A Garden Tip to Relieve Cabin-Fever
So far the winter of 2011-12 hasn’t been much of a winter and generally by this date of February 12th any Nor’easters we might get don’t stick around long and are generally gone from the ground in two or three days’ time. With end February looming over the next couple of weeks now is the time we tend to get a little antsy about the upcoming garden season, but here in the northeast this is the wrong time to get seeds started unless you have a sufficiently heated and lighted green house to sustain newly emerging tender growth.
Now that’s not to say that you can’t do something in preparation for the spring garden but you must use prudence. You could begin to grow a salad greens garden, commonly known as mesclun, which can be started in a window, under a grow light, or in a temporarily heated greenhouse. Within 2 to 3 weeks you could be savoring fresh salad from your own efforts rather than the day’s old and wilted greens of the grocery store.
Another thing of more timely opportunity is to tap some of your yard maples to make your own maple syrup. Hmmm! Hmmm! As the old song says, Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, baby! …nothin’ like the real thing! Tapping maples, or any tree (except evergreens –deadly-) for that matter, is quite easy but it has a limited window of opportunity, which is late February and early-mid March. At that time when daytime temperatures are above freezing and nighttime temps below freezing the sap begins to rise. This rising sap can be captured using special spigots called spiles which discharge to hanging covered buckets.
The hardest part of the process is the boiling down of this delicious sap to maple syrup. This boiling down drives off the inherent water leaving a concentrated maple sugar in the form of syrup; one caveat however, is not to do this in your kitchen or living space as the rising steam will leave a sticky residue on all surfaces.
Keep in mind also that you must start with large quantities of maple sap to get any measurable maple syrup. The ratio is approximately 20 gallons of sap to roughly a quart of finished syrup. The result however is a genuine maple syrup to cover your morning johnny-cakes or French vanilla ice cream at night. Yumm! It is not the so-called pancake syrup of the grocers, which is loaded with high fructose corn syrup and other adulterations, but pure and simple maple syrup with all the good old-fashioned flavor. Certainly, if you’ve not yet tried your hand at making it, it will be well worth it.
One other remedy for the late winter cabin-fever is to test germination of your old seeds to determine viability. If you’re anything like me you hate to throw-out seed from previous years because they could contain life-potential, which might sustain you through this season’s garden. This is especially true today with seed prices jumping through the roof. At the same time you can be inundated with old seed most of which is no longer alive. Why not kill two birds with one stone: relieve your cabin fever and test your seed stocks?
So grab a sample of seed, I prefer three to a small shot-glass sized clear plastic cup, (generally less than a dollar for a pack of thirty), fill it with tissue or toilet paper and insert the seeds against the side of the cup. You must then put in a little water to just make the tissue damp-moist not saturated and check daily for signs of life. Be vigilant and keep the tissue damp-moist or your seeds will dry out. Within days you should see signs of new leaflets bursting through the seed casing sending life sustaining sprouts upward and supporting roots downward.
After adequate time has passed, generally a week to ten days depending on the seed and species, count the seedlings that made it and those that didn’t. You can then extrapolate how much of your seed stock is viable. Be aware that often the non-living seed begins to molder and may even smell. That could be a sign that you oversaturated your cup or the experiment is over and it is not viable. Also within the same cup you may have seed sprouted and some moldering; this too, indicates the experiment is over. BTW, don’t use the seeds in the cup that did sprout because there could be mold contamination from the failed seed which could and probably will spread to your sprouted seed eventually.
Generally, speaking the older the seed the less viability it will have. So don’t forget to label your cups with the date of the year for which it was packaged as well as the seed type and variety.
If your still hate to throw out seeds that did not indicate good viability, go to a parcel of land where wildlife might frequent and spread the seed about. At worst, the seed will rot at best they may sprout and produce some food the game might use. For instance, I have about two pounds of open-pollinated bantam corn which I will spread in a waste area field well behind my house where deer, possum, raccoon, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, even predators roam freely. This will serve the two-fold purpose of providing food and keep them from my garden and domestic animals. It will also prevent potential waste of any viable seed which may still exist in the package.
Another cabin-fever reliever is to plan and turn your garden if possible. I noticed for instance, that the chickens who have the run of the garden in winter have been digging into the soil which indicates to me that the soil did not freeze this winter so turning in their droppings as well as compost, manure, mineral supplements, and possibly even a green cover-crop may be possible earlier this year than in preceding years. Doing this will give me a leg up on this year’s garden and possibly lengthen the season.
Richard of Danbury, D.S.G.