Meet the Trees

Maple Tree

This tree is too old to tap, with signs of fungus and moss covering much of the trunk. Years of soil neglect have taken their toll.

It’s been a busy 16 months. I’ve had a baby girl, taught Introduction to Robotics at Mount Holyoke College, and continued to apply permaculture techniques to our land. Christine asked me the other day why my technology blog had veered so far into gardening before going quiet. I see the garden and all the living creatures in it as being intimately connected with technology – a showcase and a test bed. To wit:

This spring I tapped the row of maple trees on our property. By some accounts Native Americans got 17% of their calories from maple sugar, and I have been wanting to try my hand at it. This year I got a jump and ordered the taps and tubes in December, so that when the temperatures started climbing above freezing by day I would be ready.

My mother recently completed her chemotherapy and had her port removed. This was on my mind as I inserted ports, aka spiles, into my maple trees and began collecting fluid. I’ve gathered about 3 gallons of sap so far. The biggest surprise is how tasty it is when it’s only been boiled down about 25%. It has all sorts of subtle flavors beyond sweet that put me in mind of birch beer.

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My test batch – a pint of sap yields a tablespoon of syrup.

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Gonna need a bigger pot

The process of tapping also forced me to look closely at my trees. Most of them are quite robust and are putting out a good amount of sap, but two had enough signs of distress that I chose to pass them by. One is just getting on in years and being taken over by moss. The other has a narrow fork that looks like it is starting to rot out. Both of these trees had their roots exposed by decades of poor soil management, and will probably have to come down in the near(ish) future. Which is a topic for my next post…

In the meantime I’ll keep the sap boiling and continue to enjoy all the health benefits of locally-sourced, sustainably produced, small batch artisanal maple water and maple syrup.

The Brick

Brick, American, 20th century

Brick, American, 19th century

There’s a great post on Next Nature about brick sculpture by Maarten Vanden Eynde. Bricks are one of my favorite technologies for being incredibly long lived and durable. The basic form of fired brick has hardly changed in over 6,000 years! They are living proof that technologies don’t go extinct.

The landscape where we live is littered with bricks, the residue of our recent industrial past. They erode from hillsides and stream beds like fossils. A great many were spread along the Mill River by the Flood of 1874, forming a technological smear in the landscape that will persist for millennia. Still functional, the bones of old mills make their way into my garden terraces.

Elf Sighting

After reading about her new wheels in the Gazette last week, I was excited to find Dory and her Elf at the South Hadley farmer’s market yesterday. The solar- and pedal-powered bike doubles nicely as a baked goods stand!

Baker Dory Goldman with her Organic Transit Elf at the South Hadley farmer's market, August 2013

Baker Dory Goldman with her Organic Transit Elf at the South Hadley farmer’s market, August 2013

I had imagined the Elf having floor boards, but there’s not much between the driver and the road except for the pedals. Very Flintstones.

Soil Maps and Lost Landscapes

Soil Map Detail

I just discovered these incredible soil maps of Western Massachusetts. Produced by the USDA in the 1980s, they contain a wealth of information on what is under our feet. Here in the Pioneer Valley, we live on vast piles of glacial till and outwash. An ice sheet 2 miles (!) thick slid across this area 12 to 14,000 years ago, leaving behind sand, gravel, stones, boulders, and bedrock when it melted. Continue reading

Tracks in the Snow

Wandering around the hillside these days, I’ve seen quite a few animal tracks in the snow. I like the way the rabbits repeated a path until it became a trail, connecting the clear ground by the house to their various destinations in the garden. Time for some camera traps!

A rabbit road and intersection

A rabbit road and intersection

My own tracks trace a winding path.

My own tracks trace a winding path.

And of course, the snow blower leaves its own sort of tracks.

Snow Blower Video

 

3 Reasons I Love Maple Trees

A arborist came over before the snows fell to trim the maple trees on our property. He didn’t bat an eye when I asked him not to chip the branches, saving himself gas and providing me with Patrick Dougherty quantities of building materials and fuel.

Continue reading

Weather and Climate

Severe WeatherI heard about the tornadoes on the TV in the library court yesterday afternoon. Then I drove home through a warm breeze, carrying wisps of fog from the snow banks across the road and down to the river. The same weather system that brought destruction to the South gave us a night that reached 60 degrees in January and a gentle rain.

I’m tired of listening to scientists remind people that no individual weather event can be directly attributed to climate change. This is an intellectually honest and precise description of the descriptive power of scientific knowledge regarding an immensely complex system. It also completely misses the point.

The climate is defined by the sum total of the weather on this planet. If the climate is changing, then we will see the weather changing. And we can, with every freak snow storm, warm spell, hurricane, drought, etc. As disturbing as the weather has become, at least it is reaching a point where denial is no longer a tenable response.

Climate and Contours

It’s been a while since I’ve written here. A lot has been going on! We dodged a hurricane in the Valley, as Sandy only winged us. Olde Lyme CT wasn’t so lucky, with over 200 houses flooded. The older part of town did OK though, and we are reminded that it was settled on a hill in the estuary of the Connecticut River for the same reason Northampton is on a small bluff. Close to rich farmland, and good in a flood.

I’ve been thinking about land forms and contours a lot lately. Here in the Pioneer Valley we seem to be getting more of our rain in short bursts, with long dry periods in between. Since I live on a hillside with sandy soil and an erosion problem, catching rainwater has quickly become a priority. Reading The Urban Homestead will give you five or six good ideas for storing rainwater, and I’ve stumbled upon another that also eats leaves. I’ve dubbed it the “leaf weir.” Continue reading