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Getting My Hands Dirty – Real Dirty

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It has been a long “dry spell”- if you will, a drought for my Gardening Blog. I haven’t stopped gardening but have found/made little time to write about getting my hands dirty in the garden. My beer blog….I seem to find more time to write about my favorite beverages!!!! http://bishopsbeerblog.com/

The garden has slowed down at the end of a long hot summer. All of the tomato plants have been pulled save one. It looks like I may be able to squeeze out a couple more “maters”. The asparagus patch is over head high with ferns and if I peek under the foliage I can still find a few spears to snap off and eat as I work. I shared one with a visitor last week and she couldn’t believe how sweet the spears were! I have carrots coming up, beets have sprouted, the sugar snap peas are climbing, strawberry beds are looking good and my two banana trees have started to dominate their locations……not sure if they will become permanent members because of their size. One of then is a bit unique, a manzano (apple) banana. I have also heard it referred to as a manzanillo….Regardless of the name, I am told that they are very sweet.

Strawberries….I added 50 Chandler plugs and 50 Sweet Charlie plugs on the day before Halloween. I like the ease of planting the plugs I order form Ison’s Nursery. http://www.isons.com/

I used my wood lathe to turn a dibble; From Wikpedia – “A dibber or dibble is a pointed wooden stick for making holes in the ground so that seeds, seedlings or small bulbs can be planted. Dibbers come in a variety of designs including the straight dibber, T-handled dibber, trowel dibber, and L-shaped dibber. ” I found some images on my internet  search and I must say….some people can turn some very nice ones….Mine was a quick utilitarian effort….it works and was sized to match the plugs! The strawberry towers are filled and I can’ wait for the February/Spring crop!

Strawberry plugs in the tray from Isaon's

Strawberry plugs in the tray from Ison’s

My home made dibble sized for the strawberry plugs.

My home made dibble sized for the strawberry plugs.

My beehive is humming along…..sorry about the pun! The mouse guard is in place for the winter and has obviously kept the fat toad out of the hive. My daughter had seen him hanging out near the entrance but I actually found him nestled inside with his head poking out through the entrance….wonder how many he ate! I shooed him away and installed the barrier.

Back to bananas for a moment – The Mexican family that that gave me the corms, also gave me a family tradition for making tamales. They use the banana leaves! They hold the leaf over a gas burner moving it back and forth until it becomes pliable. They then use the banana leaf like you would the corn husk. Here is a pork tamale recipe. I think I will give it a try. Marcelino  tells me that they are much more moist than the traditional method. http://www.food.com/recipe/pork-tamales-in-banana-leaves-tamales-con-puerco-381926

PS – while out to dinner last night at the restaurant my wife looked at my hands and shook her head. I know what she was thinking….”you have nice gardening gloves yet you choose to just let your hands get dirty!!!!!!!” I tried, I really did try to scrub everything clean. The problem –  I have a fingernail on my right hand that was crushed many years ago and it grows goofy looking creating a dirt trap. So, as she was looking and shaking her head my mind quietly said, “yes dear!!!!!!!”

 

Paused for a week…..computer issues and then one of my many trips to Williston, North Dakota.  Now, about those very dirty hands. I had ignored my composting worms for too long. The drain off the bottom of the bin was plugged up and I knew the bottom tray was probably getting saturated. Oh yes, absolutely full. No problem, I made up a 5 gallon bucket of worm compost tea. I fed the majority of the tea to the newly planted strawberry pugs now thriving in the strawberry towers. My sugar snap peas are starting to climb but appear fragile. I harvested about 4 pounds of worm poop and spot fed the peas as well as giving a good dose to my asparagus ferns. I am very hopeful for a huge asparagus crop next spring.

My wife had the paper shredder fired up taking all of the probable confidential mail to create worm bedding.  The identity thieves will certainly have a tougher time putting the stripss back together. I also use the worms to take the ground up eggshells and make some calcium rich fertilizer. Between the worms and my big outdoor compost bins I send very little to the landfill.

Now wash hands thoroughly and make a sandwich with my homemade sourdough bread. Later on today I need to make the sourdough sponge for tomorrow’s baking day!

 

TTFN

Bishop

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Playing in the Rain and in the Garden

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I do believe that I am a 6 year old trapped in the body of a 63 year old man. We have had a couple of good downpours today – I wish I could send some to my California friends – mixed with gentle sprinkles. During one of the misty lulls I went out to the garden inspect and snack….

Inspecting how the bees were doing, I am happy to report that they are doing very well. Here is where the curiosities of a 6 year old kick in. I stand off to the side of the take off and landing pattern. I marvel at the roles visible at the entrance….some bees just hang out there as guard bees preventing “robbers” from getting in and fanning at the entrance to help maintain proper hive temperature. The others that were zooming in and out are the foragers, the last period of a worker bee’s life. They are on a mission! When they arrive at the entrance from a foraging flight, it is all business and they disappear inside immediately. The foragers departing don’t display quite the same sense of urgency…. some wander around for a few moments…possibly checking out the proposed flight plan and then off they go. Others, the hesitation is very brief and then off they go. I feel such a sense of wonder, almost mesmerized, as I watch the choreographed activity!

If you haven’t had the opportunity, follow a 3-6 year old child as they wander around outside. Watch to see what they find fascinating and attempt to see it through there eyes….some amazing things are taken for granted in this natural world around us….never lose the ability to see and appreciate the simple wonders around you.

Post rain - the bees are slowly beginning to forage and defend the entrance.

Post rain – the bees are slowly beginning to forage and defend the entrance.

Snacks…My Juliet tomatoes are such a sweet snack. I picked a large number of the little cherry tomatoes and have about a dozen or more of the Juliets ready to be picked for the kitchen. Post rain they are so picturesque! Beads of rainwater still clinging to their skins and begging to be picked and consumed. Who am I to argue! Several found their way into my mouth!

Small, probably 2 ounces, but prolific and tolerant of the Houston heat and humidity.

Small, probably 2 ounces, but prolific and tolerant of the Houston heat and humidity.

Going vertical….Cucumbers and yes, even watermelons. My pickling cucumbers succumbed to the nasty white flies….the Lady Bug beetles were working hard but not enough to keep them in check. I still have Straight Eight and Armenian type growing and beginning to develop fruit.

An Armenian Cuke developing.

An Armenian Cuke developing.

I am growing a variety of small watermelons. A refrigerator  type and growing them vertically. As the fruit develops I will have to hang a sling to keep them up off of the ground…..I can’t wait. In the background is a banana plant that should bear fruit next year. I met a Mexican worker on a pipeline job that I am supporting that gave me the corms. He grows many varieties of bananas in his yard south of Houston. It is an apple banana, Manzano Banana tree! Looking forward to harvesting!

A developing melon. Full sized will be just a bit smaller than a volleyball.

A developing melon. Full sized will be just a bit smaller than a volleyball.

The vertical climbing vines with the banana tree in the background.

The vertical climbing vines with the banana tree in the background.

I finally got a “round to it” handed to me concerning my worm farm. We have all used that phrase I am sure….”Yeah, I’ll get a round to it.” – But we never do…..I had a coworker who had a bunch made up – they look like wooden nickels and he hands them out to procrastinators…..I received one…what does that tell you about me? Yes, I fit the description! I harvested at least 10 pounds of wet worm poop and made several gallons of diluted worm poop tea! After spreading the gathered goodies I heard some “oohs” and “ahs” as the garden absorbed the delicious feeding!

TTFN

Bishop

My Falling Into Fall Efforts

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I haven’t written much lately about the backyard garden but it has been slowly morphing into a winter garden. I harvested the last cucumbers two weeks ago because I knew that the Houston winter temperatures were coming. On the vines were a few edible and nearly a dozen immature cukes that became worm food.  The sweet potato vines finally showed their dislike for anything below 50 degrees F. They weren’t grown for tubers this year, but they did provide great ground cover. I found a couple of nice sized tubers and a bunch that were restricted by the heavy soil to  elongated sausage looking things. The dying tomatoes were pulled up along with the Poblano pepper plants.

I left the Serrano peppers in as the plant is still setting fruit. I made a batch of Serrano  Pepper jelly last week and may make another batch soon. This week I also made a couple of pints of lemon curd from my Meyer Lemon tree. What an amazingly rich treat – 4 very big lemons, 2 cups of lemon juice, at least 2/3 cup of zest, 12 egg yolks, two sticks of butter and two cups of sugar… I am afraid to calculate the calories per teaspoon! I will send a jar to my granddaughter – she loves it!

Over the past two weeks I pulled about 2 large wheel barrow loads of compost out of my bins to amend the beds. I fed a bunch to the asparagus bed hoping to get it producing better during this next spring. I added a bunch to a section of the beds that I have designated as the carrot patch. That same bed is also home to my sugar snap peas – hopefully this planting of peas will be the one that produces. I tried on two previous efforts to get them to sprout and the cool weather never showed up. They don’t like warm weather! I hope I didn’t miss the weather window!

Some of my strawberry plants are confused. Weeks ago I had a number of them blossom and I plucked the blossoms off. After traveling and working for a few weeks out of town, I ignored them. I now have green strawberries – about 3 plus months too early!  My 100 new strawberry plants planted in early October have settled nicely into their new home and will hopefully bring me a couple of good years of harvesting pleasure.

I have four pineapple plants started from tops nearly two years ago.  They are now beginning to leaf out vigorously and who knows, this may be the year. A little research says it takes 2 years and maybe more if it is cold, in order to flower. The leaves look like they are becoming mature so this could be the lucky year.  I put another top in the ground a week ago to add to my collection. According to the research the buggers will start spreading on their own. May wind up with 30 or 40 before long.

My little buddy Caleb and his now walking little brother Levi, stopped by for a visit a few days ago. Caleb is ALL boy….gotta keep an eye on him. Levi loves to munch on cucumbers off the vine and the cherry tomatoes, not so much for Caleb. They both enjoy the strawberries when they are in season. I hope to have them back this week to help plant my beets and turnips. I was in the process of harvesting the worm poop and adding another bin to the top of my worm composting bins during their visit. Being boys….they both loved touching and playing with the little wrigglers! Mom wasn’t as enthused or amused as the boys were! I sent them home with a couple of long stemmed roses for their mother……she left smiling!

The new carrot patch....waiting for the emerging tops.

The new carrot patch….waiting for the emerging tops.

The old sweet potato bed - cleaned out and what next ????

The old sweet potato bed – cleaned out and what next ????

Pineapples - or hopefully this year they will fruit.

Pineapples – hopefully this year they will fruit.

Those danged, confused strawberries.

Those danged, confused strawberries.

Strawberry towers planted with about 85 of the 100 new plants.

Strawberry towers planted with about 75 of the 100 new plants.

 

TTFN

Bishop

 

The 25th of November – Where is Winter?

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Did a quick walk around in the garden and I can’t believe that it is late November and I still have tomatoes setting fruit, the ancho/poblano peppers are still producing, and the usual winter veggies are looking good!

Tomatoes – or at least one variety in my garden.

Juliett Tomatoes still seting and turning red!

Swiss Chard

Swiss Chard – looking very healthy.

Turnips are coming along nicely –

 

Turnips are gaining some size. This one is tennis ball sized and asking to be picked!

Lemons too

Meyer Lemons – I can taste some lemon curd in my future!

Peppers – aren’t they a summer crop?

Poblano or Ancho peppers – locally known as Poblano – great for Rellenos!

Roses and Camelias are blossoming!

I just love the blossom patterns!

Miniature red rose. Bought as a house plant for my wife but is now happily residing next to the Camelia bush.

The strawberry towers are getting filled!

 

Sweet Charlie strawberries are in place and growing.

 

I ate some fresh picked asparagus this moring and then cut the ferns back one more time! Spread some compost pulled weeds – duh! Every day I can pull weeds! I thinned the beets and planted some red and white onion sets….need to head over to John’s house and populate his garden too!

I am in town all week so I should get a lot done….more composting, harvest the worm poop, shred some leaves, make some lemon curd and did I mention pull some weeds?

TTFN

Bishop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making Ready to Transfer the Worms

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The worm bin is getting to be well filled with that wonderful stuff euphemistically referred to as worm castings – worm poop – I use Rubbermaid containers…36 quart size to house them. They reside in the garage year round and the Houston heat does not seem to bother them. I actually made two bins when I ventured off into worm world. I have found that 4 months or so is an ideal time to let the little guys toil away in darkness before preparing their new abode and harvest more of the good stuff.

As part of my ongoing research into growing methods…..not really research, its just that I get bored easily and I am always want to try something new and different. The back-up bin was put to use growing potatoes. In addition to the 4 foot tall wire baskets housing potatoes I tossed a handful of extras into the bin filled with about 8 inches of soil. Over the next few months I kept adding shredded leaves and compost as the plants grew. Yesterday I decided it was time to make ready the bin for the worms and dumped the contents – potatoes, leaves, compost and all.
I was pleasantly surprised…with minimal efforts I have 8 or so pounds of naturally grown potatoes. My wife is wanting to cook the new potatoes today….I agree hun!

TTFN

Bishop

Harvesting The Worm P_ _p

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The bounty after screening

The “nicer” word for the harvest product is “castings” but I like to be as realistically accurate as possible.

I had ignored my silent workers long enough. It was time to see what was left behind in the bottom bin of my vermicomposting equipment. I use two big 18 gallon Rubbermaid  storage tubs. If you want to make your own, I would suggest using a more shallow bin. Live and learn is my motto….but it seems like I am relearning many of the same lessons. Hmmmmm. maybe I should mention that to the doctor on my next visit, the problem is I will probably forget to mention it!  Here is a link to a “How To Article” for building your own bins. I use a stacking process to get my little guys to migrate up into a newly prepared bin. http://www.backwoodshome.com/articles2/cowell124.html

If you want to try raising worms go to my first choice – Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm online at; http://www.unclejimswormfarm.com/ He has everything you need as well as commercially made equipment, advice and bags of worms….. They only ship in the US so if you are outside the US you will need to find or search for suppliers.

As my little buddies consume all of my kitchen scraps they leave behind wonderfully rich castings. Once the bin has 8 to 10 inches of the good stuff in the bottom I prep the second bin with shredded wet newspaper and some and some good tasty treats to entice the little guys to migrate up through the 1/4 inch holes in the bottom of the bin. After two months or so the only things left in the bottom bin are the rich castings and a few stubborn workers that have not quite licked their platters clean….I guess if I were a worm I would be one of the stubborn ones in the bottom bin. My mother would never let me have the good stuff….dessert, until my plate was COMPLETELY clean! Isn’t that right Mom? She reads my blogs so I know that I will hear from her not long after this is posted. Something else Mom, the worms in the bottom seem to be a little chubbier…. could be one of life’s little lessons…Maybe I should have left a little more on my plate and passed up a few more desserts….. I still love you Mom!

The how-to article link above also shares a description for a worm casting tea. I have some friends here in Kingwood that brew this up this and use it as a foliar feeding fertilizer. I have yet to brew my own but have all the equipment. I have several aerators that I use to keep my bait alive while fishing…….they are battery operated so it may be beneficial to buy a small plug-in electric model.

I get odd stares from folks when I talk about my vermiculture and composting efforts. They consider me to be a bit odd. I guess maybe I am a little odd but I seem to enjoy my oddness. My daughter Ashleigh has helped a few times with the harvest and better understands my oddness. She was also amazed at how clean and odor free the process was. Virtually no detectable odor. I have my castings out and exposed to the sun’s heat to dry them out before storing. See photo above. I will make some tea this weekend but will pass on including scones and/or biscuits with the endeavor!

My other gardening activities include;

I added a single strawberry tower to John’s backyard. It will be a nice surprise for him when he returns from his Aruba vacation. I told his wife, Beverly, to not let him take her snorkeling on any secluded beaches!!!!….just a bit of dark and tongue in cheek humor!

While working in John’s yard I added a couple of rows of bunching green onions from seed and put in a single row of sugar snap peas. Both of these additions were in his original 4X4 bed. I also  thinned the radishes and turnips in the new bed. I must have been a little too liberal in my original seeding efforts. The onion and garlic bulbs, even though planted late, are emerging nicely. They seem to be benefitting from this mild winter – I am reluctant to call it winter – it just seems like a prolonged Fall or an early Spring.

I topped off one of my compost bins with shredded leaves this week and added an activator, prepackaged micro-organisms, to speed things along. I will add a weak water and molasses mix today as some additional food to get the pile heated up. It is amazing to feel how hot the process becomes …… literally cooking up some great garden food for the garden.

I added some spinach and Swiss Chard transplants that I had started from seed a month ago. The next 10 days looks like very mild weather so they should take off pretty quickly. I have some really nice looking turnips to harvest this weekend. I don’t find too many recipes that “feature” turnips, they seem to occupy the niches for added body in most recipes. I found one in AllRecipes that caught my eye, “Beef Stew with Ale”. A cup of diced turnips finds their way into the recipe and what really caught my eye was the word “Ale”. Must be a typo in the recipe though….the ingredient list calls for two bottles of a brown lager….hmmmm a big difference between the two…. If you try this recipe just use a good Ale, preferably a Brown Ale!!!! http://allrecipes.com/recipe/beef-stew-with-ale/detail.aspx

Enough for now – I changed up my post background, it seems to be a little easier for my old eyes to read…. I hope you like it.

TTFN

Bishop

“Strawberry Towers Forever”

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Did I get the Beatles song wrong….. Strawberry Fields Forever? It just sounded like a good title and “towers” has such a nice ring to it.

I have been wanting to provide “all y’all” with an update on my strawberry towers experiment. It seems to be working pretty well…… even though I still think the 3 inch pipe is too small. The plants weathered the first freeze with no apparent injury. They are looking very healthy and I can’t wait until early spring when they begin to blossom.  The strawberry shown above was picked on February 14th, Valentines Day in 2010. It wasn’t until later, in fact someone sent me a note about the nearly perfect heart shape of the berry, that I noticed the shape. Too bad that I didn’t notice it when I took the picture because I could have said that I had planned it all along. I think it does pay to tell the truth…… that way you don’t have to remember what the lie was!!!!! Click photos fo a bigger image.

The towers seem to be supporting the growth of the transplants pretty well.  The receptacles at the top seem to work well for watering. Gravity takes over and down it flows. I had my good friend John swing by this past weekend and I showed him the experiment. I think he agrees with the idea of testing the 6″ set-up. I will use 6″ PVC drain pipe for phase two of the experiment. Over the Christmas break I will gather up the materials and put it into action. Photos to come.

John has a 4X4 bed that I put in his backyard 2 years ago that needs some attention. I told him that I would be over this next week and clean up the 2011 season remnants and install another 4×4 adjacent to the original. I know he wants one because he installed the irrigation piping to accommodate the expansion…..isn’t that right John? Seems like a good “how to” posting for a future blog. We have one significant challenge. John has his Golden Retriever “Pismo” hooked on vegetables, so much that she harvests ripe tomatoes for him. The next step in her training is to bring them up to the patio and leave them for the family. Unfortunately she loves homegrown tomatoes a bit too much!

My wife is out in California helping to manage some family issues. She saw the post on the turnips and wanted to know if I really ate them….Absolutely! I placed a nice pork loin in the crock pot with turnips, onion, garlic, potatoes and cabbage….wish my carrots were ready….that would have topped it off nicely……. So, yes hun, I ate them and they were excellent!

Plans for this week –

The fall leaves are falling….go figure! – I have to thank my mother for her help with my leaves and the leaves around the neighborhood. She “surprised” me with a nice machine to suck up and shred the leaves as well as chip branches up to about 1.5 inches in diameter.  Wow, mom I have to tell you, it works great. I have been able to deeply mulch one bed with shredded leaves and I have designs on several more. Any excess will find their way into my compost bins.

I fed the worms yesterday and I see  it is time to harvest their rich castings….now some people might refer to it as worm poop – castings sounds so much cleaner and more proper. I am continually amazed how well they do their work even when I don’t give them to attention that I should. Diligent critters they are!!!!

Seeds need to be planted……..More lettuce to replace what my son’s dog zeroed in on…..just doing what dogs do but she could have dug her holes somewhere else. More beets, more carrots, some spinach & chard, sugar snap peas, maybe some bok choy, turnips and a another row of radishes.

Six inch strawberry towers and find a source of winter strawberry plants to finish up the project.

Non-gardening……with my wife gone I have laundry, dishes to do, floors to mop, Christmas decorations to organize …… I am not sure how she finds time to do all that stuff. It kind of gets in the way of my gardening, wood-turning, fishing, bicycling, beer brewing/drinking and  coffee with my buddies down at Starbucks…….. in fact she contacted me at Starbucks this morning and cut my visit short……but hun, I am not complaining, wink,wink!

A note to Jane…..I loved the lemon curd you gave me a year ago and I have a bunch of Meyer Lemons ready to provide their juice for my curd making this week. I will see if I can work that in between some of my lingering tasks. Maybe I will wait until after the curd is done before mopping! John….I still think I can handle the expansion …….. what else can I defer???????

TTFN

Bishop

 

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