Saturday, March 13, 2010

Forest Economies: It’s Maple Sugaring Season!

It’s bright sunny days like we’ve had for most of this month that bring maple sugaring to mind. There’s just something about the quality of the light that says it’s sugar season. And sure enough, Wednesday morning I heard the first newscast from a sugar house. So, I thought I’d jump in with the best of ‘em and write a post about the sweetness of spring: maple syrup.

Maple sugaring and natural history go hand-in-hand. At least it has seemed that way to me, for most places where I have worked have operated some sort of sugaring operation. One ran a small scale commercial operation (see photo), but the majority were simple demonstration set-ups, where visitors walked a “sugaring trail”, each stop featuring a different time in the history of sugaring, from the Native hatchet in a tree with a wooden bowl on the ground to catch the dripping sap, to high tech tubing that brought the sap directly to the sugar shack.

My favorite, however, was the final stop on the sugaring trail we had in New Jersey. The guys on the staff built a device called a “lazy man’s balance”, consisting of a long arm (log) balanced across the fork of an upright log, with a kettle suspended from one end and a heavy rock tied to the other end to act as a counter-balance. The kettle was filled with sap and dangled above a fire, which boiled off the water. What made this set-up so fascinating to me, however, was the simplicity of the engineering: as the water evaporated, the kettle lost weight. As the kettle lost weight, it would rise a bit higher from the fire. This ingenious device would allow the syrup to condense without scorching.

One of the best things about visiting a sugar bush is getting to sample the merchandise, so to speak. While commercial outfits provide samples in hopes that you will buy some syrup or sugar to take home, nature centers have a different take on it: they just want you to try the stuff. The best sample tables not only give you a taste of maple syrup, but they also test your tasting skills. For example, one place where I worked had samples from sugar, red and Norway maples, Vermont Maid and Golden Griddle (the former has something like 3% real maple syrup, while the latter has none), and a syrup we made from potatoes. Visitors would spear a chunk of Italian bread on a toothpick and dip it into a cup of syrup to taste it. The goal was to pick out which was the real maple syrup. I grew up on the real stuff, so it always amazed me when people couldn’t pick out the real from the fake. And, just for the record, the potato syrup was often picked as the real McCoy.

Which brings us to sugar versus red versus Norway versus black maple. All maple trees produce a sweet sap that can be tapped and boiled to make a sweet golden syrup. So why the hoopla over sugar maple? Because sugar maple (Acer saccharum) has the greatest quantity of sugar per gallon of sap. In other words, you need a lot less sap from a sugar maple to produce a gallon of syrup than you would from a red, black, or Norway maple. And how much is that? The general rule of thumb is 40 gallons of sugar maple sap to produce one gallon of sugar maple syrup. For red maple, you need upwards of 80 gallons of sap to get that single gallon of syrup. On the other hand, red maples (Acer rubrum) are a lot more common across a larger portion of the US than sugar maples, so for many folks they are the tree of choice.

Sugar production doesn’t start and end with maple trees, however. If one travels to Alaska, or Siberia, one will find syrup produced from birch trees. Birch syrup has a different flavor, so don’t dump a bunch on your pancakes and expect it to taste the same. It is described as being a bit more spicy and reminiscent of sorghum or horehound candy. And if you think maple syrup is expensive, birch syrup is even more so. This is because it requires almost 100 gallons of sap to produce a single gallon of syrup, there aren’t many people producing it, and it is therefore considered a gourmet item.

March is the time to visit a sugar bush near you. And you might want to take in more than one, because each sugar operation may offer something a little different. Here in the 21st century you can see the whole spectrum of a sugaring operation from a sugar shack that’s deep in the woods and uses horses and sledges to haul the sap from the trees to the evaporators, to a high tech operation that uses a vacuum set-up to suck the sap out of the trees, and then applies reverse osmosis to remove water before the sap even sees the glint of an evaporator pan. A perusal of maple operations in the Adirondacks will turn up outfits at both ends of the scale. So get out your mud boots, grab a road map, and hit the woods – you won’t want to let this springtime tradition pass you by.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Farmers Market Sellers Pre-Season Training Offered

Local farmers interested in selling locally-grown and processed products at farmers markets in 2010 can take advantage of little-to-no-cost tips at pre-season trainings offered by Cornell Cooperative Extension at five Northern New York sites.

Topics for the workshops include making your farmers market display work with hands-on opportunities to create displays, direct market selling of meat products, and how to comply with current food sales regulations and inspectors.

Workshops are scheduled for:

Saturday, March 13, 10am to 1pm – Lowville, Cornell Cooperative Extension
Saturday, March 20, 10am to 1 pm – Chateaugay, Knights of Columbus Hall
Thursday, March 25, 7-9 pm – Watertown, Cornell Cooperative Extension
Saturday, March 27, 10am to 1pm – Canton, Cornell Cooperative Extension
Saturday, April 3, 10am to 1pm – Keeseville, Ausable Grange Hall.

Those interested in registering for the workshops may call the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) office for the county hosting the workshop:

Keeseville – CCE Essex County: 518-962-4810 x404
Chateaugay – CCE Franklin County: 518-483-7403
Watertown – CCE Jefferson County: 315-788-8450
Lowville – CCE Lewis County: 315-376-5270
Canton – CCE St. Lawrence County: 315-379-9192.

For more tips on selling food locally, go online to the Regionall/Local Foods section of the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program website at www.nnyagdev.org.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Almanack Welcomes Local Food TraditionsFrom Adirondack Museum Chief Curator Laura Rice

This summer the Adirondack Museum will be offering a special exhibition focused on Adirondack food traditions and stories. I’m happy to report that beginning next week, Almanack readers will be getting a regular taste of the exhibit “Let’s Eat! Adirondack Food Traditions” served up by Laura Rice, the Adirondack Museum’s Chief Curator.

The region has rich food traditions that include fish, game, cheese, apples and maple syrup; old family recipes served at home and camp, at community potlucks and around campfires. Laura Rice will be preparing stories drawn from the exhibit that focus on the region’s history of cooking, brewing, eating and drinking. Look for her entries to begin March 16 and continue every other week into October.

The exhibit, a year in the making, will include a “food trail” around the museum’s campus that will highlight food-related artifacts in other exhibits. The number of artifacts in the exhibit itself is between 200 and 300 including everything from a vegetable chopper and butter churn to a high-style evening gown. There’s a gasoline-fueled camp stove the manufacturer promised “can’t possibly explode”; a poster advertising the Glen Road Inn (“one of the toughest bars-dance halls in Warren County”); an accounting of food expenses from a Great Camp in 1941 that included 2,800 California oranges, 52 pints of clam juice, and 90 pounds of coffee; and an Adirondack-inspired dessert plate designed for a U.S.
President.

Chief Curator Rice along with Laura Cotton, Associate Curator, conducted most of the research and writing for the “Lets Eat!” exhibition. Assistant Curator Angie Snye and Conservator Doreen Alessi helped prepare the object and installation. Micaela Hall, Christine Campeau and Jessica Rubin from the museum’s education department weighed in designed the interactive components. An advisory team was also formed made up of area chefs, educators, and community members and two scholars, Marge Bruchac (University of Connecticut), and Jessamyn Neuhaus (SUNY Plattsburgh) also weighed in.

“Let’s Eat!” is sponsored by the New York Council for the Humanities and Adirondack Almanack is happy to have the opportunity to share stories from the exhibit with our readers.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Newcomb VIC:Build American Kestrels Boxes, Garden Seed Exchange

On Saturday, March 13, the Visitor Interpretive Center at Newcomb will host a kestrel nest box workshop, a seed exchange program, and a guided trail walk. The Newcomb VIC is located on NYS Route 28N just west of the Hamlet of Newcomb, Essex County. For more information on any of these activities (described below), call 582-2000.

The public is invited to join members of the Northern New York Audubon Society (NNYA) in building nest boxes for American Kestrels from 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. on Saturday. Breeding pairs of kestrels in New York have declined significantly over the past 20 years, partly due to both habitat loss as well as competition for nest cavities in suitable habitat.

To address this, local Audubon New York chapters will be building, erecting, and monitoring kestrel boxes in suitable habitats throughout New York State, including the Adirondack Park. Participants on Saturday will also have the opportunity to meet a live American Kestrel, one of the VIC’s educational birds of prey. Pre-registration is not required and the program is free.

On Saturday afternoon from 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. the Newcomb VIC will host a Seed Exchange. Master Gardener Lorraine Miga will lead a pre-season scramble for seeds! Bring seeds you collected from your garden last fall, seeds left over from last summer’s plantings, and seeds from previous years’ gardens. Also get tips on how to save heirloom seeds from your own plants. Among the available seeds will be beans, peas, corn, squash, tomatoes and more. If you have no seeds, but are interested in seeing what others are surplussing, stop by. No seeds will be for sale – all are available for swap only. As with most plant swaps, those who come earliest get the best selection. VIC staff will also be on hand to answer your questions about invasive species in the garden. Pre-registration is not required and the program is free.

Also on Saturday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. there will be a guided trail walk entitled “Out and About: Winter Still Here.” Guest Naturalist Peter O’Shea will lead a snowshoe walk on one of the VIC trails. Snowshoes will be available, if needed, at no charge. Pre-registration is required and the program is free.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Got Great Food? The Adirondack Museum Needs You

Is your raspberry jam extraordinary? Do you grow fresh herbs, craft fresh mozzarella, or make the crunchiest granola this side of Cranberry Lake? If so, the Adirondack Museum invites you to be part of three special marketplace events that will celebrate local artisan food preparation this year.

The museum introduces a new exhibit in 2010. “Let’s Eat! Adirondack Food Traditions” celebrates food, drink and the pleasures of eating locally, sharing culinary stories and customs from Native American corn soup to Farmers’ Markets.

In conjunction with the exhibit, the museum will hold three food-related events: “Picnic in the Park” on Saturday, July 10; “The Adirondacks are Cookin’ Out” on July 29; and the annual “Harvest Festival” scheduled for October 2 & 3, 2010.

The museum seeks Adirondack “foodies” to display and sell their products at one, two, or all three of the events. Products may include jams, jellies, syrups, honey, sauces, marinades, meat, eggs, dairy items, fruits and berries (fresh or dried), vegetables, herbs, condiments, cider, teas, candy, granola, and baked goods. Pre-packaged mixes and prepared foods are also welcome.

Marketplaces will be held from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on the day of each event. 10′ x 10′ lawn booths will be available for $25 per event. For more information or an application, call (518) 352-7311, ext. 115 or email jrubin@adkmuseum.org.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Honey Bees in Winter: Think You Got it Tough?

It was a bright, sunny, and cold day in early January. I was down in Wilton for a tracking workshop, and as we headed out across an open expanse, I discovered a dead honey bee lying on top of the newly fallen snow. Why had this bee been out in the middle of winter, and on a day that was so cold? I had no answers, and neither did anyone else, so I took a photo of the poor thing, set it back on the snow, and rushed to catch up with the disappearing class. I have since discovered some interesting things about bees in winter.

As we all know, the honey bee of gardening fame is not native to this country. Apparently it was the Egyptians, some 5000 years ago, who first started to keep bees in hives so they could have a steady source of honey for personal use. Over the ensuing years, bee keeping spread around the Mediterranean Sea and across Europe and Asia. When explorers became settlers here in the west, honey bees soon followed.

Now, I am not a bee keeper. In fact, I grew up terrified of bees. But over the years I have studied bees from a naturalist’s point of view, and have discovered many fascinating things about these fairly docile insects. I’ve come to appreciate their social system and am often fascinated by their behaviors, to the point where I have even contemplated keeping a hive. I’ve since given up the idea of a bee hive in favor of encouraging native bees in my yard and gardens, but this makes honey bees no less interesting.

Which brings us back to the lone bee on the snow. It turns out that honey bees, whether in man-made or wild hives, will sometimes leave the hive on warm days in the dead of winter. The reason? They’ve “gotta’ go.”

Honey bees are very clean creatures. They will avoid soiling the hive at almost any cost. But when winter closes it fist on hives in northern climes, a bee can be faced with some important decisions. Fortunately, bees are able to “hold it” for quite some time. I’ve read accounts that claim bees can easily retain their fecal matter within their bodies for four to six weeks! When the first warm day comes along, out from the hive they zoom, dropping their loads as soon as possible. Bee people claim that the snow around the outside of a bee hive will be brownish-grey in color from all the released fecal matter.

But what happens if the weather doesn’t warm up? Suppose a cold snap has gripped the region, with weeks and weeks, or even months, of cold cold temperatures. What is a bee supposed to do? Some bees bite the bullet and head out any way, only to freeze to death after they leave the hive. Other bees opt to keep holding it.

As you might imagine, retaining one’s fecal matter for weeks on end is bound to cause problems. The bees start to swell, and they start to get sick. When they can hold it no longer, they end up letting loose in the hive, splattering fellow bees, honey, and comb with contaminated fecal matter. When this happens the whole hive is bound to sicken and will often perish. Perhaps it is best for the hive if these bees just go outside and freeze to death instead.

Bee keepers can tell when their bees are having a rough time of it when the snow at the base of the hives is black and yellow from contaminated feces, instead of the brown-grey that surrounds a healthy hive. The ground will also be littered with the swollen bodies of dead bees.

Looking back at the photograph of my dead bee, I can’t tell for sure if the abdomen is abnormally large or not. I am inclined to think that it is at least somewhat swollen if only because I have yet to discover any additional reason why a honey bee would be flying around on a cold winter’s day.

When I think of the horrible death experienced by a nearly exploding bee, it makes me grateful for simple things, like indoor plumbing. And it makes me appreciate even more the little things we all take for granted, like honey on our muffins and in our tea.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Cooperative Extension Offers Veggie, Herb Seed Starter Kits

Cornell Cooperative Extension in Warren County is offering affordable vegetable and herb seed starter kits for the 2010 garden season beginning Tuesday, February 16, 2010. Each kit includes five different seed packs, growing directions, and garden row markers. The vegetable kits also include the Cooperative Extension’s “2010 Booklet on Vegetable Varieties.” The herb kits include information on starting a container herb garden. Each seed kit is only $5 (only $9 if you buy both).

Each VEGETABLE seed kit includes: Five different vegetable seed packs, full growing directions for each seed type, garden row markers and the newest The vegetable seed kit includes ‘tendergreen’ beans, cucumber, lettuce, squash and tomato seed packs.

The HERB seed kits include five different herb seed packs, growing directions, garden row markers and other information about starting a container HERB garden. The herb seed kit includes sweet basil, dill, green scallion onion, parsley and nastursium (nastursium produces beautiful edible salad flowers!).

Proceeds from the sale of the Seed Starter Kits will be used by the Cornell Cooperative Extension 4-H (Youth Development Program) and the Master Gardener Volunteer (Consumer Horticulture Education Program) to help support the many 4-H youth programs in Warren County and the Master Gardener Volunteer programs that provide science-based gardening information to people in our community.

The seed kits are available begining February 16 at the Cornell Cooperative Extension office in Warrensburg, at 377 Schroon River Road, Warrensburg, NY 12885. The office is open Monday through Thursday, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. Tel.: 518-623-3291.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Nut Trees: Hazelnuts in the Adirondacks

Several years ago, I received three little hazelnut trees from the Arbor Day Foundation. I don’t recall actually ordering them, but there they were in the mail one day. I planted them and waited to see the results. A couple years later, three more hazelnuts showed up in my mailbox. Those, too, went into the ground. Over the years they’ve moved about the yard (not under their own steam), finally coming to rest along the southwestern boundary. Every summer and fall I look at the four remaining shrubs and ask “where are the nuts?” No answer has been forthcoming.

So recently I went on-line to see if I could find out any further information about hazelnuts. Where are they native? What do the flowers look like? How do they pollinate and produce nuts? The Arbor Day Foundation was a good source of info, and it should be, considering it has been in the hazelnut business for several years, trying to produce a hybrid hazelnut that will thrive throughout the United States, whereas the native species were historically only found in the northeastern US and southeastern Canada, and into the prairies. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Master Gardener Training Set to Begin January 25th

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Warren County is now accepting applications for their Master Gardener volunteer program which will begin on January 25th. The Master Gardener Training program provides Cornell University faculty, Cooperative Extension staff, and local experts who teach volunteers a wide range of horticultural topics including Basic Botany, Entomology, Soils, Home Lawn Care, Vegetable and Fruit Gardening, Composting, Organic Gardening, and more. The trainings are held in Ballston Spa on Mondays from late January to mid April.

After completing the 12-week training program, volunteers Master Gardeners are relied on to help answer the large number of phone calls that County Extension offices handle during the gardening season. Master Gardener volunteers also provide gardening information to community groups, school children, and the gardening public through lectures, pH soil clinics, demonstration gardens, articles in a monthly newsletter, and garden workshops.

Master Gardeners are also provided with advanced training and are encouraged to attend state and regional conferences as well as Master Gardener sponsored garden tours.

For more information call Julie Nathanson at 518-623-3291 or 518-668-4881.

Photo: Julie Nathanson, CCE Community Educator and Sandy Vanno Master Gardener.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Taking A Closer Look: Blueberry Stem Gall

One of the plants that make the Adirondacks special is the blueberry, which likes to grow in, or alongside, a variety of wetlands. I recall one of the highlights of summer camp was when the nature counselor made her blueberry fritters. Campers and counselors alike would flock to her nature room as the rumor of fritters spread like wildfire. Her “Live off the Land” camping trips were never complete without blueberry fritters for breakfast.

But blueberries aren’t just special to people; lots of wildlife benefit from the fingertip-sized fruits, not least among them birds and bears. Not all blueberry fanciers are after the fruits, though. The blueberry stem gall wasp (Hemadas nubilipennis) is more interested in the stems of the plant. Highbush, lowbush, the variety probably doesn’t matter, not when reproduction is on the line. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Permaculture Workshop: Sustainable Backyard Farming

On Saturday January 9 the Wild Center in Tupper Lake will host a talk and workshop on permaculture, aka, how people can produce food while enhancing the natural environment on the land around them.

At 11:30 Keith Morris, a Vermont-based instructor on the faculties of Sterling College and Yestermorrow Design/Build school, will discuss the concept of permaculture and ways people can design homes and communities that are productive, ecologically restorative and less fuel-reliant.

At 1 p.m. Morris will lead a workshop on how yards and other human-centered spaces can produce food and support pollinators (and look beautiful). He will discuss challenges, such as small spaces and contaminated soils, as well as animals and plants suitable for the Adirondack region, including nuts, fruits, berries and vines.

“One of the key issues for us in the Adirondacks is our soil,” says Gail Brill, a Saranac lake resident who received permaculture certification last summer through a course Morris taught at Paul Smith’s College. “If we are going to have to feed ourselves in the near future and become a nation of farmers (thank you Sharon Astyk) in order to survive, we need healthy soil to do it. Our sandy soil makes growing difficult, so one of the key issues for us is making compost as a soil amendment. This is something every household can do and we need to do it on a grand scale. (On March 20th, the Wild Center will be having a Home Composting Workshop.)

“We need to extend our growing season with high tunnels and cold frames,” Brill says. “We need to understand what edible wild plants are readily available and plant perennial Zone 3 vegetables like Chinese artichoke and creeping onion and much more. There is much to be done.”

The event is part of the Wild Center’s 2010 Winter Wildays series and is free to members or with paid admission.

Photo: A backyard apple tree in Saranac Lake.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

New Adirondack Cookbook for Fall & Winter

There’s a new cookbook tailored for the season, Northern Comfort: Fall & Winter Recipes from Adirondack Life. Edited by food writer Annette Nielsen, it includes more than 100 traditional and contemporary dishes gleaned from the magazine’s 40-year history. It focuses on regional flavors, including wild game, maple, apples, hearty vegetables and hearth breads. Paperback, 142 pages, $15.95.

Click here to hear an interview with editor Annette Nielsen by Todd Moe, of North Country Public Radio.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

One Adirondack Turkey Gives Thanks

This is George, a turkey who lives down the hill. She’s so cute and sociable she’s been granted a Thanksgiving reprieve. She was hatched this summer in Standish and brought to Saranac Lake by a family who intended to fatten her up for a November feast. George endeared herself so much that she’s the one who’ll be feasting.

She lives with eight peacocks and probably thinks she is one. Have a happy Thanksgiving, George.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Saranac Lake Community Store Closer to Funding Goal

Last week we received word from the people behind the Saranac Lake Community Store project that a recent fundraising surge has brought investment capital to $395,000. They need to sell $500,000 worth of shares to launch the store.

If organizers don’t reach half a million by the initial offering deadline of December 17, board vice-president Gail Brill said they will apply for an extension on the offering. “We are so close,” she said in an e-mail, “and light years ahead of Greenfield, MA, which started well before we did.”

Shares cost $100 each and may be purchased by residents of New York State only. Individuals may buy up to $10,000 worth of shares. Organizers had hoped to have the store open by this summer but the economy appears to have rescheduled those expectations. When $500,000 is reached, backers will choose a location, hire staff and purchase inventory.

The business is expected to be about 5,000-square-feet, located downtown and carry department-store-type retail items not currently available in Saranac Lake. Organizers say they will ask local people what they want the store to sell. The village has been without a department store since Ames closed in 2002 but citizen groups have thwarted efforts by Wal-Mart to open a big box. Hardware and drug stores have been filling some of the retail gap.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Have Dinner With Samuel de Champlain Oct. 24th

Rogers Island Visitors Center in Fort Edward is hosting dinner with Samuel de Champlain on October 24th at the Tee Bird North Golf Club (30 Reservoir Road, Fort Edward). Local Chefs, Neal Orsini owner of the Anvil Restaurant in Fort Edward and Steve Collyer, researched the stores list aboard Champlain’s ship, the Saint-Julien, to develop a dinner menu using European, 17th century ship and New World ingredients. Some menu items were standard fare aboard 17th century ships, but the Saint-Julien was 500 tons, carried more than 100 crew and had a galley which meant that even livestock was brought on board aboard, if only for the captain and officers.

Don Thompson, who has spent this Quadricentennial year traveling throughout New York, Vermont and Canada portraying Samuel de Champlain, will serve as a special guest presenter bringing the story of de Champlain’s North American explorations to life.

There will be a cash bar at 5 pm; and dinner served at 6 pm. The price is $22 for Rogers Island VC members, $25 for non-members and $8 for children under 12. Special prize baskets have been donated for a raffle.

For reservations call Rogers Island Visitor Center at 518-747-3693 or e-mail rogersisland@gmail.com. Proceeds benefit the Rogers Island Visitor Center.


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