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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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Worm Food

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My silent workers toiling away in the darkness of the worm bin have been overjoyed of late! My daughter Ashleigh asked me “ Dad, how do you know that they are overjoyed?”

“It’s simple, they wiggle more!”, was my knowing response.

There is a little more to it than that. The red composting worms I use,  (Eisenia fetida or Eisenia andrei), are surface or near surface feeders. For most of the summer, up until two weeks ago, they weren’t wiggling much at all. In fact they either stayed buried deeply in the bins or, possibly succumbed to the brutal heat. During the weather change I took some groceries out to the little guys. Not much sign of activity. I was afraid that this long hot summer had been too much for them. I spread the meal out, put the lid on and hoped for the best.

Two days later I took another bowl if groceries out and on the surface, especially on the strawberry trimmings, it was swirling with red wrigglers.

Yes they were overjoyed!

A bowl of yummy wormfood

A bowl of yummy worm food

My overjoyed workers wiggling, waving and eating!

My overjoyed workers wiggling, waving and eating!

 

TTFN

Bishop

 

The Other Garden “Ato” – the Potato

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I seem to celebrate the tomato as if it the crown jewel of the backyard farmer as many gardeners do. Tomatoes do seem to be a central theme with many garden bloggers, “how to” sites, mail order companies and farmer’s markets. That said, I would like to share my growing fascination with potato growing. I have tried barrel or basket growing in the past. This year I have a mix of conventional trenched and hilled in ground method, a barrel and two tubs.

I planted some Yukon Gold taters in the ground and the barrel at the same time. They are doing very well. I had a few leftover and a couple of weeks later I planted them in the Rubbermaid tub I had been using to house my vermicomposting worms. I need to add lots of soil to it tomorrow!!!! I planted another tub a week ago and the shoots have yet to break the surface.

The barrel planted potato eyes were placed in the barrel with about six inches of soil. They took off. I think they benefitted from the warming effect of the barrel. The soil level is up to about 40 inches now and I won’t add any more. The in ground potatoes are also doing very well. The plants are 30+ inches above the hilled up mounds. I have high hopes for a good harvest.

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An old garbage barrel with  holes in the bottom. Potato eyes at the bottom, 30 + inches below support the lush green growth.

An old garbage barrel with holes in the bottom. Potato eyes at the bottom, 30 + inches below support the lush green growth.

The newest tub was planted with supermarket spuds that sprouted in the pantry. Supermarket spids are not the best choice as they are sometimes treated to inhibit sprouting. The Yukon Gold are actual seed potatoes purchased at Kingwood Garden Center. Helpful folks, lots of knowledge and support organic gardeners!

The tub as it appears when the potatoes are planted. About 6 inches in the bottom,

The tub as it appears when the potatoes are planted. About 6 inches in the bottom,

Soil in this one is up about 10 inches and needs quite a bit more this weekend.

Soil in this one is up about 10 inches and needs quite a bit more this weekend.

I am looking forward to filching a few “new” potatoes down a foot or so a little later in early summer. I will be watching closely….once they flower and the tops die back I will harvest. The nice thing about using the tubs and barrels is the no digging to harvest. Just dump the container and sort through bounty!

PS – lunch was tomatoes picked today used in a wilted spinach and fresh Chard salad with grilled chicken breast. Dressing was simply EVOO and a blackberry flavored aged Balsamic vinegar. A little fresh ground pepper and sea salt! Just perfect!

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.

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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

Carrots out the Wazoo – Now What?

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On the heels of last nights awesome rainstorm across the Houston area, close to 2 inches overnight, I decided it was time to pull up the carrots. Some have just exploded with growth. See photo below.

Exploded/split carrot....they taste OK but my wife refuses to let me cook them.

Exploded/split carrot….they taste OK but my wife refuses to let me cook them.

I am in the process of prepping for cucumbers and squash plantings in the next week. The sugar snap and snow peas are still producing but the heat that disables them is just around the corner. My early planting of Yukon Gold potatoes is off to an amazing start. I am using a barrel, a big tub and of course – some planted in the back bed.

Yukon Gold Plants needing to be hilled up a little deeper!

Yukon Gold Plants needing to be hilled up a little deeper!

The Brussels Sprouts are still forming, I hope well enough to harvest before the heat sets in! Good looking plants, not sure what to expect as this is my first attempt at growing them. I found a good recipe and cooking advice over on – http://promenadeplantings.com/2013/04/11/brussels-sprout-cheddar-and-apple-salad/

The freezer is full of strawberries waiting to made into wonderful jam. As they fade in the garden I am loving the evidence of a potentially great blackberry harvest! I enjoy them fresh but he low sugar jam I make helps extend the enjoyment into the fall or if lucky….till 2014 arrives.

I added more strawberry scraps to the top level of my worm bins. I am now on level five and the migration up towards the top bin is underway. They seem to be a little chubbier than usual…..could it be the abundance of strawberries in their diet? – Quite possibly – they have been binge eating strawberries for many weeks now! I still recycle….lots of scraps going into my compost bins.

I need some variety in recipes for Swiss Chard – at the moment it is an abundant ornamental in the garden. I can only eat so much fresh in with salads or wilted like spinach….Help!

Carrots and more Carrots

Carrots and more Carrots

A look down the garden path toward the back beds. The poles in the foreground arch up over the entrance and soon will be covered in 3 varieties of pole beans.

A look down the garden path toward the back beds. The poles in the foreground arch up over the entrance and soon will be covered in 3 varieties of pole beans.

 

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

The last of my Tomatoes

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My last post was January 9th. Here it is the 23rd of January and I have only been home two and half days in that period of time. I am not sure who misses who more –  me missing the garden, the garden missing me or maybe me and the Mrs. missing each other? I better be careful how I order my responses! I really do miss my Mrs. – and Hun could you check on the garden for me and send me a couple of pictures? Thanks

The tomatoes, tomatoes I picked in early December, are now gone. I passed through Kingwood Texas, my home, this past weekend to repack my bags, took a quick peek at the garden and spent one night alone, my wife was in Austin watching our son play soccer. She returned Saturday evening, we spent a night together and then I was off to California early Sunday morning. While fending for myself Friday evening and for a big chunk of Saturday I snacked on the remaining Juliet tomatoes that had been sitting on the kitchen counter. I loved it….January in the Northern Hemisphere and I was able to snack on home-grown tomatoes, still full of real tomato flavor.

The green ones I talked about in an earlier post were just too green, too hard and too immature to ripen in the house…I just couldn’t toss them out without giving them a chance. They are headed off to the compost heap to add nutrients to my 2013 gardening efforts. Some of the mushy ones are being processed by my composting worms in their snug little home in the garage.

Part of my recent travels took me to a very different clime – it was minus 14 F up in Vernal Utah and nearly as cold over in Rangely Colorado. I taught a short class at the local college in Rangely. It was a beautiful shade of white on mostly white and very chilly. For a Houston boy, it is a bit of a treat to step into the snow, hear the crunch under my feet and marvel at how the winter snows transform the landscape. I captured a few photos of what I found to be lovely scenery……the locals seem to have a very different opinion of the snow-covered scenery!

Me and my shadow on the snow.

Me and my shadow on the snow.

A lokk form the school up on th ehill overlooking the town.

A look from the school up on the hill overlooking the town.

An ice climbing tower. A class offered during the winter. Looks like a cool challenge.

An ice climbing tower. A class offered during the winter. Looks like a cool challenge.

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A light dusting of snow overnight.

Looking forward to two full weeks at home with my wife and my garden. I have lots of work planned for the garden, a new batch of beer to brew and maybe crank out a few miles on my bicycle!

TTFN

Bishop

 

 

 

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