There's not much to report in this week's sap report: The return of freezing temperatures have put a stop to the flow of sap, so there hasn't been much new sap to collect. Farmer Jim explains that the trees stay dormant during these freezing periods, so they're not necessarily detrimental to the syruping season. What would be detrimental is if the cold temperatures are followed by an early, mild spring, causing the trees to start to form early buds. Once the trees start forming buds, the taste and color of the sap beings to take on hints of chlorophyll.
While much of the Howell Farm crew was away this morning at CPR training, Intern Virginia busied herself with fence repair.
By late February, the manure pile outside Howell Farm's barn is starting to look a little oceanic, and it would be even bigger had Farmer Jeremy not embarked on some manure spreading sorties throughout the winter. Soon enough, however, manure mania will hit Howell Farm as our farmers put in some long days with pitchforks. The pile with shrink as load after load is deposited onto the nitrogen-hungry crop fields. Maggie the farm dog, if true to form, will follow the spreader and pluck the choicest pieces of flying manure out of the air.
When I arrived at Howell Farm this morning it was still a little chilly. When I checked the taps on the maple trees, sap was barely, barely dripping. A few hours has made an incredible difference. The sap isn't exactly pouring out of the trees, but it's probably the heaviest flow I've ever noticed. By my count, there's one drip hitting the bottom of the bucket every 1.5 seconds.
Farmer Jim says that conditions are about as ideal as they can be. Tonight the temperature is supposed to just barely drop into the freezing range of 31 or 32 degrees, but then warm rapidly in the morning. This should result in another big day tomorrow for sap collection.
Today is the nicest day of the year so far--it’s sunny and nearly fifty degrees. As maple sugaring operations swing into high gear, all the farmers seem a little extra jolly. While there’s still snow on the ground, Farmer Jeremy has been driving a bobsled pulled by Bill and Jesse through the sugar bush, while Farmer Rob and Intern Virginia empty steel sap buckets into containers waiting in the back of the sled. Schoolchildren are visiting the farm today to learn about old-fashioned maple syrup making, under the tutelage of several of Howell Farm’s historical interpreters. Farmer Jim is in the sugar shack, starting to bring the sap to a boil. Maggie the farm dog seems in good spirits too as she makes the rounds from farmer to farmer and follows the sled.
Syrup season remains frozen. With daytime temperatures remaining well below 32 degrees, (this morning my thermometer said –4) no more sap has flowed into our collection system. I caught up with Farmer Jim this morning, Howell Farm’s Director of Evaporation, and so far this winter he’s finished four gallons of syrup, and collected about 200 gallons of sap.
As long as temperatures this month shift to a period of freezing nights followed by warmer days, the sap collection season can still be a good one. The worst-case scenario, according to Farmer Jim, would be if this cold snap is immediately followed by much warmer weather. That could cause the trees to form buds, creating a premature end to the days of clear running sap.
Farmer Jeremy plans to take this v-shaped, horse-drawn snow plow out for a spin tomorrow.
It's the start of a new month, which means it’s time to sit back with a cup of coffee and read the latest climate report from the office of the New Jersey State Climatologist.
January, with the arrival of the much-ballyhooed polar vortex, ranked as the 17th coldest on record, dating to 1895. Temperatures across the state bottomed out at –13 degrees. On January 7 at High Point, the wind chill measured –27 degrees.
But for all the cold, it was also a month of temperature swings. While 12 days dropped to 0 degrees or lower, 11 days reached 50 degrees or higher. Five days reached 60 degrees or higher, including a 64 degree day in Cherry Hill.
It was also a snowy January, the 8th snowiest on record. Six different snowfalls of two inches or more occurred in the state:
The phrase “polar vortex” is now a contender for word (or, in this case, phrase) of the year. Scientists still don’t know exactly what role global warming might have played in the extreme cold that visited New Jersey in January (it seems counter-intuitive, right?) but many climatologists believe they are linked. Jennifer Francis, a researcher at Rutgers, is one of the leading figures in the scientific community doing research that suggests the cold weather is related to instability in the jet stream. The warmer air didn't disappear, it merely got rerouted to Alaska:
According to this article in the Anchorage Daily News, the plants in Alaska are very confused:
The Furrow is the online newsletter of The Friends of Howell Living History Farm. We will be updating this site about once a week with crop reports and other insights into life on a horse-drawn living history farm.
|THE FURROW: The online newsletter of Howell Living History Farm