02 March 2015

Sugar Maple Celebration....Are We Nuts?

Jack Kuhlman is a tree nut.  In fact it could be said that Duke Farms Certified tree Expert is indeed "certifiable".  And that's a good thing!

Our first lesson - MAD Horse

Patty and I and about thirty other Duke Farms Fans - kids and adults - braved the below freezing temps on Sunday morning for a ninety minute "tree hike" from the Farm Barn to the Hay Barn and back, with plenty of stops along the way.  This was part of Duke Farms' Sugar Maple Celebration which also included tree-tapping demonstrations, activities for kids, and a special maple syrup inspired menu at the cafe.

A fine specimen near the Farm Barn

With Jack leading the way, stops were as informative as they were frequent.  With an enthusiasm that cut through the cold, our tree expert led us out the back door of the visitors' center, barely reaching the corner of the building before we halted to receive our first lesson - MAD Horse.  Yep, only four trees have branches that grow in opposite pairs - maple, ash, dogwood, and horse chestnut. MAD Horse.

Not all trees lose their leaves

More lessons: Some trees, like beeches and oaks, retain their leaves through much of the winter. The willow isn't the only tree that "weeps", there's also a weeping birch! 

The weeping birch

The London plane looks like a sycamore, but is actually a cross between a sycamore and an oriental plane, the difference being that the London plane has seed-filled fruit that hangs in pairs while the sycamore fruit hangs singly.

The London plane, a hybrid of the oriental plane and the sycamore

Everywhere Jack looked, there was another tree to describe.  We spent the morning swiveling right and left following the expert finger!

Look, it's a tree!

The group arrived at last at the grove of sugar maples near the Hay Barn. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make about 1 gallon of maple syrup.  Apparently you can also get sap from birch trees, but you'll need 60 gallons for your 1 gallon of birch syrup.

Buckets in the sugar maple grove

Jack explained the traditional method of drilling the holes for the taps using a hand brace and specialized drill bit.

The hand brace

The sugar maple tap with the insert that allows it to be hammered into the tree

Kids got the feel for "tapping" by drilling into a fallen tree. The sugar maples at Duke Farms were tapped using a cordless electric drill.

Kids go "hands-on" with the brace and bit

Jack has been with Duke Farms for about eight years and is responsible for caring for thousands of trees.  With a nod to sustainability and ecology, Duke Farms cares for their trees differently than a typical suburban New Jersey homeowner.  Aesthetics are far less important than allowing for the trees to provide natural habitats for animals and birds.  To that end, dead limbs are not pruned all the way back, and  dead trees are left standing as long as there is no chance they will fall or injure anyone.

Jack Kuhlman examines a tree injured by last year's frost and quick thaw.

The Sugar Maple Celebration brought 3,000 visitors to Duke Farms.  I'm glad we took the bull by the horns and ventured out to join them.  In that kind of weather, I guess we were all a little nuts.

The Farnese Bull

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