And if you missed the previous RRF Fotofeeds check them out below once you have finished with this one!
- Reber Rock Farm Fotofeeds #1
- Reber Rock Farm Fotofeeds #2
- Reber Rock Farm Fotofeeds #3
- Reber Rock Farm Fotofeeds #4
00 Old Mainline
Last year we had 430 taps on five mainlines across roughly 6 acres of woods, and we made 240 gallons of syrup! That’s just over two quarts per tap, twice as much as a bucket system without a vacuum. We were thrilled at the demand for local syrup, which sold well at farmers markets, local stores (Byrd’s Country Store and The Pink Pig) and out of the farm store. For you New Yorkers, you can also find our syrup in NYC at Lodge Restaurant and at Urban Rustic.
Of our many enterprises (pork, beef, chicken, turkey, syrup, vegetables, horse breeding and training, logging, value-added processing, grains) syrup brings in the highest revenues and subsidizes other enterprises that we enjoy, but are not quite as profitable.
01 New Mainline
At this year’s NY NOFA Winter Conference, we attended two presentations by our local Maple Syrup expert, Mike Farrell that changed our approach to sugaring. Following Mike’s recommendations we decided to expand production. We added 1200 feet of new main line with 160 taps and tapped 60 additional trees using sap bags (a new technology encouraged by Mike). We decided to buy a machine to make delicious Maple Cream, a 100% maple syrup spread that is great on toast, cookies, or as a pretzel dip. We will use it in the Whallonsburg Grange Community Kitchen starting in a few weeks!
02 Sap Wood
Mike’s presentation and his book, The Sugarmaker’s Companion, also convinced us to invest more in the long-term health of our sugar bush. We already practice sustainable forestry under Chad’s guidance, but we decided to ensure long-term returns from our maple trees by adjusting our tapping methods. Mike suggests that a maximum of 2 taps per tree will ensure continued access to “sap wood” the white wood in the outer rings of the tree through which sap runs.
Taps in trees create a long diamond shaped stain in the wood – now highly valued in maple flooring as a decorative element – above and below the tap hole. Sap runs less, and sometimes not at all, through this stain, so each year we avoid them seeking the bright white, soft, sap wood. Conservative tapping will ensure that sap wood growth keeps pace with tapping each year, and production can be sustained.
03 Figuring and Laterals
Laying out the path of the mainline and laterals through our woods was tricky, and took a lot of head scratching and trips next door to ask Bradley French’s expert advice. The lines must be level, or ideally, continually downward slopping towards the pump house. With many little hills and valleys throughout the sugar bush, and one big ravine to contend with, we had to be creative. Only time and running sap will tell whether we’ve chosen the correct path…
04 Gwen and the Drop Lines
Once the laterals were all laid out we got to work making the drop lines, short sections of tubing with a tap on one end and a splice on the other. We use a special tool to hold and cut the lateral line near where we want to tap the tree.
This winter we welcomed Gwen Jamison onto the farm team. She and Chad have lived in the farm house for the last year, and now Gwen is also working full time with Reber Rock. We hope that having two families co-managing the farm will allow both couples to live a more balanced life. Someday we might even be able to take a summer vacation! 🙂 Gwen will be help with logging, syrup production, hay making, crops, animals and fencing. She is also a graphic designer extraordinaire and does all the labels for the farm. She’s also growing Shiitake Mushrooms in the woods, so look for those early 2015!
As we put up the new main line, we followed an old line that was up in the 80s. It is now lying mostly on the ground, with parts of the laterals giving us a clue which trees used to be tapped. We also saw lots of good examples, like in this picture, of the tree healing over the tap hole (and sometimes the old tap itself) trying to close that wound and prevent bacterial from entering the tree. Normally, taps are removed from the tree at the end of the season.
We struggle with the environment challenge of all that plastic and wire lying around on the ground after 20 years. Sometimes, if we have time, or when Lakeside School‘s 1st and 2nd graders are willing to come help, we gather it up and put it in a big pile along the road through the sugar bush. It is not only difficult to collect, but also expensive to get rid of. We could spend hours removing all the wires and recycle them, but we’d still have to pay to get rid of the plastic. For now, it sits in a pile and through the woods, a constant reminder that need a better solution.
Once the drop lines are in, the tap can be set. The choice of the tap hole is important, because to get good production from the tree the hole must be in tap wood and not overlap with a stain from a previous tap hole.
07 Horse’s Role
As we get ready for the sap runs to start, the horses eat happily in the barn knowing their turn to pull the sap wagon will come soon. We’ll have a changing of the guard this year as our two black Percherons, Killian and Moose, were just sold to a farmer down in Conway, MA, and Chad will be selling his seasoned team, Fern and Arch. This will leave us with a bunch of green horses, requiring more attention and more training each day. Yet, that is part of the fun and the challenge. There is a lot of pride in sending off a well-broke team to a good home, and even more in watching the new trainees take the place of their predecessors. This switch also makes way for the transition to a Suffolk breeding program; we’ll be looking to build a herd of three to four registered Suffolk mares (see American Suffolk Horse Association) who can be bred to our 11 month old stallion, Donn, in a few years.
Emotions around the departure of these partners run high; they are more than pets, more than production animals and only slightly less than members of the family. On this farm, we choose not to survive without them and they have a part in producing all the food we eat and sell.
08 Training and logging
Today, it’s obvious spring is reluctant to join us, so we’ll keep training horses and logging a bit longer. Pulling small logs with the Kids (our younger horses, Faust pictured here) single or double, is great training. So while Chad logs with Fern and Arch, Nate can work along side him to pull the smaller stuff with the newbies. This way they’ll be ready for lighter work in their first season such as pulling the stone boat, cultivating, spring tinning, mowing, etc. We’ll keep Fern and Arch til May after we’ve plowed new ground, as plowing is heavy, precision work best done by an experienced team.
- Reber Rock Farm Fotofeed #4: Year in Review (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Reber Rock Farm Fotofeeds #1 (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Reber Rock Farm’s Nathan Henderson’s “Drafting a Future” Radiostory (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Reber Rock Farm Fotofeeds #3 (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Reber Rock Fotofeeds #2 (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Maple Syrup From a to Z: 26 Interesting Things to Know (lifeisshorteatpork.com)