Category: Gardening

Butterfly Garden

We have a small pond in the back yard and a bricked in courtyard in front of the house. I am building butterfly gardens with native plants in both areas. Hopefully we’ll be able to sit in the dining room and watch butterflies hatch.

Here are the plant that I’ve ordered

Common Name Botanical Name Type
Partridge Pea Chamaecrista fasciculata Host and Nectar Plant
Showy Milkweed Asclepias Speciosa Host and Nectar Plant
Western Sand Milkweed Asclepias arenaria Host and Nectar Plant
Wild Petunia Ruellia humilis Host and Nectar Plant
Butterfly Weed Asclepias tuberosa Host Plant
Common Milkweed Asclepias syriaca Host Plant
Whorled Milkweed Asclepias verticillata Host Plant
Blue Sage Salvia Salvia azurea Nectar Plant
Cardinal Flower Lobelia cardinalis Nectar Plant
Iron Weed Vernonia altissima Nectar Plant
Orange Coneflower, Orange Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia fulgida Nectar Plant
Purple Prairie Clover Dalea purpurea Nectar Plant
Royal Catchfly Silene regia Nectar Plant
Sweet Joe Pye Weed Eupatorium purpureum Nectar Plant
Wild Bergamot, Wild Bee Balm Monarda fistulosa Nectar Plant
Golden Alexanders Zizia aurea Host Plant
Michigan Lily Lilium michiganense Nectar Plant
Rose Milkweed Asclepias incarnata Host and Nectar Plant
Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea Nectar Plant
Wild Lupine Lupinus perennis Host Plant
Wild Senna Senna hebecarpa Nectar Plant

Bulbs For Next Year

The fall planted bulbs are in bloom, and we know what grew well here (and what didn’t — wild tulips survive well here, but the big, beautiful Dutch tulips become a rodent buffet. I’ve tried mixing them with other bulbs to no avail. As much as I love the Dutch tulips, I’m not buying more this year.). It’s time to put in an order for this Autumn. I order bulbs from both ColorBlends and Old House Gardens. This year we’ll be planting daffodils:


And some more crocus bulbs to scatter throughout the lawn:

DIY Hop Arbor

Our hops are finally strung! I ordered coir rope that is used by most hop growers – hopefully this doesn’t snap like the twine we used last year. Last year, all of the ropes slid together at the top. Which stretched the ropes (and probably didn’t do anything to keep the twine in one piece). This year, used 3/4″ PVC piping (yet another Home Depot purchase not being used as intended) and drilled holes through which the ropes are strung.


It was a lot easier to get the strings up this year – we ran each individual rope through its hole and tied the stakes to each end. Then pulled the wire that runs between the two trees up and secured it onto the tree branches.

Some of our vines were long enough to wrap onto the coir rope — so we’ve got hops climbing their ropes:


I’m intrigued by the idea of permaculture gardening — creating landscape installations that are planted once and are then self-sufficient. For growing food, it is a slow process — the tomatoes we plant this year will produce this year. The fruit, nut, asparagus, etc that we plant this year … we’ll get some in two or three years at the earliest (some nut trees take a decade to produce!). But they’ll keep producing year after year. In some cases, they’ll even spread.

We planted some apple and peach trees from Trees of Antiquity last year – and then found out it was a cicada year (i.e. a really bad year to have new trees). Well, most of our new trees made it. This year, I want to start some asparagus and nut trees.

I selected hazelnuts to start — first, we all love hazelnuts. And it really doesn’t make much sense to put effort into growing something you won’t enjoy. But they also produce nuts in 2-5 years. I ordered them from Willis Orchard — I’ve read good and bad reviews of the place, but the shipped prices were great and I read a lot of bad reviews about pretty much any nursery or orchard. Hazard of shipping live products.

The trees were small, but I knew that when I purchased them. I love how these bare root trees where shipped. There’s some gooey gel stuff around the bare roots that keeps the trees hydrated (esp good when you are SUPER slow about planting your bare root trees!).

We’re starting asparagus from seed — it takes longer, but I was able to get unique strains unavailable as crowns. I picked up some berry seeds too – no idea if they’ll actually grow (this is more of an experiment than an attempt to cover the yard with cane fruits and cranberries). And strawberries — Home Depot had a whole bunch of strawberry plants well before it was reasonable to plant them … but they were beautiful plants on clearance. They’re still potted and located close to the house to keep warm.

I also want to replace our ornamental grasses with something useful (and hopefully something that doesn’t spread into the lawn and create an unmowable fibrous mass). Maybe a patch of oats that can reseed themselves.

Maple Sap Season Coming To A Close

We’re getting to the end of maple sap season – collecting a last batch of sap and boiling this week. We should get another gallon or so of syrup, but the red maples are well into leafing out. I’ve heard a lot of descriptions of the sap flavour after bud-break … to me, it is tannin heavy. That would put us around four gallons of syrup for the year — and re-enforce my belief that the algorithm determined tapping date is when we should tap – even if that’s the second week of January!

Stages Of Maple Sap

I was surprised to find out people think maple sap is yellow. I never really thought about it, but I happened to see “maple water” for sale at a market. Clear liquid in a clear glass bottle. The ingredients were 100% maple sap … so I knew it was clear before I’d even thought to wonder. I’ve seen sap with a slightly yellow tint. We pull the taps as the tree leaves begin to bud, so it is possible the sap yellows more throughout the year. But maple sap is clear.

As it is boiled, the sap begins to caramelize. Caramelization is what gives maple syrup a golden brown color – darker syrup is formed from sap harvested later in the year. Lighter syrup is from sap harvested earlier in the year.

As the sap boils down, the color will get darker and the flavor will get sweeter and, well, maple-ier.

Maple Sugar Season Update

Strange day. The high here was 68 degrees, and we spent an hour playing in the sand at a beach. Not your normal February activity in these parts.

We got a LOT of sap today – and we only managed to collect the front half of the property. Thirteen trees with fifteen taps yielded thirty eight gallons of sap. Tomorrow, we’ll check the sycamore (hasn’t produced much sap to date, but here’s hoping), two hickories (same story), and ten more maple trees. Lots of boiling ahead, and it looks like it might freeze Sunday night to extend the sap run during the first part of next week.

Maple Sugar Season Update

We are about done boiling off sap from the first run — good timing, too, since it looks like we’re going to have a week or so of really warm weather (should be a good sap flow) followed by a freeze at the end of the month – extending the sugaring season into March.

We pulled the hallow ice cap from most of our buckets, so the sap started slightly concentrated. We’ve condensed about 39 gallons of sap to 2.5 gallons of not-quite-syrup. It will sit in the pan overnight to cool; tomorrow, we’ll filter it and transfer it into a pot. We will finish the syrup indoors.

Maple Season Underway

We’ve finished tapping our maple trees today. We got more than half done this past weekend (fifteen trees, eighteen taps), so managed to hit the awesome tap flow at the beginning of this week.


This year we are going to try tapping one sycamore tree (supposedly a butterscotch flavored syrup) and a hickory tree (no idea what that will taste like). We have twenty four maple trees tapped – a few of our biggest trees have two taps.

Last year was the first year that we tapped maple trees. We hadn’t identified the trees ahead of time, so we didn’t know if we had sugar maples, red maples, not.a.maple trees. We got about forty gallons of sap and used it to brew a dark maple beer.

Early autumn 2016, we took a couple cans of spray-paint, hiked the property looking for trees, and marked the trees with a small spot of paint at the base on the West side of the tree. White paint indicates a sugar maple, red paint indicates a red maple. The hickory trees are shag barks, so fairly easy to identify without leaves. The sycamore is in a unique location along the lake side of our property.

I don’t know if the “tree saver” 5/16″ taps are actually better for the trees, but that’s what we decided to use. As a non-commercial venture, potential reduction in production quantity isn’t detrimental … and I cannot see how they would be worse for the trees than the larger 7/16″ taps.

All of the equipment is stashed in a dump cart. When the ground was frozen, we took our Raven out into the woods. Now that the ground is thawed, we pull the cart by hand. We bought food grade five gallon buckets and lids from Lowes. There are a lot of types of spiles – I wanted stainless steel that we could re-use each year, and I wanted to use tubes instead of buying super expensive hang-on-the-tree buckets. There were still two different types – a straight tap and one that makes a 90 degree angle. It is a lot easier to put the tube on the 90 degree angle ones before inserting into the tree, and they look like they are going to be easier to remove.

We have two different types of tubing: the flexible blue 5/16″ tube meant for maple sap collecting and clear 5/16″ tube that is meant to be a siphon line when brewing beer. At 24$ for 100 foot of tubing, the beer siphon line was a great deal. We’ve got about 100 foot of tubing used for all of our taps.

In addition to these items, we use a battery powered drill with a 5/16″ bit, a small hammer for tapping spiles into trees, a rubber mallet for getting the lids onto the buckets, a little plastic tape measure to check tree size, and a little tool for pulling the lids off of buckets – I could NEVER get lids off plastic buckets, and this tool has turned it into a couple of second task.

With our cart full of tapping gear, we head out into the woods. Grab one bucket and lid, some tube, a spile, and the hammers. You are supposed to drill about three feet up on the tree, but stay at least six inches away from old tap holes. Conventional wisdom is to tap the south side of the tree as that side has sun exposure and will be warmer. I want to log our production per tree from the south side and north side to determine if there is any validity to the practice, but it would be a long-term study of overall production across multiple years to control for weather variations.

Once a hole is drilled, the tap is inserted and the tube pushed onto the tap. The other end of the tube is inserted into the bucket. On level ground, we just leave the bucket sitting next to the tree. In other cases, we use ratcheting straps around the tree and hang the bucket from one of the strap hooks.

We should begin boiling our sap tomorrow – yesterday was an awesome day for sap flow, and we had a lot of 1/2 to 2/3 filled buckets. It’s going to be below freezing for about 36 hours, so figured we could leave the buckets out overnight and begin collecting them tomorrow.

Lessons learned so far: (1) Buy your equipment in the off season. I bought stainless steel taps for under 1$ each, but we needed more taps that I’d purchased. They’re 2.50$ each! (2) Get more storage vessels than you think you need — we have twenty six 5 gallon buckets out in the woods and are scrounging around to find storage containers for collected sap. (3) Collect sap often. Twenty six full five gallon buckets is 130 gallons of sap! If each bucket was emptied when it had two gallons, that’s 52 gallons of sap that gets boiled down to just over a gallon of maple syrup … two or three times, but still it is easier to find a place to store 50 gallons of sap and a couple gallons of maple syrup than it is to find holding containers for 130 gallons of sap.