Maple Season 2016 - Highlights

The 2016 maple sugaring season at Kettle Ridge Farm was a successful one:

  • We nearly doubled the number of taps from 2015, thanks to a few awesome neighbors who permit us to tap the maple trees on their properties. 
  • We more than doubled the number of families participating in our Adopt-a-Maple Program, and had plenty of outrageously fun outings with families that came out to help tap their adopted tree and enjoy a sampling of maple syrup.
  • We produced about 70% more maple syrup than in 2015. (Why not more? We missed a couple of sap runs due to the extraordinarily early spring warm-up.) Our new glass flasks and custom labels have been popular. 
  • We participated for the first time in the statewide New York Maple Weekend. A committed crew of volunteers helped us handle the steady stream of visitors with no surprises. We are already planning an expanded slate of activities for the 2017 Maple Weekend.
  • Our pilot launch of the Community Sap Collection Center ran smoothly and we look to expand it next year.
  • We attracted a significant amount of media attention on local TV and in local newspapers. State Senator Rich Funke, Chair of the Senate Tourism Committee, produced a captivating video featuring Kettle Ridge Farm.
  • We hosted a number of group tours of our maple operation including the Rochester School for the Deaf, Monroe #1 BOCES, Hickok Center for Brain Injury, and the Genesee Valley Club Culinary Team

Attention now turns to honey bees! the addition of ten new honeybee colonies (purchased through the local bee club), Kettle Ridge Farm’s apiary operation has now grown to 25 hives in four different bee yards. The warmer temperatures provided perfect conditions for overwintering, and our colony survival rate so far is 100%. (Compare this to our 20% survival rate last year!).

To keep things straight, we assign a college name to each of our beehives. Right now we have the following schools represented: St. John Fisher, Nazareth, SUNY Geneseo, Ohio State, Williams, Monroe Community College, University of Rochester, Hobart, Tufts, Boston College, Springfield, Univ. of Illinois, Harvard, St. Lawrence, Notre Dame, Villanova, St. Bonaventure, FLCC, SUNY Cortland, Syracuse, Hartwick, Cazenovia, and CalTech. Feel free to send us suggestions for future hives. If we capture a swarm of bees that you report to us, that colony will most definitely be named after the college of your choice.

If all goes well at these schools, we will soon have honey to sell.

Our Newest Product: Honey Bee Stings

Having some familiarity with the topic of bee venom therapy, aka apitherapy, we were intrigued by a recent request by a woman in Rochester who was suffering the effects of Lyme disease.  She had done some research into the use of honeybee venom and wanted to start stinging herself to treat her symptoms.

Could we supply her with honeybees on a regular basis? Of course we could!

It looks like our new customer will become a regular. Her goal is to self-administer the stings three times a week, with up to 15 stings in each session. She is under the supervision of an acupuncturist, and so far, she says, her symptoms are improving.

Although we don’t offer apitherapy services at Kettle Ridge Farm, the process of stinging is fairly straightforward: grab the bee behind the head with forceps and swipe its stinger on your skin. Presto, you’ll have bee venom pumping into your system in no time.

Just don’t try stinging yourself without having an epipen on hand. Although very few people have an anaphylactic reaction to honey bee stings, you never know if you are one of the few.

What Winter?

We are experiencing an abnormally mild winter so far this year. Not surprisingly, I frequently get the following question: How will the lack of cold and snow affect the maple syrup season? Since Mother Nature and I have such a close and communicative relationship, I can be confident in my response:

The 2016 maple sugaring season is going to be outstanding.

For background purposes, you need to know that a maple tree delivers sap only when warm days follow cold nights. Some sort of pressure thing occurs in the tree's veins during the freeze/thaw cycle that pushes the sap around. If the weather stays too cold, the sap won't begin to run. If the weather stays too warm, the sap soon stops running.

Two years ago Mother Nature delivered a surprise in the form of a very early seasonal warm-up. Maple producers who tapped their trees in January or February took advantage of substantial sap flows. Those who waited until March (including us) worried that we had missed the season entirely. Yet the temperature turned colder and the "late tappers" did fine.

Last year, the opposite occurred. The winter was long and cold. Maple producers worried that the spring warm-up, whenever it did finally happen, would occur all at once and we would not get the cold nights necessary for sap flow. Yet we ended up with plenty of cold nights even when the days turned warmer, and maple production in our area set records.

So whether the spring comes early or late, we always seem to get enough cold nights and warm days to allow maple syrup production to take place. But this is really only in the short term. If global warming persists, maple trees that evolved over thousands of years in colder temperatures will indeed be at risk, and we may instead be tapping rubber trees in upstate New York.

The next question inevitably turns to honey bees. How are they liking the warm start to winter?

My honey bees will tell you they prefer this year's weather pattern. Last year was so cold for so long that most of my bees literally froze to death. They were too cold to move to the honey stores in their hives. And they were too cold to venture outside for the bathroom breaks that are necessary to prevent dysentery.

So at least for now they seem happier. When the inevitable cold snaps occur, we hope Mother Nature interrupts with the occasional balmy day. (Speaking of mothers, did you know that the queen bee resumes laying eggs as early as February and that the worker bees must raise the temperature of the nesting area to 90 degrees? Simply amazing.)

Don't even ask about our chickens. As you can imagine, they are loving this winter. I've never seen a happier bunch of hens this time of year.


New This Year: Community Maple Sap Collection

Imagine this scene: a late-winter evening with the temperature dropping as a car drives up and stops besides an old metal shed … a couple of kids eagerly watching as the driver (their dad) unloads a couple of 5-gallon pails of fresh maple sap from the trunk of the car … the sap being weighed, tested and poured into a large “community” sap tank as the kids get all their maple-sugaring questions answered by Kettle Ridge Farm personnel.

Then it’s on to the bonfire a few steps away where other families have already gathered after making their own sap deliveries … talking about their maple trees and sap gathering experiences … sampling some maple syrup … warming up.

Perhaps someone will even bring along a guitar and sing a few songs.

What you (and we) are imagining is the new Kettle Ridge Farm community sap collection station.  Because this will be the first year for the collection station, it will be something of an experiment. To our knowledge no one has tried to organize a community drop-off for maple sap. 

Our goal is to teach families about the maple trees in their own backyards. We expect to have a lot of fun with it.

Participating families will learn a lot about maple sugaring: how to identify the maple trees on their own property, how and when to tap them, and how to turn the raw sap into pure maple syrup. 


The sap delivered to the collection center will be measured for sugar content, and credits will be recorded that are later applied to the purchase of our maple syrup by the participating family.

The syrup containers will be specially-labeled. So when 5-year old Susie presents her grandparents with a jug of maple syrup that says “Made With Sap From Susie’s Maple Trees,” she will undoubtedly swell with pride.

To participate in the Kettle Ridge Farm community sap collection station, you must attend one of our Saturday morning classes at the farm. The free one-hour class will provide instruction on maple sugaring and go over all the details of collection station. We will also have inexpensive food-grade sap collection kits available for purchase. 

Perhaps you just want to make your own maple syrup at home. That’s fine, too. You can still come to the class and bring home some collection kits.

The first class is January 23, 2016 at 10AM. Space is limited. Sign up at

I call her Henrietta

I call her Henrietta, because anyone with hens should have at least one named Henrietta. In fact, none of the our other chickens, friendly as they are, have yet been named. 

But Henrietta is unlike the others. She’s a bit special.

Henrietta looks disheveled and she seems confused at times. Her comb is small and faded, much different than the large and vibrant red combs of her sister hens. And her gait is unsteady. In fact, she has trouble walking at all, and she is unable to roost at night with the others. Instead, Henrietta sleeps alone in one of the egg-laying boxes. 

Yet in spite of the juvenile and insensitive jokes we sometimes make about her (“someone must have shaken the egg before she was born,” etc), Henrietta elicits our admiration. 

She is determined to keep up. 

When we let the chickens out in the morning Henrietta is the last to exit the coop. But she eventually does. As the other chickens race up and down the chunnel, they may trample her, but she always weathers the storm and eventually gets to where she wants to be. 

We sometimes worry about Henrietta. The hawks are well aware that we have chickens, and we’ve occasionally experienced losses on days the chickens have been allowed to free-range outside their chunnel. The weakest and slowest chicken would seem to be the likeliest target.

But our special chicken might turn out to be our smartest chicken, and in spite of her disabilities, Henrietta may be with us for a long time. I hope so.

We're going nuts

Ginny and I attended a fascinating training seminar in Ithaca this month that focused on growing nuts from nut trees. The two presenters were established nut growers who talked excitedly for two hours about chestnuts, hazelnuts (“filberts” if you prefer), walnuts, hickory nuts, and acorns. 

So now we have a bunch of chestnut and hazelnut seedlings on order. We’ll plant them and hope they grow up without first becoming deer food. If all goes well we will be harvesting in “only” 7-10 years. 


In the meantime, we can do some gathering of wild nuts and acorns that are already dropping from trees scattered about Kettle Ridge Farm. I suspect it will turn into a race to see who gets to them first: us, or the squirrels.

"So how did KettleFest go?"

I have been asked that question many times since our inaugural KettleFest took place exactly one month ago. Perhaps I am not the best person to judge, since I was running around most of the day and not really able to stop and partake in the activities. But I am happy to report that everyone we’ve spoken to has said they enjoyed it. Here is a sampling of the post-event responses we received via email.

“What a FABULOUS event…Perfect day, super spot, kind folks.”

“We loved it all!”

“It was relaxing and peaceful, with a wonderful mix of young families and adults with no satellites.”

“The music was great, and I really appreciated seeing people hanging around and listening to the musicians.”

“I found it amusing for me, but I really wanted to see the chicken races in the chunnel – we saw it and were delighted, along with all the others who were watching.”

“We had a great time at KettleFest! Music was quite entertaining and vendors were friendly and happy to be participating in the event.”

“Thanks for putting on this event – we very much so enjoyed it. I think there was just the right amount of booths, displays, vendors, and activities.”

“We thoroughly enjoyed KettleFest. Seems to me you thought of everything! Food vendors were yummy…Craft booths also were top notch and varied…Musical bands we heard were great…So glad we attended.”

“The workshops I attended were great. Chef Jeff’s cooking class was the highlight of the day for me.”

“It was a great family event and we will look forward to future KettleFests!”

My excuse for not blogging

It’s been several months since posting an entry to this blog, so I have forced myself to come up with a believable excuse. Why not blame the invasive plants found on Kettle Ridge Farm?


Most days have found me spending a couple of hours or more out in the woods attempting to thin out our non-native invasives: honeysuckle, multi-flora rose, Japanese barberry, oriental bittersweet, and buckthorn. Time I could have spent writing.


The worst invader: Swallowwort. Also known as dog-swallowing vine.


Swallowwort seems to be everywhere on the lightly-shaded portions of our property. Some sections are carpeted with the weed and may have already swallowed a few dogs. This perennial plant grows fast, has deep roots, and is very resilient. Deer do not eat it. Its many seed pods develop in late summer and operate just like milkweed. Each pod opens to release dozens of seeds attached to their own little umbrellas to be carried off by the wind. Swallowwort seeks bushes and small trees: the higher the vine climbs, the further its seeds will travel.

Speaking of milkweed, have you seen any monarch butterflies this year? We’ve spotted very few around Kettle Ridge Farm. The disappearance of the monarch is apparently a nationwide phenomenon. Swallowwort worsens the situation as monarch butterflies are apt to confuse it for a milkweed and lay their eggs on the plant. Larvae on a swallowwort plant will not survive.

I choose not to spray Roundup or other herbicides in an Agent Orange-like attack on our invasive plants. Roundup (glyphosate) will destroy just about any plant it comes in contact with, which means that a foliar spray application will inevitably kill a lot of good plants along with the bad. It probably has other bad effects on the environment too.

Not to mention that the stuff is darn expensive.

The approach I follow is called cut-stump treatment. I will cut the stalk or trunk of the offending plant and paint a little glyphosate on the exposed surface. Desirable plants are spared, and the amount of glyphosate required is miniscule compared to foliar treatments.

Obviously, cutting the stalks of tens of thousands of swallowwort plants takes a considerable amount of time. That is why is makes a good excuse for not doing other things I could be doing, like writing. But here it is in mid-October and the swallowwort have died back for the season.

So I will either have to pick up the pace of my writing, or find another excuse.