Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Holiday Gifts from Wellspring Forest Farm - Edible and Nutritious

While our shiitake logs rest for the winter and the maple trees store up their sugar, we are thankful to have some delicious and nutritious preserved forest products keeping us warm and healthy.  And, we're pleased to have enough of these products available for sale just in time for the holidays, in case you're looking for an alternative gift idea.

Here's what we'll have for sale:
-- dried shiitake mushrooms for $6/oz
-- dried chaga mushrooms (medicinal tea) for $6/oz
-- 100% pure maple syrup (Grade B), $8/half pint, $12/pint, $20 quart
-- pre-inoculated mushroom logs for $10 - 20
-- signed copies of Steve's book, Farming the Woods for $35.00
-- Carl Whittaker's hand drawn mushroom calendars for $16.00

All these items make great gifts - notably the mushroom logs, which will yield beginning in 2015 and last for 3 - 5 years. Easy to maintain -- we provide instructions!

The market will feature over a dozen local farmers and food producers selling all you will need for your holiday feasts: fruit, vegetables, mushrooms, meat (pork, beef, & lamb), poultry (turkeys & chickens), hard cider, baked goods, honey, maple syrup, coffee, jam, pickles, foodie gifts, and more!


Shops in Press Bay Alley will also be open for the event, selling chocolate, gifts, and more. The Alley will be warm, bright, festive, and fun, with live music by Travis Knapp.

We prefer cash or check, though can accept credit at the Market.

Happy Holidays!

Elizabeth & Steve

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Take care of your shiitake!

Wowsa mushrooms! This summer is turning out to be perfect for mushrooms – cool and wet periods followed by days of hot and dry conditions. They love it! Last week, our first full week brought us over 60 lbs in the harvest. We are thanking the mushroom gods, and you for your support!
We've been sharing tips with our CSA members and restaurant accounts this year and want to pass along the info to you as well.

If you are interested in getting fresh shiitake mushrooms you can find ours for sale at the Piggery in Ithaca, as well as at our CSA Pick-up, Thursdays at the Westy from 5 - 8pm alongside the Plowbreak Farm CSA

Dining out? You will find our mushrooms on the menu of Maxie's, Agava, and the Carriage House in Ithaca, along with occasional appearances at the Hazelnut Kitchen in Trumansburg and Macro Mama's at the Ithaca Farmers Market (Tues & Sat)

Our thanks for all the support. 

First: The basics! In other words, how to properly store, care, and enjoy mushrooms.
Keep them in the fridge in a paper sack or container with loose lid (mushrooms need to breathe), where they should be good for up to one week.

Cut the stems and save them for soup stock! (start a container in your freezer, mix with other veggie scraps etc) You can also compost them, but the stems have as much flavor and nutrition as the cap – they are often just a bit woody.

Slice or dice caps and lightly sauté in medium-high heat with your favorite oil or butter, adding salt and/or pepper to taste. Shiitakes cook well with onions, garlic, and really almost anything.

You actually need to cook shiitake for at least a few minutes to break down several chemical bonds, allowing your body to absorb the nutrition completely. (Did you know mushrooms were nutritious? High in B and D vitamins, iron, potassium, and many enzymes too!)

Drying shiitake mushrooms is rather easy. To prepare, snip of the stems with scissors (don’t forget they can be used for stock!) and then either dry whole or slice in about 1/4” pieces. (if you slice up they dry faster) You then have three options:

1)    A food dehydrator. Set the temperature to about 140 degrees and place shiitake on the drying trays. Usually takes about 6 – 8 hours. They are ready when about “leather” hard – this means they are not squishy at all, but also not brittle or flaky.

2)    If your stove is gas and has a pilot light that stays on in the oven, you can prepare mushrooms as above and place on cooling racks or cookie sheets, the oven will dry them nicely over 1  - 2 days.

3)    The Sun! This is our favorite method (see attached photos). Simply lay caps on screens or cookie sheets something with holes is best) and lay out in full sun. Takes 1 – 2 days. Keep in mind that a sudden rain burst can ruin a batch, so only do this when you are around or won’t forget to bring them in. You should also bring them in at night, as cool condensing air will “undo” any drying.

Did you know that drying mushrooms in the sun can actually BOOST their Vitamin D content?

Once dried, mushrooms can be stored for many months (or years?) in sealed mason jars or they can be vacuum packaged. Be sure to monitor them to ensure they remain dry. Some folks add a bit of brown rice to the jars to absorb extra moisture.

Be sure to always dry your mushrooms with the GILLS UP. This preserves the nutrition and flavor. Dried mushrooms are really flavorful and delicious, keep well, and are a wonderful treat you'll be glad you stored away for the off-season!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Duck Publication Released!

In 2011, Northeast SARE awarded us a farmer research grant to study the potential of integrating ducks into our shiitake mushroom enterprise. For two seasons we raised several flocks of ducks of many breeds and took observations and data to try and answer the following questions: 

1. Are ducks effective and reliable slug control in log-grown mushroom cultivation?
2. Is the forest affected in any negative way from the presence of ducks?
3. Are ducks (raised for meat) economically viable as an additional farm income stream?

Well, two years later we've completed the project and the results are in! Here are some of our key findings: 
1) Ducks can provide a good level of pest control throughout the farm (including forests, fields, and gardens) and if rotated, do not appear to have adverse effects on the farm landscape.

2) Only one of the four breeds of duck we raised (Muscovy) gains sufficient weight to make a profit. A duck would need to get to at least 8 lbs in a season to make it economical under our model. 150 - 400 ducks would need to be raised per season to be economically viable.

3) Integrating ducks into the mushroom yard did appear to have a positive effect on reducing slug populations and thus mushroom damage, though the mix of variables (weather, temperatures, labor, etc) made it difficult to collect good data on the dynamics at play.
In addition, part of our goal with the project was to author a publication that covered some of the basic tips and tricks for raising ducks, as we found that books and articles just didn't cover all the bases. We hope that our efforts will help farmers and homesteaders consider raising ducks for hobby or profit, valuing their ecosystem services as much as their products. Ducks have a phenomenal potential to be beneficial members of the farm ecosystem.

Ultimately, we are very happy working with ducks and while we decided that, at least for now, we won't be raising ducks for meat at a commercial scale, we continue to maintain a flock of roughly 20 ducks and are selling duck eggs locally.

Read all the details and learn key information about raising ducks in our FREE PDF publication:

Complete Grant Documents can be accessed at:

Drawing by Carl Whittaker
Our Sincere Thanks to:
NE-SARE for funding and support
Roger Ort and Ken Mudge for providing technical expertise
Joshua Pezet for his help caretaking, collecting data, and especially all the wrangling and weighing of ducks in 2012!
Jennifer Gabriel for her wonderful photos.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Shares of forest-grown shiitake now available for 2014

We will be at the Tompkins County CSA Fair this coming Saturday selling shares and inoculated mushroom logs. Sign up at the fair and receive a FREE package of dried shiitake to enjoy right away!

From the time we first saw shiitake mushrooms pop from our hardwood logs and tasted the difference over the ones we'd had from the store, we were hooked. It is our pleasure to offer customers in Schuyler and Tompkins county fresh, log-grown shiitake mushrooms harvested from our maple woods this year.

Log-grown shiitake are far superior to mushrooms from the store, which are almost always grown indoors in a climate controlled environment. In addition to a smaller ecological footprint, mushrooms from the forest have a better appearance, taste, and texture and as research has indicated, are often higher in both their nutritional and medicinal qualities.

Shiitake mushrooms offer the following benefits:
- a great source of protein with zero saturated fats (great for vegetarians) Resource
- shown to significantly lower cholesterol levels Resource
- contains anti-cancer properties Resource
- supports immune system Resource
- contains high levels of vitamins B2, B5, B6 and D, as well as manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, copper and over 30 different enzymes Resource

Our experience growing shiitakes for the past six years means you get the best of the best. Steve has been an advocate for forest farming and outdoor mushroom cultivation for many years, teaching hundreds of backyard and farmer growers the process of cultivation through his work as an extension educator and coordinator of the Northeast Forest Mushroom Growers Network.

Join our 2014 CSA share and receive a half pound (or more!) of fresh, log-grown shiitake mushrooms each week. Don't think you will eat a half pound every week? Shiitake mushrooms are easy to dry for winter storage. (we'll tell you how).

Your share includes:

- Half pound of fresh shiitake mushrooms (about one quart containers worth) each week
- Weekly recipe and update from the farm
- Discounts on workshops & other products we sell
- A few mushroom-related surprises along the way!

The share runs from the second week in June through the second week in September, for a total of 14 weeks. Pick-up locations include Thursdays on the patio at the Westy bar (alongside Plowbreak Farm CSA pick-up) or on-farm in Mecklenburg on Fridays. If you can get together 5+ orders with neighbors and friends we will offer free delivery weekly to a location in Ithaca or Trumansburg.

Cost: $112 for 1/2 pound per week for 14 weeks ($8/week)
        (Double shares (1 lb/week) get a 10% discount)

Pre-inoculated logs

The farm also has pre-inoculated logs for sale if you prefer to grow-your-own. Logs come ready to go, you just set them up in a cool, shady spot. Full instructions included.

Shiitake logs can be fruited on a reliable schedule with soaking 24 hours in cold water. Each flush produces 1/4 - 1/2 pound of mushrooms or more. All wood was harvested sustainably from local forests, where cutting was done to improve forest health. NOTE: Because of state firewood hauling restrictions logs cannot be sold beyond 50 miles of Mecklenburg, NY.

Shiitake (Logs are 4 - 8" in diameter and 36" long)
    - 2012 (will fruit this year): $20 each, 5 for $80
    - 2013 (will fruit next year: $15 each, 5 for $60

TO ORDER LOGS and SIGN UP FOR THE CSA visit our website and click on "mushrooms"

Monday, February 24, 2014

Syrup is sweet, but how about Sap?

A shortened version of this article appears in this week's Tompkins Weekly newspaper.

            Living in the Finger Lakes, the change from winter to spring is often quite dramatic and enthusiastically welcomed by residents who are sometimes a bit weary after months of bundling up, scraping car windows, and shoveling sidewalks. While the signs of the seasonal change can come in many forms, perhaps there is no better pulse than the process of maple sugaring, which quite literally ebbs and flows based on the changing of temperate. Warm days above freezing coupled with colder nights below 32 degrees F mean the sap is flowing - and spring is coming.

            This way of welcoming change - the harvest of maple sap and the boiling of it into syrup has long been a human tradition, from the native people that walked these lands for thousands of years to the first European settlers to the modern sugarmakers of today. While the tools and technology have changed significantly over time, the basic process is still the same. Tap trees, collect sap, boil, and store. While today syrup is often seen as a luxury item fit only for drizzling over pancakes, for most of its history it was a staple, a necessity. During the time of Revolutionary War, it was even radical. The ability of colonists to make their own sugar meant they could avoid purchasing cane sugar from the crown, a practice that was seen as a form of rebellion against the empire.

            Today, the sugaring world is still changing - and it will continue to change for many years to come. The biggest factor at this point in time is climate change, which is predicted to have several problematic effects on sugaring; mostly notably on the timing of sap flow. Where traditionally mid to late February is common as the time to tap trees (and appears to be holding true in 2014), there is some evidence to suggest that tapping times will generally be earlier, with one research paper co-authored by Brian Chabot at Cornell estimating that tapping may be around Christmas time by 2100. Yet regardless of when it flows, sap will continue to flow for a long time to come.

            Tapping trees is a project that is relatively easy and inexpensive to get into. All one needs is a few sugar maple trees, a drill, a spout, and some sort of collection vessel. On a good year, it can be expected that a tree 12" in diameter or more will produce somewhere in the range of 8 - 10 gallons of sap. At a ratio of 40 gallons of sap to one gallon of syrup, this means that 5 or 6 trees could theoretically yield about a gallon of syrup, per season. But in many cases the amount of time required to boil sap into syrup makes this process impractical for the homeowner, on a small scale. Thus many people do not tap trees, choosing instead to support a local sugarmaker for syrup.

            One thing that anyone with a few healthy sugar maples should consider is tapping for the sap alone, offers a chance to connect to the seasonal change of nature as well as enjoy some potential health benefits. In fact, tapping trees and just drinking the sap may be one of the easiest and most nutritious things to do locally this time of year - especially in your own backyard. The Director of Cornell's Maple Program Mike Farrell profiles this potential in his new book, The Sugarmakers Companion.

            Maple sap, along with other tree saps, has long been viewed as a spring tonic by many cultures around the globe. It is usually about 98 percent water and 2 percent sugar, but little known is that it is also loaded with minerals, nutrients, enzymes, antioxidants, phenolic compounds, and more. Worldwide, there have actually been three International Symposiums on Tree Sap Utilization, (1995, 2000, and 2005) where scientists from Japan, Korea, Russia, and Europe discussed the use of tree sap as an end product – most birch.

            In Korea specifically, there is a long history of sap consumption and most comes from the Acer mono, a maple which is called gorosoe, meaning "the tree that is good for the bones" in Korean. This is likely due to the high mineral content in sap, most notably calcium, magnesium, and potassium. There are even places in Korea where people can take weekend retreats, visiting the mountains and consuming as much as 5 gallons of sap per day while sitting on heated floors with conditions similar to a sauna. The idea is to detox the bad stuff and unclog the body from a long winter. In Korean markets, Maple Sap usually sells for $5 - 10/gallon.

            While much of the medicinal benefits of sap around the world have focused on birch, several studies from Korea have cited the potential benefits of maple sap consumption in lab settings for treating osteoporosis, hypertension, and even curing hangovers. Most analysis has been done on the basic content of the maple sap, which has over 50 vitamins and minerals, and also a number of probiotics similar to those found in yogurts and other dairy products. More research would be useful, but it’s hard to argue against the idea of drinking sap as a healthy and good option for the springtime; after all, it is water filtered in a tree and loaded with a bunch of nutritional compounds. It may well be the cleanest water some people will ever be able to drink.

If wanting to enjoy sap, pick up a paint strainer at a local hardware store to help keep the sap clean

If you are interested in collecting and enjoying sap, its important to note that while sap is essentially sterile when inside the tree, it can quickly become contaminated. The choice of container for collection is thus very important. Maple buckets and jugs (a milk jug can make a great collection vessel) should be thoroughly cleaned before use. The best sap runs during the beginning and middle of the season, but as the temperature warms toward the end of March and into April it's best to stop drinking it straight. Sap can be stored in the fridge (or outside if below freezing) for several days and should generally be treated like milk; best consumed within one week of it coming from the tree. And while some of the good bacteria may be killed, to be extra safe some choose to boil the sap to effectively pasteurize it and render it completely safe.

Vermont Sweetwater sells a maple seltzer and other maple sodas.
            Sap can be drank straight from the tree of course, but can also be used to make a wonderful carbonated beverage with a home soda-maker. Simply replace the water with sap, adding as much or as little carbonation as you'd like. It can also be utilized for cooking in soup, stews, and other recipes that call for water. It also makes a wonderful base for brewing beers.

            The straight consumption of sap is an excellent option for people who want to tap some trees but aren’t interested in the time, labor, and fuel to boil it into syrup. It offers an opportunity to harvest the fruits of a long winter and connect to the cycles of the season. While the entire process of making syrup takes considerable energy, sap is just the opposite - it is really simple and takes very little time to tap, collect, and consume sap in a variety of ways. So – support your local sugarmaker for syrup, and try collecting some your own sap this season!

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Snow Moon and the Spring to Come

Snow moon at Wellspring, 2/14/14
This weekend began with a Snow Moon on Friday night. Some Native American tribes call the February full moon "the Snow Moon" because it was often the time when the greatest amount of snowfall came.  The weekend following the full moon was another that offered below 20 degrees by day and single digits at night. Admittedly, the colder temperatures this winter have been hard to handle. I love all the snow, but these very cold temps appear to be the new "normal" (what's normal anyway?) and it's been hard to accept that. The cold challenges our ability to stay warm in the poorly insulated tent we call home; it tests our water system and the resilience of our cheeks, fingers and toes (thank god for wool, fleece and down!)

Yet last night, as I reflected upon the week prior, I felt a soothing exhaustion within my muscles. I lay under a blanket with my 2 pups while the wood stove radiated warmth both as temperature and as light.  And my entire being was at peace.

Sadie (now with a GPS collar!)
The week started with a ski trip to Tug Hill. A wonderful snowy weekend, just the 4 of us, until Sadie ran away on our second ski of the day. She was missing for hours. It was dark. It was snowing, and of course, it was cold.  Losing hope, at 6:10pm I asked my friends to pray for her. At 6:11 I was crying. At 6:20 I met Steve at our agreed meet-up spot. And Sadie was there too.
It was nothing short of a miracle.

Sunlit woods CT Hill
This whole week (though still cold) gifted us brilliantly sunny skies, crisp clean air and snow as soft as sifted powered sugar.  The x-country skiing is magical right now and it's the perfect way to get outside and stay warm no matter how cold.

On Sunday morning we went for a 3 hour ski. Then spent 3 hours trudging through the snow with the help of our neighbors to tap ~100 sugar maple trees on our land. A short thaw is coming Tuesday, and we're now ready to harvest the sugary gift of winter.

Metal maple buckets
Sure, the cold can make us all pretty cranky. It certainly makes duck chores less enjoyable, and the second time our water froze - this time it's frozen until the spring thaw -  I really thought I was ready to give up on our lifestyle. But as I reflect on the winter, it has been one of lessons learned and always something to be grateful for if we look for it. (Steve figured out a backup system so we still have water - stay tuned for that blog post).  I now can surrender to winter and I welcome it's force, it's softness and it's gifts.

The Snow Moon also represents the coming of spring. It’s the time when the seeds start stirring to life under the cold ground. The farmers are planning for the season. The animals are readying for their spring births and we are reminded that the long winter will not be here forever.

The Peace of Wild Things - Berry  

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Grandpa is here, on the farm.

Valentines day has always seemed to be a fabricated holiday to me - like many holidays in the US it has it's roots in tradition and yet has become all too commercialized. The day - Feb 14 - has more meaning to me because it is the shared birthday of my grandparents, Fred and Ruby Bergschneider. This coincidence is fitting because for much of my life they have been the example of genuine love, something they shared with each other and their large family.

me (high school) with grandpa (in coveralls) & grandma
Grandpa passed away in 2008. This year, my grandmother turns 85, and grandpa would have been 88. He had a hard battle with Parkinson's in his latter years which was especially difficult for him because so much of what defined grandpa was mobility and thought; he was by far the hardest working man I knew; often up before the sun and working long into the evening, when he'd close up the coin laundry he ran with grandma and come home to fall asleep in his big easy chair.

Grandpa loved to work, loved to farm, loved being outside, and loved helping people. He was an engineer for the Marines in WWII, returning to marry my grandmother and start a family. He got into farming first as a hired man and then farmed for many years in Waverly Illinois, raising beef cattle, pigs, corn, beans, and wheat, and grew lots of their own food in gardens. The whole family, which included 8 brothers and sisters have a range of stories about their time on the farm.

At the farm here, Grandpa is everywhere. I can't help but think of him often as I putter about, taking care of fixing this broken pipe or troubleshooting a problem. His ethic, one important to my father, was that it was better to take a bit longer but do the job right, to the fullest. Also strong in me is a willingness to think hard on a problem, racking my brain and trying to come at it from many different angles. Collaboration and teamwork was also key; something my dad and I do all the time; spending long hours on the phone diagnosing problems, a pattern my father and grandfather often did.

In many ways Fred was my father's best friend. The relationship grew from a mutual interest in electronics, construction, and working with you hands. My grandfather become a healing force in my dads life; his father had been the polar opposite of a loving, supporting person in his life. Besides my grandmother, I think my dad spent the most time with Fred out of anyone in the family - mostly because grandpa was always out working on this or fixing that. They two formed a strong bond and when grandpa passed away it hit my father really hard. Grandpa was a big part of my fathers healing from an abusive childhood, and Fred was able to be both a father and a friend.

the water-moma.
When I lose someone from this world I often commit to serving in their image as I go about my work. As I've gotten into farming and working with the land, my dad and I have continued the working relationship he had with grandpa and we've worked on many projects that grandpa would have loved to help with. My dad and grandpa worked on a unique project long ago in Illinois - an automated monitor that ensure that grain in storage would not get too humid and thus go bad. This invention made grandpa a valued local member of the farming community long after he stopped farming himself. He (and my father) continued to fix electronic farming equipment for many years.

The grain-monitoring invention was named "Grain-Moma" with the idea that the device watched over the grain much like a mother watching over her children. In this image my father and I have developed many things for the farm here including the duck-moma (automatic duck door), pump-moma (shuts off a small DC pump when a tank runs dry) and water-moma (flashes a red light when our rainwater tank is low). Since I interact with these on a daily basis, I am constantly reminded of him, and of the working relationship of father and son that I value as much as my father and Fred did.

In the colder winter months many mornings I am called out into the cold to care take for the animals, letting them out and bring fresh water and food to their troughs. Many of these mornings I slip on a pair of coveralls - more or less an insulated body suit which keeps one super warm. I got my first set of coveralls when I was 6 or 7, wanting to be like dad and grandpa who I always saw wearing them. At that age I used them to keep warm while sledding or building a snow cave. Now it's a necessity to keep up with farm chores and spend long stints outside boiling sap or moving things around. I remember grandpa once saying that all you need to keep warm is a hooded sweatshirt and coveralls. I remember this every time I get ready to go outside.

Another time I remember him is when I put on a button-down farm shirt as a layer and inevitably find myself stuffing screws, receipts, and other random items in the breast pocket. This was grandpas signature wardrobe item; always with one (or both) pockets stuffed full of notes, papers, glass cases, and who-knows-what. I was always amazed at how much he was able to fit in there without it all spilling out.

The final time I think of grandpa (and grandma) is each summer when we put food into storage - especially corn. Illinois after all is part of corn-central USA, and one of my grandpas strategies during the summer was to order a truckload (literally) of sweet corn when all the grandkids were around and we'd help shuck it before it was cut of the cob and put in bags for freezing. Grandpa always had a task for a willing person to do and I was always up to help - I loved sitting on his lap and mowing the fields with the old tractor. I loved holding tools and helping weed in the garden. To spend any meaningful time with him, you had to be willing to work on a project. That was what he did with his time, day in and day out.

a place to remember our ancestors in our home.
As Liz and I build our ideal farm and homestead we are in many ways returning to a sense of life that was a necessity for many people in our grandparents generation. We return from choice, both because we enjoy the lifestyle and because we love knowing where our food comes from. I like to think that if grandpa was alive and able these days he would come out to OUR farm and help us with OUR projects. And he'd love it.

So, Grandpa is here on our farm, to stay. As we go about our lives Liz and I try our best to hold and remember the wisdom and love we experienced with our deceased grandparents Fred, Martin, Annette, and Irene. We live in the passion and the moment as we witnessed in Dale Bryner, Collin Anderson, and Chris Dennis. And as we do this we hold the idea that these people who have left the world as we know it can live on forever in the way we live; that we can remember their gifts and bring them into our daily existence.

Happy Birthday to my Grandpa Fred and Grandma Ruby!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Audio recording of a talk on maple sugaring from 1.14.13 and reminder of Maple Sugaring Workshop THIS weekend, Feb 2.

Steve was honored to be asked to present at the historic Montour Falls Library in January of 2014, where he talked about his experience with maple sugaring on a variety of scales and covered the basics of tapping, harvesting, boiling, and storing maple syrup. Many thanks to Shelly Schlueter for the recording. 

Resources recommended in the talk:

The Maple Sugar Book by Helen & Scott Nearing
A classic text that provides a great read on the history, lore, and experience of these famous Maine and Vermont homesteaders. The Nearings sugared as the primary means of income generation to support their simple homestead lifestyle.

Backyard Sugarin’ By Rink Mann & Daniel Wolf
A great read for the basics of small scale sugaring operations. Great examples of homemade sugaring set ups, and many tips for the beginning.

The Sugarmakers Companion By Mike Ferrell
This book is the most up-to-date, comprehensive book on sugaring out there. Just released in 2013, the author (who is director of Cornell’s maple research program, details all the latest research and important steps in sugaring including marketing tips. An absolute must for commercial sugarmakers.

CLICK HERE for a recent North Country Public Radio interview with Mike

Also see this post: Backyard Sugaring the Permaculture Way written by Steve in 2013.

....and a reminder:

Sunday, February 2nd 

Mecklenburg NY

1pm - 4pm

If you've ever considered tapping a few trees in the backyard, collecting the sap, and making your own maple syrup, Wellspring Forest Farm invites you to a workshop on the basics of small-scale maple syrup production.

We will cover the basics of tapping, collection, boiling, and finishing of sap and syrup. In addition to sugar maples, black walnuts and birches can be tapped and this potential will also be discussed. 

The workshop will take place on farm and includes a tour of the small sugarbush of about 100 trees (hopefully we will be boiling!). The class will be led by Steve Gabriel, who has been sugaring for almost ten years on a range of scales from 5 to 500 trees. The cost for the class is $10 per person.


We have limited quantity of high quality metal bucket sets for sale. These are increasingly hard to find. For $15 you get a bucket, lid, spout, and tap along with basic instructions. If you get buckets and pick them up Feb 2, the class fee (below) will be waived. Buckets are available on an ongoing basis.

To register, fill out the form below. Questions? Email or call 607.342.2825. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Thoughts on an eighth year sugaring in New York

Join us at Wellspring Forest Farm for a backyard sugaring workshop on SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 2 from 1 - 4pm. We also have maple bucket sets for sale. SEE MORE DETAILS HERE.

Sugarbush @ Sapsquatch Maple Products
Time is a funny thing, and reflecting on eight years of sugaring feels at once like very little and also lot. When I think about taking part in a practice that humans have been doing for hundreds of not thousands of years here in the Finger Lakes, my experience is but is split second. In the context of a singe lifetime, though, it adds up to something more significant.

I started my first year with just 25 trees at the Cayuga Nature Center, where the main focus was education for school and youth groups in the area. My favorite event of the year was MapleFest, which had been going on a the center for more that 40 years during my tenure and attracted hundreds of visitors. Working at this place brought me full circle, as I'd first tapped a tree and tasted sap as a seven-year-old, one of the experiences that began my interest in natural systems at a young age.

From the nature center I joined Josh Dolan at Sapsquatch Maple Products in Enfield, NY, tapping around 500 trees for several seasons and having a go at the "big time" of commercial production. Here we worked hard, slept very little, and pushed everything to its potential. I am glad Sapsquatch is still going strong, through I personally chose to scale back down and for a few years tapped just a few trees in my backyard. With the new farm purchased just last year, we now have our version of perfection; a small, healthy grove of maples that offers about a 100 trees which we tap and boil in the woods, at home.

Entering this season, I took a moment to look through all my past photos and pulled a few to share, along with some anecdotes and stories of my time with sugaring. Here are my three favorite reasons that I come back to sugaring season after season:

1#: The art of sap drinkery

Examples of enthusiastic "sap faces" from left to right: Sirena Carpenter, Josh Dolan, and Anya Korfine

One of my favorite aspects of working on all of these operations has been sharing this process with youth, which connects them to the powerful cycles of nature. There is no better way to get a child excited about nature then to show them that sugar can come from a tree! This was my primary experience, and one that I've loved sharing with others, most often for several years as a mentor at EarthArts. Working with kids here earned me one of my favorite nicknames, “Sugarman Steve.”

On a good day, the sap flows like a faucet

These kids knew how to drink sap. We never boiled any, as it was all consumed "raw" and occasionally as a base for white pine needle tea which we'd cook over a fire. There is much virtue in just tapping a few trees for the sap alone; it is a pure and clean beverage (think about it; what could be more filtered than water from a tree?) that boasts high amounts of calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, and zinc. Some companies even bottle and sell sap drinks.

making a sap + whiskey to fight the chills
 The water can be enjoyed alone or as a great base for tea and hot beverages. When partially boiled to increase concentration it can be mixed with carbonated water for an all-natural sap-soda. In South Korea, drinking sap is of the utmost importance, where it is considered a "tree good for the bones" and used in a fascinating detox ritual involving a hot room, salty snacks, and lots of sap drinking. Of course, many can attest that the best way to enjoy sap is around the boiler itself, warmed on the fire, with a bit of whiskey added to warm your bones on a cold night.

#2: Sugarshack culture

Good music helps pass the time during a boil
The second best part of sugaring is that the inevitable long hours required for boiling is a great time to invite cold-hardy friends over to have a party around the fire. February and March, the normal peak of sugaring season, is for many people a time when cabin fever is really setting in, and an excuse to get outside is greatly welcomed. One particularly special night for boiling is the "sugar moon", or the full moon that occurs during the sugaring season that is considered the first full moon of spring. This year it falls on March 16th.

There is something about a long night spent out in the cold woods yet standing around a warm fire with plenty of hot beverage and the hum of the boiler that feels timeless, offering a chance to slow down and appreciate the world around you. The fact that syrup requires so much attention is a constant reminder that the products of nature come only with patience, precision, and care. Sugaring specifically is a practice that is only found in the northern cold temperate hemisphere on earth, which makes it a unique process married to both time and place.

Emily Meacham stokes the Sapsquatch fire. 

For those times that friends can't come around the boil, I try to catch up on some reading as I stoke the fire. Some favorite sugaring books are:

The Maple Sugar Book by Helen and Scott Nearing -- A classic text that provides a great read on the history, lore, and experience of these famous Maine and Vermont homesteaders. The Nearings sugared as the primary means of income generation to support their simple homestead lifestyle.

Backyard Sugarin’ by Rink Mann & Daniel Wolf -- A great read for the basics of small scale sugaring operations. Great examples of homemade sugaring set ups, and many tips for the beginning.

The Sugarmakers Companion By Mike Ferrell -- This book, just out in Fall 2013, is the most up-to-date, comprehensive book on sugaring out there. Just released in 2013, the author (who is director of Cornell’s maple research program, details all the latest research and important steps in sugaring including marketing tips. An absolute must for commercial sugarmakers.

#3: Time in the waking woods

Dripping spouts are a metronome marking the coming of spring
The best part of sugaring overall is the "excuse" to spend many hours in the woods, witnessing the slow transition of winter to spring, which many years looks more like a boxing match, with the warm spells offering a glimmer of hope and the sudden cold snaps taking any sign of spring away in an instant. Truth be told, for the aspiring sugarmaker, the best seasons are those that flip flop often, though not if the temperatures get too warm (over 45 degrees F) for too long.

While the transition from summer to fall is quite dramatic in these parts, with leaves changing from green to an array of brilliant colors, the signs of winter to spring are more subtle. Walking by buckets and hearing the slow tap-tap-tap of the sap means the trees are moving slow, while on the warmer days the drops fall almost one after the other. Coupling these observations with the larger weather patterns; the wind, the stillness, the sun, the clouds, all tell a unique story and provide a picture show better than any movie or television. The sunsets are often dynamic in purples, blues, and deep reds, while the sunrises offer oranges and yellows which welcome and encourage a weary sugarmaker that another day has arrived, one more day closer to spring.

On the wall of a sugarshack in Eastern NY
Join us at Wellspring Forest Farm for a backyard sugaring workshop on SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 2 from 1 - 4pm. We also have maple bucket sets for sale.


For more reading on the "how-to" of sugaring, check out this piece Steve wrote for the book he is co-authoring, Farming the Woods

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Maple Sugaring Workshop 2/2/14 & Buckets for Sale

Sunday, February 2nd
Mecklenburg NY
1pm - 4pm

If you've ever considered tapping a few trees in the backyard, collecting the sap, and making your own maple syrup, Wellspring Forest Farm invites you to a workshop on the basics of small-scale maple syrup production. We will cover the basics of tapping, collection, boiling, and finishing of sap and syrup. In addition to sugar maples, black walnuts and birches can be tapped and this potential will also be discussed.

The workshop will take place on farm and includes a tour of the small sugarbush of about 100 trees (hopefully we will be boiling!). The class will be led by Steve Gabriel, who has been sugaring for almost ten years on a range of scales from 5 to 500 trees. The cost for the class is $10 per person.

We have limited quantity of high quality metal bucket sets for sale. These are increasingly hard to find. For $15 you get a bucket, lid, spout, and tap along with basic instructions. If you get buckets the class fee will be waived. If you can't make the class, individual pick-up or delivery can be arranged in the Ithaca/Trumansburg/Watkins Glen area.