The record rainfall on Monday night, Feb. 21, at Stratford Ecological Center on Liberty Road, caused a drainage stream to flood the lane, halfway between the entrance and the Education building, by mid-afternoon Tuesday. The culvert was blocked. It was my first experience with such a scene. The farmhands beckoned me on, and I gingerly crept through and drove on, leaving the problem in their competent hands. It turned out everyone was able to get out, and the next day the culvert was cleaned out and the run-off had already abated.
The same day, 50 second and third graders came for a maple sugar tour in the morning. They were well prepared for the weather and most wore knee-high rubber boots. They needed them, whether they walked the trail through the woods or through the fields. But they were oblivious to their wet surroundings and had eyes only for jumping and wading in as much water as they could find!
A seven-member team from AmeriCorps arrived on March 7 and will stay until April 28. They found it exhilarating to be outside in falling snow on March 11, pulling invasive species in the woods! This week they have been stripping the bark off 80 locust logs that the farmhands brought back last year from a nearby development. The logs will become H-shaped supports for the corners of our wire fences and gateways.
The guided tours to the Sugar Shack on Saturday, Feb. 19, were cold but successful. The weather was warmer for tours on Feb. 26, and visitors relished the opportunity to be outside. The patio fireplace was a big draw on both days.
The bigger Maple Sugar Celebration on March 5 proved to be an awesome day, with the temperature reaching 70 degrees! Two hundred and seventy-five people, many new, came out to tour the barn, watch Bill the Blacksmith forge hooks and nails on his anvil, feed the chickens, sample sap and maple syrup, complete five different experiences on a bingo card to win a honey stick, and indulge in a cup of coffee or hot chocolate and a homemade maple syrup cookie. We were delighted so many people could once again enjoy our working farm.
By March 15, the last of this season’s 1,208 gallons of sap was hauled to the Sugar Shack. Temperatures were forecast to remain above freezing, and a red glow in the woods signals the tree buds are about to open and the sap will turn bitter. Cooking will continue as there is 600 gallons of sap in storage.
It has been a difficult season resulting in a low syrup production. This was due to an inconsistency in the quality of the firewood, the sugar content in the sap, the multiple times the collected sap turned to ice causing irregular sugar in the thawed sap, and the need for the cookers’ attention to be diverted to the visiting school children. However, our mission is to show children where their food comes from, and to see the look on their faces as they sample their tiny cups of syrup and spread out the sides to lick out every drop is reward enough.
Farmer Jeff needed to supplement our hay supply. He purchased 75 square bales and seven round bales. He left a round bale in the pasture to persuade the cattle to leave the barn and venture out through the sodden backyard to eat. The hay quality is not the best due to climate change, and consequently it takes more hay to satisfy their appetite. We have a new red devon calf. To date we have 16 lambs and six kids. Eggs were placed in the incubator in the library on March 11 as young animals and chicks are the theme for this month’s Farm School.
We are now the proud owners of a new livestock trailer, to replace our somewhat dubious old one. The 1996 Suburban has been retired and replaced with a gift of a 2002 Suburban to pull the new trailer. It even has leather seats, making cleaning much easier. We are most thankful.
Next week the Storybook Trail will move to the Well and Link Trails ending at the lane. Young readers are invited to learn about spotted salamanders, then continue across the lane to the Clyde Gosnell Boardwalk and the Vernal Pool. A public tour by registration to the Vernal Pool is planned for Friday, April 1, from 6:30-8:30 pm. Story Time on the Farm for young children returns April 11 from 10-11 a.m. with walk-ins welcome.
Our first big event open to the public without registration is our Llama and Sheep Shearing Day on April 23 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. A food truck will be on site. Please see our web site for details and to find other opportunities to visit. To keep informed, we invite you to sign up for our monthly one-page e-newsletter
Happy spring. We look forward to seeing familiar faces and plenty of new ones this year.
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: StratfordEcologicalCenter.org.