Romancing the Maple Tree

As springtime approaches each year with cold nights and warm days, it is sugaring time around here. Maple trees are being tapped now and when temperatures are just right, the sap flows.

The nights are cold, the days are … supposed to be warm (over 40 degrees) to get the sap flowing but it’s been too cold for that
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/gardening/A-madeleine-moment-with-maple-syrup.html#BE0D68qEbEbWV5ig.99

sugar houseThe maple sugar operation in New Hampshire is celebrated on Maple Weekend every March by throwing opening the doors of participating sugarhouses across the state and inviting in the public. Some serve pancakes or waffles with maple syrup or they may offer hay rides, but with a grandbaby in tow, we decided to visit the one closest to our home.  Willow Creek Sugarhouse in East Kingston is about a 20 minute drive from us and sounded perfect.

This being our first exposure to sugaring, we were there to observe the maple syrup operation and to learn all we could. Brad Rice and his family own and live on the property at Willow Creek Sugarhouse. The business of sugaring looked like a family affair. We were able to see the pipelines snaking through the woods to large holding tanks, watch the sap dripping in buckets, stand around the wood fired boiling listening to Brad explain the business of sugaring. We introduced our grandson to chickens and chicks, and left with Willow Creek honey, maple covered nuts, maple pancake mix, maple sugar candy. What a way to spend a morning!

Last month we learned that Willow Creek Sugarhouse won second place overall in the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association’s Carlisle Award.  Boy, do we know how to pick them! This year Maple Weekend dates are March 22-23 and we’ll be there!

Some of our memories of 2013 Maple Weekend at Willow Creek Sugarhouse. Click to enlarge.

      Here is a video of Brad explaining the process of tapping a red maple:

New Hampshire Bobhouses

According to the NOAA, we have about 20″ of snow on the ground. The tally came after about 7 or 8″ of fresh snow yesterday. It’s snowing again now with an inch or two more expected tonight. We don’t go out in it much. We stand at the window and watch it fall in awe and disbelief.

A warmup is in the forecast. We’re jumping to 48 degrees on Friday. Where will all the melt end up? That’s a worry for all who have basements…us included.

After shoveling a pathway (not me but mister gardener!) to feed our our avian friends, we decided to drive down to the river and see how the bobhouses fared in the snowstorm.

pathway in the snowWe’re just learning about bobhouses. It’s certainly a huge New Hampshire tradition, perhaps a bigger thing on Lake Winnipesaukee than on our local rivers, but we do have a number of bobhouses where diehard ice fishermen have some protection from the elements.

In other states, I’ve heard the huts called by names like ice shanty, ice house, or ice shack but here they call these portable buildings ‘bobhouses’ and no one really knows why. Theories are that fish ‘bob’ on the line, that the houses ‘bob’ in the water if not removed before the ice is thin, but I like the theory that the verb ‘to bob’ means to cut short, such as in a hair style or in bobsled with short runners. And, indeed, these shanties are small structures, some bought, many handmade, painted, plywood, metal… very individualized and colorful.

I would think most bobhouses are pretty basic, however some bobhouses may have a woodstove for warmth, a camping potty or a generator and a t.v. We were hoping to see some activity on the ice today but our bobhouses looked vaccant after about 8 inches of snow last night.

Click photos to enlarge.

Faux Spring in Wintry Weather

During the winter season in Virginia, I engaged in a craft project or two to help ease the pain of not getting outdoors enough. I’m tackling a few more indoor activities now because of the longer winters in New Hampshire.

To bring springtime indoors, one familiar craft I’m enjoying again is faux flower bulbs in faux water. I love finding daffodis and muscari with the bulbs and roots attached. But a simple cut daffodil stem looks nice, too. Craft stores carry faux everything from faux dirt to faux moss to make projects fun. I don’t think these florals look exactly like live plants, however I loved it when a visitor once said, “The water looks low in that container. You’d better add a little more water or the plant will dry up.”

BulbsI like the look of pebbles beneath the bulb with roots and perhaps a little faux dirt still attached here and there.

I search for bulbs that are on sale. These 11″ muscari plants were under $2 each.

A small bag of pebbles should cost under a dollar.

pebblesI position the plant atop the pebbles and add a couple of strips of tape to hold the bulb steady.

There are different faux water products, some are ready-mixed and some you must combine before using. Follow directions exactly. Pour around rocks carefully and be on guard to prevent any spillage on the side of the container or anywhere! Old newspapers beneath the project help.

Acrylic Water KitIn about a day, maybe two, you’ll have your own faux touch of spring for your windowsill.

faux water

Let it snow, let it snow!

People tell me they can sense subtle signs of spring. My Kentucky daughter tells me that, although they’ve had a very severe winter in Louisville with temperatures that mirror ours, there are signs “spring is right around the corner.” She senses more light during the day, her garden seeds are bought, and her fingers are tingling to get in the soil. Closer to home, Keene, NH blogger at New Hampshire Garden Solutions posted photos of skunk cabbage emerging through the ice and snow, something I didn’t expect to happen for a couple of weeks. The signs are here but I honestly cannot feel spring at all.

Our arctic freeze may tease us with a partial thaw yet refuses to lessen its grip. Snow drifts are waist deep around the house and 10 times that deep at the edge of parking lots…. with more snow in our forecast for this week. We have spent the last couple of weeks trying our best to thoroughly winterize this home. We have sealed the house, added a couple of more feet of insulation in the attic, and cleared the skylights of ice and sealed sealed them well. No, I just can’t feel spring yet.

Jack Frost on skylightAlthough I know nature is preparing for spring, an activity we attended last weekend seemed to confirm winter’s grip. On Saturday, we traveled to Keene NH to visit family and were entertained at the 12th annual Ice and Snow Festival. We could partake of hot cocoa and cotton candy while strolling the streets of downtown Keene watching the ice sculpting artists at work. That’s not all. We could have fun making s’mores over a bonfire, join in the snowball throwing, watch snow sculpting artists at work, jump on a horse drawn wagon, and meet the official Ice Princess!

Click to enlarge:

Spring is certainly on the way in New England, but winter weather is still being celebrated in carnivals and festivals across the state. Hundreds of New England folks bundle up on weekends and enjoy ice skating contests, ice fishing derbies, snow golf, sled dog racing, and horse drawn carriage rides. As a southern transplant, it’s all new to me and I’m having a ball….