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Sweet Stuff

Posted by kevinwolz on March 23, 2010

I crossed the first thing off my list today! It’s nothing really too big, but it’s something I’ve wanted to try for quite a while: tap our maple trees for make syrup. I love maple syrup and I’ve grown up with several maple trees on our property…what could be more sustainable than sourcing this essential breakfast ingredient from about 100 feet away from where I’ll be eating it!? So the other day I ordered a bunch of spouts and hooks, and I finally got to try it out once I got up to our place. Tapping the trees was surprisingly simple: drill a hole, pound in the spout, and hang a bucket underneath. I didn’t buy the fancy buckets that are actually made to fit with the spouts, so the hardest part was getting my makeshift pot & branch setup just right. The sap started flowing instantly, and I had three taps ready to go in about an hour (most of this time was spent just gathering supplies and getting stuff ready). Six hours later, I had about a gallon of fresh sap from the three taps, which I collected and put in my fridge temporarily. I have no idea how that compares to what the pros get out, but I’ll take it! And ZERO food miles to speak of! I just have the sap for now, but I’m going to try my hand at boiling it down tonight…

The summer garden plans are also developing rapidly. I’m planning to grow a good-sized vegetable garden this summer, and have been working hard learning all I can on how to start this. The location (cottage lawn versus community garden) and size (somewhere between 400 and 800 square feet) are still up in the air but will be nailed down soon. My goal with this garden is to have something “small” of my own where I can try some new stuff and get family/summer visitors involved as well. To aid this mission, I’m hoping to plant some unique varieties that really help push the “alternative” agriculture mentality. Seeds are already on their way in the mail (purchased from Seed Savers and High Mowing Seeds). Here’s what I got:

Detroit Dark Red Beets

Romanesco Broccoli (Check out those swirls! A math geek’s dream: fractal Broccoli!)

Long Island Brussels Sprouts

Winningstadt Cabbage

Dragon Carrot (purple!! :.P )

Purple Cape Cauliflower (turns green when cooked!…white’s lame)

Five Color Silverbeet Chard

Grandma Eink’s Dill (don’t know who she is, but I LOVE dill)

Rattlesnake Snap Bean

Sunberry (kind of a rogue blueberry-like fruit…still need to learn more about this one)

Wisconsin Lakes Pepper (to possibly supplement the transplants)

Greek Oregano

Golden Bantam Sweet Corn

Plum Purple Radish

Purple Pod Pole Bean

New England Pie Pumpkin (yum!)

Baby Pam Pie Pumpkin (two varieties to taste test!)

Mesclun Salad Mix

Variety of Tomato Transplants

Variety of Pepper Transplants

Many of these veggies don’t grow very well if they’re thrown right in the ground as seed when May comes around. Instead, they need to be started indoors as seedlings, cared for as they mature, and then transplanted into the garden once they are ready. Transplanting doesn’t occur until late May after the chance of frost is sufficiently small (May 20th or so is considered the “last frost date” of our area). That works out fine because I’ll be able to throw everything in the ground as soon as school gets out. Starting the seeds, however, some of which need to be started soon, is a slightly more complicated issue. How am I going to start all these seeds?!

My first thought was to start everything over spring break and then leave the flats at home for my parents to care for. However, there really isn’t a great place to put them, and my parents are pretty darn busy as it is. Next I thought about utilizing the extensive network of greenhouses at UIUC…how much better could it get, right? Well, let’s just say that I didn’t realize how much of a hot commodity university greenhouse space is. Undergrads aren’t high on the eligibility list. And then it hit me! As I was sitting at my computer in my dorm room, I realized the value of what I was looking at: my room has a large (8 x 4 foot) south-facing window with an equally large desk seed starting table in front of it. We really don’t even utilize the back half of the desk as it is, and having the seedlings close at hand will drastically increase their chances of survival. Perfect! I know this may sound a bit crazy and ridiculous…there probably haven’t been to many college students starting gardens in their dorm room window, but to quote my favorite and most inspirational line from One Straw, “Wll it be easy? No – there will be conflicts over use, repairs, etc. …but EASY got us into this societal mess.” Starting a garden in my dorm room window is just the beginning of what it’s going to take to get this revolution off the ground.

So here’s the garden plan as it currently lies:

This week: 1) Organize garden location, size, and layout. 2)Plan seed starting timeline and acquire starting containers (old yogurt cups and the like), potting soil, and any other needed supplies. 3) Build shelf to hold seedlings in dorm room. 4) Get seeds in the mail!

Next Week: Take suitcase of soil, containers, and seed back to UIUC…plant seeds when I arrive…organize desk to optimize space and production.

March 28th – May 10th (approx 6 weeks): Grow seedlings indoors, turning everyday, water as appropriate, and transplanting to larger containers  as necessary

Week of 5/9: Move self and plants up to Wisconsin. Depending on outside temperature and plant maturity either 1) keep growing inside for a few more weeks, 2) “harden” plants to outdoor conditions, or 3) plant whichever ones look ready.

Week of 5/16 and beyond: Transplant whatever is left when appropriate and plant other transplants/seeds (depending on crop) when appropriate.

To my crazy mind, this plan actually doesn’t seem too bad. The hardest part will be in the next few weeks just getting stuff started. Let me know what you think!

Finally, I have those steeplechase videos I promised! Don’t laugh too hard! (They take a few seconds to load.)

The first jump was the best by far. I’m in the back.

The last one was a bit harder…notice how I’m moving slower and the stutter steps…and how I don’t make it far enough out of the pit…

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One Response to “Sweet Stuff”

  1. Roger said

    I can’t help but remember the first time I ordered from Seedsavers. I ordered some strange things like you did and was very excited to get started once the seeds arrived. Don’t know if I ever told you but in my best years I gardened the whole backyard, of course that was before I took on Hidden Pond. It still feels good this time of year to put a spading fork into the ground and turn the soil over. Rog

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