Maple sugaring off to early start


As predicted, temperatures rose above average on Tuesday, Jan. 23, and marked the formal start of the sugaring season at Stratford Ecological Season on Liberty Road. The farmhands spread out in the Sugar Bush and identified 200 maple trees with a small red slash. Firewood had been stockpiled outside the Sugar Shack, the area cleared of leaves, and the barrels for storing sap hosed off.

The same day as the trees were marked, the Storybook Trail was erected on the Sugar Shack Trail. We used the same beautiful story that debuted in 2021 on our first Storybook Trail, called “Spring for Sophie” by Yael Werber. The book moves from winter to spring and encourages readers to use their five senses just like Sophie.

On Jan. 30, the trees were tapped. A spile was inserted to drain the sap into a bucket suspended on the spile. Sap collection began on Monday, Feb. 5, and by Tuesday evening, 325 gallons were on hand. The first school tour arrived on Feb. 8, the evaporator was fired up, and cooking continued for 6 hours. The total cooking time for the first batch will be 40 hours, but future batches will be ready after 8 hours of continuous cooking.

Training was held on Feb. 3 and Feb. 7 for all those involved with this year’s sugaring, be it cooking or guiding or sharing daily life on a working farm with our visitors. The big room was full and included a family from Snake Den Mounds in Ashville, Ohio, a new nonprofit created to share the ancient Mounds located at the center of their farm.

Stratford’s founder, Louise Warner, and her husband, Clyde, Stratford’s honorary board chairman, shared their expertise with the family on forming a nonprofit. As our own facilities have limitations, we believe the best way to connect more people to the land is to help those interested in offering experiences on their own property. The family walked the farm and woods and took home information that has proved successful as we grew over the last 34 years.

Looking around the farm for signs of spring, it was obvious that the spelt sown last fall had germinated well. They were the only green areas amongst the yellow grass, which was awaiting much more consistent warmer weather. The garlic was two inches above the ground, and their cluster of leaves reminded me of a potted hyacinth bulb pushing up its leaves and heavily scented flower at this time of the year. Some witch hazel varieties have flowered, and the fluffy white blossoms of the pussy willow are visible.

Farmer Jeff plans to use the roller-crimper in the prairie this spring. Then he will plant an acre and-a-half with seed he has on hand, to add diversity to the prairie. Jeff; Tim Batchelor, the MTSO land steward; and Bob Harter, our flower specialist, have arranged a visit to Natives in Harmony Nursery in Marengo to meet with owner Gale Martin and pick out specific plants. We will add ours to the Prairie, and Tim will plant his in selected campus lawns, which are being converted to ecologically rich prairie. Gale was instrumental in donating many natives to us in October 2020 to plant around the pond.

Hay supplies are dwindling, and time will tell if it is necessary to buy in round bales to see us through until our livestock can graze the spring grass. We have a long hill of nutritious black compost in the South Pasture to use in our vegetable beds this spring. The cows and calves are out stretching their legs in the extremely muddy farmyard. We now have five heifer calves born in the space of two-and-a-half weeks since early January. The first calf, Benny, was misidentified and has been renamed Penny! All are in excellent condition, three with bright white markings, and two a dusty red/brown.

Lambs are expected anytime. The ewes have taken up residence on the old compost pile in the northeast corner of the barn to sun themselves. Goat kids are due in late March. We will purchase five 8-week-old Tamworth/Berkshire piglets in early April. Thanks to the increase in daylight hours the hens have slightly increased their egg production and the eggs are bigger!

We look forward to hosting our annual Maple Sugar Celebration on Saturday, Feb. 24, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. You can try your hand at tapping a tree as you walk the Storybook Trail to the Sugar Shack. Learn alternative methods for cooking the sap, discover who makes holes and why in a circle around a maple tree, and listen to our sap cookers as they explain the work involved in producing maple syrup. We invite you to visit the barn to check if the lambs have arrived and feed the chickens in the orchard. Reservations may be made on our website.

Details of other opportunities to visit Stratford in the coming months can be found in the calendar on our webpage. We hope you will find something you like and make a note in your own calendar.

Pauline Scott is a farm and nature guide at Stratford Ecological Center, 3083 Liberty Road, Delaware. She can be reached at 740-363-2548 or by email at [email protected]. Website:

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