Published in The Delaware Gazette, February 16 ,2013
The six-inch snowfalls experienced during the last month, at Stratford Ecological Center on Liberty Road, highlighted the trunks of ash trees felled in late October by the remnants of Hurricane Sandy. Farmer Jeff was drawn by the contrast between the dark trunk and the white snow. It was then he realized how many trees had succumbed to the emerald ash borer and been toppled by the wind.
The fallen trees remain, as we cut for firewood only those blocking trails. The rest are left to decay. The positive side of this sad loss is that their nutrients nourish the remaining trees and flora, as well as the emerging seedlings responding to the extra light, and the myriad life forms we usually miss with our casual glance.
The stream running through the wild flower preserve and sugar bush was in full flow after the melt and rains. It is a lovely sound on a quiet day or night. Volunteers were out in force on February 7, tapping more than a hundred and fifty maple trees. Some of the larger ones host two taps. Taken on average this is an early start to sugaring. Day and night time temperatures have been just right and flow has been good.
When nigh temperatures drop back into the teens the flow stops, and it takes five days after the temperature rises for the trees to recover and the sap resumes flowing. By February 11 one hundred and eighty gallons of sap had been collected and cooked down, producing four and a half gallons of pure maple syrup.
The cows no longer graze in Fields #4 and 5. The fields have been shut down to allow the grass to regenerate for spring grazing. The cows are a little cranky as they have no choice of hay or pasture. They do loose a little body weight, but soon make it up when the grass returns. Our hay has been quality tested and the protein found to be high, the best in three years. We still have most of the donated round hay bales, a welcome security blanket.
All the animals spend the night in the barn and during the day they can be found loafing or exercising in the South Pasture. Utilizing this field means they don’t have to cross the lane and we can keep it open for access to the sugar shack.
The bull has returned to John Van Gundy’s dairy farm to serve his cows. We have not seen signs of the cattle coming into heat, and hopefully breeding is behind us for this year.
The cows must be pickier than the sheep and goats, who I observed eating, with gusto, the hay spread on the pen floor in the late afternoon. A steady, contented sound of chewing reached my ears as I watched one of the Sugar’s twin calves butt a robust, woolly ewe to reach greener pastures. Despite being shorter, she stood for no such nonsense, and shoved him back with her shoulder and he retreated.
The ram will continue to be with the ewes through their March lambing until June or July. The buck goat won’t be able to stay with the nanny goats quite so long, as we want our separated “teenage” goat to rejoin the herd as soon as possible without the fear of her being mated.
Roxy is definitely a contented sow after Ed Snavely once again sent a boar to mate with her. It took only one night for her to accept his presence, and unlike last year’s unlucky boar, she is allowing him to be Alfa this year. He is a becoming shade of brown, and only a little smaller than Roxy, and they look quite handsome together. The boar came over to greet me and I scratched between his ears, where upon he laid down on his side exposing his belly for a good rub.
Farmer Jeff said it has been great to have so much child energy around this early in the season, when the Messages program for 5th graders kicked off its winter curriculum for the first time. Despite the cold and mud, the children are as enthusiastic as they were last fall. Some needed their feet warming. All were exuberant when they returned from the woods to be greeted with a mug of hot cider, heated in a black pot in the stone fire place.
Stratford starts its maple sugar tours for school children next week and the general public are invited to sign up for tours on Saturday, February 23 or March 2, between 10 and 1 pm. We invite you to make reservations for our annual pancake breakfast and tour on Saturday, March 9, starting at 8 am. The last seating is at noon. There are various classes beginning soon, with a description on our web site. We hope you will come out to eat, learn, and enjoy time with us.