Shiitake Preparations

This week we began preparations for our Shiitake mushroom project. Doug, our mushroom guru, and I spent Friday felling oak trees on a small woodlot in the back of the farm and cutting out logs of 3′ long and 4″ to 6″ in diameter.

We plan to plug at least 120 logs with a total of 1000 Shiitake mushroom spores and stack the logs in three locations around town: the farm, the Melone House, and the Sugar House.  Each location has a slightly different microclimate and ground moisture.  By placing the logs in various locations we hope to be able to determine which area (and stacking technique) works best.

If you are interested in helping with the Shiitake mushroom project, please join us for a day of volunteering on Earth Day (Wednesday, April 22nd) at the farm.  We will be inoculating and stacking our mushroom logs and working on other projects around the farm.  More details are coming soon, so be sure to check the website.

– Dave, Conservation Land Manager

Forest Art

Firewood in Highland St. Forest

Firewood in Highland St. Forest

There’s something incredibly gratifying and beautiful about watching an area of forest transform from from a dense stand of trees into a series of long wall-like stacks of firewood.  The process really is a work of art.  Over the past two months Land’s Sake has been hard at work harvesting trees from a small section of the Highland St. Forest (Near Wildflower Ln.)  If you’ve taken a walk in the surrounding woods (which I highly recommend) you may have heard the distant echos of chainsaws cutting and mauls splitting.  Although the work can be exhausting at times, that rewarding feeling of looking back at the newly cut forest to see trees replaced by stacks and stacks of fresh firewood, makes it all worth the effort.

Firewood Stacks (mostly oak and birch)

Firewood Stacks (mostly oak and birch)

When Land’s Sake harvests trees from Weston’s forests we do it with Mother Nature’s best interest in mind.  Far from the clear cutting methods that leave other  forests completely decimated, Land’s Sake’s operation is sustainable and each tree that we fell is carefully selected.  The idea is to leave the healthiest and straightest trees in place and remove competition from nearby trees, which are often unhealthy and crooked.  By using this method we do little damage to the forest and provide an abundant supply of local firewood for the Weston community.  The forest is quick to recover and within a few years it is often hard to notice that any trees were cut at all.

Moss covered stump

Moss covered stump

In fact, Land’s Sake has been cutting firewood out of the Highland St. Forest for over 20 years and in most areas it is very hard to notice that the forest has ever been cut.  But if you look closely you may see some signs.

-Dave Quinn (Conservation Land Manager)

Skidding Whales

peavey1Skidding whales (trees, actually) is like blowing bubbles with a bubble wand. You never know what you’re gonna get.

Tree work is a lot of fun. The process of harvesting Land’s Sake firewood starts with a careful inventory of the trees in the Town Forest. Brian, our expert (and a Land’s Sake patriarch), marks the trees to be cut before we start felling them. It’s all about sustainability.

Cutting down a tree is a feat in itself — there’s an art and a science to it. The first thing we do is determine where we want the tree to fall. This requires careful observations of the surrounding trees, the base of the tree to be cut, its branch system high above and, most importantly, our escape route. As we cut away at the base of the tree, we are careful to make sure the “hinge” is right and not pinched otherwise our chainsaw blade will be crushed under tons of tree pressure. We also have to watch out for dead branches that might fall off the tree and conk us on the head. These are affectionately known as “widowmakers.” (not!)

Watching and listening to a tree crash to the ground is an awe inspiring and somber moment in itself. The forest goes quiet, even the birds, and then they resume their chirping again as if nothing ever happened. (Does a tree make a noise when it falls in the forest and there’s nobody around?)

Around the fallen tree we then wrap a steel cable connected to our tractor. Sometimes, if the tree is too big and heavy, we cut it in half — sap still coursing through its cambria and oozing out its ends. It’s almost sad, but necessary. Walking back to the tractor we give a yank on the cord that starts the tractor’s winch. The tractor growls, the cable stretches taught, and off the tree goes, dragging through the woods, spraying a plume of snow roller coaster ride-style through the snow.

We hope the tree will follow our man-made luge though the woods, a channel made from skidding previous trees up through the snow. Where is it gonna go? Right up to the base of the tractor where we want it? Or towards me, twisting and turning convulsively in the snow, its branches stretching out to grab me as it sails by, revenge for having cut it down. Watch out! Watch out! Run away! Run away! It’s coming to get me!

Sometimes a recalcitrant tree hell bent on self-preservation will immediately butt itself against the base of a large rock or another living tree with a thud. The tractor groans. The cable winces, stretched taut. When that happens, it’s time to bring out the peavey (pictured) — a diabolical device used by lumbermen to dislodge and set a tree back on its course. One more pull of the tractor cord and off it goes — woosh. With luck these wooden whales will sail all the way to the base of the tractor the first time, where they crash against the metal “backboard” of the tractor and sit akimbo waiting to be bucked up (sawed) into “rounds.”

Next, we split the rounds into woodstove-sized firewood — sometimes by hand (because I have wood in my DNA), and sometimes with the help of our tempermental gas-powered woodsplitter (if I want to acknowledge the Industrial Revolution).

All in all, skidding trees is great fun, exhilarating, and a little dangerous. The best skidders know how to ride the logs up to the tractor, tobaggan style, as they are dragged through the snow, but that’s another story for another time.

Jim Danaher
Logger first, farmer second

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The Scent of New England in March

The sugar house is a magical place at any age, but especially when you are no taller than the evaporator and the steam is streaming off the surface like special effects at magic show. When I bring a group into the sugar house, we take a minute to absorb all the sights, sounds, and other sensory details of the place. The steam stands out, of course. The fire snaps, crackles, and pops as it consumes and digests the wood; the blend of smoke and sweetness could be bottled and sold as the scent of New England in March; and occasional drops of water land on the tip of your nose, the confirmation that indeed Land’s Sake has created a climate system of its own.

After the group takes it all in, I guide each child up the steps overlooking the evaporator and each one has the chance to look over the steam and gaze upon the liquid in the transition from sap and syrup. Sometimes I ask them what color they think it is, other times I ask them if it is ready to be put on their pancakes yet, but mostly I let them gaze on the foamy bubbles on top, most reminiscent of class V rapids to me.

Amy, Land’s Sake Educator

Look at all those moving buckets!

After only the first day of the program, the Green Power Maple participants had learned the ropes of sugaring and had taken over the jobs of collecting, filtering and dumping the sap on our daily collections around town.  Although I see this often as I work with kids, it still always amazes me at how empowered they become when given the opportunity to learn and teach others simple, yet still important tasks like learning how to close the mega-sized doors on the dump truck or practice their pouring techniques with the “hats” on.  I encourage you to stop by the sugar house someday and see this firsthand.

Casey, Education Director

Looking at those moving buckets!

In the news, again!

539w1A reporter from the Globe called last week wondering what us farmers do with ourselves in the winter. We’re actually pretty busy, I assured her. Reviewing last year’s harvest records, figuring out the planting plan for the coming season, ordering seeds, fixing equipment, splitting wood from the town forest, and in our case, running a full-fledged maple sugar operation with the help of Weston’s middle school students are filling our days.

You can read more about our winter activities and those of other local farmers in the Sunday Globe story here: 

http://www.boston.com/yourtown/newton/articles/2009/02/22/growing_locally/.

And to all our neighboring farmers, we hope this winter is treating you well!

peace, alicia (farmer and public relations coordinator)

Magic Slush

img_54995From Grey:

The late winter snowfall covers the ground then continuing from the sky turns to rain to puncture the covering over the needles into this latticework of slush.

On my way to work Thursday.

We’re in the News, again

My housemate Paul was visiting his grandkids in Newton and they gave him a copy of the Daily News Tribune from there which had a cover-page article on Maple Season with a quote from yours truly (Grey Lee) and a few other area maple producers. Here’s the link: http://www.dailynewstribune.com/archive/x114015741/Sweet-talk-Area-maples-unscathed-by-ice-storm

Maple Boiling On

We got the evaporator started last night and here’s Jim helping us with his usual huge grin. Thanks Jim!jim-helping-maple