Thursday, March 31

Creative Sap Collecting

We've been trying several different methods for collecting sap. We're experimenting to find what works best, is simple and low cost. My dad tried this set up out recently.

He used tubing that fits right into the spile (tap) and ran the tubing into a empty, clean milk jug. He just drilled a hole the right size in the jug and put the tube in. It worked great! The only problem is the sap is flowing so strong right now, the gallon filled up and over flowed before we could check it. So, we're going to switch to five gallon pails we got free from a restaurant. If we could check more frequently, the jugs would work just fine. With this method using tubes, we don't have to hang the container on the tree. That's an advantage when using odd shaped containers that don't hang well off the spile.

We'll be boiling down some sap this weekend. More updates to follow.

Tuesday, March 29

Sweet Maple Days

My kids have been thrilled with the process of making Maple syrup. We've been collecting the sap, trying out different containers and methods, and boiled down our first batch. It's so much fun to take part in this New England tradition, knowing in centuries gone by, our ancestors made Maple Syrup pretty much the same way.

This past Sunday, we visited Harris Farm in Dayton for Maine Maple Sunday. It was packed with cars from several states lining the road, the parking lot overflowing, and the line for pancakes snaking out the door and around the property. We waited in line about 30 minutes to tour the Sugar Shack. My kids saw a commercial evaporator at work and asked lots of questions. After, they ate Maple donuts and Maple Kettle Popcorn, all made at Harris Farm. In addition to the syrup production, we visited the dairy cows, chickens, and the baby goats.

We are enjoying this sweet Maple tradition around here. I'll give a update on our own Maple adventure very soon.

Monday, March 28

Dave Hunter on Solitary Bees-Guest Blogger

Are you raising solitary bees? It’s easy, fun, and extremely important for you to do so! The honey bees and bumble bees face an uncertain future. You may be needed to help keep food on your table in a few years!

Spring has arrived for both coasts. Social and solitary bees are here just in time to pollinate our flowers and fruit trees. Social bees are what we typically think of when we say “bees”. Honey bees and bumble bees are two popular bees that live in hives and work “socially” towards a common purpose; to rear their young and keep the hive humming. Whether they’re in a tree, a box, or underground, social bees work as a team. Solitary bees are just that… they each live a life by themselves. The females do each need a male to mate with. But once mated, each female performs her queenly duties by herself for about 4-6 weeks until she dies. For the spring “blue orchard” mason bees, their life begins when the day temperatures reach about 55 degrees (March-April) and finishes in late May. Because these solitary bees have only a hole to be concerned with, they are extremely gentle. Only when caught in a life threatening position will they sting. They make the perfect garden companion!

Both coasts are home to the native blue orchard bee with the Rockies separating two “cousins” or sub-species. What about the honey bee and bumble bees facing severe challenges? Within this decade, many scientists suggest that our commercial crops may not achieve adequate pollination. Costs of food will rise because we won’t have enough produced. This could happen to many orchards within 5-7 years. What can you do to help? Consider successfully raising solitary bees, beginning with the blue orchard mason bee. All it takes are a few correctly sized holes in your garden, a bit of pollen, some nearby mud and you’re good to go. You can buy mason bees online or try to find them in your yard. Crown Bees is teaming with gardeners across the US to help them be successful.

Read more at Within 5-7 years, depending on where you live, your excess native bees may be vital to your regional orchards or crops. Crown Bees’ far reaching newsletter “Bee-Mail” helps gardeners know “when to what” so that you can be more successful. Your success with mason bees may be critical to help pollinate your local orchards! If you’re lucky enough to already be raising them, please don’t use drilled holes in blocks of wood. Why? Read our FAQ section in our website Happy pollinating! Dave Hunter O. 425.949.7954 C. 206.851.1263

Tuesday, March 22

Reply to Michele: Pigeon Peas and Maple Trees

Your mom was right. I had to hunt, but I found canned Pigeon Peas at a grocery store in Somersworth, NH, which is right on the Maine/NH border. I bought three cans for 99 cents each.  Thanks for the smoothie recipe. That sounds delicious.

We checked our maple buckets and found they are nearly full already. My daughter was thrilled to see all that sap. She asked if it hurts the trees. I explained it will heal over just like the cuts we get. My dad is borrowing some equipment to boil down the sap. It needs to be done outdoors. I'll keep you posted!

Reply to Caroline:Clarification on Pigeon Peas & Smoothies

Can't wait to hear more about your progress in making Maple Syrup. Make sure to take lots of photos so we can post them on the blog. About the smoothies. In the winter I just buy bags of frozen fruit. I love Strawberries so one recipe I use quite a bit is to add 2 cups of Strawberries to 1 cup of Almond Milk. Make sure that the Strawberries are half frozen so that you don't have to add ice. I do add a few spoons of Sugar, but I think you can also add Honey. I am looking forward to trying the Stevia that we are growing this year as a sugar substitute.

My mother got back to me the question we had on the Pigeon Peas. I had noticed that our family calls it Peas & Rice, while others call it Rice & Peas. She said that they are used interchangeably depending on the island.

She also wanted me to tell you that you might be able to find canned Pigeon Peas in the grocery store there.

Monday, March 21

Note to Michele: Peas, Maple Tapping and Kids in braces

Hi Michele,

Today, I checked our local grocery store for pigeon peas- no luck. I will be visiting Dover, NH this week so will check there as they have several grocery stores, but I'm skeptical I'll find them. I'll keep you posted.

We went to my Dad's house to make more buckets to collect maple sap. He said when he was a kid they made their own taps from sumac branches and collected the sap in empty coffee cans. My kids really enjoyed watching the sap run off the taps into the buckets. They were surprised how fast it runs out of the tree. 

Hopefully we'll collect enough to make syrup, but we need quite a bit to be boiled down. We're going to see if a neighbor will let us tap some large sugar maples on her property. I love Maple EVERYTHING (sugar, syrup, candy, cookies, etc.) so keep your fingers crossed for us. I've embedded a video below from the University of Maine for you to see. It shows some basics about tapping trees. We used the same metal taps that you will see in the video.

In other news, my daughter had her braces tightened today, and my son had braces put on, so I'm preparing liquid meals for the next several days. Both kids are extremely uncomfortable. I'm making lots of smoothies and soups. Do you have any good recipes? ~Caroline

Reply to Caroline's note on Pigeon Peas

Hi Caroline. I got started in the garden yesterday. The lows are averaging 40 now with the highs in the 50's, but with the rain and wind it is feeling significantly colder. My body has now grown accustomed to the weather here now.

About the Pigeon Peas. I did think my mother was a little crazy when she mentioned that she grew them in Trinidad because it is a very hot climate and I always heard that peas liked cool weather. However, like we found technically it is not a pea and is grown in hot climates like India. I believe it is used a great deal in East Indian Cooking as well. Trinidad is one of the most diverse islands in the Carribean culture wise so a great many people have East Indian roots.

Having grown up with my mother cooking with it I tend to take it for granted. I was surprised when you mentioned that you had never eaten it before. I know that you mentioned that there is one supermarket in your town and that you were going to look for it there. If you don't find it I am sure my mother would be happy to send you some.

I asked her to share her recipe with us and she said she would be happy to do so. It sort of is a stable item on most Caribbean families cooking list.

First Day in the Garden, Portland

Yesterday was my first official day in the Garden. The weather forecast said high 40's, but it was so windy and cold that I almost talked myself out of going. Once there I was overwhelmed by the work that lay ahead of me. My beds were full of weeds. Weeds of the worst kind too. Grass. Luckily some of the neighbors Crimson Clover cover crop had found a home in my plot too. I found the Crimson Clover easy to pull out, but the grass was another matter.

I managed to hoe most of the grass out, because even though the soil was damp I could not pull them out by hand. While doing so I kept thinking about the section in the " Gardening West of the Cascade" book where Steve Solomon says to prioritize weeding, with grasses being the tip top priority of weeds to remove weekly.
I was a little worried that by using a hoe that the grasses would grow back , but I remember reading that even though this were to happen that the grasses would grow back weaker next time. With 4 hours devoted to this task alone on Sunday I would say that 70% of the weeds are gone.

The rest of my day was spent planting Peas in the summer plant bed as a green manure and the Snow Peas from our list to be used as food. I also made 6 trips to the community mulch area and re-mulched some of my paths. A few of the Cabbages and Kales that I planted late fall are growing, but they most of the leaves have been eaten by hungry winter critters allready. Not sure what to do about that.

On the list of Gardening projects for next week is the removal of a nasty bed of weeds growing by the chain link fence where I plan to grow the Runner Beans come May or June. It will take some serious work to remove those so I plan to lay down large sheets of cardboard and to which I am going to add a thick layer of mulch on top. I hope that by next year all the weeds will have died and I will be left with rich soil that is suitable for planting.

Sunday, March 20

Note to Michele: Caribbean Rice and Pigeon Peas


How's the weather in Portland, Oregon? It's officially Spring in the Northern Hemisphere, but Maine still has some snow on the ground and more snow due tomorrow. I'll plant peas as soon as I can work the ground. I already have a packet of sweet peas, though I'd like to also try growing the pigeon peas that your mother mentioned. I know she said they grow well in Trinidad, but do you know if they will also grow in cool climates?

I found this demonstration of cooking Caribbean Rice and Peas. We'll have to ask your mother for her personal recipe, too. 
 ~ Caroline

Thursday, March 17

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Dear Little Shamrock of Ireland

There's a dear little plant that grows in our isle,
'Twas St Patrick himself, sure, that set it;
And the sun on his labor with pleasure did smile,
And with dew from his eye often wet it.
It thrives through the bog, through the brake, and the mire land;
And he called it the dear little shamrock of Ireland...

                                                                        - Andrew Cherry

Wednesday, March 16

Grounding in the Garden

Grounding and the Garden
There are many ways to replenish one's spirit in the garden. Spirit can be thought of as energy, worship, or any spiritual practice that restores our sense of self. This restoration of self is known to many as grounding oneself. Grounding concepts are focused on restoring a connection with the earth and your body. Those that feel ungrounded can feel stressed, dizzy, deep in thought and not connected with their body. Restoring grounding reduces stress, clears the mind, and promotes inner peace. Because of its connection with the earth, the garden is the perfect place to ground oneself.

Ways to ground oneself in the garden:
1. Find a place to meditate. It can be any place in your garden where you can place a chair. Among some scented herbs such as Lavender or Rosemary would be ideal. If it is summer you will be able to take off your shoes and place your bare feet on the ground. If it is winter time, bundle up, keep your shoes on, but find a sunny spot to sit if possible.
2. Sit with your body relaxed, legs uncrossed, eyes closed with hands resting on your knees palms up.
3. Close your eyes and try to quiet your mind. Try to inhale deeply and exhale slowly. Imagine that you are a beautiful butterfly in your garden flying from one beautiful flower to the other. Imagine the intoxicating smell from the flowers in the garden. Imagine yourself as the butterfly admiring the kaleidoscope of flower colors. Try to imagine yourself becoming the butterfly
4. Try to block out any worrying thoughts or concerns that you have.
5. Next imagine a root growing from the ground up through your feet grounding you to the earth.
6. Use the above forms of guided imagery for 15-60 minutes each day.
7. When you feel ready to end your grounding session imagine a white light cleansing your body. Imagine this light entering your crown and moving down your body. Also, imagine the white light around your body.
8. Open your eyes and just sit for a few moments to readjust to your surroundings.
9. Enjoy the feeling of being grounded in your body and have a glorious day.
Try to take the time each day to do this exercise or do whenever you feel out of sorts. You can even create your own imagery and change your gardening environment. For example, imagine that you are on a beach or in a Zen garden. If you take this time for yourself you will find that you will be more at peace with yourself and others.

Monday, March 14

A Garden in Every Childhood

There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place
where colors are brighter, the air softer, and the morning
more fragrant than ever again.
- Elizabeth Lawrence

Anyone who remembers the gardens of their childhood realizes that every child deserves to have the experience of gardening. The smell of the warm earth after a rain, the feel of dirt under the fingernails, the taste of peas right out of the pod tugged fresh off the vine...these are memories imprinted upon a child's memory and soul.

Gardening with children provides endless possibilities for learning and growth, both physical and emotional. Learning how to grow ones own food could very well be a valuable survival skill. Gardening involves all the five senses, and when the senses are engaged, holistic learning happens.

While digging, planting, caring for and harvesting food is a magical activity in and of itself, kids also love crafts, science experiments and imaginative activities. In this space, we hope to share some cool ideas to add to the fun of gardening.

The Bean Tipi
So easy to do! The most difficult part is finding the poles. We used saplings culled from our property. Once you've located poles, form a tipi and fasten with rope at the top. Make sure the tipi is secure and will not fall. Using string, wind string around each pole of the tipi leaving about 12 inches of space between rows (though closer spacing will work if you like) Leave an open space for a door. Plant pole beans and morning glories at the base of the tipi. As the vines grow, train them around the structure. Over the summer, the vines will cover the tipi creating a hideaway for the kids.

Above: Our bean tipi early in the season. We planted summer squash around the base and trained the vines around the outside of the tipi. Cukes will also climb the poles.

African Violets

My mother has a green thumb, but she's has an extra special gift with African Violets. I love the way she has them displayed in her picture window. Dad installed some glass shelves and the violets are in special ceramic planters made for African Violets. They always look lovely. She's starting a few slips in water for me. I haven't had much luck in the past and gave her my African Violets to rescue from an early death. I'm eager to give it another try. If you have any special African Violet tips that might help me, please leave your tips in the comments.

Wednesday, March 9

Campanula Cochlearifolia

Today I found a sweet plant for my new terrarium. This is an Elizabeth Oliver Campanula (Campanula cochlearifolia)  I thought it looked like a miniature rose bush. The attendant told me it is hardy outside, so I'm not sure how it will do in a terrarium, but I'll watch it closely. If it doesn't like the conditions, I'll move it outside in the Spring. I just love this dainty plant.

Thursday, March 3

Time to start Peas in Portland, Oregon

The weather has turned very wet and cold here so it is hard for me to even think about planting right now. However, I have been told by an experienced Portland gardener that it is time to plant peas. First on my agenda is removing the weeds that never seem to die in our milder climate.

We are growing the Oregon Sugar Pod II Snow Pea. It is a bush plant with 4-5 inch pods. I am also considering growing another type of pea as a green manure crop. This is an idea from the book I am reading (Gardening West of the Cascades). Steve Solomon suggests using peas this way because they break down the soil and add needed nutrients. He pulls the peas up in early summer and composts them when he is ready to plant.

I like this idea because peas are easy to grow and easy to remove.

Growing Gardeners

I am lucky to have a resident Master Gardener at my house. My son took the Master Gardener Training last year. My recent article in Home Education Magazine is about his wonderful experience with the Master Gardener Volunteer program, as well as our experience with the Kids Can Grow program. You can read "Growing Gardeners" here.
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