Maple sugaring season starts at Stratford


The animals and people at Stratford Ecological Center on Liberty Road have enjoyed the sunny February days after the Jan. 19 torrential rain and wind, and later snows. Farmer Jeff observed a new spring, spurting water on the Well Loop Trail, and another beyond the barn, on the steps leading to the bifurcation of the Sugar Shack and Creek trails. The water table has risen with the intensity of last year’s rains, and the long periods of drought. The rain and drought cause a pan to form, which prevents drainage downwards, and on occasion, the ground opens to release the water.

The swing in temperature affects the choice of hay the cattle are willing to eat. During cold weather, they are not picky as long as they can generate enough energy through the carbohydrates to keep them warm. When it is very cold, we feed a lot more fibrous but protein-rich spelt hay. With warmer weather, the cattle much prefer the softer, fluffy hay grown in the pasture.

It has been some time since our volunteers were trained in CPR and the defibrillator hanging on the wall in the reception area. Farmhand Pete led a class on Feb. 3. He is a retired fire chief with plenty of experience administering CPR. Pete reiterated the need to act quickly and kept his instructions to the basics. This approach alleviated the fear that we would forget them in an emergency. He went on to demonstrate the defibrillator and reminded us that once the machine is turned on, audible instructions would guide us step by step. He concluded by inviting us to practice on two mannequins while he monitored our position, push and timing.

After Pete’s well-received training, we turned our attention to lighter business: a potluck lunch! Another first in a long time. Is it possible that the downtime over the last three years provided an opportunity to improve our culinary skills? Gone were too many bowls of black beans and rice; they were replaced with a variety of dishes containing exquisite flavors.

On the first Tuesday in February, the annual hanging of white buckets on our maple trees took place. Sugaring season had arrived in the Sugar Bush! During the past couple of weeks, the evaporator was repaired, firewood supplies were checked, buckets were inspected, and the drills and spiles were located. The 180 buckets have gradually filled, and cooking started on Valentine’s Day. Two maple sugar guide trainings took place this past week, and tours for the public start Saturday, Feb. 18, with school children arriving next week.

To coincide with the rising of the sap and the coming of spring, a new Story Book Trail has been set up on the Sugar Shack trail. The book is called “Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature,” by Marcie Flinchum Atkins. It moves from hibernation to the gradual emerging of insects, reptiles, mammals, birds, and trees in the spring. There are fewer words in this book compared to our earlier choices, allowing a child to learn by studying the beautiful drawings.

The long-awaited baby piglets arrived in late January! The five piglets were born and weaned on a farm in Salem, Ohio. They came from three different litters and differ in size and color. Two are pure black and white Berkshires. Two are light skinned and one is black. The latter are likely of Duroc and Old Spot heritage. We continue to anticipate the imminent arrival of this year’s lambs.

We are excited to share that we will be hosting a Maple Sugar Celebration on Saturday, March 4, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. You can sign up on our website for your preferred arrival time. A sampling of pancakes and maple syrup will be available, along with coffee and hot chocolate. The farmhands will be at the Sugar Shack demonstrating the old and new methods of extracting sugar from the sap. Along the woodland trail there will be an opportunity to tap a maple tree and collect sap. Story telling is planned beside the campfire at the Sugar Shack. Guides will be stationed in the barn and the chicken coop, and you are invited in to see if the lambs have arrived and feed the chickens. We very much hope you will join us.

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