22 Trees That Can Be Tapped For Sap And Syrup

Wild Foodism

maplespilewildfoodism2As winter wanes and spring approaches, wild foodists all across North America tap into the time-honored tradition of sugar production – mainly, the transformation of maple tree sap into maple syrup and sugar.  This process, passed on from the Native Americans to the early settlers, is still quite popular today, and is responsible for one of the few wild foods that can be purchased commercially in most supermarkets.

Most people associate syrup with the maple tree, and although much of today’s syrup does originate from the sugar maple, all species of maple can be tapped.  Even better, many other trees from other genera can be tapped to extract sap, which ultimately can be turned into delicious syrup.

In this post, I won’t be discussing the methods involved in tapping for sugar production.  If you are unfamiliar with the process, there are a variety of great websites, videos, and books to…

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Elemental Ecosophy Challenge: Water

bay witch musings

Ecosophy, or ecological wisdom starts with one’s wisdom about their own bioregion.  As a Pagan, and a person that feels quite strongly about their bioregion, I think it our duty to get to know our personal loci and how interacts with the earth as a whole.  As a witch, I think a useful way to do this is to look at the elements of our ecosystem as…well, as Elements.

If you have other activities or ideas that you can think of, particularly anything pertinent to a different ecosystem than mine, feel free to chime in!

Water

Water is the only substance found naturally on earth in all three physical states–gas, liquid, and solid.  In a 100-year period, a water molecule will spend 98 years in the ocean, 20 months as ice, about 2 weeks in lakes and rivers, and less than a week in the atmosphere.  In terms of volume…

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Fat of the Land

a simple truth.

Pagan Devotionals

We had never had any real conscious drive to self-sufficiency.  We had thought, like a lot of other people, that it would be nice to grow our own vegetables.  But living here has altered our sense of values.  We find that we no longer place the same importance on artifacts and gadgets as other people do.  Also, every time we buy some factory-made article, we wonder what sort of people made it – if they enjoyed making it or if it was just a bore – what sort of life the maker, or makers, lead.

I wonder where all this activity is leading.  Is it really leading to a better or richer or simpler life for people?  Or not?  I wonder about the nature of progress.  One can progress in so many different directions.  Up a gum-tree, for example.  I know that the modern factory worker is supposed to lead…

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The Skills of Nature Connection – a Discussion

A few days back, this post was published over at Nature Is Sacred, and I just wanted to discuss how these eight principles could be applied to everyday sustainable living.

1) Sense Meditation – This is meditating outside using all of our senses – what do we see, what do we hear, what do we feel, what do we smell, what do we taste? Focusing on being fully present and aware in the moment. Relax and focus on your breath. Look around you – both in the distance and close up. Take in the whole scene, then focus on specific aspects in detail. Pick up and touch the things around you. Feel the ground underneath you. Feel the wind on your face. Feel each part of your body. Smell the flowers. Smell the wind. Taste the rain. Listen to the birds, the wind in the trees, the children playing, the cars driving, the animals hunting. Meditate on the world around us.

Meditation is part philosophy, part practice, and part faith.  But it’s a good practice, and one I’ve been trying on and off for the last several years.  Maybe it’s not for you, and that’s okay, and maybe it is, and that’s okay too, but the point I’m trying to make with 1) Sense Meditation is this:  go outside.  Feel the ground underneath you and feel the wind on your face.  See the world around you, and see all of it.  Remind yourself that these things you see, and sense, and hear are the reasons we are here.

2) The Sit Spot – This is the number one practice of nature connection. Go out to a place in nature, maybe your garden, maybe a park or woodland. Go to that same place every day or every week for a year. sit, listen and observe. What is happening? What is changing? What animals are around and what are they doing? What plants are around at each point and what are they doing? What is the weather like?

This really just hones down the first point.  Go outside.  Pay attention.  Make observations.  Note where the shoreline on the lake is.  Is it the same place next year?  And the year after?  What’s the temperature on May 16th?  What was the temperature last year on this day?  When was the first snowfall?  Is it earlier or later than the year before?

3) Wandering – wander in nature, go for a walk, have no agenda, be open to see and hear and feel whatever happens. Explore.

Go outside.  There’s no point in living lightly if you aren’t going to take joy in it (well, there is, but you might as well enjoy it too!)

4) Journaling – write down what you see when out in nature, draw pictures of the plants and animals around you. record the changes in the weather, the seasons and the times of day. Record what you feel.

This really comes down to knowing where you live.  And I don’t mean memorizing your street address.  Knowing where you live is about loving the land you’re on, and respecting it.  You don’t need to write it down, but I think it’s important to observe (which is what this post is really about.  Observe, observe, observe).  When you really know your land, you know what’s on it, who occupies it (both humans and animals), and how to tend to it.  Which brings up the next point.

5) Foraging (maybe Bushcraft in general). Connecting with our local place, learning how to live off the land, knowing what plants grow around us and learning what is edible or medicinal and in what ways. Being able to identify the spirits of nature. Buy as wild food handbook and look at whats available now – then go out to the hedgerows, fields and forests and find them. Maybe collect some (responsibly) and make a meal.

Whether you live in rural or urban settings, learn your local edibles.  Stay away from foraging on lawns or parks that could use pesticides, but forest paths, and even highway ditches make great places to forage.  Even if you learn only one or two plants, there comes a feeling of satisfaction from being able to identify and pluck food from the earth that no human helped grow, and it can supplement your own diet (I eat dandelion greens all spring long, and make jelly from their flowerheads).

6) Thanksgiving – Giving thanks before every meal, acknowledging that what we are eating is a gift of nature. Being grateful. Being mindful.

Number six pertains more specifically to the spiritual side of loving the land, but to take a point away from it, acknowledge that your food, which may have come from a grocery store or a farmer’s market, was once alive, and lived off the land.  That weird fleshy thing packaged in cellophane and styrofoam that’s labeled ‘chicken breast’ was actually a walking, clucking, pooping chicken.

7) Eating Seasonably and locally – Learning what grows in your area in each season, basing your meals around those things, living in touch with nature as our ancestors did, helping the environment, trying new things. Seasonal local eating connects us to the changes in the seasons in a very practical way.

Support your local farmers.  They work hard to grow food, and they don’t make a fraction of what farms that supply to grocery chains do.  It’s a bit more expensive, typically, but nothing beats a fresh vine-ripened tomato, or farm eggs.

8) Gardening/ growing your own food – When we grow our own food, when we spend time outside getting our hands dirty in the mud, we connect with the earth in a profound way. We learn the ways of nature at a deep level, we realise our utter dependence upon the Earth Mother.

Alternatively, start growing your own food.  It’s cheaper in the long run, and you can control exactly what’s going into your body in terms of nutrients, pesticides, etc.  And everything tastes better if you grow it yourself!

DIY worm composting (or “How I made a bunch of worm buddies”)

Worm composting, or vermicomposting, is an important part of a sustainable home.  Composting reduces the amount of organic waste that makes it to a landfill, which often doesn’t decompose*, and turns your fruit and vegetable scraps into a nutrient-rich fertilizer by passing through the digestive tract of worms and other beneficial microorganisms.  Their excretion, called worm castings, or vermicast, is nitrogen-rich and full of moisture, and can be used as a fertilizer for your house plants, and your garden.  Worms can take your coffee grinds, lettuce scraps, and apple cores, and turn them into fertile castings, which you can then in turn feed your little plants with.

The most common worm species for worm composting is the Red Wiggler (Eisenia fetida), though European nightcrawlers (Eisenia hortensis) may also be used.  Red Wigglers are the most common variety because they are surface dwellers that live in rich organic soil, feed on decomposing plant matter, and eat up to half their size in food per day.  

Your worm buddies can be used indoor or outdoor, but if you live in a climate with wild temperature swings, you might be better off with an indoor bin, since colder temperatures (below 10C) can kill your worms.  I know a few people here in town who keep and maintain a worm bin year-round, but then move a few handfuls of worms into their outdoor compost bin in the summer, fully knowing that those worms will die come autumn frosts.  The ideal temperature for your worms is between 15-25C, with temperatures below 10C and above 30C liable to kill them off.

*most landfills, due to their depth, create anaerobic environments, meaning that at depth, there is a lack of oxygen.  Without that oxygen, or aeration, organic waste will not decompose, and can sit there for decades.

How to Build a Worm Bin

The easiest way to build a worm bin is to use a bucket, or a Rubbermaid bin between one to two feet in depth.  Shallower than a foot, and you won’t have very much room for your worms to grow.  More than two feet or so in depth, and your worms won’t be very effective at decomposing the organic matter at the bottom of the bucket.  Some people prefer to use wooden boxes, because they are porous and will naturally breathe better and absorb extra moisture (which can kill your worm buddies), but they will decompose over time.  If you do choose to use wooden boxes, make sure the wood isn’t chemically treated, which could kill your worms.  Worm bins are also available commercially, for example, this bin sold here at vermiculture.ca.

1.  Your bin needs to be highly ventilated.  Drill a bunch of ventilation holes 1/8″ (3mm) along the sides of the bucket and in the lid.  If you have a second bucket to sit the compost bin in, you can also drill 1/4″ (6mm) aeration holes in the bottom, and catch the ‘fertilizer juice’ in the bottom bin.  If you are using a second bin, drill holes in the sides to aerate the ‘juices’.  If you are sitting your bin outside, you definitely need the lid to prevent excess water from entering the system, but if the bin is inside only, you just need something to cover the top of the compost to keep pets out, and prevent flies from forming.

2.  Now that your bin is full of holes, we have to make it habitable for your wormy buddies.  Lay down a layer of ‘bedding’.  Bedding is meant to replicate the natural habitat of the worms, and gives them a place to live and hide.  It also assists in keeping the food scraps aerated and oxygen rich, and to absorb extra moisture.  Too much moisture can kill your wormies by creating an anaerobic environment (the bad part about organic waste in landfills!)

Suitable bedding materials include:

  • shredded newspaper
  • shredded cardboard
  • chopped up straw and dead plants
  • peat moss
  • sawdust from untreated wood

The bedding should be wet, but not sopping.  Think “damp sponge”.  Fluff it up a bit.  Whichever bedding you choose will eventually breakdown and become part of the organic matter in the castings.

3.  Throw a few handfuls of soil in to give your worms some ‘grit’ to help them digest the food waste and to introduce beneficial microbes into the environment.  This step isn’t necessary, but it will speed up the growth of your worm bin.

4.  Feed your worms.  Start slowly, and as your bin grows, you can increase your food waste input.  Bury it in a different place each time.  Remember, red wigglers eat half their body size in food.  So if you produce 1lb of waste each week, you need to have 2lbs of worms to fully compost it all.  If you can purée or chop your scraps finely before putting them in the bin, they will break down faster.  

Do’s and Don’ts of worm feeding:

DO:

  • fruit and veggie scraps
  • grains, cornmeal, and breads
  • coffee grounds, filters, and tea bags (take the staples out of the tea bag!)
  • dried, crushed eggshells (for pH balance in the soil)
  • small amounts of citrus fruit (for pH balance in the soil)

DON’T:

  • foods with oil, salt, or vinegar
  • garlic, onions, chives, or shallots
  • pet food, meat, fish, or dairy (these putrefy before they decompose)
  • hard root veggies such as potatoes  (hard for the worms to digest)
  • high amounts of citrus fruit
  • feces

*Greens (nitrogen rich): veggies and fruits, coffee grounds, tea bags, green grass clippings (without insecticides on them!), green garden waste, flowers

*Browns (carbon rich): dried leaves and brown grass clippings, pine and spruce needles, paper, cardboard, and newspaper, house plants, prunings and cuttings, sawdust (untreated wood), straw

*Other: (add minerals): egg shells (add calcium carbonate), wood and wood pellet ash (use sparingly for pH balance)

5. Finally, put another layer of dry bedding on top.  This prevents fruit flies from forming.  Put the lid on, or a well-fitted piece of cardboard, or even a piece of plywood, if it is left slightly askew for ventilation.

As your worm bin grows, don’t forget to maintain moisture, and stir everything up every few weeks to aerate the soil and assist with decomposition!

Harvesting:

If you’ve taken care of your worm bin, within 3-6 months, your bin will be ready for harvesting (aka, your apple cores will have been turned into soil.  By magic.)

Open your bin, and move any bedding and uncomposted vegetative material out of the way.  Using gloves (or your bare hands, if you aren’t squeamish), scoop up sections of the moist worm castings and worms, and spread it out onto newspaper laid out on the floor in a ‘pyramid’ shape.  Worms dislike light or sunlight, so once you’ve gathered all your finished worm castings into the pile, shine a bright light, or leave out in the sunlight for 5 minutes.  The worms will wriggle their way down into the bottom of the pile.

Scoop the castings up and remove them from the pile.  Wait another 5 minutes for the worms to hide again, and repeat until you have no more castings left, and then return the worms to the bin.

Go fertilize your plants!

Wormy Issues and How to Fix Them

Instead of rewriting all the problems you can or could have with your worms, you should check out this very informative article here @ urbancomposting.org *

*really, you should check out their entire website.  It’s far more informative than this one post could possibly hope to obtain.

Sources:

http://compost.css.cornell.edu/worms/basics.html

http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Worm-Compost-System

http://whatcom.wsu.edu/ag/compost/easywormbin.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vermicompost

http://www.urbanwormcomposting.org/getting-started/

Indoor Composting in Yellowknife, a pamphlet produced by the City of Yellowknife

A Little Piece of Earth: How to Grow your Own Food in Small Spaces, by Maria Finn

Image from: http://queenbeecoupons.com/create-a-diy-worm-compost-bin/

the little beginning

A little beginning, a little action, and a little thought is all it takes to make a difference.  This is a place for people who want to wake up and feel the sun on their face, whether it’s from a lakeside cabin, or a 3rd floor apartment.

I want to reclaim the wild.  I want to wake up with the sun on my face, I want to reduce my carbon footprint, to compost, to grow my own food (whether that is 1% or 100%).  I want to live unfettered, unrestricted, untamed, and unconcerned about the state of the Earth, because the state of the Earth is finally something sustainable.  We may never get to that stage, but I am one human, and you are a few humans, and us humans together, well…we can make a tiny difference.

Reduce, reuse, repurpose, and recycle.  Give up chemicals, or try to use more environmentally friendly chemicals.  Make our own food, or promote companies that make their own food, sustainably.  Forget about plastic.  Make our own makeup.  Clean with vinegar.  Find berries and herbs in the forest.  See beauty in nature.  Make this planet a better place for ourselves, and our children, and our children’s children.  And their children.  And the children of our pets, and the children of the foxes, and polar bears, and little birdies.

And text your friends.  Because this is the 21st century, and sometimes, that’s a thing you just gotta do.

So join me in this little beginning.  Even if you’ve never recycled, even if you’ve never had much of a green thumb, join me.

*as this site grows, we’ll be taking submissions and applications for contributors.  My ultimate goal is for this to turn into a community.  So if you’re intrigued by the idea, comment below!