2014 Crop Report
The harvest completed April 19 with 78 kegs of superb syrups. This is a solid average yield for the 4500 taps set. 500 of these taps were set in trees that, after five years, had recovered from the historic 2008 ice storm. Leaf and tree growth from the previous 2013 Summer was excellent with no notable pest problems except for high populations of squirrels and other forest creatures chewing sap lines. Taps were set in late February; however, intense cold prevented trees from thawing until latter March. Heavy dense snow pack built up along with deep frost in the ground which further extended the harvest at our altitude. This year we experimented with recycled check-valve adaptors in the tree tap hole and maintained high vacuum of 22 inches of mercury throughout the harvest which helped stabilize the yield.
This was an unusual late season harvest driven by entrenched cold throughout the Northeast. It is noteworthy that the unique jet-stream pattern controlling our weather has had simultaneous and significant disruptive effects around the world for agriculture from Indonesia to England and across the US. 80% of the world's agriculture happens under the Northern Jet Stream. It is also worth noting that, while it was quite cold in the NE United States, globally more record warmth has been measured. In Alaska, for example, the famous Iditarod dogsled race was run with no snow along a lot of the trail! The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released its latest report that climate change is being experienced on every continent and in every ocean far more rapidly that previously estimated.
Here on the farm, the late season harvest produced an abundance of spectacular darker syrups. Lights are in short supply. For example, we have kegs of dark syrups that begin with a strong cinammon taste and end tasting like eggnog! Many Mediums are on the cusp of Light Amber and combine both buttery and vanilla tones. These are favorites this harvest for more subtle cooking. Other kegs of Medium flavors have much darker than typical colors yet with smooth buttery & caramel tones. Black syrups are superb this harvest, rich and complexly smooth across widely varying finishes of cinammon, chocolate, nutmeg, fruity, toast and much more. And the last three or four Black syrup kegs harvested in hot temperatures are most sturdy, with a bite! We prioritize taste over color when we name syrups so you may see unusually dark colors described as smooth tasting mediums. We were able to achieve 30 to 40 minute barrel fills which ensures striking diversity of tastes across kegs.
Prior to 2014 we had endured two small crops in a row. Very few farms survive three small crops without having to make significant changes in their operations. We are deeply relieved to have a solid and delicious crop that is sufficient for all of our 2014 markets.
We look forward to seeing you in the Fall and supplying your table.
And be sure to check the developing Island Reach project, our direct-action, family scale, ridge-to-reef conservation & agricultural work in Vanuatu. We'll be posting blog reports throughout the summer!
Crop Report for 2012 & 2013
BSG-Farm's forests are at an altitude of 1300 to 1900 feet. This often helps insure deep snow pack during the late Winter freeze/thaw maple harvest which can buffer warming temperatures and extend the harvest giving us strong yields of syrups. This year, for the first time in our farm experience, that advantage reversed. For almost three weeks of the early harvest period our harvesting line system and tree taps remained slushy and frozen as temperatures hovered around the freezing mark while at lower altitudes the harvest was full on. The warmup then happened abruptly in early April, ending the harvest. In 2012 a rapid warmup in early April also reduced crop yeilds by 20%. Regionally, in 2013, farms “frozen out” at our altitude with a subsequent quick warmup made a small crop this year—we are down 35% in yield. This is our first experience with a small crop two years in a row which has exhausted our reserve capacity for markets. Fortunately, the flavors across all colors are superb, complex and intriguing.
As agroforesters and social scientists who study climatology and local meteorology these irregularities contribute to our long term understanding of climate change under the northern jet stream which expresses as stronger and more irregular fluctuations of moisture, temperature and storm profiles like wind and ice storms as the jet whips and buckles with increased energy. Often the first expression of these irregularities are in the form of bugs and pathogens, which reproduce rapidly, and can therefore explode their populations out of balance with their controls. These pressure “vectors” can be either local species or invasive species.
We are pleased to see that this 2013 early wet growing season for our forest trees, which builds the sweet sap for the 2014 harvest, looks fine with big healthy leaves at a full density. In addition, we have been monitoring the recovery of sections of our forest damaged by the massive 2009 ice storm and see many trees, perhaps 300 out of 1000 have made a strong recovery. We will bring the best of them back into the harvest for 2014 to increase the farm's capacity.
It is worth noting that when we tap a maple tree we are harvesting an estimated 6% of the trees sizable energy reserves ( a tree is 50% sap by weight which includes the root ball). Healthy trees respond to this modest draw robustly, like with a careful pruning, which can spur additional growth. We monitor this process carefully during each harvest period as we tend to these special, unusual and iconic trees.
So grab what you can of this delicious, small 2013 harvest and check out the farm's development of Island Reach ; a ridge-to-reef conservation project linking you and the farm's maple forest to superb conservation works underway in Vanuatu, Melanesia 6 months per year aboard the farm's Research Vessel Llyr. In the South Pacific the vectors of climate change, population changes and economies of scale are severely impacting local biological an cultural diversity with a speed and consequence far more globally concerning than even those impacting our Northeast forests. Responding to these emergencies with our resources and assistance is the heart of both community as well as meaningfull adventure.
We invite you to deepen your involvement and support for Island Reach: a practical response to change that brings physical and skill set resources from the farm to fine conservation projects already underway in a vast island archipelago that, in order to thrive and succeed need essential infrastructure transportation, dive and survey services, marine protected area, mariculture and agroforestry support; what some call philanthropic equity or change capital. We hope that, with your syrup purchase, which helps to fuel this family-scale, targeted and efficient project, you will consider making a further charitable donation.
As has often been the case, hands-on, problem solving family farmers make a little go a very long way!
2010 Crop Report
First, some comments on the ongoing effects of the 2009 ice-storm from the perspectives of carbon farming: In the upper ledges and ridge-line of this forest, wood debris and new browse growth is thick. Attempting to navigate across this terrain sometimes ruefully reminds us of the old Maine adage; “you can't get there from here!” Once again, we left many trees untapped as we await their recovery. From a short-term perspective this sector of forest is considered by some to be carbon-positive as large amounts of downed wood decay. However, carbon farming's interests in biodiversity reveal other events in this ecosystem that we have observed. Last summer, many species of mice, moles, other rodents and squirrels rapidly expanded their communities under cover of limb tangles and rich growth of blackberries and nettles. Insect populations and grubs who enjoy vulnerable wood increased their numbers, as it appears did the many woodpecker species who hunt them. Following these leads, we observe increasing signs of numerous predator owl clans (nighttime is often raucous!), hawks, fox, weasels, fishers, coyotes, and cats of several sizes along with snakes and toads. We all observed a rarely seen trio of otters hunting the forest along the farm's stream banks and pushing brook trout into our pond's shallows for capture! Evidence of deer, turkey, partridge, woodcock, rabbit and porcupine also seem prevalent as we work the land. Long-distance traveling bears and moose visit thickets burgeoning with food. Growth conditions for microbial and fungal populations as well as forest floor plants appear strong. All are sources of nutrient, as is decay, for the biome's diversity. These creatures and countless others, below and above ground, comprise a mobile carbon cycle. Their rapidly adaptive complimentary activities comprise multiple layers of processed carbon, slowing its return to atmosphere as biomass expands. A question of perspective informs whether one considers these changes, including the ice storm, as part of, or separate from, a forest's "rotation cycle" of carbon flux due to natural or human causes. From a longer-term and biodiverse perspective, carbon-sequestering towards a carbon-neutral sight-line remains evident.
This winter and spring weather included the combined effects of a moderate to strong El Nino and a pattern called a Negative Arctic Oscillation (NAO). In El Nino years, when the Pacific ocean warms, higher temperatures and increased precipitation may be seen in the Northeast. However, this was largely blocked by greater than average high pressure regions in the Arctic, often blooming near Greenland, which defines an NAO. ( See the Climate Prediction Center ) As cold air spills towards the South jammed up high/low pressure systems kink the jet stream. Paradoxically, as the Arctic warms under high pressure, New England, and often Europe and/or Mongolia may cool. The high energies in such fluctuant systems portend unstable weather events as the Jet Stream kinks and snaps and cold/warm fronts clash: too warm then too cold, too dry then too warm with plenty of heavy precipitation and strong wind events. Influences on our local weather from around the globe are called “teleconnections”. High energy events which increasingly invert traditional temperature and moisture patterns are understood by many to be examples of a changing climate.
Because maple is a lengthy late winter/spring harvest whose forest crop responds to weather fluctuations we made some changes and invested in a new technology, taps for the trees with small ball valves in them. This check-valve blocks microbes from contact with the tap hole which may increase harvest volume. (The same microbes that ferment the sap outside the tree also serve the tree to scab over a wound.) Additionally, our high elevation added a solid snow pack of 3-4 feet just as the harvest began on March 1. We hustled on snowshoes to keep lines tight and vacuum in the 30 mile piping system strong, at 24” of mercury which can also improve yields.
While our region saw a serious decline in harvest yields for a majority of harvesters (many reporting 50-80% down) BSG-Farm's results saw a solid harvest in quantity with excellent tastes. Volume was down just 6.5% from last year. With our small security syrup carry over from 2009 in stainless kegs we have plenty of delicious stock for 2010. The forest sap's sugar content started low and dropped fast, as many harvesters reported regionally. This is a puzzle when it happens, particularly as leaf cover was strong and healthy last summer. Even though last summer had many overcast days, leaves are known to thrive in indirect sunlight as they do not have to defend themselves from excessive, damaging radiation. Sap flow rates were exceptionally high, about 30% more sap was processed (70,000+ gallons) than last year! The average gallons of sap per gallon of syrup was 50-70 to 1. We held oil consumption to .6 gallons per gallon production with solar power being the predominant energy used in processing. (Over the past year BSG-Farm credited an annual production of 9,300kw into the grid as a utility co-generator.)
El Nino twice punched through when the NAO degraded to our north, once mid-March and then at the beginning of April. The harvest ended April 2nd with this second powerful warm-up. During these two warm periods we produced some exceptional Black Amber, most of it much darker in color than last year with intense balanced flavors. Darks contain chocolate-y, cinnamon and sometime fruity qualities, many Mediums tend to darker in color but with their characteristic warm buttery/caramel flavors, and over half the crop is an extremely fine “Hyper-light” drawn and processed during the cold early snow pack. These different batches have heavenly delicate tastes of white chocolate, vanilla, and, in some kegs, hazelnut. Each year we usually process a few kegs that ferment in a manner we decide are not palatable for customers. That did not happen this year as we tasted and coding each barrel out of 79 produced.
2009 Crop Report
Mid-April and we are very pleased to report that we are finishing what has turned out to be a fine harvest. We were particularly concerned about this year's crop, given some serious weather events in 2008. May 2008 brought a first-in-memory dramatic hailstorm, piling up marble size--and bigger--loads of ice stones on the ground and shredding perhaps 15% of young leaves from the forest canopy. Trees must use some of their reserve energy to repair from such events. December 11-13 2008 brought a "100 year" (or greater) ice storm. The National Guard moved in to our town of Heath for several weeks while roads were re-opened and power lines repaired. On our farm, tree damage above 1500' in elevation (BSG maple farm elevations are 1260'-1645') was extensive and the majority of our 25 mile system of lines used to harvest maple sap was knocked down and broken. With the help of friends, neighbors, and family, a large work bee was rapidly launched with some wielding chain saws, and all equipped with knives and tape to lift as much of the line system as possible before heavy snow buried it. After that initial recovery, salvage and repair continued for 8 weeks leading up to tapping in mid-February. Friends continued to pitch in and the 8th grade students from the Academy at Charlemont spent a day on snowshoes helping out.
The harvest began in deep snow pack of 3-4 feet which enhanced prospects for a cool, long and large harvest. The harvest weather just got better and better providing extended freezing nights and thawing days. Sugar levels in the sap were lower than average for farmers across the Northeast (why this happens is largely a mystery). Here we were often at 1.4% (called 1.4 "brix") which means it takes about 60 gallons to produce a gallon of syrup! The volume of sap flow was stunning at times, with 450 to 500 gallons an hour blasting into the sugarhouse overwhelming our pumps and demanding that we hustle! Final harvesting under continued cool weather went into the second week of April. Yields per tap were as strong or stronger than last year's bumper crop at 1/3 + gallons of syrup per tap! Nature takes away and Nature provides!
Extended cool weather also often means good flavor control (fermentation is regulated by temperature) and this year's flavors are lovely across the board with a few surprises. For example, while the Light Ambers are subtle with their characteristic vanillin, nutty and white chocolate confectionary tastes, a few tasty kegs came along early in the harvest that are distinctly strawberry & vanillin! Mediums come in a wide array of rich golden/copper shades; smooth, warm, buttery, and ready for a cup of tea or to pair with some ginger and lemon on shrimp. Garnet Dark Ambers are robust and balanced often with strong dry cinnamon qualities and chocolate tones, sometimes with an essence of fruit. Black Amber, or B, is in good supply this year (last year we ran out), much of it not so much black but dark ruby in color. As always Black Amber is the most subject to extensive fermentation and, therefore, flavor variance. Intense, long finish flavors accompany the strongest flavors in maple that are frankly hard to describe. Many people feel they taste sweeter, and sometimes toasted. They may have qualities of molasses, dark chocolate, or fruit, or sometimes have a bit of an acidic bite in the aftertaste. Black Amber is a bit like the Grappa of maple syrups! Always lovely on oatmeal, in a vinaigrette with a fine aged balsamic, paired with a mustard or hot peppers on the grill or anytime you want the food to be subject to the syrup!
It has been a challenging year and we are pleased to say that Berkshire Sweet Gold is doing fine with a large supply of syrups for your table in all colors which are now, for the first time, harvested and produced with Solar Power! For more on this development see the Energy Page.
2008 Crop Report
The 2008 harvest was remarkable in numerous ways. Strong leaf growth last summer (2007) developed high sugar content in our maples which averaged well over 2% for a long portion of the harvest (around 30-35 gallons of sap per gallon of syrup). In addition, dense snow pack grew deeper and deeper in late Winter helping insure an extended cool harvest. Meantime, the weather and temperature at our farm's altitude of 1295-1645 feet was ideal much of the time, freezing nights-- but not too cold-- and thawing days, resulting in high tree pressure and high volumes of sap flow. This year was a bumper crop which increased the farm's yield 60 percent above last year's modest harvest! The cool harvest temperatures supported a large crop of Light Amber at an unusually high register of straw gold color with strong vanillin and nut flavors; the Mediums are rich with tastes of warm caramel and butter; the Dark ambers are noteworthy for their combination of bold yet smooth flavors; cinnamon, toast or chocolate can occur; and the stout Black Amber's (B) syrups, while not as dark as last year, balance powerful, rich and lasting tastes smoothly balanced by the ideal temperatures of early April. In general, this remarkable harvest is noteworthy for its smooth balance and broad range of colors beginning with unusual straw gold Light Ambers and ending with the hearty, Black Amber stouts as well as tremendous volume.