Snow failed to put damper on maple syrup event


The weather was sunny and 50 degrees on the day before the annual Maple Sugar Celebration, scheduled for Feb. 24 at Stratford Ecological Center on Liberty Road. This was a plus as we prepared for over 300 visitors. However, early Saturday morning our resilience was tested as three inches of snow had fallen, more was coming down, heavy winds were creating blizzard-like conditions, and the snowplows had only made one pass on the highway.

Fortunately, as the time crept closer to the volunteers expected arrival at 8 a.m., the snow and winds diminished, traffic moved slowly, and everyone arrived at Stratford safely. After keeping your eyes glued to the road, it was a stunning sight to turn onto the quiet lane leading to the center and witness the beauty of the snow on the trees. The sun came out, but it remained brisk, and young and old took advantage of delicious hot chocolate to ward off the chill. The guided tours to the Sugar Shack ran smoothly, and we avoided last year’s bottleneck there.

In the Big Room, visitors participated in a syrup taste test and voted for their favorite of four samples. Behind each sample was the actual bottle of syrup. One contained no real maple syrup, two were various grades of store-bought maple syrup, and the fourth was our own, bottled from the first batch of 2024. Yes, ours won! However, the one with no maple syrup garnered a lot of votes, due we believe, to its familiar taste!

Unfortunately, there were no lambs to greet the visitors in the barn. One lamb was born the previous Tuesday morning, Feb. 20, before the farm staff had arrived, but did not survive. Sadly, the sturdy lamb had been unable to remove the birth sack covering his face. The sack was found to be much tougher than normal, and it was surmised that a lack of selenium in the ewe could have played a part. We know our pastures lacks selenium, so all our animals have access to kelp, a good source, and a green licking block is available to the ewes.

The following Tuesday, Feb. 27, was a much happier scene as twin lambs were born just as volunteers arrived to start work. As a precaution, each lamb received an injection of selenium. Since then, the northeast corner of the barn has been filled with individual lambing “jugs” and healthy occupants. One of ewes totally rejected her twins. As they were rapidly losing heat, they were taken away to the small warm greenhouse and bottle fed. In the evening, Farmer Jeff returned them to their mother in the hope she might bond. He was surprised to find how enthusiastically she greeted, licked, and allowed them to feed. As of March 13, a total of 20 lambs have been born with three more ewes yet to lamb.

With the prediction of continuous warm weather, sugaring season came to an end on Feb. 27. The farmhands collected and emptied the buckets, and the cookers continued to finish the second batch. The total sap collected was 835 gallons, resulting in 4.5 gallons of syrup. This was more than last year’s short season, when we produced only one batch of syrup, but well below our once-normal 2,000 gallons of sap.

During the week of Feb. 26, the spring peeper frogs started to sing, a sure sign we were nearing the end of sugaring and spring was on its way. By March 4, the chorus frogs had joined in, and the noise from the three vernal pools in the Button Bush was earth shattering! A week later their song was almost inaudible. On March 5, it rained heavily around 5 p.m.., and as predicted, the salamanders left their underground homes and crossed the lane to the pools. The males come first and deposit their sperm, and later the females arrive to lay their eggs on top. The next day, 24 were discovered in one observation trap and two in another. The third pool, closest to Liberty Road, has recently filled, and small-mouth salamanders were found there. Most of our salamanders are spotted salamanders and the state amphibian of Ohio.

March and April hold plenty of opportunities to visit Stratford. Next week the new Story Book Trail will be erected on the Creek Trail and end in the Memorial Garden. “The Warbler Wave,” by April Pulley Sayre, shares the story of the spring migration of warblers from South America to our northern states. The striking color photographs and a few words tell the story. The Farm and Nature Guide training is scheduled for March 20 and 21, and anyone interested is encouraged to come and learn about our original program for school children. The first of a four-part series, “Bee A Pollinator Warrior,” starts on March 23. In April, there are opportunities to take part in Earth Day activities. Our Sheep Shearing Event takes place on April 20, and the Edible Plant Walk and Luncheon on April 27.

Details can be found on our website, some require registration. Should you have questions, please contact us. We wish you a happy spring, which officially starts on March 19.

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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