It appears that spring has finally sprung in Southwest Michigan! There’s still a cool nip in the windy air, but the sun is shining and temperatures are reaching up into the sixties at midday. It’s a welcome sight!
I’m so glad that things have warmed up around here because after returning from a trip to sunny, spring-has-sprung Tennessee, I don’t think my heart could have handled super-cold and snow. We had a fabulous time on our family vacation to Gatlinburg and the highlight was our time spent enjoying nature at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We hiked a couple of relatively easy trails (with an eight-year-old and two-year-old in tow) to see some gorgeous waterfalls and scenic forests. I’ve been studying permaculture a lot lately so I couldn’t help but make observations about the climates and microclimates we encountered. (Did I just hear you snore? Hang in there, I’m not going to get too scientific on you!) It was a pleasure to be there just at the cusp of spring because we were able to watch buds and leaves and flowers unfold as the week went on.
I felt like I had a front-row seat to watching the mountains wake up from a winter nap. What a joy to watch the ground go from nothing but moss and leaves to a sea dotted with opening spring flowers. And to see trees transform from barren sticks to branches of blossoms and tiny green, budding leaves. The intermittent rain showers came at just the right time so as to avoid ruining our plans while simultaneously stocking up the mountain streams for fantastic, fast-flowing water shows. I loved it!
Another thing I enjoyed was encountering familiar or edible plants in the wild. I guess it’s a nerdy gardener thing, but it was fun for me to find a plant and know just by looking at it that it must be related to a strawberry, or a carrot or a sweet violet. I wished I’d remembered to take pictures of all these sightings, but here are a couple I did manage to snap.
We enjoyed several of the area attractions, including Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, the Guinness World Records Museum, Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze, the shops in downtown Gatlinburg, Wild Bear Falls Waterpark, Forbidden Caverns and the Arts & Crafts District near Gatlinburg. Even with all there was to do in the area, one of our favorite experiences was simply relaxing at our very private cabin.
Staying here was an enlightening experience for us. It inspired us to live more simply. To be more specific, we realized that we could thoroughly enjoy ourselves with minimal “stuff.” Packing a Toyota Camry with everything four people need for a week (including a toddler’s stroller, pack-n-play and other bulky items) meant being nominal and creative about what we brought along. Our cabin had everything we needed, plus a few extras (like board games). We didn’t and don’t need the gobs of “stuff” we have at our home. Maybe this seems strange or like a common sense revelation I should have had years ago, but it was liberating to not have to pick up mountains of toys or wash billions of dishes or sort bundles of magazines and papers. On our first full day back from the trip, we started purging. I can’t wait to share that journey with you as it unfolds.
Meanwhile, Back at the Farm
Despite our absence, the farm chugged along. Fortunately our micro-farm means micro-sized-farm-sitter-duties. I’m so thankful that Papa (my father-in-law) was able and willing to feed our chickens, gather eggs, care for our bunny, gather our maple sap, take care of our dogs and miscellaneous other things while we were gone.
Maple Syrup Update
By the time we returned, our maple sap count had risen to just under 60 gallons. That’s about half of what I was hoping for… apparently my hopes were set a bit high. That makes sense since 20 gallons per tree in a season is pushing the upper end of the scale and we only have four trees. With all of the tiny-thaw/long-freeze weather we had this March, there were very few days where sap was actually running at our house. Oh well… I may not have a ton of maple syrup, but I’m still pleased to be producing my own!
The current plan is to utilize Papa’s evaporator early this next week to process our liquid gold pronto. The weather is warming up and since sap can spoil at warm temperatures, I need to get to it as soon as possible. Unfortunately I don’t have space to refrigerate 12 five-gallon buckets, so they’re hanging out in the shady, cool garage for now. Because I love a good experiment, and I want some insurance against spoiled sap, I am also considering an experiment: Freezing the sap. There’s a generally held principle that the water in sap freezes but the sugar content does not. When you freeze a container of sap, supposedly the ice can be discarded because it has no (or minimal) sugar content and would just have to be boiled off in the evaporation process anyway. If this is true, freezing sap, discarding the ice and then boiling what’s left should significantly reduce the amount of fuel and time needed to make syrup. I’m going to give it a whirl – but only with a portion of our supply. I love a good experiment, but I love maple syrup more!
While we were gone I also did a hands-off experiment. The moon-favorable time to plant many of our seeds (such as broccoli, kale, lettuce and chard) would have expired by the time we returned home from vacation. I didn’t want to wait a full month before starting these seeds so I started them the night before we left. Most seeds take 3-5 days to germinate any way so I knew my seedlings would be very small by the time I returned, if they existed at all. I planted my seeds in trays of garden soil and made sure they were very (very) moist. Then in each tray I created a make-shift olla using a small clay pot. I placed the pot down into the soil and filled it with water. Because the soil around it was already saturated, the pot did not leak water from the hole or the sides. Like with real ollas, the idea here is that as the moisture level in the surrounding soil is reduced, the moisture inside the terra cotta pot (or through the hole in the bottom in this case) will be wicked out by the soil and used by the plants. I used ollas both for my newly-planted seedlings and for existing green babies that needed to survive a week without me.
I’m pleased to report that everything survived! A couple of newly planted seeds had not yet germinated by the time we arrived home. Hopefully they will emerge soon and are just slow (perhaps not enough warmth?) and not drowned.
I was also pleased to see that our gingerroot also decided to start sprouting while we were away!
Chitting (Sprouting) Potatoes
The last little update I want to share with you has to do with our potato seeds. While we were away I laid the seed potatoes out in trays beneath a semi-sunny window. (I was fearful that if I left them in some of the sunniest locations the dogs would eat them. This window was in a closed bedroom.) The ideas behind chitting potatoes is that exposure to sunlight causes them to begin sprouting and that pre-planting sprouting results in a faster harvest. I had a good success with the process last year.
Here’s what he potatoes looked like when we left. (Pardon the poor lighting… it was very early in the morning).
And here’s what they looked like when we returned.
They didn’t progress along as far as I was hoping, but this is still good. I gave them a couple more days of sunlight before planting them.
Now that we’re home and the weather is warm, I’m up to my eyeballs in chores and impending projects. There’s so much to share, but I’ve already blathered on enough for one post. Stay tuned – there’s more coming soon!