Ten days ago it felt just about like summer here at The Farm School, with temperatures
well up into the seventies and the snow melting fast. Rivers and streams in the area, bursting with the quick snow-melt, rapidly climbed to the tops of their banks, the yard turned to mud, and the evaporator in the sugar shack was going full tilt. Farmers here have even been finding ticks on themselves and their dogs. The temperature has been going down pretty steadily all of the past week though, and by this morning, we sit at 2 degrees. We were so blinded in our glorification of spring that the returning cold air froze the cow barn water system before we realized that winter wasn’t quite over yet.
Last week was a busy sugaring week, with some big runs throughout the week, and the sugar-shack cranking out syrup at full speed. We boiled all day, and most of the night, throughout the week, and worked through several full tanks of sap. The shelves are filling up with finished half gallons of syrup, and the quick warm up of the week is reflected in a quick transition from the clear syrup of the early season to the darker syrup of warmer weather. The initial run of sap, coming up from winter storage in the roots, is the cleanest and sweetest sap of the sugaring season. Once the weather warms, and the tree begins to take in moisture from the soil again, things begin to get a little more cloudy. This phenomenon is strongly enhanced by warm air temperatures, since the sap begins to age more quickly in the buckets at each tree as the temperatures rises. These two issues can lead to a darker product coming out of the evaporator pan, though that usually means a stronger maple flavor as well. Most serious maple producers strive pretty strictly for the clearest Grade A Light Amber, but here at The Farm School, the kids eating in the bunkhouse are happy with just about anything sweet and delicious coming out of the sugar-shack. Now that temperatures have gone way back
down to single digits, I really hope that we have reset the season a bit, and that we can go back to some nice clear sap runs and lighter syrup for a while. We’ve got a little stretch of poor sugaring weather here forecasted for the middle of this week, but then it looks like we settle down into another good stretch of warm sunny days and cold nights to keep the maples pumping up sap.
Work has moved ahead on the new Maggie’s Farm brooder house, with our focus last week turning to the ceiling and eaves. We really need to make sure that this building provides our tiny little chicks with a safe environment to grow up in, and that means doing everything that we can to keep out other creatures, and to keep the heat in. We are sheathing the underside of the eaves in 1×10 rough-cut pine from Heyes Forest Products, and putting the same product on the underside of the rafters to create a ceiling. This work will hopefully keep the roof system inaccessible to any and all intruders, make sure that no one is nesting in there, and help to keep the chick space inside cleaner.
Last week was our final push on cord-wood for the winter, and we took down a few trees right around the yard, and bucked, split and stacked them for the furnace. Those trees had been standing between the main farmyard and one of our closest pastures, and the change in the view from the yard is remarkable.
Last week also included our yearly series of pruning workshops with Brad Maloney. He comes out every year to take the students through three full days of pruning, starting with an introduction to the basic concepts and tools, and moving pretty quickly out onto the farm for work in the trees. We have fruit trees all over the ridge, and between Brad, Carlen and all the students, they try to prune them all. This series of workshops has been happening here at the farm for quite a few years, and by this point, our trees are beautifully shaped and healthy.