Portage River Farm

  (Pinckney, Michigan)
Notes on our struggles and successes on our family farm in rural Michigan.
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Mother Nature Catches Us Unprepared. . . . Again!

I am astounded at the difference in the perceived length of winter between this year and last year. Last year we had just moved onto the farm and had little to do but sit indoors dreaming of all of the things we would do once the weather warmed up. Of course, there was lots of snow shoveling to do and we were poorly equipped to handle it. I spent the entire winter removing deep snow from our 1,000 foot driveway with a plastic bladed snow shovel. Given all of that, the winter seemed to drag on and on.

This year has been a completely different picture. Somehow I was expected a winter like the last and was looking forward to having lots of time to relax, develop plans for the coming year and spend extra time with my family. Instead, the winter seems to be going by in a flash!

Many projects from the Fall stretched well into December and some are still waiting for more attention. Far from having lots of time to relax, every spare minute has been spent on my computer formulating plans for our first CSA season and worrying that I wouldn't get the seeds ordered in time to get them started indoors. Most of those orders have still not gone out!

Due to the purchase of our tractor, the clearing of the driveway has become a breeze. What took me as much as 11 hours of sweating, miserable shoveling now is completed in 20 minutes! In addition, there have only been two snows thus far that were big enough to justify starting it up.

The inspiration for this post is the arrival of our first major indication that the Spring season is upon us. A few days ago we had a day where the temperature climbed above freezing. That prompted a call from a friend of mine wondering if the time had arrived for us to tap the maple trees. I assured him that it was normal to get a few solitary days of warm weather interspersed with cold snaps before things warmed up in earnest.

My answer had come from my experience tracking the temperatures in the early spring last year. It may be easier to read on the Sugarbush page of our website.

Janet and I attended the Michigan Family Farms Conference on the west side of the state yesterday. As we were driving home, I was noting that the temperature had continued to be warm. I resolved to get our 2010 temperature chart started before going to bed last night. To my surprise, the chart shows that the warm temperatures are being projected to remain for at least the next week! I'm sure that a cold snap is still in our future but I have concluded that unless we get the taps in the trees today, we are going to miss out on first flow.

The problem is that I was sure we had a couple more weeks before the temperatures would climb high enough to start tapping. I have been spending my time hurriedly finishing up the planting plan so I could get the rest of the seeds on order. As a result, I had delayed our preparations for Sugaring and now we have been caught by Mother Nature with our coveralls down!

There are two major items that now have been moved to the top of the priority list. The new evaporator that we bought is still in boxes and needs to be installed immediately. As well, we have no practical way to haul the sap out of the woods so I need to purchase a four-wheeled drive ATV over the next few days.

Today is the only day in the next week when I will have enough time to set the taps. Therefore, the boys and I are now preparing to load up a couple of sleighs with taps, equipment, hanging bags, thermos of hot chocolate and snacks. Then we will head off into the woods for a long day of measuring trees, installing taps and collection bags and creating tapping logs.

I'm going to do my best to slow down and enjoy the day. If all goes well we might even get back home in time to start assembling the evaporator. In any case, it's clear that whatever time the winter had offered for rest is now over!
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