Features of Our Food Forest

 

Tapping Trees

This year we continued our initial experiments with tapping the native trees that surround the food forest, for sap in late winter/early spring. Timing is the most important factor. Climatic changes can make the season for tapping trees fluctuate to either side by several weeks. Our efforts were minimal this go round, but we were rewarded with tasty maple sap. The general idea is to bore a small hole at an upward angle into the tree and hammer a tap in (We used a metal tubing connector). Then, you attach tubing into a catchment container, and as the tree sends sap up the trunk in preparation for putting energy into making leaves, you collect some of that sap. We have only had success with red maples (Acer rubrum) which are not nearly as productive as sugar maples in the northeast. You can drink that collected sap directly, and it tastes similar to coconut water. It is faintly sweet and has an earthy essence to it. Then, if you had copious amounts, you could boil the sap down to make syrup. With sugar maples, it takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. So, the process is energy intensive, but you’re left with a carb-rich delicacy. Next year, we plan on tapping some birch trees and being better prepared overall for catching this early spring treat.

Beekeeping

We’re on the cusp of becoming stewards of a new animal on the farm: the European honeybee (Apis mellifera). This month we’ll be receiving 3 nucs (short for nuclei) of bees which each include a queen along with thousands of workers. The bee hives will be housed adjacent to the food forest but will certainly reap the benefits of our plantings. As part of our food forest planning, we wanted to make sure that we had a long range of when our plants put on flowers. We did this to support the pollinators throughout the year as opposed to in bursts. It is important to think of the large flows of nectar that occur in our area because it takes 2 million honeybee visits to flowers to yield 1lb of honey. So, a small planting of cosmos simply can’t compare with a black locust tree that is putting on thousands of flowers. This will be our first experience keeping honey bees, and times are hard right now for beekeepers out there. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep bees alive each year due to numerous factors, principally the varroa mite. We’re committed to organic beekeeping, and we are excited for the challenges and rewards that come from the partnership with bees.

Growing Ramps

Springtime in Appalachia means the welcoming of so many special plants and animals, including ramps. Ramps (Allium tricoccum, aka wild leek) are an incredibly flavorful wild onion that is coveted by many and can teach us some lessons. Ramps can be found in the eastern United States and up into Canada, and Appalachia is perhaps where they are most prevalent. The name of the city of Chicago actually comes from the French version of the word shikaakwa which means ramps in the the Miami-Illinois language. Why all this hubbub over some onion relative? They’re super tasty. You can eat them pickled, sautéed, roasted, battered and fried. They are a delicacy that you simply must try, if you have not already. So if they are so tasty, why aren’t we all growing them in our gardens? Well, they can’t grow in places with full sun. They require a moist, but well-draining hardwood forest habitat in order to be happy. Plus their rate of proliferation is quite slow, and most people advocate only taking 5-10% from a patch in any given year. But they are perennial, so once you’ve got a good patch and harvest sustainably, it will put on more bulbs each year. So, we’ve got several small patches started in the food forest, and hope that we can continue to make them happy.