry, Lemon Curd and Dewberry. Also a dab of 2013 leftovers, Pomegranate Jelly, Chipotle Peach jam, a blended jam – Blackberry/Dewberry/Strawberry and some Serrano Pepper Jelly.

I sometimes debate whether I should run the mashed berries through the food mill to remove a bunch of the seeds….about half….the seeds don’t bother me so I skipped that messy step. As the mix comes to a boil the aroma is so good….once the sugar is added and the color deepens the aroma now becomes a little sweeter.

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

Backyard Farm – December Notes on Christmas Morning

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My postings for the past couple of months have slowed a little but I have tended to some of the chores!
• Spreading compost from the bin on the right and turning the bin on the left.
• Son Ben did a fantastic job adding gravel around the edges. Looks great! An early and well appreciated Christmas gift.
• Turned ad prepped the bed for potato planting.
• Cut back the Asparagus ferns and added a layer of compost and leaf mulch. Gotta love Houston, two days ago I noticed several young shoots about 6 inches above the mulch…my reward for taking care of the bed. NOW GO TO SLEEP DANG NABBIT!
• Carrots and sugar snap peas have emerged from the late fall plantings.
• Planted 6 Blueberry plants and 8 replacement bare root blackberry plants – Ben was a little overzealous when he added a pvc irrigation line in the blackberry bed. We had a good laugh!
• Planted more Chard and Beet seeds yesterday as well as some red onion seeds in the front portion of the potato bed.

December 4th I ate my first ripe strawberry – way too early, it was kinda small and misshapen but it was sweet! Inspection yesterday showed numerous blossoms and a few dozen green berries trying to fill out. It may be another stellar strawberry year and maybe, just maybe a few more jars of jam to share.

One of several confused strawberries. This was the little one I ate! Yum

One of several confused strawberries. This was the little one I ate! Yum

TTFN & Merry Christmas – share something wonderful with those you love!

Bishop

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