Saturday, March 6, 2010

Two women and three dogs looking for a tree to drill -- It's Spring!

Hello, all.

The snow is still deep on the ground here in NW PA, but you can feel that things are starting change. the air is still cold, down into the low teens each night, but up into the 30’s and even the 40’s during the day. The sun feels hot, and the roads are losing the coating of ice and snow and patches of bare ground are starting to spread. We have two. One right by the house and one near the pond where a tree broke up the wind and didn’t let a drift form. It’s exciting.

The other week, we made soup for lunch, and I dug last year’s bolero carrots out of the mulch and used them for the soup and also for a snack. It worked really well. Note to self: a flag or a stake to mark the carrots still in the ground would help a lot, especially as we have a bout two and a half feet of snow on the ground still, and the garden was difficult to locate!

Also, it is seed time again. I am working a different silly job now which pays a lot more than my previous silly job, even though with this silly job I’m going to be laid off soon. My previous silly job was in a call center, and this is in an office, but definitely the lowest man on the totem pole type stuff where I literally spend about eight hours a day pulling the staples out of packets of paper, scanning them into a computer, and stapling them back up again. Needless to say, I have been spending inordinate amounts of time thinking up seeds. Unfortunately, my mom who was supposed to be my voice of reason, is not my partner in crime and has been requesting that I add certain seeds to the list. I have a lot of things to plant.

So far, it is a little too early to start many things. I did start a flat of lemon grass the other day, and there are always things that need cold treated. I have hellebore, santolina, inula elcampine (which the dye worthiness of I have never yet been able to determine, as the natural plant dye lady had never heard of it and it was not in any dying books at all, though supposedly the flowers will yield yellow dye and the roots blue) and angelica. There are a few things I am excited to try, but will hold off until they actually sprout.

Started a new venture today! Maple syrup. I may or may not have mentioned that my sister took a family visit to Vermont over the fall and returned with a sap bucket as a present. Last fall, I combed the hillside for a likely sugar maple, and found exactly one within easy walking distance of the house. All our back area has been planted with evergreens, and the majority of the rest of the area is overgrown cow pasture. There is one wooded stand, though, with older trees. There is a fantastic oak, a majestic ash, and a mostly dead sugar maple. So, this morning, my mom, the dog, and I took a little hike and I hopped the barbed wire fence to hand the sap bucket.

I have made maple syrup one time before. My grandfather made a spile out of an elderberry stick split halfways up and hollowed out, and we boiled down the sap, but I remember it being a big pain in the butt and also kind of sugared. Hopefully this time, I will have more patience and do a better job!

I just read an article in the paper about collecting sap. and the gentleman in the article said the hold does not have to be more than an inch to an inch and a half deep. The sap bucket that we have comes in four pieces: a little metal spile, a hook, the bucket and a lid. The spile goes in the hole, the hook fits around it, the bucket hangs and leans against the tree and the lid makes a little tent on top. To make the hole I also followed the cue of the article in the paper and brought along one of the my cordless drills and a fat drill bit.

After almost getting barbed wire in a place that barbed wire should not be, losing (and finding) the hook, and getting the rubber mallet away from the dogs, the hole was drilled, the spile was pounded, the hook was on backwards, the spile was removed, the hook corrected, the spile replaced, the bucket hung, and the lid installed. Now, all we do is wait and check back in a day or so to see if any sap is running.

By the way, this is the perfect weather for maple tree tapping. The temperatures during the day need to be about freezing but it needs to get below freezing at night. This makes the sap run faster due tot eh fact that sap, like water, expands when it freezes. As the upper parts of the tree thaw, the moister within the tree contracts, creating almost alike a vacuum within the tree which brings more sap up into the tree. Then that freezes and thaws and the sap runs more and more. Eventually, they trees bud, and the sap is not good for syrup any longer. According to the newspaper, there will be a short season this year because it took so long for the temperatures to get above freezing.

Over the next few weeks, as the snow melts off, I’ll get a chance ot assess how the gardens did for the winter. I put in a variety of bulbs, and also my mom added perennials to the “hitching post” area and made a new rock garden near the pond that we’ll need to do some more work on. Then there was the new raised bed we added last year. The rock siding on the house will be finished, which will allow the herb gardens to get a little better back there. It’s so hard to wait, but at least seed starting's just around the corner!