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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

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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

 

Strawberry Towers Forever V 3.1

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Version 3.1 is under construction with a couple of key changes. Version 1.0 was made with 2″ PVC (too small in diameter but close to being tall enough). The slots for planting were drilled with a hole saw. I shredded my fingers while planting the crowns because I failed to sand the rough edges. The density was very good but it was a challenge to keep them properly watered. Check out the start of my strawberry tower experiments here.
https://bishopsbackyardfarm.com/2011/11/02/strawberry-towers-phase-one/

I toyed with, played around with…………poor choice of words…..I am always wanting to improve on the prior efforts so I have modified V 1.0 and V 2.0 and then V 3.0 ……. 3.0 was not well thought out and the added pockets on the short towers were not well spaced out. They were crowded, impinged upon the others and looked ugly….but the berries grew pretty well.

With V 3.1 I started with 3″ PVC drain pipe and I chose the version that created pockets rather than drilled holes. I spaced them a little closer and arranged them in a logical and orderly fashion. I should be able to get 28 plants in a space that would have held 2-3 plants in a matted row system and much easier for an old guy to harvest without bending over.

The photos below show the construction process. Some time soon I will fill the pockets!

Started with a center line snapped with a chalk line on 3" PVC drain pipe.

Started with a center line snapped with a chalk line on 3″ PVC drain pipe.

I left a space of 12″ at the top for a water reservoir above the first pocket. I space the remaining slots at 9″ vertically between pockets. I snapped another snapped line at about 90 degrees left and right. The pockets were staggered to better spread out the plants.

A snapped chalk line as a starting point. First pocket at 12" in order for reservoir at the top.

A snapped chalk line as a starting point. First pocket at 12″ in order for reservoir at the top.

Using a saw and a slotted box to cut a slot to be shaped later.

Using a saw and a slotted box to cut a slot to be shaped later with the heat from a paint stripper.

I use a paint stripper to heat up the plastic above the cut slot in order to shape the pockets.

Paint stripper used to heat the PVC pipe to soften the plastic so I can shape it. Posed picture but it pretty much shows the process.

Paint stripper used to heat the PVC pipe to soften the plastic so I can shape it. Posed picture but it pretty much shows the process.

I keep a leather glove on the hand that I use to shape the softened plastic PVC.

Using my gloved hand to mold and shape the pocket. Use a leather glove as the plastic is hot.

Using my gloved hand to mold and shape the pocket. Use a leather glove as the plastic is hot.

There is a blank space at the bottom. I use a post hole digger and plant the tower about 12 inches deep for stability.

Me with a tower.

Me with a tower.

Closer view with my Christmas t-shirt "Decker's Homegrown Produce.

Closer view with my Christmas t-shirt “Decker’s Homegrown Produce.

Closer look at the layout.

Closer look at the layout.

A pocket on a V 2.0 model with a Chandler plant, This is what the new tower will resemble once filled

A pocket on a V 2.0 model with a Chandler plant, This is what the new tower will resemble once filled

 

TTFN

Bishop

Strawberry Towers Forever

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I think I have used that title before but being a simple guy …….. I am simple aren’t I? Don’ any of you answer that question.

I have been in withdrawals from my blogging habit……..hmmmmmm, maybe if it had indeed been a habit I would have been blogging every chance I had….isn’t that what habits create. So, I don’t quite have a blogging habit but I do derive a lot of pleasure from sharing my blog life, whether it be my gardening blog or my beer brewing blog. Rest assured that I haven’t been idle. I am still sweating through several T-shirts every time I am out working in the garden.

The heat has the tomatoes struggling so I yanked most of them and replanted with some high dollar grafted varieties from a local nursery. I am cautiously optimistic! I set my buddy John up with 3 new plants and his seem to actually be doing better than mine. His cucumbers are doing very well…..mine succumbed to the dreaded white fly attacks. I still have peppers doing well, the single eggplant has taken over a corner of the garden and my asparagus ferns look very healthy….it bodes well for next year.

Talking about next year. I had a bumper crop of strawberries and therefore a bumper canning effort for my low sugar strawberry preserves. I like the low sugar recipe, not just because of the reduced calories but primarily due to the fact that more of the berry flavor comes through! If you have followed me for a while you may remember my efforts with strawberry towers. It makes the garden grow vertically and keeps those nasty bugs that live in the beds off of the berries. I eschew using bug sprays of any type. My first attempt at strawberry towers worked ok but I shredded my hands and fingers planting the bare root plants through the small holes. My subsequent efforts were easier on the hands, created bigger but fewer pockets. I like volume when it comes to berry harvest!

So back to the drawing board. Not wanting to waste materials I sought out a way to make the first towers more user friendly. For my second generation efforts I had used an electric heat gun to soften the pockets and it gave me an idea. I took the original towers (first generation), heated the lower edge to soften the hole and stretched it like a protruding lower lip! I think it is going to work.

http://wp.me/p13JYy-5v  original post

http://wp.me/p13JYy-lP this post shows an image of the second generation tower

A close look at how the hole gets stretched once heated

A close look at how the hole gets stretched once heated

Modified and original views.

Modified and original views.

A look at my heat gun....a hairdryer on steroids. I call it my "Binford" hotter than Hell model!

A look at my heat gun….a hairdryer on steroids. I call it my “Binford” hotter than Hell model!

I am nursing my Pineberry (a white strawberry with red seeds) plantings, trying to root as many runners as I can. I hope to plant one tower entirely in the white colored Pineberries.

Tuesday my oldest son and I are off on a day long fishing adventure – gardening again on Wednesday. I will highlight a path he put in for me as I get caught up on the stories floating around in my head.

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

 

Strawberry Towers Phase One

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I have decided to try going vertical with my soon to arrive strawberries.  I have seen a number of different approaches to going vertical and decided to build a two tower set-up as my first test. I chose 3″ PVC drain pipe – it is light weight, cheaper than the heavy wall PVC and easy to work with. The picture below shows the two tower set-up after they were put together and filled. The base of the structure is filled with pea gravel for stability. I drilled 24 –  1 1/4″ holes in each tower, none on the back side. I inserted a butcher paper tube inside prior to filling with potting soil. The blue masking tape is used to keep the tubes in place as I filled the pipe and to help keep the soil in place. When planting a small hole will be made through the paper and the bare root plant will be placed into the hole. I have subsequently added a 3X4 swage on top as an added reservoir for water and liquid nutients.

The Twin Strawberry Towers

I also drilled a weep hole a few inches above the “Tee” at the base of the tower. Wetting the soil by pouring water from the top was going very slowly. So when I returned from my inner injection appointment this afternoon I swung by Lowes and picked up a couple of 3X4 swages and placed them on top to increase the volume of water I can pour. Seems to be working much better. Have not yet filled the towers with enough water to  reach the weep holes. It may take a lot of water as the pore space in the base could be considerable.

During the construction of the  test towers it dawned on me that this could develop into a viable hydroponic set-up. The PVC piping used for the base could be used to provide the return run of the nutient run-off. Rather than using potting soil, a hydroponic perlite type of material could be used. While doing a little research into the hydroponic stuff I seem to run across lots of sites that are linked to growing that funny seven leafed plant that is in the news quite often. Wow – 55 gallon drums of nutient chemical will set you back about 3 grand….Must be good money in growing that other stuff……

The week of November 7th is the promised date for my strawberry plants to arrive. I have to work all week so planting will be deferred a bit. The plants should hold well in the produce drawer until the weekend.

Shown next is the close-up of the 1/8″ weep hole and another angle of the base and towers set up next to my compost bins and in front of my blackberry bed.  If the experiment works it could lead to a small commercial patch. I think you could increase plantings by a factor of 5 or 6 in the same square footage of space and really simplify the harvest. I have seen the strawberry harvest in California and it is back breaking, stoop labor. This could be a win all around. Intitial investment might be a little higher but in the long term could be much cheaper.

FYI – The towers are not glued in place to aid in dumping and replacing the growing medium. In the future I may consider 4″ or even 6″ PVC drain pipe.

Towers next to compost bins

1/8 " Weep hole

TTFN Folks

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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