springing: giddy with seedlings and maple syrup

The seed room is nearly vibrating with life.  We've got hundred of little baby plants shooting into the light, and I think we're all a little giddy from it.  After a lovely, quiet, snowy winter, the seedlings are the embodiment of new life, and they are feast for our eyes and our imaginations. 

In the span of less than a week, the tiny seedlings have grown enough to be transplanted into larger containers filled with potting soil, which will sustain them for the next month or so until they get into the ground.

Above are tiny seedlings of a Swiss Chard variety called "Bright Lights," after its colorful appearance.  Red, pink, and yellow, this chard's stems are so attractive when they're fully grown.  



You can see how delicate the stems are at this stage, just wisps of green, shooting toward the light.  After the plants first emerge, they send out little neo-leaves called "cotyledon."  This is actually an embryonic leaf, already present in the seed itself.  After the seed germinates, or sprouts, true leaves are formed.  And after the first set of true leaves emerge, it's time to transplant.


These plants, once transplanted, have a lot more room to grow.  Rather than 36 tiny plants squeezed together in joined "cells" on a single tray, each plant gets delicately delivered to its very own container, at least twice the size of that where it germinated.  Here, these Chinese Cabbages are 18 to a tray.  They go back to the grow room after transplanting, until they get a bit stronger.

When the weather gets a little bit warmer, we'll start the "hardening off" process, which means bringing these plants out into the fresh air during the day, and then back into the barn in the evening to protect them from the cool night temperatures.  

But before then, we've got peas to plant and maple sugaring to do.  Peas are planted traditionally on March 17, if possible.  Maple sugaring is going full steam right now, with this weekend's temps in the 40s and today projected to be 55.  Yesterday, we gathered more than 100 gallons of sap, and we'll hopefully get another good amount today.  With the weather turning to such extremes this past year, we don't know how long the sap will run, so we're making the most of it while we can.  

And with great result.  The first couple of batches of maple syrup have been incredibly light and delicate. Syrup is classified into various "grades," according to color.  Our most recent batch, in the left-most bottle, is just a tad bit lighter than the "Vermont Fancy" grade exemplar, just to its right.  As the weather gets warmer, the sap changes, and will become a darker syrup.  If you want to learn more about the maple sugaring process, from tapping to bottling the syrup, check out the videos made by Sister Catherine Grace and Bill Consiglio, another resident companion here at the farm.

It's just warm enough to go without a jacket, and it seems that everything wants to stretch and move, including little seedlings and the sap within trees.  We're so lucky that we can play a role in cultivating that movement in such healthy and tasty directions.