by melissa on June 12, 2015 | 0 comments
Peggy Sue’s piglets, the “Mercklets”, just after they were born in January.
What happened to Peggy Sue’s piglets? This is a question we often get when a set of piglets moves away.
Usually, the piglets are raised on our farm until they are old enough and big enough to be sent to Eagle Bridge Custom Meats and Smokehouse. The pigs that we care for and raise onsite become the pastured meat that we sell in the Visitor Center.
However, we had a different plan for the piglets born this past January. We still had enough meat in the freezers and did not need more, so we sold the growing piglets to a nearby farm, Flying Pigs Farm in Shushan, N.Y. Flying Pigs raises heritage pork and sells primarily to restaurants and Green Markets in New York City.
The Mercklet gilts still like to get a few ear scratches!
Recently, the apprentices Kate and Stephanie visited Flying Pigs to see their operation (apprentices sometimes do site visits to other farms), to purchase some laying hens, and they also got to check in and see the “Mercklets”!
Dan, the Flying Pigs farm manager (also a former intern, caretaker, and assistant farm manager at Merck), originally bought all ten of Peggy Sue’s piglets. He then sold four of the piglets (including “Chunker” and the sweet runt of the litter) to SVF Foundation in Rhode Island, as they were looking for people-friendly pigs for their operation.
Flying Pigs kept six of the Mercklets: the male will be raised and then eventually taken to Eagle Bridge. The five gilts (unbred females), he hopes to raise as sows that will be able to provide piglets for Flying Pigs Farm. When Stephanie and Kate visited, the five gilts were literally romping around the forested pasture.
Dan pointed out the male Merck pig in pasture. Even that he came over for an ear scratch.
After saying hello to the Mercklets, and giving them a few ear and back scratches, we walked up to the top of the 200 acre farm to see other pigs on pasture, including the remaining male Merck piglet.
After spending some time exploring the pasture, which is both forested and in open meadow, a good combination of habitat for foraging pigs, the group walked down to the coops to pick out a few laying hens.
Whereas, at Merck Forest we keep only a handful of chickens–just enough to provide eggs for the apprentices–Flying Pigs Farm has nearly 200 layers, and they also keep meat birds in the summer.
Stephanie looking at the unbroken egg, which came from the chicken she was holding in her hand.
Dan wanted to make sure that the apprentices took home hens that were actually laying. Instead of taking birds from the pasture, he grabbed birds from the nesting boxes, handing them to the apprentices to hold. One hen actually was laying an egg as he picked her up, and her egg literally rocketed out of her, out of the coop, and rolled along the ground to Stephanie’s feet! Hopefully, this is a good sign that she will lay when she comes to Merck.
Thanks to Dan and Flying Pigs Farm for letting us come and visit. We are glad the Mercklets are well, and the hens are doing great!
View from Flying Pigs Farm toward Merck Forest and Farmland Center.
by melissa on June 8, 2015 | 0 comments
Plans are in the works for a few of the cabins to have their viewsheds restored. Opening up the views around several of the cabins serves a dual purpose: visitors will be able to enjoy looking at the ridges and mountains again, and the trees cut will be processed and used as firewood for those specific cabins. An on-site operation.
We contracted out to a local logger to start restoring the viewsheds. They have already completed much of the work at Viewpoint Cabin. Please, for the next week or so, refrain from hiking near Viewpoint. As soon as the work is done, we’ll let you know, and then you can go enjoy the vista.
Looking up to Viewpoint from the trail.
From Viewpoint looking toward Mt Antone. A clear shot now.
All the wood cut to open up the viewshed will be used as firewood at the cabin.
by melissa on May 29, 2015 | 0 comments
If any of you have visited the farm in the past ten years, you’ve probably heard the more or less consistent swish, swish, swish of the wind turbine as the blades rotate in the breeze. The structure has supplied a small percentage of the power here at Merck since it was erected. There were days when the wind blew so strongly that it would reverberate pressure in the air, like you had rolled down the back windows in your car before putting down the front ones, causing your ears to feel a strange pressure. In gale force winds, the turbine would actually stop turning, so as to not lose its blades.
But, as you can see from the image above, the structure no longer has its blades. In April, the turbine started to make a strange noise, and before we could have someone to come out and look at it, we were subject to high winds late on that Friday evening. The blades fell from the turbine. Luckily, no lambs, horses, or people were out or hurt.
But now the turbine stands on the hill, blade-less.
And it probably will remain that way for a few months more…
We are at an interesting point in the organization, contemplating ways to sustainably provide energy to the site. Until ideas and recommendations formulate into a plan for electricity, the turbine will stand quiet on the hill.
by melissa on May 27, 2015 | 0 comments
Ann Gregory of Annie’s Knitting Cabin, Granville, NY was a part of last year’s Sheep Dog Trials and Farm Festival. She demonstrated spinning, as well as selling her knit items.
It may seem early to be posting about the Sheep Dog Trials and Farm Festival, it is seven weeks away after all.
From the staff end of things here at Merck, the end of those seven weeks, the weekend of July 18 and 19, seems closer than you might think. The Sheep Dog Trials and Farm Festival is one of our two main events, and it requires a lot of planning to put on the weekend festivities.
Over the past few years, we have tried to increase the fiber arts component of the festival. Last year, we had a number of regional fiber artists that demonstrated their art, sold their wares, and enjoyed the weekend. This year, we are excited that many of the vendors will return (including Amity Farm Batik and Contented Butterfly Farm).
We’d like to continue to encourage the growth of the event, including bringing in more fiber artists. If you or someone you know is a fiber artist and would like more information on the Sheep Dog Trials and/or vending, please contact Melissa at email@example.com
by melissa on May 12, 2015 | 0 comments
The garden is going to be in a new place this year. It will still be just up the road from the wind turbine, but a little closer to the blueberry patch. Moving the garden yearly serves a few purposes: it keeps the soil in good health, and it also allows the apprentices to practice using the horses more. Friday was a beautiful day to be out in the fields. It took a few hours in the bright sun, but Stephanie, Meghan and Kate all took turns working with Fern and Arch to plow the furrows. Now, we’ll be ready to put in a few starts, and sooner than we think the vegetable garden will be in full bloom.
by melissa on May 7, 2015 | 0 comments
Tim and Meghan refashioned the seat to the front of the wagon.
For the past few weeks, the farm has been working on repairs to the equipment. The RTVs took a beating in this winter’s snow, there is always work to be done on the tractors, and even the horse equipment needs constant looking after. Sometimes it seems like the care for our tools and equipment takes up more time than the actual use of it, but that’s just part of the farm.
The seat on the wagon needed some TLC last week. It was made a bit stronger with better screws, and reattached to the fore of the wagon. Hopefully, it will now be a more comfortable seat for whomever is driving the team.
Bryan working on taking apart some of the wind blown items at the farm.
Whoops, this post was preprogrammed to go out two weeks ago (before the sheep shearing workshop), but it decided to wait until today to publish itself. We’ll leave it up anyway.
This weekend, as mentioned in the previous post, we are happy to host the second year of the Sheep Shearing Workshop. It comes at the end of a very blustery, chilly, April week. Last week, with its sunny, delightful spring feel, felt like it retreated back to this week’s snow, rain, and WIND. Monday and Tuesday saw some strong steady gusts of air–so strong in fact that some of the sign posts blew over and the trellising in the blackberries took a hit. The farm staff, while waiting for the wind to die down, took the time to look at seeds, make some orders, and stay snug indoors while tackling some machine maintenance and farm planning projects.
The wind also made cabin checks all the more exciting this week, as there were more than a few trees down on the trails. Luckily, Ethan with his hatchet and Katie with her saw were able to get through some of the larger debris.
Katie and Ethan tackled a down birch on Old Town Road this morning.
Hopefully, the participants in this weekend’s sheep shearing workshop will have a warmer environment in which to learn, and a little less wind shear to worry about.
by melissa on April 24, 2015 | 0 comments
Bryan setting up the fencing along the lower Harwood Barn. The sheep will stay in the barn until they are sheared at this weekend’s Sheep Shearing Workshop
Yesterday was a big prep day for this weekend’s Sheep Shearing Workshop. With the threat of rain (and snow!) in the air, there was a little more pressure to get the ewes into the Harwood Barn so that their coats will be dry for the shearing process. Bryan worked yesterday morning to set up the lower Harwood Barn for the mamas and babies to move back to (they’ve been enjoying the pasture outside the Small Animal Barn). The farm staff relocated the flock back across the road later on in the day.
For the next day or two the sheep will be Harwood side, until they get their summer hair cuts.
Even if you are not taking part in the workshop, please stop up at the farm this weekend and see the shearing take place. Shearing is an interesting and important part of keeping a flock of sheep.
by melissa on March 20, 2015 | 0 comments
New floor in the horse stall will help keep horses dry during spring thaw.
The thaw is near, we think. We can catch whiffs of mud season, the smell of the earth waiting to be released from snow and ice. The past few years the thaw has come quickly. For the farm, which sits on top of shallow soils, rock ledge, and perched water tables, usually the thaw has meant water quickly moving across the pastures, down the hill, and toward the farmyard–often times infiltrating the foundations of the barns and making for a mucky, icy, muddy mess of the lower Harwood and Small Animal barns.
With all of this year’s cold and feet of snow, Tim was starting to get a nervous look on his face in mid-February. You could see him calculating: Lambs were to be due in a month, Peggy Sue has piglets, and depending on the weather the horses may be in their stalls or outside in pasture. If it was a quick thaw, this year could be a particularly muddy mess, and wet, damp stalls are not conducive to keeping animals healthy. Time to plan ahead.
The farm ordered thick hemlock boards to fit to the floor of the horse stalls. The way the historic barn is banked against the hill, heavy runoff moves through the foundation and sometimes collects right where the horses are kept when inside. The boards are elevated, and they will hopefully keep the horses from any unwanted wet hooves.
Bryan tests out the soundness of the hemlock planks.
A raised sleeping platform was built for Peggy Sue and the piglets in the Small Animal Barn. Quick thaws sometimes bring flooding into that space too, but with full range of the pasture and an elevated platform, the pigs should quite literally stay high and dry.
The lambing operation has been set up in the Outside-In (the west room of the Harwood Barn, now aptly dubbed the “Maternity Ward”). It’s a much better space for visitors to walk through and see the lambs, and it doesn’t have the same challenges with water that other rooms in the barn do.
With all the the planning and action in anticipation of a very dicey mud season, so far we’ve been thawing slowly. This year might prove the adage, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
If it wanted to warm up any time now though, I think we are all more than ready.
by melissa on February 19, 2015 | 0 comments
The second winter break workshop happened today. Snow and sickness dropped our group by half, but the eight participants had a great time learning a bit about backyard birds, and then making their own suet cakes! Each participant got to measure out seeds, nuts, and lard into cupcake tins, which were then placed outside to harden. At the end of the program, everyone took home a bunch of suet in mesh sacks!
by melissa on February 17, 2015 | 0 comments
The Ladies of the Gold Lamé, a group of wonderful women that comes annually to Ned’s Cabin, were here just a few weeks ago. We know that they have arrived when we see several cars from various states up and down the eastern seaboard, and if the license plates don’t give them away, their golden pants and velvet moose ears sure do! (Their outfits are a story for another time).
This year, after visiting, one of the members sent in this lovely note, which we would like to share with you.
Hi! We are still riding the wonderful high that we get from spending our annual January weekend at Ned’s Place, laughing, sharing, snowshoeing, eating, drinking, enjoying each others’ company, and sporting our gold lame pants and moose ears. Thank you so much for this amazing place and experience that means nothing short of magic to 9 women who have been going there for 15 years now. We want to share with you one of the many pictures that we took while there, as it makes all of us smile to see it, as well as others who have never been to Merck at all. We hope you like it as much as we do! Several of us are also delighted to have experienced the first sleigh ride offered and are singing the praises of this form of travel! We are so grateful for all that you do to provide and sustain this incredible environment. We call it paradise.
South Berwick, Maine
We can’t wait to hear your stories after next year’s visit!
by melissa on February 11, 2015 | 0 comments
Yesterday was a milestone for the piglets…they received their first vaccinations.
It also is a milestone in the apprenticeship. Nothing makes you think and act more quickly than the high-pitched squeal of the piglets when they get picked up, and the answering (and somewhat threatening) angry grunts and protests from the sow. Peggy Sue, no matter that she is one of the nicest, sweetest pigs we’ve had at the farm, goes into full maternal mode when it seems like one of her piglets is under threat, which is exactly what she thought yesterday when Bryan, Stephanie, and Kate worked with Tim to round up the little pigs and give them several needles full of medicine.
The job got done though, as you can see below. (Please, excuse the picture quality as they were moving quickly, and I didn’t want to use the flash, which might have further upset the animals).
A quick meeting to discuss strategy for getting the vaccinations done in a neat fashion.
Piglets trying to decide what was going on…
Peggy Sue also wanted to see what was going on.
For this one piglet, Kate held her while Bryan injected her with the vaccines.
The newly vaccinated piglet will run back over to the other side of the pen to be with its siblings again.
by melissa on February 3, 2015 | 0 comments
We got a new children’s book in the Visitor Center the other week (which was posted yesterday on our facebook page). “Over and Under the Snow” by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal, is a delightful book that I picked up off the shelf, intending to leaf through. I ended up sitting down to read the whole thing because I found the story so interesting!
The story book tells the tale of a father and daughter that go cross country skiing through the forest, looking for signs of winter life. While some pages illustrate the movement of animals above the snow, the main purpose of the book is to share what happens beneath the snow–there is a whole world at work during winter. This world, known as the subnivean zone (“sub” meaning “below” and “nivea” or “niveus” meaning snow), the area between the bottom of the snowpack and the surface of the ground, is a interesting place, both in how it is created, and how the animals, plants, and organisms that live there function.
Subnivean zones are created when the snow falls and covers the ground. In places, small plants, tree roots, or rock act as umbrellas keeping pockets of air under the accumulating snow fall. When the snow reaches a depth, generally of about 6 inches, sublimation occurs. The warmer air from the ground causes the snow along the ground’s surface to not melt, but vaporize. The water vapor rises and then refreezes along the bottom of the snow, sturdily encrusting a space that rodents, insects and plants will use. The relatively warm (32ºF approx.) subnivean space allows many animals protection from winter’s harsh climates and from predators (though, many predators are wise to the subnivea and have their own ways of capturing prey).
While “Over and Under the Snow” only delves so deeply ( a few inches, perhaps) into the ecosystem under the snow, there are scientists that are really working to understand the importance of subnivean zones. The Audubon article by Jeff Hull, “Life Under the Snow” details more of the ecosystem functions of the space. Part of this particularly interesting article discusses how specific microorganisms, which for a long time were thought to be dormant during the winter, actually proliferate in the subnivea. It is these specific microorganisms that produce the all important nitrogen that truly helps plants regenerate in the spring. With the inconsistencies of the weather for the past few years, a stable below snow zone is not being created in many parts of the world, and animals, plants, and microorganisms may be feeling the negative ramifications of early or late thaws, or no snow at all!
There are more than several articles online about subnivean zones, everything from children’s videos on Youtube to the more scholarly Audubon article. They are definitely worth the time to read (see below). If a beautifully illustrated introduction to the subnivea is for you, our Visitor Center carries “Over and Under the Snow” by Messner.
The next time you are here at Merck, snowshoeing or x-country skiing across the snow, be mindful, as there is a whole world beneath you.
Audubon Article, http://mag.audubon.org/articles/nature/life-under-snow
National Park Service, Winter Ecology Teachers Guide http://www.nps.gov/glac/forteachers/upload/Winter%20Ecology%20Teacher%20Guide%202010.pdf
Burlington Free Press, “Subnivean Zone”, http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/news/local/2014/12/26/subnivean-zone-shelter-snow/20901281/
Wild Kratt’s Journey to the Subnivean Zone, Youtube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXtV5iCd74Y
by melissa on January 20, 2015 | 0 comments
Tom walked in this morning, and said, “the redpolls are back.”
To a non-birder that sentence could have sounded more like ” the red poles are back”, which brings up all sorts of ideas. New fencing for the farm? Red-painted snow stakes for along the driveway? But, oh, wait, of course. Tom means the birds.
Much of the winter, the woods are silent. You might hear a raven or a junco, but not often. This week there has been some more twittering than usual outside, and that is because the redpolls (Acanthis flammea) are here.
These cute, small finches, which nest and breed around the Arctic Circle, travel farther south in the winter. You are not guaranteed to see them every year, but if you put out thistle feeders, you just might have a flock visit your house for some of the winter.
Check out Cornell’s Ornithology Lab to hear what these fellas sound like and to see a map of the redpolls range.
by melissa on January 19, 2015 | 1 Comment
Friday was a busy day. We all were eagerly anticipating the birth of Peggy Sue’s piglets, it was the last day of orientation for the apprentices, chickens were going to slaughtered, and we were hoping for some snow so the sleigh rides could run.
Luckily, Peggy Sue’s piglets were born, a day later than expected, but twelve piglets made their way into the world in the early hours of Sunday morning. Unfortunately, one was stillborn and another was stepped on by the mother. However, ten piglets are healthy and happy up in the Outside In. It could have been the care and careful backscratching by Colene that eased Peggy Sue in her early stages of labor on Friday (see below).
Colene scratched Peggy Sue’s back during the early part of her labor on Friday.
Before all the excitement with the piglets, Friday afternoon held a different kind of excitement, the kind that comes with the careful and considered slaughter of some of the older chickens on the farm. We often highlight the birth of animals at the farm, but we rarely mention that death occurs here as well. Some of the older chickens were carefully selected from the coop, aging ones that seemed unhealthy and several chickens that no longer lay eggs. Stephanie and Meghan worked with Colene and Will to slaughter several of the hens and roosters. The birds were quickly put down, stripped of their feathers, innards removed, and then vacuum-sealed and put in the freezer. These stew birds will help feed the apprentices this winter.
Meghan and Stephanie strip a chicken of its feathers before it is vacuum-sealed and put in the freezer.
While it may seem sad that chickens were killed last week and two of the piglets did not survive, that is a part of the process of the farm. We always strive to make sure that the animals here at Merck live good lives, and that if it is their time to go, we try to make that easy for them as well.
We will go into this week knowing visitors will come up, excited for the new piglets and the fresh snow. Every week holds something new for us.
Kat Deely, UVM graduate student, presented her ecological assessment of Merck Forest to the staff and Board last Wednesday.
We were very fortunate to have University of Vermont graduate student, Kat Deely, work at Merck Forest this past summer. Kat came in May to work on mapping natural communities found across our 3,160 acres of land. After months of gathering data and compiling her information into a report, she presented to the MFFC staff and Board this past Wednesday. It took a lot of work to get to that point though…
Starting in the late spring, Kat moved into the Lodge with the apprentices. Going out during the day with her dog, Moose, she hiked through Hemlock Forests, Dry Oak Woodlands, and Red-Spruce -Northern Hardwood Forests. Along the way, Kat plotted GPS points, mapping out the location of the various community types found here. It took her a few weeks to walk the entire property, but that was only the beginning.
All of that information had to be sorted through. GIS (Geographical Information Systems) was critical in helping to lay out the research that Kat had compiled. Using GIS, Kat was able to check her information with already collated research on regional soil types, geology, deer habitat, rare, threatened, or endangered species of note, etc. All of this information is presented in a layered format. This stratigraphy of information gives the viewer of Kat’s research an idea of site topography, the different natural community types, where species of concern might be located, and finally, the crux of Kat’s work, areas where Merck Forest and Farmland Center might consider implementing various management strategies.
Merck Forest, as a working landscape, actively manages its forest for wildlife habitat, sugaring, and timber sales. While studies have been done before, Kat’s work is the most extensive: it really shows us where we should or should not be working the landscape and where the best wildlife habitats are.
For instance, Kat noted several natural community types that are rare within the state of Vermont. These include areas such as the Dry Oak Woodland by the Lookout. Applying a “no touch” or “light touch” policy to these sites may help natural communities on site survive and thrive, and adapt, as climate weather patterns change.
Thank you to Kat for such a wonderful report. Her work will be critical in our decision-making in the future.
Kat’s final document will be placed on our resource page, shortly.
by melissa on January 15, 2015 | 0 comments
While learning to drive horses yesterday, there was also a lot of time for fun. Laughter at good jokes, watching the hillside and learning about the landscape, seeing a redtail hawk hunting, and exploring the back part of the farm.
by melissa on December 31, 2014 | 0 comments
Take a close look at the striped maples next time you are in the woods. Their bark is more colorful than you might expect.
In the summer, the forest here at Merck displays every color imaginable. The bright greens of the beech tree leaves, beautiful cerulean skies, jewelweed’s silver leaves and freckled orange or yellow flowers.
In winter, the colors become a bit more monochromatic, at least to the untrained eye. Winter just requires that you look more closely as bold colors tend to hibernate too.
The green, blue, grey, and red striping on this moosewood (or striped maple) are a good example of winter time colors that aren’t noticeable straight away, but the more closely you look at the forest, the more you see.
by melissa on December 30, 2014 | 0 comments
The time between Christmas and mid January is highlighted by the relative quietness at Merck Forest. Last year’s apprentices have left, and we are awaiting the arrival of new apprentices. The forest is often muted by snow (which may melt and then return several times before we get into the much colder days of January and February). Staff rotates vacation around the holidays. School groups are all on break…
Even though the chores still need to be done, the trails are still open for walking, and the Visitor Center’s merry fire warms cold toes, it’s nice that the next few weeks might be a bit more mellow.
That being said, don’t forget to wax your skis, book a sleigh ride, or reserve a cabin for this winter. The snow will return!
by melissa on December 18, 2014 | 0 comments
Alan at a Viewpoint sleep out…Living simply and lightly. No power or phone all summer. ~James Dickey (photo taken late 70s or early 80s)
More images from James Dickey:
A freshly dug privy for upper lean-to allows SCA’er Jimbo to pull a classic prank…
by melissa on December 17, 2014 | 0 comments
James Dickey spent ten summers attending camp here at Merck Forest (read his story here). In his words: With the 70’s came lots of innovative games building group trust, cohesion, and having all-out fun.
And, from the photos Jim sent us, it looks like the summer camps of the 70s and 80s did have quite a bit of fun!
This “Merck Memory” was written by James Dickey. He returned to MFFC from Colorado this November for his 50th birthday, and he later sent in an account of his experiences up here. Thank you, Jim, for sharing this:
In summer of 1973, I was nine years old. I had just returned from my first summer camp experience at large YMCA camp down south, and it hadn’t gone too well. BB guns, bullies, and bad food. I wanted nothing more of any camp. But my family had spent a weekend in the grand old Colburn House hotel in downtown Manchester (now Northshire Books); in the foyer my mom found a flier for a local camp. Small, outdoor living, $70 a week.
I was dragged reluctantly up a road from a tiny parking lot. I saw a small group gathered under a maple tree near a barn and nothing else in sight. A burly, long haired man with a scraggly beard smiled and introduced himself: “I’m Sugar Bear…”. His T – shirt just said “LOVE”.
I had to be dragged away from Merck Forest at the end of each summer for the next decade…
This November, I spent my 50th hiking Antone and poking around The Glen. It was good to be back.
For the next few blog posts, we will highlight some of the photos that Jim shared. Just think of it as a Merck throw-back:
A place like Merck shapes you. The contours of the landscape, the people met, and the lessons learned are indelible. ~ James Dickey
by melissa on December 10, 2014 | 0 comments
Earlier this year, Vermont adopted a new grading system for its maple syrup. This new system provides descriptions of each grade, or class, of syrup. It also part of a national and international effort to create a universal grading system throughout the United States and Canada. Currently, each state and the Canadian provinces each have their own demarkation for syrup.
The old method of grading maple syrup gave a range of five classes. These classes went from Vermont Grade A Fancy, Grade A Light Amber, Grade A Medium Amber, Grade A Dark Amber, to Grade B (and then there was a sixth grade that could only be sold commercially). One of the challenges with the old grading system was that it implied one end of the maple syrup spectrum was perhaps better (you always want to strive for an “A” right?). Therefore, many consumers would seek out Grade A Fancy, thinking that this syrup was top of the line.
However, all the grades taste good…it just depends on your taste preference as to whether you wanted a lighter maple syrup (Grade A Fancy) or a richer flavor (Grade B).
The new system cuts back to four grading categories, and the titles for these four classes are a bit more descriptive, thus helping the buyer choose the syrup that’s right for his or her taste palette.
GOLDEN WITH DELICATE TASTE: Light syrup with a golden color. It has a mild, delicate taste. Excellent as a table syrup or over ice cream or yogurt.
AMBER WITH RICH TASTE: Light amber color and full-bodied flavor, this class of syrup is the product of choice for consumers who desire the “classic” maple syrup flavor.
DARK WITH ROBUST TASTE: Dark amber color with a more pronounced maple flavor, this class will satisfy those customers who desire the strong flavors of what has been known as Grade B.
VERY DARK WITH STRONG TASTE: Nearly black, this syrup has a strong flavor that translates well to cooking, where the maple syrup will carry through to the finished dish.
For more information on the grading changes check out VPR’s website: http://digital.vpr.net/post/any-other-name-does-vermonts-maple-syrup-taste-sweet
Information above taken from the Vermont Sugar Maker’s Association and the Vermont Chamber of Commerce’s Vermont Winter Vacation Guide 2015
by melissa on November 20, 2014 | 1 Comment
It’s usually fairly breezy here at Merck in all the seasons. The land around the farm especially seems to funnel the air’s movements. But, come this time of year, with the trees barren of leaves, the wind really starts whipping.
The gusty weather really dictates what we can do on the farm: what kind of structures can be built that will not blow over or blow away, what types of vegetables and fruits will grow (did you know our you-pick blueberries are supposed to be a highbush variety, but because of the wind, they are more stunted in their growth?), where and how we will house the animals when the winter winds really start howling.
Understanding your land and the factors that influence it is incredibly important to designing a well-planned and laid out working landscape. Watching the land as it changes through the seasons can help you make good, sustainable decisions.
Some decisions on the farm take time to make, and often our initial plans are changed to adapt what the land and climate are telling us.
However, on a day to day basis, we know to be as prepared as possible for the wind…even if it means dressing like Nanook of the North in November.
The wind was quite chilling the other day, and big coats and ear-flapped hats were necessary to stay warm. Laughing helps everyone stay warm too.
by melissa on November 12, 2014 | 0 comments
Cricket guarding all the nicely arranged produce. This food will be stored in the new root cellar and eaten by the apprentices this winter.
With a great harvest from our storage garden this past season, we’ve been working on some carpentry projects to help us preserve these crops for the coming months and for the new apprentices coming in January.
First, we added a root cellar to the lower part of the Harwood Barn. There was no need to dig a hole or build a new structure: we took advantage of the barn’s below-grade back corner to create a small, well-insulated room. This room uses the temperature-moderating effects of the soil and a passive ventilation system to keep our produce refrigerated. We also installed some strategically-placed wire mesh, which will hopefully keep out any rodents who want to share our winter provisions!
In addition to temperature and critter-control, the ideal root cellar is dark–some storage crops, like potatoes, will sprout if exposed to light–and has good airflow and moisture control. Our passive ventilation system uses the simple principle that warm air rises and cold air falls to keep air moving inside the cellar. However, we realized without the proper containers to store vegetables, a ventilation system might be for naught.
Enter our beautiful new produce crates.
Made onsite, these stackable wooden crates allow for the stored food to ventilate well and keep fresh.
After a couple of days of work, we have more than 40 handsome and sturdy stackable wooden crates which will ensure that adequate ventilation gets to every beet, cabbage, and onion!
These construction projects were also invaluable practical experience for us apprentices. In building the root cellar, we learned how to frame walls, hang a door, and wire a room for electricity. The boxes obviously involved a lot of task repetition, which taught us tricks like using jigs to efficiently build uniform products.
Not only were they fun to make and highly functional, but all of the wood used in the construction of the crates was grown here at Merck and then locally processed! With Fern and Arch, our wonderful draft horses, we dragged the ash trees that we apprentices had helped to fell during Game of Logging training out of the forest. They were then milled by Chris Stone, the Rutland County Forester, and the Stafford Tech students, and returned to us as boards ready for construction (and because we took home the imperfect boards too, some of our boxes have lovely bark edges–with moss and everything!).
(The Winter newsletter will contain a guide to how we made the root cellar boxes.)
by melissa on October 14, 2014 | 1 Comment
The old chicken coop was no longer meeting the needs of the farm or of our visitors; we hope the new coop in the barn is more visitor-friendly and authentic to our visitors’ needs.
I visit Merck’s chicken coop several times a week, usually when I walk up to the farm to take pictures and see what the farm staff is up to. On Tuesday, I went up and snapped some shots of the growing chickens to use on our social media pages. I didn’t have much idea of how these images would be used. However, later, as I was sorting through several images of just-born chicks and the pullets now on pasture, it occurred to me that Merck’s chicken operation is right on target with our audience’s needs.
Let me explain.
I started working at Merck three falls ago as a three-month intern. At that point in time we had close to 40 chickens living in a close-quarters coop. It took a lot of time to maintain a comfortable standard of living for our free-range hens. The coop had to be moved to new pasture weekly, roughly 35 eggs (if we were lucky) had to be washed each day during the warmer months, the coop needed to be kept clean, and our customers happy with a steady supply of eggs.
It may not seem like a large operation (and in perspective with many other farms, it most certainly was not a big-scale project), but with apprentices moving through, teaching a variety of classes, and upkeep on the farm–it just was not profitable…Nor, was the reality of keeping upwards of four dozen birds something that appealed to many of our visitors.
We laid out the needs and goals of the farm and decide how those objectives reached our visitors before finally deciding to downsize to the small, stationary coop now in the Hardwood Barn.
The chickens are still allowed to roam through the grasses, but they do have a base that is easy for visitors to find and access. For visitors that are looking to raise their own poultry, the current set-up is much friendlier, much more authentic to the current ideals of small-scale sustainable farming.
Chances are that in the future the idea of an authentic farm may yet again change. We may increase or decrease the flock and change the hens’ residence. Part of having a good educational farm means that we are able to adapt to the needs of the land and of our of visitors–and in order to do that, of course, we always need your feedback.
To read more about small-scale poultry productions read these!
by melissa on September 27, 2014 | 0 comments
Fall foliage is here! The leaves on the sugar maples are beginning to turn hues of yellow, red, and orange. Oak leaves are deepening their hue, red maples are a blaze of green-tinged red, and soon the beech will morph into their fall suit of yellow.
As the leaves change colors and successively begin to fall, the viewshed around Merck Forest opens up. Trails, which in the summer are a wall of green, become a shifting, opening, landscape of color.
Merck Forest certainly has a variety of trails for you to hike. Explore some of southern Vermont’s best in fall foliage! Here are some recommendations (bold trail names indicate the highlighted trails on map):
- Green Trail: Begin from the Visitor Center and hike up Old Town Road to Antone Road. Just before you reach Clark’s Clearing, turn right onto McCormick Trail, and loop back down to Old Town Road. The views from McCormick Trail get better and better as more leaves fall and the views open to the northwest. Approximately 2.5 miles, moderate difficulty level.
- Blue Trail: Take in the vista from two of the best points on the property: Viewpoint and Gallop Peak. Starting from the Visitor Center, walk up Old Town Road. Bear left on Lodge Road and follow until you reach Hammond Road. Hammond Road, itself, has several good vantage points! Continue on Hammond until you see the sign for the Barton Trail, which will take you up over the Gallop. Be sure to rest at the small rock outcrop at the top before continuing back to Old Town Road via Viewpoint. Approximately 4 miles; moderate to difficult level due to a short scramble and elevation changes.
- Yellow Trail: The Lookout is one of the best-kept secrets at Merck Forest. While the hike, starting from the South Gate, is relatively short, it’s worth the uphill walk. The Lookout stands at the edge of a rock ledge in a dry upland oak forest. Approximate total distance to and from the South Gate is 2.75 miles; moderate difficulty level.
- Pink Trail: The Master’s Mountain Trail is probably the most challenging hike at Merck Forest. The switchbacks are steep, but if you take the trail all the way to the top, and then continue to the top of Mount Antone, the view is worth the effort. Approximate total distance to and from the South Gate is 4 miles; difficult level.
by melissa on September 19, 2014 | 0 comments
Cybil in her forested pasture.
If you are looking for the Merck piglets after this week, you won’t have much luck looking in the Small Animal Barn, their home since they were born two months ago. Instead, take a peek down Discovery Trail. You’ll catch them rummaging around, rooting up insects and plants, and munching on all sorts of piggy goodies in the brush, all the while helping us keep that area clean and manageable. Their mom, Peggy Sue, will rejoin our gilt Cybil a bit further down the trail, where they too will share a patch of forest.
When they are old enough (roughly around two months) and the weather permits, our pigs our weaned and move out on pasture or in the woods, a management technique that benefits both us and them. Their bull-dozing noses help dig up large stones, roots, and logs, which we can then remove after the space is no longer occupied. In return, they get a balanced wild diet to supplement their feed regimen, keeping them healthy and happy, and later, deliciously flavoring the pork they produce. This year, in addition to the usual menu items, the pigs will enjoy a bumper crop of one of their most beloved treats: acorns.
Every few years, different tree species have what is known as a “mast” year. Masting is defined by uncharacteristically high fruit production of a particular species in an area, and the time between mastings is determined by the type of tree along with other environmental factors such as weather. Many different hypotheses have been posed as to why the masting cycle exists in nature, from predator satiation to coincidental carbohydrate stockpiling of trees after their summer-sun gluttony. Regardless of the cause, the results are unmistakable: more consumption by predators and higher populations of the beneficiaries of these fruits. This year, we are seeing oaks produce high quantities of mast and leaving their acorns all over the place. While Peggy Sue, Cybil, and the piglets will certainly be eating their fair share of acorns.
Acorns for Cybil?
Some interesting information on mast seeding can be found on the U.S. Forest Service’s website at http://www.fs.fed.us/ and the Mast Tree Network released an article on the process, tradition, and benefits of feeding pigs acorns and other mast crops. The article can be found here: http://www.mast-producing-trees.org/2009/11/acorn-finished-pork-an-ancient-tradition/ .