I am beginning a narrative (blog?) on our agricultural activities at Sandhill Farm; I hope to do it for the entire year. For more info re Sandhill Farm, see http://www.sandhillfarm.org
Feb 2-3, 08. we tap the maple trees.
It feels like the beginning of the agricultural year – even though it is still the dead of winter. These years, I usually do it on weekends so that Renay (11) is not at school. She enjoys it which makes it more fun for me too. Sat was a lovely day and we tapped about half of them – but renay was at a school function. We did the other half on Sunday after lunch. Usually, we go with a tractor and wagon, but this time, we went in our “new” 4 wheel drive pickup – to one of our maple yards, about ¼ mi from our yard.
Just as we (Renay, Oliver (a visitor) & me) are heading out, it begins to snow. By the time we are tapping, it is coming down faster than I have ever seen it here in mizzourah. Huge fluffy snowflakes that immediately blanket everything; we lay down the hammer or drill and a minute later, we can’t find it! It becomes comical – we are trying to work quickly so we don’t lose stuff, but the snow just keeps falling faster. One of the real joys in this process is to watch Renay sucking on the tubes immediately after she attaches it to the tap: she kneels by the tree and sucks on this long tube attached to a tree! Primal nursing.
Renay is trying to capture the tapping process on our digital camera: it’s challenging becuz the heavy snowfall makes it all appear dark & cloudy. Our gloves get wet and then our hands are cold. By the time we finish (an hour later), there are several inches of snow covering everything. Awesome! We keep being amazed by the amount of snow that is falling. It feels dramatic to finish in this kind of weather.
Now we wait for the sap to drip from the maple trees into our buckets. And wait. And wait. 5 days later we gather the sap – only 40 gallons of sap (it takes about 40 gal of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup). The next 2 weeks are bitterly cold – no sap flow.
Finally! The sap is flowing again. We gather the sap and cook it down: 105 gal of sap from our trees and Alyson from Redearth farms and her helpers from dancing rabbit bring over 50 gal. gigi, renay, and I take turns stoking the fire – all day. It is incredibly warm outside – it hits 75F! renay is in a halter top. Finally we let the fire die down and end up with about 8 gal of semi-syrup – the pan is too large and has an uneven bottom – so we can’t finish it completely here. Over the next few days, I bring up a few gallons at a time and put it in pots on the wood stove to finish it. we end up with just over 18 quarts of syrup: ratio of about 42 to 1.
Weather turns cold again – very little sap for the rest of the week.
Sidebar: What is the maple syrup process?
Tapping. Note: we tap soft (silver) maple trees – since that is what we have on our land; most of the commercial maple syrup on the market comes from hard maple trees in Canada and northern US. We have planted hard maple trees – but they are very slow growing; our 20 year old trees will probably take another 10 years before we can tap them.
How do you find maple trees? One way is to look up at the canopy – the maple trees have swollen reddish buds – after awhile, the eye picks them out readily (by now, I know where all the trees on our land are). Then you inspect the trunk of the tree to find the scars from previous years’ tapping – new taps should be about 4” away from old ones; also, we prefer to tap the south sides of trees because when the sun shines, it warms that side of the tree and makes it flow more. We have been tapping some of our trees for 20 years so they are pockmarked by grown over old holes and it is a challenge to find the right spot. When we do, we drill a 5/16” hole 2-3” deep with an electric cordless drill (we used to use a brace & bit – but the cordless is faster/easier). Another person hammers in a plastic tap (we buy them from maple sugaring supply places. Then attach a plastic tube to the tap and the other end into a bucket on the ground.
How many taps? The rule of thumb is that a tree needs to be at least 12” in diameter (at chest height) to be tapped. A tree that is more than 20” can have 2 taps and over 28”, 3 taps. We run the tubes from one tree into the same bucket – usually, a 5 gal bucket. We do not put more than 3 taps in a tree.
What makes the sap flow? as with many life processes, it is still somewhat mysterious and magical to me. The sap flows when the daytime temperature is above freezing and nights are below freezing. Why? It is kind of like a pump: the sap in the sapwood of the tree (not the cambium) expands with higher temps thus creating pressure, which causes the sap to flow into our buckets to relieve the pressure (if there are any wounds in the tree, it flows from there too). Low temps at night make the sap contract thereby creating a vacuum, causing the sap to be sucked up into the sapwood from the roots (where it was stored in the winter). Then the rising temps make the sap expand again, etc. But wait! We have freezing/thawing temperatures in December & January as well. Does the sap flow then too? No. the sap rises in the spring (I’ve been told that you can also collect sap in the fall – we have never tried it) – apparently, the inner energy in the trees begins to stir according to some inner clock (when the geese start flying north?). when it’s spring, the sap rises…
How fast does it flow? It depends on the weather/temperatures. Occasionally, a tree will fill a 5 gal bucket in a day, but it more often takes a week or more. In the same time, one tree may yield 5 gal of sap while a neighboring tree will give only 1. why? I have no idea! We generally put out about 100 taps in about 50 trees every year these days. Our total annual yield has been between 16 and 76 quarts of syrup in the last decade – which translates to between10 and 60 gallons of sap per tree. In our operation, it takes about 2 hours of work for every quart of maple syrup.
How do we cook? History: we first cookeded maple in 1988: Ann & Ceilee decided to tap a big old maple near our pond as a home schooling project. They cooked it down on our kitchen stove – it took forever, but it worked! We had just purchased another property, which had a grove of large maple trees and we realized we could use our sorghum cooking pan to increase the speed and efficiency of cooking.
The next year we tapped approximately 20 trees and cooked it in the sorghum pan (a stainless steel pan 3’x16’ over an open wood fire) – it was so much faster! We have been cooking it there until 2 years ago when we converted our sorghum cooking operation to a wood fired steam boiler system. The boiler uses water to make steam which passes through copper tubes inside the juice to boil it; however, we can’t use this process because during the time we process maple, we have freezing temperatures and so we would have to drain the boiler and all the tubes every time it was going to freeze – WAY TOO MUCH WORK! Solution? We took the old sorghum pan and cut it down to 3’x 9’ and moved it to a separate space in the same building (not quite that simple since we had to build a firebox with firebrick in a new location for the pan. Maple was the one to be moved since it is a small part of what we process in Sugar Shack: sorghum is our main income producing business: we make about 7-800 gallons, and 1-200 gal of honey compared to 5-20 gallons of maple).
Back to how we cook. With sorghum, we cook the raw juice into the finished syrup in a continuous process – all in the same day (or even hours). I assume some do the same with maple – but we don’t(I have never watched anyone else cook maple). we do not sell any of our maple – it is only for our own use – and our pan is not designed to finish cooking small batches. When we have enough sap, we cook it down and then leave some in the bottom of the pan so it will not burn. When we have more sap we add it to the pan and cook it again – so the same sap can get boiled 4 or more times before we have enough that we can take it off and finish it in pots on our wood stove in the kitchen, where we can control the heat and concentrate the syrup w/o burning it. The last step is to ladle it into quart jars for storage for the rest of the year – we do not filter it and so we have “sediment/maple sand” in the bottom of our jars – it tastes the same as the rest of the syrup, but if we were to sell it, we would probably have to filter it.
Cooking together. When dancing rabbit eco-village became our neighbors 10 years ago, some folks there were interested in making maple syrup. they tapped some trees on their land as well as on neighbors. They bring the sap to our place since we have the facility to cook it efficiently. We divide the syrup by the # of hours we contribute and/or the sap we bring in. when alyson moved to dr, she became the point person for the maple energy since she had family experience making it in new England. Now she lives at redearth farms and coordinates the maple energy at redearth & dancing rabbit.
March 5, 2008
Another “first” in our agricultural year. Gigi plants Walla Walla onion seed (don’t you love that name??), celery, and leeks, in flats today to be transplanted into the garden later in the spring. The flats are homemade wooden boxes that we fill with our home made compost, stored in buckets in our root cellar so that it would not be frozen now.
The flats are placed on a table in a large south facing window in one of our houses and covered with plastic to keep them from drying out. Here they will sprout, get thinned, weeded, watered, and then transplanted into the garden in about 6 weeks.
Tomorrow Michael starts planting the brassicas – he will plant cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli in flats.
How do we decide when to plant what? (No, we don’t consult google!) We keep planting records so that if seedlings are too early late for when the garden is ready for the transplants, we adjust the timing next year. Of course, every year is different and it is always taking a chance.
What about planting by the phases or signs of the moon? There is a long history of this and various traditions. At different times, we have planted by moon phases (as outlined in the Farmer’s Almanac): 1st & 2nd quarters are for crops that produce above ground, 3rd quarter for those below the ground, 4th quarter for tilling, weeding, or whatever. These days, some of us like to plant by the moon signs as outlined in the BioDynamic system in which the sign changes about every few days. But the main factor we go by is common sense and the weather: it makes no sense to plant in muddy soil – no matter what the moon phase or sign. Mostly we feel that the energy of the person doing the planting is probably more determinative than the moon. I remember when I first got into planting by the moon and I was chatting with one of the local old time farmers. I was enthusiastic and perhaps thought myself eloquent when I noticed a smirk on his face. What do you think about that? I asked. “Well”, he drawls, “it’s rather interesting – all this time I been farming I was thinking it was the sun that made things grow.” Ah yes, humbling…
I begin pruning fruit trees – we have about 40 trees; almost half are peach and the rest a mix of apple, pear, & cherry.
I keep seeing geese flying overhead – HUGE flocks. More mixed than I remember – snow geese (white wing bottoms) along with the regular Canada geese.
It seems to me I’ve seen at least 3 times as many migrating geese this year than before – not sure what to make of it – but it is reassuring and heartwarming to hear their honking and seeing their flight patterns.
A major happening today was the first planting in our new green house – it is not finished yet – see our website (sandhillfarm.org for more details). Gigi planted spring greens including lettuces & bokchoi and garlic in a bed. We usually plant our garlic in the fall, but she had ordered some new seed to try which we received during the winter.
We gathered another 80 gal of maple sap today & alyson brought over 60 gal yesterday. The sap was hard to deal with because about half of it was frozen in a big chunk in the bucket and would not come out (our jugs have small – about 2” diameter holes in a 5 gal bucket). We set the jugs out in the sun and/or near the cooking fire to melt.
More maple. We bring in 120 gal of sap and dr folx brot over 60. we cook all day; balmy weather. The buds in the maple trees are swelling a lot – usually indicates that the season will soon be over – unless we have very cold weather.
More fruit tree pruning – today w/ apple. Apple returned a few days ago. I initiated her to tree pruning (she has pruned small fruit before). Teaching someone is always interesting in that it makes me articulate what I do automatically when I do it on my own; pruning requires making decisions constantly – which twigs/branches to cut or not; not everyone feels comfortable doing that. Next 2 days my right wrist is achy – from working the pruning shears.
Michael & Gigi have been planting: flats as well as beds in the greenhouse. Today Gigi planted in beds outside in the garden.
Michael & Gigi transfer flats of young seedlings to the greenhouse. WAHOO! This is one of the main reasons we built the green house: a place to raise seedlings for transplanting into the garden. Until now we had the seedling trays in Karma – one of our residences because it has very large south facing windows. As the seedlings grow, we often take them outside during the day so that they have more sun and then we bring them back in for the night – either because of possible stormy or cold weather. The flats are quite heavy and shlepping them in & out daily is not anyone’s favorite activity. Having them in the greenhouse would eliminate that chore. (Another other main reason for the green house is to have hardy greens in beds for winter and early spring eating.
Michael & Gigi note that the seedlings are now much greener – after only one day in the green house. It indicates that they are getting full spectrum sunlight – one of the touted characteristics of the hi tech material we used for the roof and the upper part of walls of the green house; it validates our choice.
This bit is not agricultural but is too significant to omit. We had a Peace Vigil today in Memphis MO, our county seat of about 2000. I’ve been here 28 years and can’t remember anything like this in our county before. I became inspired to do some kind of action by United for Peace & Justice. They organized actions all across the country to commemorate 5 years of the US war in Iraq. I talked to Renay about it and she was excited about it. We approached folx at dancing rabbit and redearth, and many there were enthusiastic. Our vigil consisted of about 20 of us holding peace and anti war signs on the courthouse square facing traffic from 4 to 6 pm. We had 2 veterans come up to us and tell us how misguided we were, a few others expressed support, and many waved from their vehicles. We had put up flyers inviting people to join us but only Chelsi, Renay’s good school friend, did. It felt good to call peoples’ attention to the devastating effects of an ongoing war – it is so easy to not think about it.
Equinox. Some years we have a gathering or party of some kind to mark the occasion – but not this year. We had a big bonfire with neighboring folx 2 days ago, a peace vigil in town the next day and we are having our annual community retreat now (we have meetings for 5 days). All of us go for a landwalk together – most of it through woods. It is a glorious day: balmy, breezy, full of “spring”.
Apple is moved to take the plastic off the walls of our screened in porch (to keep winter winds & snow out) and we begin eating some of our meals out here again.
Another harbinger of spring: the frogs. The spring peepers started about a week ago and the western chorus frogs joined in a few days later. Now they sing most all day & night in the numerous ponds all around – mating calls/ritual: glorious music, raucous energy, anticipation of copulation & species survival! Such a blessing to have as the background sounds – instead of traffic – in our daily lives. (these frogs are very small – about 1”. At dusk, I creep stealthily up to one of the ponds to catch a glimpse of them. I am quiet enough that they keep singing all around me but I still can’t see a single one! I stand up to get a better look – total silence. I crouch back down. In a few minutes, they start up again – tentatively at first, then building into a crescendo until the sound reverberates around my ears. I still can’t see a single one! My frustration gradually melts into wonder: my cup is more than half full – I feel their life force pulsating – cradling me. Why do I want to see them? I appreciate that they ignore my presence. I relax and enjoy their exuberance.
On our walk we noted that the buds on the mature maple trees had opened (signaling the end of the maple sap season), although not on the young ones. Usually, the elm trees flower at the same time – but they are so subtle, we can’t really see if they are open. Aha! If they are open, the bees will have found them. We watch the bees coming back into the hive: YES! A few bees are bringing in elm pollen – a pale yellow/green color. A few hours later, they are bringing in LOTS of pollen. Happy bees = happy beekeepers! We rejoice together.
Maple. We pull the taps out of the maple trees in one of our yards – the mature trees where the buds have opened – the sap has quit flowing; however, it is still flowing from the younger trees near the yard. We cook down more sap (actually, I am ready to be done with the season and would have pulled all the taps, but the dr/redearth folx still have sap flowing so we may as well wait as well).
Crocus flowers appear here and there around the yard area – jaunty & sprightly. A splash of color when the dominant landscape color is still gray.
Kathe plants lettuce in flats. We like to get lettuce growing as soon as feasible in the spring because it does better in cool weather.
Over the next few weeks, we transform our south garden (the largest one) into permanent raised beds: 1’ apart and each is 3’ wide. We dig/scoop out about 5” of topsoil between the beds making it a path and add it to the bed. Up until this year, we disc the large gardens in the spring to prepare them for planting and again in the fall before planting cover crop for the winter. Tillage destroys earthworms and other soil building critters; so decided to establish permanent beds where we do hand tilling only. Raised beds drain better so that plant roots will not be water logged but they can also dry out more quickly. We mulch the paths between the beds heavily; in fact, we mulch all our plantings to conserve moisture and protect the soil and the critters inside.
We collect the last of the maple sap and Apple cooks it to syrup. Our combined total is 800 gallons of sap and 80 quarts of syrup; a ratio of 40:1. In labor hours, it takes almost 2 hours per quart.
Kathe plants sweet (bell) and hot peppers. The bell peppers are for us and the hot peppers are for our consumption as well as to make salsa and hot pepper relish for sale.
Gigi harvests a bed of parsnips (planted a year ago) and then plants that bed and another into parsnips again. Parsnips are a root crop – similar to carrots – and take a whole year to mature. They are especially good at this time of year because it is the first vegetable (other than leafy greens) to be harvested in the spring. My favorite way to eat them is to sauté them in butter – YUM!
3/25-26. I attend the SARE conference; my report:
2008 SARE Conference Report by Stan Hildebrand, Missouri Organic Association (MOA), Vice Pres
The 20th annual national SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education) conference took place in Kansas City March 25-27, 2008. I was the staff person at the MOA booth in the Exhibit room and was able to attend conference sessions as well. I immediately felt at home: booths on either side of me were the Farmers Union and another MOA member, Daniel Roth of One Garden.
The conference opens at noon on the first day and during the next day and a half there are 5 break-out sessions with 8 – 9 choices of workshops in each time period. Interspersed are plenary and poster sessions, meals, and receptions. The final day is devoted to all day tours: a choice of 12: vegetable, nut, grain, and livestock production, value added businesses, marketing groups, urban agriculture, the flint hills in Kansas, etc. I choose to spend time with a friend instead of going on a tour.
SARE is funded by USDA. One of its main functions is to award funds for a variety of demonstration projects and, as the name indicates, research & education are prominent goals. At one of the workshops I attend, about half of the participants are University Extension and/or teaching/education personnel. The last 15 minutes of every session are devoted to brainstorming ideas about further research and/or education suggestions to be passed along to SARE.
One large room is full of posters: each one describing a particular SARE grant during the last few years. It includes the research topic, names of people involved, a description of the methods & findings, and usually a diagram or photos explaining the project. During the scheduled poster sessions (an hour each day), many of the people receiving the grants are present to talk about and give more info on their projects to anyone interested.
There is a wide range of workshops: soil fertility, cover crops, organic no-till, bio-fuels, conservation practices, bees, greenhouse & high tunnels, beneficial insects & plants, encouraging the next generation of leaders, etc. The presenters are a mix of producers and University researchers. The common thread underlying it all is sustainability: many are organic; those who are not, minimize chemical inputs.
Personal Reflections. This is my first SARE conference and I am immediately struck by the diversity of folks here. Most of the agricultural conferences I go to are virtually all white; it is refreshing to have African Americans and other people of color here. My only previous experience with SARE is as a recipient of a grant for agricultural research and this is also true for many of the folks I meet. Most have been to several SARE conferences and a few were at the first one twenty years ago. It feels like a “community” or a tribe. It reminds me that many of us feel estranged from conventional agriculture/society and we look to be part of an alternative movement or extended family: a clan, tribe, etc. It seems that for many at the conference, this is their tribe. It feels inviting and inclusive. My initial impression of SARE as a money funding organization has expanded into seeing it as part of the larger movement toward sustainable living and wholesome food production.
Laird heads up the crew to inoculate about a hundred oak logs w/ shitake mushroom spores. We have been doing this every other year for about 10 years. We use oak logs – 42” long, 4”-6” in diameter; we generally cut down one or more trees in our woods and then use the branches. The logs are stacked on a wagon and brought near one of our buildings, where we drill holes 2” deep about 6” apart. We buy sawdust that contains shitake mushroom spores and fill the holes with a special tool about the size of a syringe but without a needle. The spore filling is sealed with liquid beeswax that solidifies immediately after it is dabbed on with a brush. This keeps birds and insects from disturbing the spores.
It generally takes a year before the logs “fruit” and produce mushrooms; they are nourished by the sapwood of the log and usually sprout after a rain (commercial producers soak the logs regularly to make them fruit). The logs are crisscrossed in a mostly upright upright position, leaning against a horizontally mounted support about 30” above the ground in a shady moist area. Shitake mushrooms sprout from these logs for about 8 years (or until the logs totally rot). As with other things in nature, they appear to have a life of their own – it is impossible to predict exactly when and how many mushrooms will appear.
Several folks from DR come over to help with the inoculating process and to gain the experience. We give them a couple of logs each for their help.
Our new dwarf fruit trees (they appear miniature – we keep them in pots and bring them inside for the winter) arrive from the nursery. A few years ago we purchased a dwarf Meyer lemon tree. We kept it in a large pot, it is now about 2’ tall, and we have harvested about 60 lemons from it in the last year and a half – it’s so exciting to be growing our own citrus! Today, we get 2 more dwarf lemon, a key lime, a Venus orange, and a fig tree.
I attend the Farmers Expo in Kansas City (about 200 mi from Sandhill). It is held inside – in a gym type area – to kick off the farmers market season in the area and also a celebration of spring – some growers have fresh spring greens and plants for sale. I go there to sell our products: sorghum, honey, mustard, and pepper relish. It feels festive, and like growers everywhere, we anticipate a great season. Many of us know each other – a community celebrating wholesome and local food.
Michael plants spinach in one of the new raised beds. He also moves some of the perennial herbs outside (like rosemary) that have been in pots inside for the winter.
We reactivate our water catchment systems: setting up barrels & tanks to catch and store rain water from the roofs of buildings for watering seedlings and gardens as well as washing our hands, garden tools, etc.
Gigi picks up chestnut seedlings from Thomas at DR, who buried the nuts over winter and now they are sprouting – he has enough to give us some. She plants them in a bed and when they get larger, we will find a permanent home for them.
First time this season to visit the honey bees. I have been checking on them from the outside of the hive until now. Last year we lost half of our 35 bee hives during the winter; so far this year only 1 of 25 hives died; several have a very small cluster, but others are robust.
Honey bees: challenges, colony collapse, etc. (my personal take).
Beekeeping in the US changed radically about 1990 when the varroa mite spread all over the continental US (the mites originated in Asia). Before this, we had challenges such as foulbrood but it was manageable and if you wanted to, you could treat it chemically. The mite changed all that: it is a parasite that lives on the bees and if we humans do not intervene, they kill a beehive – usually in about 3 years. The industry’s response was chemical treatments; however, the mites adapted and became immune. Many beekeepers had already recognized that chemicals, at best, were an interim solution. Beekeepers went looking worldwide for bees that are able to live with the mites and to breed resistant ones – the genetic approach. There has been some success in both approaches but most of us still have to work hard at keeping our bees alive.
Some of the practices that many of us have adopted: screened bottom boards – rather than solid ones – so that mites that fall off the bees go all the way down to the ground and it’s too far to crawl back into the hive. Some regularly sprinkle powdered sugar on the bees, making them slippery so that the mites fall off; and some remove drone pupae because they have a lot of mites in them. Others use a variety of acids such as oxalic, lactic, and/or formic to kill mites. Some of us are transitioning to smaller honeycomb foundation and thus smaller bees, believing they cope better with the mites. These measures are considered acceptable as sustainable and organic practices.
The public reaction to all this is interesting. As I remember, at about the turn of the century, the decline of wild as well as honey bees was making national news and we beekeeepers were asked about it a lot. My response was that indeed it was deplorable – but it had been going on for some time. What was different now was that the media was taking note and made it news. The Colony Collapse issue in early 2007 was similar – it became national news because of media attention and some of the circumstances lent themselves to speculation and creative theorizing.
Many see this as part of unhealthy directions our society is taking – namely, the use of more chemicals in the environment, which takes its toll on the health of honey bees as well as all living critters; witness the evolution of antibiotic resistant bacteria in humans, pigs, etc. Bees are environmentally stressed which in turns compromises their immune systems.
Joey, our rooster dies. We have a flock of about 20 laying hens and 2 roosters. Traditionally, roosters are not buddies – they often fight until one is clearly dominant. Our two roosters, Joey & Enrico, had been sharing the hens for almost 4 years and sparing occasionally. About a month ago, they got into a brawl and both came away wounded. Whether it was the wounds or shattered pride, Joey gave it up today and went to where roosters go when their bodies call it quits.
Pea planting! Gigi, Renay, and interns Ann & Kevin, plant about half of our peas today. They plant them in rows on both sides of a fence/trellice.
Apple and I visit the bees again – to make sure everyone is ok and to do a powder sugar treatment for mites. The best time to open up bee hives is when it’s sunny and warm – the field bees are out visiting flowers and everyone is “up”. Today is not ideal; it is cloudy and cool. In the morning we visit 10 hives – about 4 miles from sandhill – actually, they are in a pretty good mood except for one that is “defensive” or has an attitude. The “attitude” of the bees mostly derives from the queen and it’s a matter of genetics (is it the same for us humans?)
One of the hives had a tiny population – because they did not have a queen – since it is too early in the season for them to raise a new one (there are no drones out yet) – so it cannot survive; we give the remaining bees to another small hive. We do other actions like this (Robin Hood – robbing the rich to give to the poor) – taking bees and/or honey from some hive and giving them to small (struggling) hives. It feels good to be doing this.
After lunch we go to our other bee yard – close to our buildings – also about 10 hives. The weather has changed: clouds are heavier/gloomy (atmospheric pressure dropping) – the bees are in a pissy mood (defensive/attitude/whatever). After several hives are giving us the message, we decide to quit – instead of helping, it feels like we are counter productive.
Cold. Rainy. Cold. It is being unseasonably cold and lately, very windy.
So what do we do when normally at this time of year, we are being in the garden a lot, but now it’s cold and wet? We plant a few plum trees, a Korean pine nut tree, do some landscaping projects such as transplanting holly hocks, cleaning up perennial flower beds and the herb garden (removing old growth, mulching the paths), finish fruit tree pruning, digging the pathways to make permanent beds, etc.
This is often a difficult time for gardeners & farmers: it’s spring, the snow is all gone and we are eager to get seeds & plants in the ground to start growing! But Mother Nature sometimes has a different schedule: we had days of cold,, wet, windy weather; it does not feel like an encouraging time to put seeds in the ground. What to do? Our “sap” & energy is up – but the weather is not right for planting. We fret, fume, look at the gardening and planting books – again! We try to stay out of the garden & soil – but it’s hard. It puts graying hairs on aging scalps.
Other diversions: dig up some of the garlic that has gone “feral”: garlic on the edge of the garden; we harvest some of it for fresh/green garlic and then forget to harvest the rest of it – so that it gets overcrowded. We eat some fresh and plant some around the fruit trees – hoping that it will discourage pests. Gigi plants more flower seeds in flats – to be transplanted later.
This is terrible weather for bees: this is their time to increase population in anticipation of the honey flow – so they need lots of food to raise their babies. Due to the delayed spring, there is little pollen and nectar available: what to do? We feed a few of the hives sugar water and give all of them a pollen patty (pollen I purchased from a neighboring beekeeper mixed with honey & cooking oil so that it sticks together). We place the patties in the hives in a howling wind: we joke that it’s xmas and we are delivering gifts.
Finally! A beautiful warm day – planting potatoes in the garden and transplanting lettuce and lots & lots of tiny onion seedlings. The energy is totally different – everyone is upbeat and glad to be outside with hands in the dirt. This is what spring is supposed to feel like!
The apricot tree is flowering! The first of our fruit trees to flower!
I knew this would happen – events would happen faster than i can record them. So much is going on now.
The orchard is in full bloom – well, the orchard nearest to our residences: mostly peach, pear, and cherry trees. The “other” orchard, mostly apply trees, is still a day or 2 from flowering. BUT – back to the blooms! They are AWESOME! Imagine 10 peach trees, with varying shades of pink flowers – hundreds(thousands?) of flowers on each tree, 3 pear, a cherry, and a plum tree full of white flowers, 2 red bud trees full of bright red flowers, large areas on the ground with bright blue violets, others with crisp red-purple colored henbit, mixed with a sprinkling of dandelions all around! IT IS SO AMAZING! I can’t capture it on photos. Anyway, the interplay of colors change every day. Time-lapse photography? Videos? They try to mimic REAL LIFE! And i am in the midst of it all. This feels like heaven/nirvana.
IRONY. This is usually one of my busiest time of year: planting time, EXCEPT this year – NOT! I do the field crops at Sandhill (as opposed to the vegetable & garden crops) and i have not even started yet – due to the wet weather/a widespread weather pattern: there has been no field crop planting all across the midwest (normally, the conventional farmers have planted their corn crop by now and are starting on the soybeans). So – am i tearing out my hair? – not being able to plant? No – we are diversified enough so that we can take an abnormal year in stride.
Every year we plant trees – it seems consistent with our values – plant some trees for the next generation and the planet(counteract global warming). We planted several fruit trees already; now we have 25 pine, 25 pecan, and 25 spruce trees to plant (from the Missouri Conservation Department). We plant some around the house/yard and the rest in the woods where we had a bunch of trees die due to the “red oak decline.” We would have planted them earlier except for the inclement weather. So today is the day! We plant all of them! Who is “we”? Kevin, Jacob, Ann, Thea, & myself. It is such a great feeling to be doing something for the “environment/planet/our future. And it’s so beautiful here now – with all the wildflowers (spring beauties, rue anemones, dutchman’s britches, blue bells, dog tooth violets, etc – and no mosquitoes and only a few ticks & chiggers). Why is it we don’t spend more time in the woods unless we have a purpose – like planting trees, looking for mushrooms, etc.
This morning, Gigi & I spot an unfamiliar bird to us – it appears to be sucking peach tree blossoms. Consulting a bird book, it appears to be an orchard oriole – but i’ve never seen one before. Luckily, the identification is confirmed by one of the teachers of a class that comes tomorrow.