Yesterday was an incredibly beautiful day that smelled like spring! And it really is the season. The sap is beginning to run in the maples, it's time to have started the onion seeds, you could have started your lettuce seeds already, and the hens have been laying for almost a month! I spent yesterday drooling over farm animals on craigslist that I could never afford or take care of. I also picked up some meat at a local farm and found out that they have laying hens I can buy for $15 a pop. Not a great deal, but definitely worth it, seeing as laying hens for sale are pretty hard to find around here - especially 6 of them!
As for me, I don't have onion seeds to start, but friends have started them about a week ago. Im going to start my lettuce seeds today, and hopefully tap a maple tree (if I can find one on the property that my landlord hasn't tapped already).
11 Weeks before the Last Frost
Start Onion seeds (if growing onions from seed)
Start lettuce seeds (just put 2-3 seeds under 3-4 millimeters of moist soil and keep warm and watered until they sprout, then thin to the best one)
prep the coop for hens (if you're me)
Tapping a maple tree is fairly easy, and if you have cheap anything to boil the sap on for days, it's a great way to make maple syrup. Maple sap runs when nights fall below freezing but the days are above freezing. That's now, so get started!
A maple tree that's 10 inches in diameter or more (one tap per 10 inches, no more!)
A drill and bit that's 7/16" (or 1/2" if that's what you have)
Grimm spouts with hooks (or see cheap alternative below)
gallon plastic bottles or buckets with netting to keep insects out
A nice big pot for boiling water near an open window - it's going to get steamy!
The best trees to use are sugar maples, but silver maples and a few others are good to tap. Make sure you have the right tree! It's best to mark your trees in the early fall when they still have leaves. If not, consult a good guide book with bark identification (such as the Audubon guide to North American trees)
Drill a hole with the bit that is angled slightly up at a height that makes sense for you to hang the bucket/jug at. If you have a grimm spout all you have to do is stick it in, hang the bucket off of the hook and let the spout empty into the bucket (on top of the netting is fine), or force a hole into the side hanging jug so that the spout empties into the closed (and therefor bug-free) jug.
If you don't want to buy Grimm spout, here's a cheap alternative - but you're going to lose some sap, so it might be worth investing in the grimm spout and hook - which is pretty cheap as things go. Cut a soda can (or a sardine lid or something similar) to about 4 inches long and 1 inch wide. Roll this into a half-tube and stick this tube into the hole you drilled into the tree as tightly as possible. hammer a small nail into the tree just about the makeshift spout and hang a bucket or jug off of the nail so that the spout runs into the jug or bucket.
Check your sap buckets daily and empty them. If you're not going to start boiling immediately, keep the sap refrigerated. Simmer the sap, being careful not to burn it, until the sap condenses to become as sweet as you want it - it takes about 32 gallons of sap to yield one gallon of syrup - so that boiling will take a while! You can add sap as you collect more in the early stages of the boiling, but once the sap starts boiling down, I'd transfer the syrup to a smaller pot and keep it on a low simmer until finished. YUM! Keep finished syrup refrigerated. any mold that forms can be taken off the top of the syrup which should then be boiled before using.
Make sure to try some raw sap! It tastes like magical water.