Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Preparing Native Seed for Planting

We collected lots of native seed in 2015 and thankfully, got them into labeled bags and into the refrigerator in a fairly reasonable amount of time to help promote longer viability. Sometimes it's complete chaos around here with all these new business ideas, daily chores, full-time work for Steve, the never-ending (it seems) bathroom project and a desire to get out, hike and explore. Getting a grip on chaos is part of our 2016 goals, for sure.

At the beginning of January, I pulled out our collected seed from the refrigerator to organize by germination requirements.

Many seeds will germinate readily in the spring after planting, but many possess dormancies that must be broken to allow for germination. Usually this means the seed needs a certain period of cold, moist, freezing and thawing, which is called stratification. These dormancies help protect the seed from rotting, too early germination, etc.

To do this indoors, I moistened the paper sack containing the seed requiring this type of stratification, sealed it in a plastic bag and labeled the bag to note seed type and how long the necessary stratification period. You can place the seed in moist sand, put it in a plastic bag and put it in the refrigerator (many people do) , but the seed was already in a paper sack and the sand frozen so I tried this to keep it simple. Maybe next year we will try something else....experimenting is good.

Some seeds require acid treatments to emulate passing through the gut of an animal. This is yet another protective strategy of seeds to ensure vialibility and makes sense....a hungry bird or mammal eats the seed, the stomach acids break down the seed coating, the animal uptakes nutrients and the seed passes through the system encapsulated in a nice fertilized package.

Acid treatment also helps if you have seed with such a tough seed coat it must weather for several years to crack it open. This helps protect the seed against possible years of inclement growing conditions by allowing a super long period of dormancy...some seed is still viable after hundreds of years, Google it and be as amazed as we are!

For this type of treatment, we used battery acid, which contains a percentage of sulphuric acid. You can see my PPE in the right side of the photo because acid is not something to be careless with. I started as a chemistry major in college before I switched to biology so I've spent a lot of time in labs. My one summer working in an environmental lab in Fort Wayne, IN - acid bathing various O rings (newbie/grunt task), testing water samples, working under hoods and running the atomic spectrometer was very cool, but its greatest purpose showed me I craved - even required more time outdoors, hence my switch. Even as a biology major, I spent so many lovely weather days in a lab, working diligently, but sneaking regular glances out at the beautiful North Carolina sun. I felt like a caged animal that just needed out. The plant and ecology classes that took me outside made my heart, mind and soul happy and I can't think of anything better than happiness, really.

Thanks to a super awesome female high school chemistry teacher, I still find all this more technical science stuff interesting.

Since we don't have a lab here, I use outside fresh air to help keep the work safe.

Look at these beautiful Staghorn Sumac seeds! They are completely edible (very citrusy) and make a nice tea, pre-acid treatment of course. I soaked bladdernut, rose, sumac and KY coffeetree seeds for a number of hours before rinsing them thoroughly and placing them in moist paper sack in a plastic bag. Some may require longer periods than I gave them, but we won't know until the growing season.

Good note taking is key to organization and doing things better next time. Here's our list of the seeds we have, the stratifications required and when I should get on with things. Since we don't own a greenhouse, we work according to Mother Nature and when she says it's ok to plant in Ohio. I worked all our dates around the average frost-free date for our area, which is right around May 15.

And, voila! All the seed is organized and back in the refrigerator until its noted time for stratification or planting.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Winter arrives in Ohio....in January!

After a very, very warm December that made our bladdernut, a few small oaks, a couple of spicebush and a number of perennial forbs leaf out...

(Christmas Eve in Ohio!)

we are now a bit white and very, very cold. Winter isn't our favorite season, but it's what the plants around here are used to so we are glad for a return to normal.

One advantage of cold temperatures is often the associated sunshine, which we both crave ridiculously here in Ohio in mid-winter. Don't these sunny nature scenes just make your heart happy?

The chickens don't venture far from the coop when it's in the single digits, but once it gets into the 20s or so they like to walk our paths and peck around. I imagine it gets mighty boring in the coop all day, every day.

Little Girl wondered why I kept following them...she just doesn't know how cute they are!

Anna Lee is the more adventurous in the snow and was the primary motivator for their explorations. They've taken a shine to the snow free dirt under our canoe for dust bathing and will spend several hours there!

Besides following chickens around, we are holed up and accomplishing lots indoors, which we will share soon. Stay warm!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Tomato Leather

We mentioned our new favorite trail food here and we have to share how easy & delicious it is. We have Ray Jardine's Trail Life to thank for putting this idea in our minds. The favorite dinner he and his wife shared on many long trails (think PCT, AT, CDT) was corn pasta with dehydrated tomato sauce that they then rehydrated in their pasta water. We preserve as much Tomato Glut Sauce each year as we can from vegetables we grow so we dehydrated three trays (about two quarts) worth to try it out.

The first little piece of this tomato leather I tried shocked me it was so delicious! I kept breaking off more little pieces to sample - as you would expect, dehydrating really concentrates the flavors.

We have two Nesco dehydrators and a couple of solid trays that fit in them to make different leathers. We dehydrated the tomato sauce at 145 degrees Farenheight for about 7 hours. You might want to do more or less depending on what you prefer and the level of moisture in the sauce initially. This tomato leather is so packed with the goodness of summer and nutrient density of real food it fueled us right on down the trail.

The dehydrators are also salvaging our punky, mushy apples that didn't store well this year by turning them into delicious little chewy bits. Waste not, want not!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Bringing in the New Year - Red River Gorge, KY

We celebrated the arrival of 2016 on the trail in the Red River Gorge of KY.....a beautiful place with hills, rocks, water and all sorts of interesting plants and animals.

We hope you all enjoyed a great celebration bringing in the New Year and feel inspired to explore new paths and ideas. We do, and you know we will share it here.

Fun bridge!

Here we are reflected in the Red River.

We hiked a section of the Sheltowee Trace Trail and were out 2 nights, three days.

Sunshine and nature...pretty good combo for us!

Looking for stalactites, which I didn't find, but oh the rocks and water...

Blackjack Oak! Quercus marilandica...an oak tolerant of harsher conditions than many others. It was so cool to see them on these exposed ridges.

This area is very well known for its arches as evidenced by the denuded vegetation. People love this area to death so we say - let's protect more to help minimize our impact!

Some chilly nights froze our water and made us very happy....

to see beautiful views over morning coffee...

and feel warm sunshine on our faces.

Pine Siskins adored the seeds of this birch or alder. 20+ birds fed in here while we watched.

One of our new favorite trail foods is our dehydrated tomato glut sauce from summer.

We love this, some parmesan and bread for lunch. YUM. More on this topic in a future post.

The fungus and lichens in this forest are phenomenal. There is so much to appreciate in this beautiful gorge, and in life, and the opportunity to experience it ushers gratefulness into every moment for us.

Happy 2016 friends!