Seed starting, maple sugaring, and hope for the end of the season of slush

March 11, 2013 by Carol

We tapped out maple tree a week ago.

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It cost us $4 for the tap; the jar and spare wire were found around the house.  Talk about Yankee frugality!  I have done a bit of reading and talked to people who do this more seriously and I know my one little tap is not going to give me much, no matter how much sap this tree pumps out.  In the first four days we collected about 2 gallons, boiled it down to 1/2 quart of complexly flavored, delicious sweet water — it needs to be cooked down further but I have to collect more sap first.  Since Thursday, I’ve collected another 2+ gallons and it’s time for another boil.  It took some 10 hours of hard boiling last time, oy.  If you’ve ever been to a real, outdoor maple syrup-making event, you know how very small scale my venture is.  Nonetheless, we are having fun!

We are considering a second or third tap.  An experienced maple sugarer assures me that more taps is fine and the sugaring season in Michigan will last for at least another month (nights below freezing, days above freezing).

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I’ll share more of what I’ve learned as we progress with the collection and boiling over the next month.  My best source of info — enough to get going and not so much that you’ll be stalled — comes from this University of Maine agricultural extension pamphlet.

While I am new to maple sugaring, I am old hand at seed starting.  This is my favorite part of gardening and a great relief from winter!

I began by disinfecting all my pots and trays in bleach water solution in the bath tub (I decided against sharing that grotesque picture!).  I didn’t measure anything – just filled the tub with enough hot water to submerge the trays and dumped in a large glug of bleach (1 cup or less), swirled the bleach into the water and made sure it didn’t have that slimy feeling you get with too much bleach and let the dunking begin.  I did not clean the containers, mind you, just disinfected them.  I have a large collection of pots and trays and — life’s too short.  Mind you, this is the first time in all my years of gardening that I have bothered with disinfecting and that’s because I got these supplies from another gardener.  I’ve never had fungal problems with my seed starting so I never feel the need to disinfect.

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Air dry is best when disinfecting, but I rinsed my first set so I could get going right away.  The kids and I filled the first tray of 18 pots with a commercial soil-less seed starting mixture that we had around the house from some other project.

We planted — about 4 seeds per 3″ pot:

  • Tomatillos (2012) — they are rather carefree in form and easy easy easy; we are going to roast them and make salsa
  • Black Plum tomatoes (2010) — black tomatoes have a nice smokey flavor
  • Oxheart Pink tomatoes (2010) — I am searching for an elusive orange oxheart I grew many years ago and this was the closest I could find last time I ordered online
  • Tiger-like tomatoes (2009) — the earliest maturing variety I’ve ever grown, and they’re cute
  • San Marzano Lampadina plum tomato (2010) — The year I had a newborn and every other gardener got late blight on their tomatoes, these plants pumped out tomatoes under some serious neglect
  • Nicholson’s Yellow Cherry (2007) — The only cherry tomato in my stash, but I also prefer yellow tomatoes for their lower acid content
  • Ground cherry (2009) — a garden curiosity!  The grow in a husk like a tomatillo and taste a bit like pineapple.  They also like to wander all over the garden so I am replanting them this year.  My mother-in-law, who comes from farming stock, told me that this old-fashioned fruit will flourish in a wild patch once it finds the right spot; and that it makes great pie.
  • mini sweet peppers (2012) — seed saving adventure from the grocery store.  I struggle to get sweet peppers to set fruit and to have those fruit mature so I hope a mini variety will help make those problems easier.  And the kids love sweet peppers (and hate tomatoes).
  • Early Jalapeno (2007) — I find hot peppers easier to grow than sweet peppers.  And jalepenos are a crucial ingredient in my homemade refried black beans.
  • Ancho hot pepper (2010) — It’s not always easy to find a good variety of hot peppers where I live so why not grow my own and preserve them!
  • Cayenne pepper (2010) — They’re beautiful and useful in sparing amounts
  • Garden sage (2008) — I need more of this good stuff to tuck around the vegetable garden.  It attracts pollinators and repels pests.
  • Hyssop (2007) — Attracts bees and butterflies
  • Cumin (2008) — I love this spice and cannot resist trying to grow it, again!

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Yes I am using “old” seed and yes, I plant sparingly.  It works for me.  If germination rates are too low to be useful, I will know in the next 10 days and can replant with new seed, skip it for this year, or buy a plant at the nursery.  I know the paper towel germination check trick, but I cannot be bothered to do it because I have SO MANY packages of seeds.  How many, you’re wondering?  My spreadsheet shows around 230.  Some are being tossed today as things I refuse to ever grow again (shasta daisy, wormwood), or failed experiments (gerber daisy), or used up (Nicholson’s Yellow Cherry).  I hope to whittle this number down significantly this year and have many new plants growing in the garden instead.

Today is the new moon and we are trying out some biodynamic gardening methods this year.  The new moon is a good time to plant seeds because it promotes root growth (think tidal pulls, not magic).  Although Jeavons’s tome, How to Grow More Vegetables… is a great source of biodynamic gardening information, for an easy beginning I recommend the seed starting tool at Almanac.com, which gives best planting dates for several popular vegetables, including moon-favorable dates.  That link is set to Detroit, MI; put in your city or zip code to get the dates for your part of the US (sorry Canada!  And everybody else in the world!) .

Once my seeds are planted, they go on a wire shelf in front of the south-east facing window in my dining room.  It is the perfect plant nursery.  Plenty of sunlight and warmth and air movement (I do use domes until seedlings emerge to make them a littler warmer and moister) without the expense of grow lights or heat mats.  Yes, it makes my husband a little crazy to have this in my dining room but not so much that he wants to invest in a mini greenhouse.  Yet.

How are you breaking out of winter’s doldrums?  Having any dreams of green things?


1 Comment »

  1. Charlotte says:

    You’ve been busy!! I’ve got to get my seeds started today too. So much to do this time of year…before the outdoor work hits.

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