Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Spring 2024 Garden Update #1

It's the last week of February and here in Southern Ontario what's called the "hardiness zone 6a" there is still plenty of winter, and winter weather left before our estimated "last frost" of the season in mid-May. 

So while winter is what's still happening outside, here's what's happening inside.  Mostly with 2 crops I haven't had much success with!  So this year will be more experimentation to see what works best. 

Sweet Potatoes

Best practice is to start your slips roughly 8-12 weeks before the last frost date, and I grow mine on a heat mat & under a grow light for 12 hours a day. I've never tried growing them in water, but growing them with the sweet potato half covered in rich, well watered soil works well for me. I'll be spacing 4-6 slips in 20 gallon grow bags this year, to see how container growing works in my zone. (I'll be documenting that and sharing how that turns out!) I've experimented with growing in conditioned straw bales before but it was a big disappointment despite sticking with the protocol suggested. Suffice it to say, I ended up with plenty of fantastic mulch!  

So this year it will be grow bags (which I've had great success with, with other garden plants), and a brand new locaton with more direct sun than the last location.  

Yellow Onions

Onions are another crop I've struggled with over the years.  From old seeds that didn't germinate well or were just weak and puny, to squirrels, chipmunks and various other garden visitors, I've struggled to keep my onions growing & thriving.  This year, things look far more hopeful, at least initially.

I planted these seeds on the 8th of January to give them a solid 16 weeks jumpstart to the growing season. I've read that each onion stem should be the size of a pencil by the time you transplant outdoors, but to be honest, mine have never been that large by the time I planted them outdoors. Chopstick size, at best. 😊

In the past I've tried various options such as "over seeding" where you grow a condensed number of seeds in one space and then thin them all out before planting, a condensed row planting, and then single cell planting of literally a single seed in each plug tray.  This year I'm trying a single seed per cell approach as well as a "middle of the road" overseeding with roughly 10-12 seeds per 3 inch pot.  

So far, they're all doing really well.  Almost 100% germination, and the 10-12 overseeded pots are the strongest of all of them.  My goal this year with yellow onions is to be planted in a 16 foot long raised bed along the south facing fence line. Hoping for some beautiful, delicious yellow cooking onions by the end of the season.  I'll also be covering them at least initially, with some format of pest cloth. 

Tapping Maples 

Something brand new to me this year, is Maple tree tapping for turning sap into syrup. I've been researching this subject for about a year, but I only have 1, single Norway maple on my property. 😊  

It's a massive 35+ year old tree , and can easily take 2 taps and I figure... it's there, why not use it? 

I purchased plastic spiles (commonly referred to taps, the black plastic part, seen in this image to the left) that came highly recommended but they've turned out to be a a really big disappointment. The first two broke while tapping into the tree and had to be replaced.  

Tapping maples and collecting sap is weather dependant so it varies from year to year. The season is generally late winter for about 4-6 weeks of good sap flow before the buds on the branches begin to swell, and then the syrup turns "buddy", meaning it takes on an unpleasant starchy flavor of the budding branches and is no longer useful for making sweet syrup. 

My single Norway was tapped last week, and the sap began flowing greatly yesterday, but there are some big issues with leaky tap holes so I'm troubleshooting and will be replacing the plastic spiles with stainless steel spiles.  I'm sure at this point there is the same amount of sap flowing down the trunk of the tree as there is collecting in the sap bucket, so my goal is to seal the leaks, and collect ALL the sap for maple syrup production. With only one tree for tapping, I need all the sap I can get. 

One more fun project that will be updated as the season progresses. 

Wishing for all of you, God would bless the work of your hands that you might grow in abundance for yourself and your family.  💖 

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