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Showing posts from March, 2015

2015 Garden Part 1

I started the 2015 garden on March 31, 2015 - a full 2 weeks before I usually get started. Tempting fate? Maybe, but I'm also testing assumptions.

If you'll remember, everything I thought I knew about gardening was tested when I realized green beans could be grown in a windowsill. This year is all about trying new things!  I started a greenhouse for the first time and had plans to grow everything myself without relying on nurseries for transplants.

Then something horrible happened....

One night, the wind whipped the greenhouse down and ripped open the entire back. I could tape it up, but it already looked pretty trashy without any tape and I decided to go another route.

I placed all the milk carton pots on the ground. At this point, I had already opened the tops on 4 of the containers and they were exposed to all the elements.

The bok choy, rhubarb and sunflowers were champs. They made it through the cold and snow without blinking. They even started to set real leaves. Some of…

Maple Syrup 2015 - Part 3

Maple Syruping is wearing me out...

I'ts not just climbing up this slippery mud hill with 5 gallon buckets weighing up to 50 pounds....
Honestly, I could collect sap for weeks...months...and not be bothered about it.

It's the storing and boiling that's wearing me out. We spend all day at the fire on super cold and windy days boiling down the sap.

I'm exhausted by the time, the smoke, the cold, and the use of wood. Obviously, making maple syrup is a labor of love, not finances. It really takes a lot of energy.

I have contemplated building a Fresnel solar heater and using it to boil sap. If anyone has done so with success, please leave a comment. I am afraid of the Fresnel heater because they are so powerful they can melt metal! I wonder if it would burn the sap, melt the pan, burn down the forest, burn one of us, or if it would work at all?

This week, we had our second boiling of Maple sap. You can read about our first weeks' adventure here: Maple Syrup part 1 and p…

Necessity is the Mother of Invention - Maple Syrup 2015 - Part 2

This Maple Syrup year started off really weird. The weather was super warm and the trees were hardly running. From March 1-21st we collected approximately 17 gallons of sap - which boiled down to 3 quarts of syrup. You can see that adventure here: Maple Syruping 2015 Part 1.
Now the trees are going crazy!! From March 22nd to the 25th I have already collected over 25 gallons of sap! Due to the weight and my lack of proper containment vessels, I have even lost a bunch of sap.
If you remember from the beginning of the month, one of our trees was a complete dud. It did not run a single drop. Well.....it's now running....all over the ground. 
The problem is - we only have 5 buckets and spiles. I literally have no place to store all this sap, but I hate to waste any of it.
So I rigged a diy homemade spile and bucket set up for the dud tree that finally started running.
It was super easy. I cut the ends off of a ball point pen and stuck it in the tap hole. It turns out Bic pens are exac…

Alite Advanced LED Plant Grow Light Review

Disclosure: I received complimentary product for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own and this article does NOT contain affiliate links. No compensation was received.


I like to grow things...but the winter months are especially difficult. We have low E argon coated windows that block 90% of the sun's plant growing radiation, so plants suffer in my house. Even "low-light" houseplants suffer.

So I was super thrilled when I had the chance to review this Alite Advanced LED grow light.

This light is different from the usual bar lights people use to start seedlings and is better for individual plants. Or you could set up an array of them and grow a bunch of plants together.

My plan is to use the light as "therapy" for my houseplants that have been light deficient for so long. Each plant will take a trip under the light to try and perk it up.

The first under the lights: my newly planted Shasta Daisies. These babies will spend the spring and early summer …

Can you grow Green Beans on an indoor windowsill?

So the question of the day is: Can you grow green beans inside on a windowsill?
I'm about to ruin the entire blog post by giving you the answer. It's yes, and they WILL make beans.

So why would someone even attempt this? I wouldn't have, but my daughter's third grade class was experimenting with sowing seeds. They grew them in the dark in a recycled school milk container (with no drainage!) Then they brought them home.

She handed me 2 bean plants, barely rooted in the soil, and asked me to keep them alive. Oh blob. It was late February and we had just finally reached 10 hours of daylight. Did I mention the plants were barely even rooted in the soil. I mean, the seed pods were all above ground for Pete's sake!

I should also note that we have low E argon coated windows that block 90% of the sun's glorious plant growing radiation. Growing things inside my home is a constant battle. This did not seem promising.

So I stuck them in the window and they were the best gro…

Tapping Maple Trees for Syrup on a Small Scale

This year we tapped 5 Maple trees. Some of them are the "bare minimum" size for tapping and one of them didn't drip a single drop of syrup. Of course, 2015 has been extremely weird for syrup production. It's been unseasonably warm - in the upper 60's for weeks in March and as high as 73 degrees Fahrenheit!

Despite this, we were still able to pull out 17+ gallons of sap over the first 3 weeks of March (we didn't tap the first week as it was too cold for sap to run.) We spent today boiling down all 17 gallons. It took 9 hours!!!

In the end, we wound up with 3 quarts of the best tasting syrup...ever! (We're fortunate to have pure sugar maples with a high sugar content.) And we're not done tapping. The weather has finally turned "right" and the trees are running heavier. It may only last another week or two, but we'll be saving the sap and running an all day boil once again.
Here are some tips for small scale tapping that we've gleaned …

Winter/Spring Seed Starting without Electricity - Part 3

It has been 12 days since the seeds went into the greenhouse and it's time for an update.

Once the seedlings started to emerge, I removed the milk carton tops so they would have the ability to breathe. Only 3 of the cartons have seedlings large enough to be opened. Apparently, rhubarb takes a long time to germinate or my seeds were duds?


A few reminders if you want to use a greenhouse of any kind:

1. Venting is essential. I have been diligently opening the greenhouse on all days over 60F but even still some of my seedlings were burned.

These amaranth seedlings were scorched in the heat:


I ended up moving the greenhouse out of the direct sun. This decreases the internal temperature substantially and might negatively effect the "legginess" of the plants, but we'll have to see.

2. Bricks and/or water bottles are essential. Not only do they heat up and store energy, but they also keep a flimsy little greenhouse from being toppled or taken away by the wind.

3. Animals wil…

Winter/Spring Seed Starting without Electricity - Part 2

2015 is shaping up to be an early and warm spring. I started the greenhouse at the beginning of March (March 9th) because it was just too warm outside to delay.
This year I am Starting Seeds without Electricity and attempting to grow all of my plants on my own. No help from nurseries, neighbors, or friends.
I am going to start the seeds, grow the plants, save seeds for the next year, and process the food for winter. All of this without electricity or other modern conveniences - to be sure that it's possible in a grid down scenario and because it's fun and more self sufficient. 
Here is what the greenhouse looks like all put together: The greenhouse contains 18 milk cartons containing soil and seeds. In early March, only the top 6 contain seeds. I will plant the heat loving plants in April or they will run the risk of being way too big for the pot before they can safely go outside. Our last frost date is May 17th. 
Everything in this greenhouse is recycled or reused. I am usin…