Old Time, Celtic, Maritime Music, Gardening and Small Scale Farming

I didn't know I was a musician gardener.
All my life I've loved getting my hands dirty gardening, keeping small livestock, and playing traditional music, but I always thought that was just a peculiar combination that occurs in a completely random fashion. But one day my wife Sara and I were talking with a neighbor who ran a one acre educational garden down the street from us. He mentioned that as soon as the growing season was over he was going to hit the road with a bluegrass band he played with. He smiled and said that he felt really blessed to live the life he had- getting to play in the dirt and play on the stage. I had no idea he played in a bluegrass band so we talked shop about music, gardening, and travelling for a bit. After we said goodbye and started walking away Sara turned to me and said "oh I know what you guys are, you're Musician Gardeners."
Suddenly it clicked, all my life I've known and met people who combine their lives like that. friends, neighbors and other folks who combine their love of the land with a love of music, often the very music that grew and still grows out of that land.
This blog hopes to explore that relationship and to let other Musician Gardeners out there know that we're actually a demographic!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Boil down time!

Well I'm glad to say that the last couple of weeks has been good tapping weather indeed.  We had freezing nights and warm sunny days for almost the last two weeks.  As I write this of course it is 34 degrees and snowing/ raining which has definitely put the stop to sap flow for now.  A perfect oppurtunity for the first boil down.
From the 10 taps I have around town I've collected 21 gallons of sap, which should give me anywhere from 1-3 quarts of syrup depending on what sap to syrup ratio our Moscow trees have.  My guess is that it will be closer to 2.5 quarts.  But fear not Palouse Maple Syrup Cooperative members, this is only the first boil down of the season.  With luck we will have a few more stretches of inversion type weather giving us some good runs on sap.
Just so you know, if we don't end up having any more good sap weather the amount of actual syrup available for purchase will be quite small.  In the range of 1/2 pint per co-op member, but that's just the risk you run when making maple syrup and part of the reason that it's become so expensive over the last few years- namely the lack of good sap flow weather in the northeast and northern midwest and the faster transition to warmer tempuratures.  So keep your fingers crossed for frost!
                                            The first boil down of the year.  This batch will be finished
                                           in a certified kitchen but most of the boiling needs to be
                                            done outdoors or you will most likely be kissing your
                                           wall paper goodbye!
MORE ON TAPPING.....                                            
Recently I had to the pleasure to be featured in the Feb. 10th edition of  the Moscow Pullman Daily News in a front page article by Kelli Hadley called "Tap for the Sap."  It was quite a surprise and a pleasure to be on the front page.  It was an informative, accurate and very well written piece but it seems to have stirred something of a small controversy.  The City of Moscow today sent out a press release forbidding anyone to tap any tree growing in a city right of way, and I have been told that this is the last time I will tap maple trees on campus for our grounds shop spring pancake feed since those trees are indeed in a city right of way.  The city also noted in their press release that they disagreed with the statement in the article saying tapping is harmless to maple trees.  And that it can indeed do harm especially to stressed trees.
Well, yes tapping can harm maple trees if done improperly.  That's exactly why I follow the "best tapping" practices laid out by Cornell University, why I don't tap stressed, diseased or heavily damaged trees, and why I use 1/4 inch spiles instead of other commercial spiles which can be up to 1/2 an inch in diameter.  It helps perhaps to think of tapping maple trees like giving blood or milking a cow.  Taking blood from someone with diabetes will certainly cause damage or death, and freshening a cow or goat suffering from chronic ketosis (muscle wasting) may harm or even kill them.  These are both practices done every day all over the country that generally do no present risk, but can in rare instances.
Tapping a tree properly and safely niether benefits nor harms the tree in the long term, and it has indeed been done for decades and decades on intergenerational sugarbushes.  The trees on my sugarbush in Wisconsin and all my friends sugarbushes are healthy vibrant and entirely unharmed despite being tapped nearly every year.  So, if you have any questions at all about how I tap or the methodology I use please feel free to contact me.  Untill then we will all just have to keep looking forward to the delicious taste of condensed local sunshine.  Hopefully the weather will cooperate and give another inversion or two before the end of the season.  Keep your fingers crossed!