Monday, February 27, 2017

Harvest Monday - 27 February 2017

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year! Queue the rich, merry tenor voice of Andy Williams. OK, now try to turn it off in your mind. Ha, you can't! But we are not talking about Christmas. No, this was the tag line of The Kitchen Goddess's Facebook post from a week ago, with a picture of a bucket hanging from a tree. Yes, maple syrup season has come (and gone) at Eight Gate Farm!

Saturday the 18th began a very unusual warming trend here in the Northeast. And by warm, I mean really warm. In fact, on Friday the 24th it reached the 70s, and we enjoyed eating dinner outside on the screened porch, listening to the babbling brook just over the northern property line. Most of the year this brook is just a trickle or even a seep, but swelled with the rapidly melting snow it turned into a relative torrent.

You can see our property line tailing off into the woods on the right. 

A classic maple sap run has days in the 40s, and nights below freezing, which typically occurs in very late February or early March, and extends for several weeks, with days when it temporarily shuts down. But this was almost too warm, with no freezing nights. This is supposed to have an adverse effect on the quality of the sap. Something about the sap going up to the tops of the trees and staying there, which causes cloudiness in what you harvest. It's chemistry, or physics, or something like that...I don't know. Science is hard!

I've written a series of posts in the past that shows how we make maple syrup on a small scale. You can find it here, and here, and here. This year we again tapped the four large sugar maples next to the barn, one tap per tree. In just a week we had all the syrup we need for the year, and maybe enough extra to give some small gifts. An average year is a 40:1 ratio of sap to syrup. But this year, with a little over 20 gallons of sap, we yielded 3 1/2 quarts of the delicious nectar.

You can see a half-full jar in the middle. This was the last boil. Not sure why it is so much darker. But all the boils produced clear, super-sweet syrup (after being allowed to settle, of course). So the over-warm temperatures did not seem to affect us, but did substantially shorten the required season. 

As in the past, the local high school's forestry program requested our permission to tap our little "sugar bush" of young trees, which we gladly gave. They've placed over 30 buckets there, and the students come by every few days to empty them. They typically leave us a quart of syrup at the end of the season, adding to our stash.

So it was a highly successful season that was over before we knew it (the school taps much longer, so they are just starting). Well, it was easy for me. TKG had the tedious part of tending the boils. I kept singing "Most Wonderful Time" just to keep her amused.

In the store yesterday they featured "Certified Organic, Non-GMO" syrup, which made me laugh. What else could it be? The price: $14 per quart. Again, this is not something we do to "save money." The equipment (buckets, taps, boiler) we can amortize over many years. We spent maybe $25 for propane to run the boiler (a repurposed turkey fryer), so it is certainly not "free." No, this is something we do for self-sufficiency and just because it's neat to "raise" your own food, just like gardening.

Oh, and a downside to the warm weather. I went out into the woods on Saturday to change the memory card in the game-cam. It's just 50 yards, but coming out I found 6 ticks crawling up my legs. In February! Yuck! Thank you Climate Change.

Thanks for reading, and thanks as always to Dave at Our Happy Acres for hosting Harvest Monday.