Water Moving

by melissa on April 11, 2014 | 0 comments

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The sound of water running can easily be taken for granted. But, after nearly three months of frozen ground, the gurgling of the vernal streams hint at an instinctual understanding that the land is waking up from a very long nap.

A wood frog must have gotten the memo. It was testing out its croaky voice down by Page Pond this afternoon.

Soon the peepers will be out.

Then the tree buds, followed by leaves.

We can’t wait.

Lamb Being Born

by melissa on April 10, 2014 | 0 comments

The lamb is covered in amniotic fluid when makes its appearance.

The lamb is covered in amniotic fluid when makes its appearance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mother bonds with her baby through smell.

The mother bonds with her baby through smell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lamb's nose was covered with the fluid when it emerged, but it quickly broke when the lamb let out very loud bahs just seconds after.

The lamb’s nose was covered with the fluid when it emerged, but it quickly broke when the lamb let out very loud bahs just seconds after.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The loud calling from the baby attracted the attention from Mom, and she quickly came over.

The loud calling from the baby attracted the attention from Mom, and she quickly came over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ewe helped to clean off her lamb, and in a little while the lamb was up on its feet.

The ewe helped to clean off her lamb, and in a little while the lamb was up on its feet.

On Friday, some of the last ewes gave birth to their lambs. Colene spent a busy day in the Small Animal Barn taking care of the six babies born. In the mid-afternoon another lamb was born.

The mama had been in labor for a little while. It’s interesting to watch the ewes in labor. They seem not at all concerned for much of it, but every once in a while they will start turning in circles, pawing at the ground, licking their lips, blahing, and laying down and standing up.

The baby lamb, the second of twins, had been protruding a bit from the mother’s rear–you could just see its hoof sticking out. The ewe was intermittently doing her labor dance. For fifteen minutes or so it seemed like the baby would come any second, but then mom would get up again and relax a little.

Finally, though, it was easy to see her contractions come very quickly. She laid down, and stood up, and out came the baby hoof first, quickly followed by nose and body: quite a large lamb covered in amniotic fluid.

In the first moment after the lamb drops, it’s hard to not want to rush over and clean its nose from the fluid. But, sure enough, in what seemed like a very long time, though only a few seconds, the lamb started to bleat, and its mother came over to lick it clean.

 

Everybody’s Waking Up

by melissa on April 4, 2014 | 0 comments

Can you spot the critter here?

Can you spot the critter here?

The critters are out and about now. These past few warmer days were the rally cry to wake up. Yesterday evening on my way up to the farm I saw a plethora of robins pouncing around the apple orchard. Two male Downy woodpeckers were squabbling over a female. The winter juncos are still flitting about here and there. A ruffed grouse poked along in front of me on the road, and coyote tracks walked back and forth through the birch trees.

Too quick!

Too quick!

In the Hope Tree, the great oak along Old Town Road, a chipmunk peeked out at me for a while. I sat down by the hole in the trunk waiting for it to come out again, which it did several times. The pictures below aren’t very good; the chippy was too quick, and my aim was really off, but it’s just proof that the forest is waking up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA As observed by Melissa

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choosing Seeds

by melissa on April 3, 2014 | 0 comments

A meeting in the field office to talk about this year's garden.

A meeting in the field office to talk about this year’s garden.

This morning, after staff meeting, the farm staff sat in the field office making some last minute decisions on the garden plans. They want to grow items that will do well in Merck’s microclimate, but also include items that everyone likes to eat (or misses from home). Collards, anyone? Sarah will cook them southern style.

Unlike the years when Merck grew enough vegetables to support a CSA share system (community supported agriculture), the past few years production has been minimized to grow vegetables for the apprentices. There are so many other farms locally that grow vegetables for a living, Merck does not want to compete against those farms.

Cricket was a big help in deciding what types of squash to order.

Cricket was a big help in deciding what types of squash to order.

We will continue to have a “Grazing Garden” again this year: a place where visitors can go see how vegetables grow and taste the in-season produce. The Grazing Garden is a good way for people to experience small-scale production.

We’re still waiting for seeds to arrive in the mail, but soon there will be sprouts that compete for sunlight in the maintenance building window, and then, months from now, rows of planted vegetables ready to harvest.

We can’t wait!

Frosty morning, but tomorrow is April

by melissa on March 31, 2014 | 0 comments

Frozen trees mark the end of March at Merck Forest

Frozen trees mark the end of March at Merck Forest

Whoever says that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb has got it all wrong this year.

True, the weather is warmer now then it was 30 days ago: Old Town Road was a rutted muddy mess yesterday (a sure sign it’s warming up), but the wind just howled this weekend.

Today is just about freezing. The trees are glazed in ice, which chatters every time the breeze blows, and the road is now an avenue of frozen ruts.

The only consolation to the old adage is that we do actually have lambs in the barn. A whole mini-flock of bah-ing, bleeting, black and white wooly babies. They are spending their time today nestled between their mothers and the heat lamps, and, unless tomorrow is playing me for a fool (the weather is supposed to be toward fifty degrees), maybe the little guys will be romping out on pasture for the first of April.

Little lambs are in the Small Animal Barn

Little lambs are in the Small Animal Barn

Maple Celebration and Pancake Breakfast, A Success!

by melissa on March 26, 2014 | 0 comments

Tables full at the pancake breakfast.

Tables full at the pancake breakfast.

It’s been posted on facebook and twitter, but not on the blog…the Maple Celebration and Pancake Breakfast was a great success this year.

There are several months of planning that go into the breakfast: food ordered, syrup canned, activities organized, sap house cleaned. But it’s not until the week before that anything can really go into place. For the staff the week before is a busy one; regular activities still have to happen despite the planning and preparation for the event.

But, as things do, everything fell into place perfectly this year. There were a big number of volunteers ready to help on the weekend, the staff coordinated well with each other, and the visitors came, and then more arrived…and then more!

We originally estimated that we would get approximately five hundred visitors this year, which is more than we’ve had in the past couple of years. Better to over buy than to not have enough food, right?

But we certainly didn’t expect to see 660 people show up! Wow!

The energy was awesome. Even on Saturday, the windier, snowier day of the two, people still trekked to the farm, visited with the lambs, enjoyed story time, and poking around the barns.

Many families went up to the  Small Animal Barn to see the newborn lambs.

Many families went up to the Small Animal Barn to see the newborn lambs.

Sometimes Merck Forest feels like such a big place, with so few people that take advantage of it, that when we get an event people attend en masse, it is just a great feeling.

Next year, we will better plan for a big turnout, and hope that all of you return for another great celebration.

Pictures are posted on facebook. If you took some photos during the celebration and would like to share them, email melissa@merckforest.org. Please, state if you would like your name associated with the photo.

It was a little too chilly to sit out on the deck this year, but the sun and blue sky were just beautiful.

Now Accepting Paypal Payments

by melissa on March 14, 2014 | 0 comments

Online store has a modified look and now accepts Paypal payments.

Online store has a modified look and now accepts Paypal payments.

 

The Visitor Center at Merck Forest has started to accept payments for online orders through Paypal.

You may notice that the online store has a slightly new look to it, and that is in part due to the newly available payment method. Hopefully, you’ll find the updated page more user-friendly.

Kathryn and Amy made the decision a few months back to incorporate Paypal because it is important that our customers feel secure when they make purchases online.

If you have questions with the new online store, please don’t hesitate to call and ask. 802.394.7836. If you have comments about other improvements we can make, please leave them below, or email info@merckforest.org.

 

The Birds Are Back

by melissa on | 0 comments

Photo from Cornell Lab of Ornithology (http://www.birds.cornell.edu/onlineguide/)

Photo from Cornell Lab of Ornithology (http://www.birds.cornell.edu/onlineguide/)

It’s official…

Spring is on the march.  On Tuesday, as Kathryn and I came down Old Town Road after doing cabin checks, we heard the first Yellow-Rumped Warbler of the year singing in the top of a yellow birch tree.  I’ve seen robins, bluebirds and common mergansers for the past few weeks, but the arrival of the first blackbirds and warblers is what makes the start of spring “official” most years.  This is the first time I have ever heard a warbler before hearing red-winged blackbirds in the spring.   All I can report, for certain, is my perpetual fascination with these yearly cycles.  The more I notice, the more I notice…

To hear the Yellow-rumped Warbler’s song visit: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/onlineguide/

twardWritten by Tom Ward

Making the grade

by melissa on March 13, 2014 | 0 comments

Different grades of syrup have differing colors.

Different grades of syrup have differing colors.

When you were in school, an “A” scrawled across the top of your paper was probably an excellent thing to see. Or, perhaps you were the type of student where your school grades may not have mattered to you at all. Either way, the right type of letter meant you either passed the test, or you didn’t. As you grew up though, chances were that you didn’t really think about grading systems anymore.

Grading still matters to the folks around here, but it does not necessarily have anything to do with schooling.

The grading I’m referring to is the type that labels one gallon of maple syrup from the next. When sap is collected from sugar maple trees and boiled into maple syrup, its color is inspected to determine the “grade” that it is. Generally speaking, the lighter the color, the lighter the flavor; the darker the color, the heavier (richer) the syrup will be. In Vermont, syrup runs the gamut from Vermont fancy (Grade A Fancy), Grade A Medium Amber, Grade A Dark Amber, Grade B, and then commercial grade (which is sold wholesale).

Sugar makers are not always guaranteed that they are going to get an “A” for each boil they do: the grade that’s produce depends on the trees, the weather, the soil, management practices, and Mother Nature.

Nor do sugar makers necessarily want to get an “A”. The grade they hope to get depends on their market, on their customers’ preferences.

“Vermont Fancy” is a misnomer to many customers who may reasonably assume that fancy means “the best”. In truth, it’s a matter of opinion which grade smacks your palette as tasty.

The same grades of syrup can also taste different from sugar maker to sugar maker (again depending on a multitude of natural forces and management).

On paper, Merck Forest might look like a second rate student: we try for “B” as much as we can! Amongst the staff, Grade B is probably the preferred choice, and it’s also the type that sells the most quickly.

For those of you who have never experienced the different grades, next time you visit, stop in the Visitor Center and try a sample, or let us know in the comment section what your favorite grade of maple syrup is.

For more information on syrup visit:

http://vermontmaple.org/

http://www.mapleinfo.org/htm/products_sugaring.cfm

http://www.uvm.edu/~pmrc/?Page=links.htm

Spring Fever

by melissa on | 0 comments

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The weather two days ago was absolutely sublime. The sun has been rising higher over the Gallop now and it warms up the air at the farm. While we’ve been getting more days that hint toward spring, yesterday and this morning were a sharp reminder that it is, after all, still winter.

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Some areas to our north and east received a foot or two of snow, and just south of Merck snow covered over the freezing rain and ice that fell last night. We’ve been fortunate that so much of the snow we’ve received this year has been the light fluffy stuff. It’s made for great winter backpacking, hiking, snowshoeing, and skiing. Last night’s precipitation was a bit heavier, harder to plow and shovel, but still beautiful.

The snow’s been great for the sleigh rides too. The past two winters have been rather devoid of snow, but this winter has been much more “normal”, in a sense. We may be able to run sleigh rides through the end of March this year (no reservations though for the weekend of the Pancake Breakfast).

Merck Forest in the snow is spectacular. If you’ve not been out this year, come visit before winter melts away.

 

Vermont Maple Open House Weekend

by melissa on March 12, 2014 | 0 comments

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It’s running! The sap is running, and just in time for the Vermont Maple Open House Weekend, coming up on March 22 and 23, 2014.

For those of you not from the area, it’s a great weekend to visit Vermont (and if you are on the NY side of the border, New York’s Maple Weekend is happening then as well!).

Many of the sugarhouses in the state, including Merck Forest, are open to visitors during the weekend. The open house is a way to show people the working landscape. In the words of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association, you can “look at how Vermont’s sugar makers are able to take the sap from maple trees and craft something as delicious as pure Vermont maple syrup!”

Many of our neighboring farms in Vermont: Rupert, Pawlet, West Pawlet, Dorset, Manchester, and in New York: Salem, Hebron, Granville, Shushan, and Cambridge, all have seen the sap start to run this last week. You know it’s sugaring season when the pick-ups laden down with a tank of sap run by. Pretty soon, the many sugar houses will have loads of steam billowing from their stacks, and if you’re lucky enough, you’ll smell the scent of maple. Hopefully, everyone will be busy during the open house weekend, and visitors will get the chance to stop by several sugar houses. Everyone’s operation is different, but the outcome is always the same: maple syrup!

Merck Forest invites you to stop by Saturday or Sunday for our Maple Celebration and Pancake Breakfast (10 am – 2 pm). We’ll have a variety of activities for everyone, as well as our delicious breakfast.

And, while you are in the area, make a day of it: plan on stopping by several other sugar houses too!

Visit: http://vermontmaple.org/ and http://www.mapleweekend.com/locations.php to learn more about the weekend.

Sugaring Operation 2014: Part Four

by melissa on March 5, 2014 | 0 comments

Lastly, the once the sap has moved from the sugarbush to the sap house it is boiled in the evaporator and made into maple syrup…

Click on the image to enlarge it:

MerckForest_EvaporatorCycle

Sugaring Operation 2014: Part Three

by melissa on | 0 comments

MerckForest_SapHouseCycle

Sugaring Operation 2014: Part Two

by melissa on | 1 Comment

continued…

Once the taps are in, the sap begins flowing from the sugarbush to the sap house. Most of the immediate work in the sugarbush is done for the time being, and the staff’s efforts shift more to the sap house.

Click on the image to make it larger:

MerckForest_SapHouseLine

Sugaring Operation 2014: Part One

by melissa on March 4, 2014 | 0 comments

Tapping is happening.

The apprentices and staff are working to insert plastic spouts into the 3,000 sugar maple trees that make up the sugarbush. With warmer weather on the way (we hope, we think?!), the sap should be flowing in the next few weeks.

This image gives a quick overview of what our sugaring operation look like in the sugarbush (you can click on the image to make it larger):

 

MerckForest_SuntoSugarbush_SugaringSigns

Shadowing Tom…

by melissa on | 0 comments

Tom meeting with Lance, a student from Green Mountain College.

Tom meeting with Lance, a student from Green Mountain College.

Last Thursday, Lance Mauk, a student from Green Mountain College came to visit for the day. He came to Merck to fulfill one of his course assignments; his mission was to shadow Tom, the executive director, for the morning; watching his daily activities and asking questions about the tasks that Tom does.

Lance started his morning by attending the staff meeting, where he was briefed on the sugaring operation, plans for the maple breakfast, and lambing. He then went with Tom to visit Elizabeth at the post office (Tom is Merck’s mail carrier). Then they went to visit the farm before returning to the Visitor Center for a Q and A session in front of the fire place.

When I had the opportunity to talk with Lance later in the morning, he asked me a very important question: “It seems to me that Merck Forest and Green Mountain College have very similar goals. Why is there not more collaboration between the two organizations?”

Good question, Lance.

Sustainable institutions across the state converse all the time. Part of being “sustainable” implies that community collaborations and connections are formed and maintained. As Merck Forest strives to demonstrate what it means to be sustainable, we hope we will also be able to share with our visitors the importance of community to the framework of sustainability.

 

Ellie cat does not like to go out when the weather is cold; she usually finds a warm lap to curl up on instead.

Written by Melissa Carll

Beautiful time to be at the cabins

by melissa on February 24, 2014 | 0 comments

Ridge Cabin at dusk. Photo by Alice Murphy, 2014

Winter is a beautiful time to stay at the cabins, and February is a great month to be out in the woods. The day light lingers for a little longer, and often the days are a bit warmer than in January, and, as is the case this year, there is snow still on the ground.

Campers line up with their skis or snowshoes, sometimes pulling a sled, and spend a cozy weekend hiking and relaxing by the woodstove. There is nothing cheerier than returning from an afternoon of walking through the woods to a warm, glowing cabin.

Thanks to Alice Murphy for sending in this photo. She stayed out Ridge Cabin over the weekend.

Lambing is Not Far Away

by melissa on February 21, 2014 | 0 comments

Ewes laying in pasture below the Harwood Barn

Ewes laying in pasture below the Harwood Barn

With sleigh rides and new apprentices dominating the posts lately, the sheep have not really been in the limelight. However, lambing is just around the corner.

The ewes have a gestation period of roughly 5 months. They were bred in the fall, and their lambs are due to begin dropping on March 15, or thereabouts. The lambs will be around for the Maple Celebration, tails wiggling as they nurse from their moms; bleating and doing their legs-kicked-up dance around the pasture.

For anyone that comes to visit in the next few weeks, though, be on the look out for signs that the lambs are on their way.

What to look for:

Pregnant ewes have a rounder belly area towards the end of their gestation, though it can be hard for a person that does not see sheep often to tell. The belly will “drop” before the ewe is ready to lamb, and her flanks will become more visible.

A few days before lambing, a ewe’s udders will “bag up”, becoming much fuller, and heavier, looking, and filled with the lamb’s first milk (known as colostrum).

In the days before birthing, a ewe’s vulva will be noticeably swollen.

Behavior-wise a ewe may begin to act oddly, especially right before the birth: pawing the ground, stamping, sometimes laying down, or standing away from the flock.

Keep a look out for lambs on your visits to the farm in this next month. Lambs will be here soon!

 

Green Mountain College Group Goes Winter Camping

by melissa on February 17, 2014 | 0 comments

Green Mountain College students head out on the trails for dispersed winter camping.

Green Mountain College students head out on the trails for dispersed winter camping.

Green Mountain College, located 30 minutes north of Merck Forest in Poultney, Vermont, is a small school. But, it’s depth and breadth of classes, based in a mission of environmental understanding, make it a unique educational institution.

GMC students frequently come to Merck Forest. They often visit with their professors and spend a day in the woods, or come out for a weekend to get a break from their studies.

This past weekend a group of students came to go camping. They were taking part in our dispersed tent camping option, and they were learning to be outdoor leaders for future adventures.

Putting on snowshoes before heading out on the trail.

Putting on snowshoes before heading out on the trail.

The group came into the Visitor Center in the late morning, after taking off their snowshoes and packs, leaving them in a row outside. They gathered around the fire, looking over the maps for a good place to spend the night (somewhere relatively flat, big enough to accommodate 9 students and tents).

After selecting the area, they gathered their belongings, posed for a picture, and then hiked out, excited to set up camp early and have the rest of the day to explore the trails.

 

 

 

What Will Martha Create? We Can’t Wait to See…

by melissa on February 10, 2014 | 0 comments

Front of postcard from Martha, thanking Merck for the raw wool.

Front of postcard from Martha, thanking Merck for the raw wool.

A few weeks ago, Martha, an apprentice in 2012, emailed to ask if she could have some of the raw wool stored in the Harwood Barn. When she was living at the Lodge, crafty fiber artist Martha spent much of her time spinning raw wool into skeins that she then knit or wove into various projects.

Since the end of her apprenticeship, Martha has traveled the country multiple times, recently finishing making a documentary with a group that paddled down the entire Mississippi River. Now, she’s ready to get back to her art (though, I feel she probably had her knitting needles with her during the canoe trip).

Back of card...Can't wait to see what Martha will create!

Back of card…Can’t wait to see what Martha will create!

Two weeks ago, we sent Martha a box with fifteen pounds of raw wool. She sent us this card in thanks. She’ll be writing about, or recording, the products she makes with the wool.

Considering her talent and penchant for fiber arts, plus her super awesome personality, I encourage you to keep checking back to see what Martha creates, it’s bound to impress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Written by Melissa Carll, Communications Coordinator

 

 

Logging with Mae and June

by melissa on February 6, 2014 | 0 comments

Looking over the backs of Mae and June during some light logging work last week.

Looking over the backs of Mae and June during some light logging work last week.

Last week, the apprentices helped Tim and Colene use the draft horses to pull some logs out of the woods near the Barn Cabins.   It was amazing to see how agile Mae, June, and a forecart can be amongst the trees, weaving in and out more elegantly than any machine.  The scenery wasn’t too shabby either, and I find that I’m enchanted as ever by Merck’s “zebra” forest of silvery birch and dark maple trunks, holding their own in the snowfall.   We also got to tour some of the sugar bush with Chad and Dallas, learning the basics of tapping, tubing, and (for me, a born and raised Southerner) walking in snow.  I can hardly wait for sugaring and more forest work, as long as I can keep my feet under me!

P1070390Sarah Jackson, Apprentice 2014

Volunteers Needed for the Maple Celebration. Are You Ready for Pancakes?

by melissa on January 28, 2014 | 0 comments

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Pancake Breakfast includes many activities. The tree tapping demo is usually done by the apprentices, but volunteers are needed to help as well!

At the start of every year Merck Forest begins to transform. MFFC transforms from a working farm to working sugarbush. While many are shut away indoors bundled in sweaters, huddled around the woodstove, the MFFC Farm Staff is braving the cold windy Merck days others know all too well. They are out in the thick of it, clearing lines, tapping trees, and working hard to make sure the sap is ready to flow. This process begins in January and continues through February. Once the sap starts running, the transition from sugarbush to sap house happens, and the real work starts.

Putting the taps into the sugar maples takes hours and hours of time. MFFC taps 3,000 trees, and all of the tapping has to be done manually.

Putting the taps into the sugar maples takes hours and hours of time. MFFC taps 3,000 trees, and all of the tapping has to be done manually.

During the month of March, the farm staff works diligently in the Frank Hatch Sap House. Boiling becomes an around the clock affair, all in the pursuit of that sticky, sweet, absolutely delicious maple syrup. Up here on the mountain, that’s something we like to celebrate!

Stoking the arch and maintaining a consistent temperature for the boiling pan is a critical part of turning sap into maple syrup. Staff works long, late hours in the sugar house once the sap begins running.

Stoking the arch and maintaining a consistent temperature for the boiling pan is a critical part of turning sap into maple syrup. Staff works long, late hours in the sugar house once the sap begins running.

Every year Merck participates in the Bennington County Sugarmakers’ Maple Open House Weekend. It’s a lovely weekend composed of sugarmakers all over Bennington County sharing their beloved trade. Boiling, tasting, and tours are just a few of the activities happening around the area. At Merck we take great pride in our organic maple syrup. As such, we enjoy celebrating this grand weekend by way of a pancake breakfast!

Putting on The Merck Forest Maple Celebration is no easy task. We’ve done it every year for the better part of a decade. People just love it! Spring fever hits and the sap house fills with people both Saturday and Sunday.

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Nearly 500 people come the pancake breakfast every year, sometimes more, sometimes less, but it is always a busy two days.

 

This event takes time, organization, and lots of extra hands. As with any event we put on here at MFFC, staff time is precious, but volunteer time is invaluable. Having volunteers help us to execute pancake flipping, sausage sizzling, beverage dispensing, table cleaning, and many other great activities makes the weekend run much, much more easily.

If you would be interested in volunteering for the Maple Celebration and Pancake Breakfast, Saturday, March 22 & and Sunday, March 23, 2014 we want to hear from you! For more information on volunteering and other ways to lend a hand for the Maple Celebration, or any time, please contact Amy by phone: 802-394-7836 or by email: info@merckforest.org

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Written by Amy Malsbenden

Canning in the Cold

by melissa on January 24, 2014 | 0 comments

Dallas and Rose helped Amy can earlier this week. They kept an eye on the temperature of the syrup and filled bottles.

Dallas and Rose helped Amy can earlier this week. They kept an eye on the temperature of the syrup and filled bottles.

The maple sugaring season might be at the end of winter, a welcome to early spring, but the maple syrup process is a year-round endeavor.

Merck Forest sells its organic syrup all year from the Visitor Center and online. There is always a demand to have the sweet amber liquid in bottles.

As such, Amy, or sometimes Kathryn, and the apprentices will make a day of it in the canning room.

During the sugaring season, the syrup that is boiled is then stored in large drums. As it is needed, the syrup is then taken from the drums, run through a filter press, heated to the appropriate temperature (between 180 degrees and 200 degrees), and canned into our plastic containers and new glass containers.

Dallas had to pre-warm the new glass containers, so that they would not crack when the hot syrup was placed into them.

Dallas had to pre-warm the new glass containers, so that they would not crack when the hot syrup was placed into them.

The process takes the better part of an eight hour work day (much of that time is spent in the set up and clean up of canning). Especially in the winter when the frigid temperatures can sometimes freeze a hose or pipe.

But, once the water is boiling, the syrup heated, and the whole process working, the canning room is warm…steamy, in fact. As soon as you walk into the sap house, you’ll know our staff is at work because the entire building has that sweet maple smell to it.

Dallas filling the hydrometer. It is important to check not only the temperature of the syrup, but also the viscosity. Canned syrup that is too thick or too thin may not have a good shelf life.

Dallas filling the hydrometer. It is important to check not only the temperature of the syrup, but also the viscosity. Canned syrup that is too thick or too thin may not have a good shelf life.

If you ever stick your head in the door of the sap house, and smell that maple scent, canning is probably taking place.

Check out the new glass growlers of syrup. They are a nice addition to the shelves in the Visitor Center.

Glass bottles of syrup now line the shelves at the Visitor Center.

Glass bottles of syrup now line the shelves at the Visitor Center.

Sleigh Rides at Merck Forest

by melissa on January 22, 2014 | 0 comments

Sweetheart Sleigh at Merck Forest will runs weekends, or by request.

Sweetheart Sleigh at Merck Forest will runs weekends, or by request.

So far this winter it has alternately been frigid (today has not yet climbed above -15 degrees F) and spring-time warm. The fluctuations in temperature make it very hard to plan for sleigh rides. We are not sure if there will be snow, or if the weather will be so cold as to prohibit running the sleigh (for the safety of the horses and the passengers).

Next week looks more promising. Temperatures above zero, and the chance of snow on several days. This weekend in fact might be one of the better weekends yet. We invite you to come and take a sleigh ride around the farm and forest.

New Apprentices are Here!

by melissa on January 16, 2014 | 1 Comment

 

 

 

 

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A welcome to Merck Forest’s new apprentices. Rose, Sarah, and Tyler moved in last week, and they are just finishing up their orientation at the end of this week. We are excited to have them onboard! Please, see their bios on the “About Us” page, and stop by to say hello next time you visit.

 

Cabins Booked

by melissa on January 9, 2014 | 0 comments

Spruce Cabin in the winter.

Spruce Cabin in the winter.

Several posts ago, it was mentioned how snow wakes this place up. Merck Forest sees many visitors in the later summer months through foliage, and then there is a quiet time until right before the winter holidays. As soon as the ski resorts open up, and there is snow on the ground here, we are busy again through the winter.

The cabins are a huge draw during the winter. In fact, the weekends are booked from now until the end of March (there is a waiting list though, in case anyone is interested). If there is snow on the ground campers will cross-country ski or snowshoe in to the cabin, often pulling their gear on sleds. If they are lucky, someone will have stayed at the cabin before them and there might be warm embers in the woodstove.

Last weekend was incredibly chilly. Campers reported back to the Visitor Center that they had a great time, the snow was spectacular, and they set alarms to wake them up every few hours to stoke the stove. It takes effort to stay warm in conditions so cold. But it is worth all the effort, and all the gear, to see a beautiful sunset across the snowy fields, to find the tracks of animals you didn’t even know had passed before you, and to while-away the dark evenings with a brightly burning wood stove, hot chocolate, and stories.

Let us know your cabin stories. How was your weekend? What did you see, or what didn’t you see that made for a great getaway?

 

Cold Days

by melissa on January 8, 2014 | 0 comments

Ellie cat does not like to go out when the weather is cold; she usually finds a warm lap to curl up on instead.

Ellie cat does not like to go out when the weather is cold; she usually finds a warm lap to curl up on instead.

Yesterday, when we arrived at work the thermometer at the Visitor Center read negative 2 degrees F. If it had not been windy, it would have been a beautiful, sunny morning. But it was windy. Merck windy. The farm area funnels the wind from all points, and creates a microclimate that can be vastly different from the lower elevations, and even the Visitor Center.

But yesterday, even the Visitor Center shook when the wind blew. Ellie the Cat does not like to go out when there is snow on the ground and it is cold. If it is windy and the ground is frozen, she’ll get just outside the door before freezing in her tracks. She’ll hunch down, almost like she is thinking to herself, “it looked sunny and warm from the window. What is this cold gale doing blowing around?”, and she’ll immediately race back to the door, meowing frantically until someone lets her back inside. She doesn’t realize how lucky she is. While the farm animals rely on shelters and their thick skin, fur, or wool to keep them warm, and the forest animals hibernate and hunker down during the colder months, Ellie Cat can return to a heated structure with ample food supplies.

After Ellie’s thirty second outdoor excursion in the morning, she opts to find a warm place to sleep for the rest of the day. Usually it is someone’s lap.

Who doesn’t like a warm, purring, lap blanket?

Plum’s Frolic Through the Woods

by melissa on January 4, 2014 | 0 comments

Before the Group Sleigh, visitors, a group from Dorset, met Mae and June, the draft horses.

Before the Group Sleigh, visitors, a group from Dorset, met Mae and June, the draft horses.

 

On Monday morning, during the first Group Sleigh ride of the day, everyone got a little unexpected excitement.

Mae and June were hitched to the sleigh, waiting patiently by the Visitor Center. Colene was on the driver’s seat talking to one of the excited riders, one of a group from Dorset, and Tim was in mid conversation with some of the party interested in the draft horses. Several people were already loaded on the sleigh, ready to go.

Suddenly, the horses put their ears back.

Tim, in his calm, but very insistent voice, asked Colene to “quick, grab the reins”, and she did, without any hesitation.

What was the cause for the alarm? Well, Ms. Plum had come at her quick pig trot down from the farm trail and aimed her snout right in the direction of the sleigh. She gave everyone a sniff (the horses were still unnerved by the swine’s unexpected appearance), and then the sow ambled down the driveway.

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At this point Tim had climbed onto the sleigh, and Colene jumped down and asked Amy to go grab from bird seed from the V.C., something to lure Plum back up to the farm. By the time the bird food was collected in a chip bowl, Plum was meandering through the parking lot. One sniff of the seed though and she followed Colene back up the driveway, and along the farm trail to her paddock at the farm.

Plum sniffing the bird seed in Colene's hand.

Plum sniffing the bird seed in Colene’s hand.

The sleigh ride guests had an exciting start to their morning, and further had a great time on the sleigh. All around it was an interesting morning.

Note to visitors: sometimes our animals do escape from their pastures. Something may spook them, or sometimes the grass really does seem greener on the other side of the fence. If you ever see one of the sheep, pigs, or horses out of a fenced-in area, please find a staff member and alert him or her. If you find an escapee after hours, and a staff member is not around, please note that there is a number by the phone outside the caretaker’s cabin for such occasions. 

Snow: Waking This Place Up

by melissa on December 31, 2013 | 1 Comment

A family enjoyed their sleigh ride yesterday.

A family enjoyed their sleigh ride yesterday.

The forest is truly resplendent right now.

Sometimes, especially during the growing season, it is easier to focus on the farm; the activity seems to center more on the animals and the plants. But once that hub goes into its annual semi-dormancy, the forest reclaims a prominent position.

When it is dressed out in its icy, snowy splendor, it’s hard not to awe at the beauty winter can bestow on the woods.

People have been calling every morning for sleigh rides. The parking lot is full with people going snowshoeing and skiing. Families with dogs in tow, some pups wearing sweaters or booties on their paws. Little kids dressed in snowsuits that are so puffy they waddle when they walk and can’t put down their arms.

The snow wakes this place up.

Mae and June in Chilly December

by melissa on December 20, 2013 | 0 comments

Mae (left) and June (right) are on loan from a neighboring farm. You can tell them apart by their blaze: Mae has a series of squiggles on the left side of her blaze, June has a backwards "J" just above her left eye.

Mae (left) and June (right) are on loan from a neighboring farm. You can tell them apart by their blaze: Mae has a series of squiggles on the left side of her blaze, June has a backwards “J” just above her left eye.

Mae and June, the draft horses on loan from True Love Holsteins farm in North Rupert, make a pretty sight here at the farm.

These  ladies are not just for show, they are also here to help out Merck Forest’s working farmscape. This winter, the team of Belgians will help pull the sleighs. While the sources differ on how much weight a team of Belgians can pull, it seems relatively safe to say that a draft team similar in weight and size to these two pretty ladies can pull at least twice their weight (so, if Mae and June each weigh close to 2,000lbs, they can each pull 4,000lbs individually, and 8,000lbs total as a team).

That makes the sleigh rides seem like a cinch, even the group sleigh weighted down with 12 people wrapped up under wool blankets. Our horses, Ellie and Daisy, and these newcomers, are shod with winter shoes, which give the horses better stability on snowy slopes. Their thick winter coats are extremely warm, and if the horses do sweat during a sleigh ride, they will be given good care so as to ensure they do not cool down too quickly.

 

Assistant Farm Manager, Colene stands with the Belgians at the gate to the Sap House pasture. She was just about to feed them a bale of hay during afternoon chores.

Assistant Farm Manager, Colene, stands with the Belgians at the gate to the Sap House pasture. She was just about to feed them a bale of hay during afternoon chores.