The peskiest weeds in your sugar woods will be Buckthorn, Honeysuckle, and Barberry, all three found and pictured here in our sugar woods . . . for now!
It's July. Exhale. Your syrup is bottled and shelved, your pans are cleaned and stored, and your maples are leafing out nicely. You may be working on next year's sugar wood supply, tagging a few more trees for tapping, or drawing up plans for your first sugar house. You are planting, watering and weeding the kitchen garden. But are you weeding your sugar woods?
Weeding the woods? Yes! As we've discussed before, three steps a landowner can take to care for their sugar woods - especially in this changing climate - include: (1) eradicating invasive species, (2) cultivating an ideal suite of tree species, and (3) protecting riparian areas and other habitat to support diversity of non-tree species. So let's start at the very beginning.
According to our sources, the three most pernicious and widespread invasive species in sugar country are Buckthorn, Honeysuckle, and Barberry. All three of these "ornamental" bushes harm the ecosystem by out-competing native plants and otherwise offering substandard living quarters and food to forest birds and animals. All three spread quickly. Not good. But certainly not hopeless.
The first step to controlling these pests is identifying them on your land. It's also the fun part! That's what we will cover in this post. Here's what you will need:
Make a rough sketch of your plot of land for marking the location of invasive infestations. A manila folder can double as storage for reference materials and can easily be squirreled away in your filing cabinet for future use.
Armed with these materials, simply walk your land and note where these species are found. Pay particular attention to the side of roads and driveways, streams, structures, or anywhere else there is a significant break in the forest canopy. Once you find one example of a species, they are easy to spot again. Plan a walk for the Spring and the Fall: while Honeysuckle is easiest to identify by its white, yellow and pink flowers in May and June, Buckthorn and Barberry are easiest to identify by their berries in Fall.
Earlier today, we took our own first survey walk, and found multiple examples of all three of these invasive plants on the one acre of our property that has some field, road and stream frontage! The Honeysuckle was rampant, shoulder high, flowering in white, yellow and pink, and easy to spot. The Barberry - knee high with distinctive leaves, thorns (don't touch!), and tell-tale buds where flowers must have been (berries will be) - was also pretty easy. But while we're fairly confident that we were able to identify the Buckthorn by its u-veined leaves, we will go back in the Fall to double check for those red-to-blue berries.
The pencil tip is pointing to the Barberry buds where, by fall, red berries will appear. You can also see the single "spine" or thorn at the base of each leaf cluster. Don't touch without gloves! They're nasty.
The abundance of all three invasive species on our property was bad news, to be sure. However, we were delighted to discover that there was no invasive infestation on the floor of our nine acres of forest! We think the thick canopy of trees with a healthy proportion of pine keeps the flora species to a minimum of native plants like ferns and trillium.
A healthy forest floor with native ferns, wildflowers and, in the foreground, some very young maple.
All in all, we enjoyed our walk in the woods, and hope you do too! Next time, we'll write up the hard work of removing the weeds from our sugar woods. Until then, enjoy the sun!
It seems that a lot has been written about the connection between climate change and maple syrup making recently. Don't know what I'm talking about? Just Google it.
As we cowered in air-conditioned darkness this weekend sipping on iced drinks, I recalled a presentation on climate change and maple sugaring given by Nancy Patch, County Forester for Franklin and Grand Isle Counties a few years ago. I recalled that, from Nancy's talk, I took away some interesting information about how climate change is and will affect maple sugaring as well as some important tips about caring for our sugar woods as they cope with the transition. I interviewed Nancy recently to refresh my recollection on her talk.
May this transcript both ground and add levity to your thinking on the topic!
Kate: One of the things that I recall from your talk, and one of the things that I’ve told my readers, is that Red Maple trees are going to fare better than Sugar Maple as the climate changes. Which means that backyard sugar makers of the future will still be able to sugar, but might have to work a little harder. Now that I’ve read Increasing Forest Resiliency for an Uncertain Future, however, I’m not sure. Will you explain?
Nancy: Sure. The Sugar Maple is a “Goldilocks” tree. Sugar Maples require soils rich in calcium and magnesium with the right moisture content, enough snow cover to protect its sensitive roots from freezing in the winter, and particular temperatures in order to regenerate. This is where climate change comes in.
The Red Maple is a genetically diverse tree that can thrive in a wider range of situations and has a much wider geographical range. The Red Maple can thrive in acidic soil or on ledge, in swamps and can handle drought conditions, for example.
Neither the Sugar Maple nor the northern hardwood forest in which it grows are going to disappear in the foreseeable future, but climate change – including warming temperatures, shrinking snow cover, and the increase in the incidence and severity of ice storms – will put stress on the Sugar Maple’s ability to thrive and reproduce outside of areas with optimal soil and moisture content, causing it to be out-competed by other species, including the Red Maple.
Kate: So climate change is not going to damage existing trees as much as it is going to make it hard for them to reproduce?
Nancy: Right. Reproduce and compete.
Kate: OK, so how will climate change affect the business of sugar making?
Nancy: It has already. Sugar making is a responsive industry that has long dealt with the reality of climate change. Already, professional sugar makers tap earlier [rising temperatures mean earlier springs] and use tubing systems that keep the wound in the tree open to accommodate the uncertainty of the season.
Kate: How will climate change affect the business of sugar making in the future?
Nancy: We really don’t know. It is always important when talking about climate change to note that we really don’t know what is going to happen. We don’t completely understand how trees adapt. And adaptation does not necessarily take forever. Another thing we don’t understand about trees is how they communicate with each other. So keeping the forest’s options open is the best we can do, and this means species diversity [number and abundance of species in the woods] and structural diversity [diversity of tree age and size, and existence of openings in the canopy, standing dead and logs on the ground] in the woods.
Kate: How do we keep a forest’s options open for sugaring?
Nancy: One of the things I have been pushing people to do is to keep and cultivate Sugar Maples in places where the conditions are really optimal – places where slope [the pitch of the land] or aspect [the compass direction that a slope faces] keep temperatures down, and places with mineral-rich soil and the right moisture content. Beyond that, it comes down to protecting or creating diversification among trees and other species, and ensuring your sugar woods has trees of many different ages so that when disturbance occurs there is a replacement forest.
Kate: What can backyard sugar makers do to make sure that future generations can continue to enjoy the hobby they love?
Nancy: The first thing I would tell a backyard sugar maker to do is to remove invasive species annually by cutting, pulling or burning them (when snow is on the ground and it is safe to do so). The big three in sugaring country are buckthorn, honeysuckle and barberry. This will go a long way in protecting the forest habitat, which increases forest resiliency, which means healthy sugar woods. Big producers may have too much land to completely eradicate invasive species, but someone with a ten-acre plot, for example, can handle it, and even work with their neighbors to increase the impact of their work.
The second thing I would tell them to do is to look at the diversity of trees in the 250 acre area that includes and surrounds their property, and try to figure out how close it is to containing an ideal suite of tree species for their type of woods. A county forester or extension service may be helpful there. If there’s diversity already, do what you can on your own land to maintain it. If diversity does not exist, you can plant trees or expand on what you have already by, for example, giving a mature oak some space to thrive and reproduce by thinning around it.
Finally, I would tell them to protect or create the potential for diversity for other species, including wildlife, by leaving standing dead trees [called “snags”], leaving dead logs on the ground, and, where bodies of water exist, ensuring that riparian buffers [forested area providing shade] are in place.
Happy tapping everyone!
Maple Cured Bacon: Acquire pork belly (pictured above: 8 lbs.). Cure in fridge for two weeks with 6 tablespoons sea salt, 1/3 cup maple syrup, and 1 1/2 teaspoons curing salt, flipping meat after a week. Rinse, pat dry, and smoke at 150 degrees or lower on your Sapling Smoker for 2 hours. Store in fridge or freezer for at least a day before slicing thin. Cook. Eat. Enjoy!
This is only the beginning. Think of it as a primer for starting to think about thinking about grilling and smoking on the Sapling Party Grill and Sapling Smoker with the maple you made on your Sapling Evaporator. Ready to experience the magic of three machines in one? Here's what the inventor of that three-fer has to say about it:
You've had your Sapling for a few years now. Tell me how you like to use your machine when you are not sugaring.
To start, you should know that the Sapling Party Grill is just the Sapling Evaporator with the pan removed and replaced with three custom grill grates. To make the Sapling Smoker, you simply install the Sapling Smoking Package on the Sapling Grill.
Having said that, both the Grill and Smoker are really effective for preparing large food spreads; we use the Sapling Grill to cook the meats for parties at our home. We use the Sapling Smoker for special meals or to preserve meats. The surface area is extensive. And it's easy to control the temperature for low temperature smoking.
There's significant prep and cleanup time involved, so this is weekend or holiday cooking for us. But we love it.
Give me an idea of the grill space. How big does it feel? How much food can you fit on it?
Let's see, we've fit 14 pounds of pork bellies on our Sapling Grill; 15 pounds of chicken. A 15 pound turkey. 40 hot dogs. At 20 by 30 inches, it's BIG.
To grill, do you use wood or charcoal? How far in advance of cooking do you have to start the fire to grill? And to smoke?
You can grill with wood or with charcoal. If you are using soft wood, wood gets hot quicker and is good for searing. You can be ready to go in 10 minutes or so. Charcoal is going to take you at least 20 minutes to get to grilling temperature. And to smoke, you need a half hour minimum to get your charcoal bed set and your chips smoking.
Can you cold smoke on the Sapling?
We've had temperatures under 150 degrees, but cold smoking is well under 100 degrees. You know, we've never tried, but I suppose you could!
What kinds of temperatures are you looking to achieve on the Sapling Smoker for different kinds of food?
It depends on whether you are cooking or curing. If you are curing bacon, for example, you are looking for 120-130 degrees. If you are cooking chicken to eat, you are looking for more like 250. All those temps are totally doable on the Sapling.
Can you make pizza on the Sapling Grill?
If you have installed the Sapling Smoking Package, yes! We're still perfecting our method, but, by using a large, rectangular pizza stone, and firing the grill up to 400 degrees or so (as measured by a magnetic stove thermometer on the smoker lid), we've made some amazing, amazing pizza. The wood-fired taste is just outrageously good. And we've figured out how to use the maple syrup we made on our Sapling as an ingredient, too.
Wood Fired Veggie Pizza with Maple and Goat Cheese: Make your favorite pizza dough and roll thin. Top with crushed tomato, fresh mozzarella, sliced baby bella mushrooms, baby arugula, and toasted walnuts. Sprinkle with goat cheese and drizzle lightly with maple syrup. Remove baffle from Sapling Smoker and ensure damper is open. Place pizza stone on grates and start fire. Cook covered at 400 degrees or hotter for 10 minutes or until done.
Cool! How do you store your Sapling Party Grill / Sapling Smoker when you are not using it?
Outside, under the Sapling Grill Cover.
How do you get the longest life out of your Sapling Party Grill / Sapling Smoker?
Clean out ashes and brush off dirt every once in a while, and then coat in vegetable oil, inside and out. Keep dry. Sand any blemishes with 100 grit sandpaper and touch up with Sapling Touch Up Paint or the equivalent. You can also use stove blacking.
How does grilling on the Sapling compare to your experience with other grills?
You have to be a bit more patient. You have to take your time and pay attention to what you are doing, then wait until the grill cools before you put it away. But the outcomes are better. The wood flavor is amazing. The food is just so good.
Do you recommend the Sapling Party Grill and the Sapling Smoker, then?
Of course! Yah. Anyone interested in having a multifunctional grill that can do a really nice job sugaring as well should consider the Sapling.
I'll toast to that! Care for a maple sun tea?
Peaches canned in homemade maple syrup: a north-south, east-west delicacy.
My peach tree nearly toppled over with the weight of its fruit this weekend. Which was a big surprise, as I recall my disbelief at the point of its purchase three years ago that one could even grow peaches in Vermont.
Peaches have a special place in my heart. I spent part of my childhood in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. My brothers and I had a babysitter named Linda. She had a homestead way out in Harper's Ferry, where she raised a gaggle of kind, wild boys. Linda kept to the house unless someone needed her but us kids had free reign of the farm. And the peaches. The kind you can barely eat for juiciness. The kind that gets all over your face no matter how tidy you're trying to be. We had peaches many ways at Linda's. But one of the best, on a hot day, was frozen and blended with a little water. Linda called it the peach freeze. It was the taste of summer.
And then there were Grandma Jeanette’s canned peaches. Served for dessert whenever we were in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Perfect halves, flawlessly skinned, in heavy syrup, preserved in half-gallon mason jars. Grandpa Stan fetched them from the cellar slowly and carefully while we anticipated. Brought the prairie summer to any time of the year, over the years, first for my husband, then for us both, and then for our children.
So I picked my peaches this weekend – every last one of them – eating some while still warm from the sun. They weren’t quite the West Virginia peaches or South Dakota peaches of my youth. Nor are they Pennsylvania or Georgia peaches, I’d imagine. But they are fresh. And, this weekend, I canned them in my own homemade maple syrup. Bringing a little Vermont to the peach. Expressing solidarity with peach country. Sending a bit of sweetness south and west, into the past, and into the future.
Here's to hoping someone remembers my peaches fondly someday and passes on the love.
One America Homemade Maple Syrup Peaches
Wash your peaches and freeze for at least one hour on a jelly-roll pan or other sheet pan with a lip. Run under cold water and slip off the skins. Half and pit the peaches, placing them directly into clean jars. Boil a mixture of four-parts water to one-part homemade maple syrup. Pour boiling mixture over peaches to 1/2" of top. Affix lids. Can in a hot water bath for 20 minutes, cool, and store.
On Teaspoon of Sugar, we write about maple sugaring, maple syrup, starting and running a small business, and living the sweet life here in beautiful, downtown Montpelier, Vermont.