February Snow Means GREAT Ambler Farm Syrup and Home Garden Programs

It’s hard to imagine now amid the “plink … plink … plink …” of ice dams leaking through the ceiling, but in just a few more weeks it will be spring. The folks at Ambler Farm are busily preparing for not only the planting season, but actively turning sap from sugar maple trees into maple syrup–arguably some of the best to be had.

With more snow, cold temperatures, and yes, mud, standing between now and balmy spring temperatures, keep in mind that these conditions can yield a bountiful season of produce and some outdoor fun before putting this winter into the books. Ambler Farm is open to the public 365 days a year, but some special upcoming programs deserve to be highlighted.

First up is Ambler’s Maple Syrup Open House. On both Saturday, Mar. 1 and Saturday, Mar. 8, 1-2 p.m. members of the public are invited to experience the New England tradition of turning sap into syrup. The history and process of making syrup is fascinating, and Ambler Farm lets visitors take part:  tap a tree; take the maple syrup taste test (store bought vs. Ambler Farm’s); learn about Native American, colonial, and modern ways to make syrup; and of course taste the Farm’s very own maple syrup over vanilla ice cream. Bottles of Ambler’s maple syrup will also be available for sale.

While the Farm’s syruping season is just beginning, program manager Kevin Meehan has high hopes for the next five weeks. He and his team of apprentices have placed approximately 500 taps on area trees (including more than 100 at Ambler Farm, as well as at Millstone Farm, the Children’s Day School, Wilton schools, and the grounds of the Wilton Playshop, along with sites in New Canaan and Bethel). The crew, aided by the families who participate in Ambler’s “Tap-a-Tree Program,” collects the sap from each and every bucket to bring to the Farm’s Sugar Shack, where the sap is boiled down into syrup.

“The season has been slow to start because it has been so cold. By the end of the week the sap is going to flow incredibly well if the temperature predictions remain accurate. Everything depends on the weather for the next five weeks. The only predictor I can give at the moment is that although the snow makes collecting difficult, it is very good for our sap runs,” Meehan said.

He’s predicting an extended season as well. “My gut is telling me that the cold might continue through spring which means we will have an excellent sugaring season. The different sites can be helpful as the conditions are different for sap runs on each site. We are hoping for an exhausting maple syrup season. A restful maple sugaring season is a lousy season–the busier the better,” Meehan added. Consider it a bright side of a long, cold, snowy winter.

Meehan’s colleague, Jonathan Kirschner, the Farm’s director of agriculture, is offering a new Home Garden and Crop Planning Workshop. “Farmer Jonathan” will guide participants (both novice and green-thumbs alike) on their way to a bountiful home garden–no matter the size of your land or how much sun it gets. Topics that will be covered include crop selection, timing, plant spacing, basic soil nutrition, basic garden design, and any questions participants may have.

Kirschner encourages everyone to give it a try, even if home crop growing may seem intimidating–or even impossible, for many new home farmers. “You can grow food–you just have to start small, be willing to get dirty, and pray for rain…but not too much!” he said, adding, “Soil is your best friend; care for it and it will provide for you!”

He also points out that land isn’t even necessary to grow food, herbs, and flowers; container gardening is both rewarding and productive. During the workshop, Kirschner will lead the group on a walk to the production gardens and the greenhouse where all of Ambler Farm’s organic transplants begin their lives.

Registrants can choose from two dates: Saturday, Mar. 15 and Wednesday, Mar. 19; both run 9:30 – 11:30 a.m..

Can’t make either of the workshops? Ambler Farm also offering one-on-one gardening consultations for $35.00 with Farmer Jonathan between now and mid-March. While he mans the sugar shack, boiling sap into syrup, he is available for half-hour sessions to discuss specific garden needs. (Clients are encouraged to bring photos, layouts, crop wish lists or anything else which might be useful for consultations.) Email Kirschner in advance to schedule a consultation time slot, weekdays 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (alternate times may be arranged on a case-by-case basis.