Friday, April 27, 2012

Spring came early and late

Spring came early to the north woods, tricking us into thinking that summer would as well. I put my ficus benjamanica out on the deck before Easter and we’ve had more than ten freezing nights since then. We tapped our maple trees the 12th of March, hoping that we hadn’t missed the sap flow during all the warm February and March days. Three days later, we heard the first tip, tip, tip of maple sap into the cans hanging on the trees. The sap ran for two weeks, even though it only froze twice in those two weeks. After more than thirty years of sugaring, the only thing we knew for sure was that it had to freeze at night and get above freezing during the day for the sap to run. And here we’d had our first sugarbush at a new site and the trees continued to run, day after day, night after night, when the temperature barely dipped into the thirties. The syrup we made was darker than usual whether because we were at the end of the season or because it never cooled down at night and the sap began to spoil; but it still had good flavor. We pulled our taps two weeks ago; the sap from almost every tap was yellow, a sure sign we were done. The blood root were just beginning to bloom, just as they have every year in the past when we cleaned up after sugarbush. In the last two weeks, it has been cold and freezing many nights. Yesterday when I was trimming branches along the trail to the bush, blood root leaves still curled around new buds, although most of the white flowers were done. When I walked back along the path later, The trunks were stained with sap under the cut branches. How much more syrup would we have collected if we’d waited for the normal cold spring weather to return?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Guardian of the flock

Alpacas are part of the story of predator control for sheep flocks. We’ve had an alpaca for about six years and I have to admit that basically, I have Kaylie because she’s so cute. She runs like a muppet, has a top knot, and very hairy legs. I love the way she looks and moves. I also love her soft, soft fleece.

But her real value to the flock is as a guard animal. This weekend, Loki, a visiting mastif, raced toward the barnyard gate. Suddenly, in a flurry of movement, the sheep dashed around to the back of the barn and Kaylie stood alone, between the barn and the gate – head up, alert, ready to take on any threat. I don’t know what she’d do if a predator actually breached the fence and got into the barnyard. Alpacas are known to bite and can have a deadly kick.

It was the gate that stopped Loki; not an alpaca that weighed less than he did. But her height, her black fur, and her upright ears have intimidated dogs in the past. Once, Buddy, a visiting dog whose owner wondered if he could herd sheep, came into the barnyard on a leash. Kaylie screamed, the sheep disappeared behind the barn, and Buddy his behind his owner at the far end of his leash. – as far from Kaylie as possible.

Our first line of defense against predators is always a good, tight stock fence with two strands of barbed wire on the top and a strand on the outside at the bottom. But Kaylie is our extra insurance. With her in the pasture, I sleep well even when the coyotes howl.