Monday, October 21, 2013

Soggy with a Dose of Sunshine

It's a crisp yet slightly soggy morning here at Brookhill Farm.  The sun made its appearance at the appropriate time.  I walked down the drive to open the gate for the gentleman who works for us and retrieved Saturday's mail this morning.  I had company and forgot about the post until I unlocked the gate.

More cedars will be sacrificed today in the name of the almighty fence post!  We have quite a surplus and the additional cross-fencing that Richard wants will be done using our own wood.  That's a nice thought not to mention a great savings.  To date, 100 cedars have been felled.  Richard and I took a survey of the 65 acres of woods last week.  From various storms, many second and third growth trees have cracked and tumbled in the woods.  One old growth tree fell over the creek and reaches the other side as if to build a bridge for a mischievous ten year old with a tree frog in his pocket (for safe keeping, of course).  Managing the forest is just as important as making sure the fields produce delicious grass for the animals.  The thinning is necessary and the dead wood needs put to good use.

Hickory trees abound and are bearing nuts.  Coming late to the farm, we missed this year's harvest but found enough to dry and savor for the holidays.  The next order of business is identifying the different types of oak and maple within the forest.  At the entrance to the property there are about six sugar maples discovered via leaf identification.  Their bark is much lighter than I would have imagined for a maple tree.  My first guess was white oak or silver birch but I was wrong.  It took a few hours searching through tree and shrub books, identification guides online, and forestry web sites to find the exact match on this leaf.

Identifying species during the Fall is not as easy.  In the Spring, nature reveals its true self.  Once the decay of autumn commences, some telltale signs erase.  The discovery of the sugar maples had my mind fixated on delicious maple syrup.  My research took off in a new direction!  How might I tap these trees and get some of this yummy syrup?

The number of taps depends on the circumference of the trunk.  Anything under 10 DBH should not be tapped as it would cause permanent damage to the tree.  A spile is inserted into a tap hole drilled slightly upward to allow the sap to flow freely into a container.  When it rains, water taken up by the tree mixes with the sap inside allowing it to flow freely and continue to give.  The rain helps produce more sap.  The best time to extract syrup is Spring and Fall when the nights are frigid and the days are warm!

From what I've read, the extraction is easy when the tree is tapped properly.  The tricky part for me will be choosing the right spile.  Those who wish to do as little damage to the tree use a 5/16" spile.  A 7/16" spile was used in years gone by.  Many prefer the 7/16" despite the damage believing the 5/16" spile reduces sap flow.  Studies conducted recently show no reduction in sap flow using a 5/16" spile.  The tap hole is able to heal faster and the tree is happier.  Spiles are made from many types of materials now.  The question is:  which type is right for our trees?  I'll keep you posted!

Link:  New Options for the Maple Spout or Spile

The difficult part is boiling down the sap.  Commercial sap operations purchase large evaporators/reducers that boil the sap down into a syrup, removing all the water, and impurities from it.  One can boil sap down on a stove but it would take much longer to produce syrup or sugar that way.

The general formula:   40 gallons of sap = 1 gallon of maple syrup or 8 pounds of maple sugar

Without an evaporator, I need a large black cauldron in the back yard to boil down my sap should I decide to do this.  The trees cannot be tapped until Spring 2014 .  So, I decided to spend more time looking for other sugar maples in the woods.  The previous owners may have planted these or they could have been here.  If I find our only sugar maples are in the front near the brook, then I know they were a thoughtful addition.  I hope the woods yields more of them, however.  They are amazing trees.  The leaves are astounding and each one matches the size of Richard's hand.  Locals often call them "river maples" which is deceiving because that name doesn't tell the casual onlooker what gorgeous goo this specimen contains.

The more we wander, the more we discover.  These trees are another example of valuable resources that are 'untapped'.  As I returned from the brook with my leaf samples last weekend, my mind went  back in time while I walked the hill.  My father once said, "When you're old enough to know how to live, you're old enough to die."  As the chill bothered the arthritis in my right hand, my hip popped, and my bad leg reminded me it was along for the ride too.

From the cradle, every breath is counted.  No one knows exactly how many of those each of us gets to take.  I think of what I used to consider scenery.  Now, I see it as life, opportunity, sustenance.  Perhaps a better word would be 'provision'.  Then my mind takes me to that awesome concept:  Divine Provision or Providence.

Nature replenishes itself.  The human is the intruder into its world.  It is never the other way around.  Humans are blessed that we can draw from it, drink from it, and live in harmony with it.  It saddens me when I think of how many years that I've wasted never realizing all of what God's creation holds.  I feel that I should have been living this life always.  I'm grateful to God that I've awakened.  It's as if I have come alive for the first time.  My old eyes feel like a child's exploring this habitat.

A touch of sadness appears on my cheek.  I pray that the Lord gives me as many years to give back to the Earth that I spent thoughtlessly taking from it.  Every farmer's creed should be to leave the land better than you found it, not worse for you having raped it.

Take a walk through the woods sometime this week.  Collect some leaves.  Research and learn a little bit more about what grows naturally in your region, what may have been planted by settlers, and how each member in the forest does it part.  As you walk through, do not just admire the leaves.  Admire the ground beneath your feet.  Man cannot devise a carpet more lovely than the forest floor.

Be blessed...and leave it better than you found it!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tina,
    I really like your blog post, but I do have a couple of comments about two things you said. First, you said that "The human is the intruder into its world." I understand that you mean the world of nature, but man is also a "natural" part of God's creation given a specific command to care for the world into which he was placed (though we haven't always done a good job of care tending). In God's order man is above the natural world, so we aren't intruders, only the angels are of a higher order than men. The second comment you made was that you are "to leave the land better than you found it, not worse for having raped it." You have used a very broad brush to paint implying that we are all "rapists" of the land. That is not true; there are many, many people like you and I who love the land and have done everything possible to keep the land pristine and beautiful. A better word to use other than "raped" might be "abused;" and even in that case all people haven't "abused" the land. Blessings!