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Natural Awakenings SW PA, Greater Pittsburgh

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Spring!

Mar 04, 2022 11:46AM ● By Michelle Dalnoky

We just had our first 60-degree day, and that triggers so much excitement! Spring is coming! YAY! But first, maple syrup season. Maple water collection does best with very cold temperatures at night and warmer temperatures during the day. We have many maple trees, but we only tap two or three each year; just enough to  make a couple of quarts of syrup to last us the year and share a bit with family. We used to use up a lot of propane cooking it outside—you can’t cook it inside because it leaves a sticky residue. That’s why they build sugar shacks for large-scale maple syrup cooking. We have a secret weapon, though. The Instant Pot!! We set up two of those on our small covered porch and just pour the maple water in as we collect it. It is much, much, faster and more efficient than using propane.


While that is going on, it’s time to plan out the garden, organize the seeds and look through the seed catalogues. I need to get out my seed trays and start planning what indoor plants to start and when. I have a chart. I’m definitely starting sugar snap and snow peas, which I can plant really early, and lettuce, which also does really well in cold weather.


I typically have three growing areas. The biggest area, veggies, then herbs for cooking and medicine, and flowers, mostly for pollinators. All of the veggies excite me, but I suppose if I had to pick one it would be tomatoes. I’m not a fan of the seeds, so I mostly plant the small, yellow, pear-shaped tomatoes. I love their flavor and I can snack on them when I’m outside, and they are easy to process for salsa, which I love! I also grow tomatoes all around the chicken coop. I plant them and use the chicken wire as a trellis. The chickens love tomatoes as a snack, too!


The most exciting herb is echinacea, which is not only medicinal, but a beautiful flower that the pollinators also love. They attract a swarm of bumblebees, butterflies and many other species of bees large and small. I grow the typical kitchen herbs like chives, oregano, sage, parsley, cilantro, lemon balm and rosemary, and use them regularly. I also forage for wild herbs like yarrow, dandelion, purslane and my favorite, violet. I love to harvest the wild violets and add them to tea or make a syrup out of them. I also adore milkweed and wait excitedly for the monarch caterpillars to appear to watch them grow and transform into butterflies. Oh, we can't forget the berries… wild blackberries, mulberries, elderberries and even the little wild strawberries are all so abundant.


My food forest is also growing, and I have seven established pawpaw trees, but haven’t gotten any fruit yet. I did plant seeds which sprouted last year. I potted a bunch of them up in tall pots because they have a long tap root and have kept them indoors. They are either dormant or dead, and I’m anxiously awaiting to see which it is. I planted about another 100 pawpaw seeds in the fall. They are really slow to germinate, which makes it that much more exciting when they sprout! I’ll be dispersing them throughout the property as a part of my food forest plan, (and of course giving some away)! I love to restore native plants, and pawpaw trees are indeed native to the eastern U.S. I also love food forests, as they will naturally feed humans and animals alike.


What are you going to plant this year?

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