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March maple syrup making is good family fun


 

Michigan DNR and DEQ partners make maple syrup

A “sugar stove” used by the LeSages to boil down maple sap.

A “sugar stove” used by the LeSages to boil down maple sap.

There’s an old saying that goes, “From tiny acorns grow mighty oaks.” In this case, it was maple trees and the seed that was planted was that of inspiration.

Last March, Christian LeSage, a Michigan Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist, and his family went to Fenner Nature Center in Lansing for its annual Maple Syrup Festival.

That glimpse into how sap is turned into treats like syrup and maple cream sparked an interest in starting his own sugar bush at home in Holt, where LeSage has 1.5 acres and seven nice maple trees.

He bought a book about maple sugaring and $30 worth of gear from the local store that sells sugar-bush supplies, and his syrup-making endeavor was off the ground.

“Last year we tapped five trees and got 40 gallons of sap in one week, which boiled down to almost a gallon of syrup,” LeSage said.

LeSage has since learned that his trees are big enough to tap multiple times.

“I thought we could double production this year by placing two bags for sap collection on each tree,” he said.

In one week’s collection time, the seven trees he’s tapped yielded 85 gallons of sap.

Gather: Leona and Silas LeSage out on a maple sap gathering outing.

Gather: Leona and Silas LeSage out on a maple sap gathering outing.

The process of making maple syrup usually begins months before spiles (taps) are knocked into tree trunks in February or March. The first steps are to identify trees for tapping and collecting supplies.

Next comes the actual tree tapping, followed by boiling of the sap to kill bacteria and evaporate excess water, which turns the sap into syrup.

Last year, LeSage did some Internet research and figured out how to create a wood-powered outdoor “oven,” using cement blocks, to boil down the sap. This year, he made the stove 30 percent larger and is now running three steam trays, versus two last year, to aid in reducing the sap boiling time.

“We had to resort to using a turkey fryer for part of the boil-down this year, when the stove malfunctioned due to an electrical issue,” he said. “It’s not really a good idea to boil a lot of sap down in the house, as it will turn your house into a sauna.”

While he enjoys his family’s new hobby, LeSage admits that it can be labor-intensive.

Boiling maple sap nearing the finishing point.

Boiling maple sap nearing the finishing point.

“It takes about eight hours to boil down 40 gallons of sap,” he said. “We did 60 in one day earlier this year and that added several more hours. I ended up having to bring some lights outside after it got dark.”

It’s a process that requires constant sieving—so that the sap that burns when it bubbles up doesn’t end up giving the syrup a bad flavor—and stoking the stove with wood.

“My lower back was screaming at the end of that day,” LeSage said.

One tricky part about making syrup is determining at which point in the boiling process it is finished.

“My wife, Sarah, has that tough job. When do you have syrup? If you go too far, it crystalizes. Barometric pressure and elevation factor in too,” he said.

But LeSage’s nose helps tip him off when it’s close to syrup stage.

“It smells like cotton candy when it’s almost done,” he said.

Finding the right window of time for tapping trees can be complicated too.

“It’s a race against time,” LeSage said. “Since the temperature has to be above freezing for sap to flow but sap gets bitter when the trees start to bud.

“And once you tap trees, they’re good for only six to eight weeks before they seal up or start to develop bacteria, from what I read.”

The syrup-making hobby has become a special family affair, with Sarah, the kids and in-laws helping. Sarah works as the aquatic invasive species coordinator for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

“It’s fun to get in touch with one of the first signs of spring that’s happening right outside our backdoor,” she said.

The LeSage kids get a kick out of being involved too.

Silas LeSage demonstrates one way to eat maple cream.

Silas LeSage demonstrates one way to eat maple cream.

“My son talked about it in his kindergarten class when they were learning about trees,” he said.

Besides syrup, the family has tried making maple cream, a thick confection also known as maple butter or maple spread.

“My kids each ate a jar of that in about two days,” LeSage said.

Sarah LeSage said her kids help empty the containers of sap, but by far their favorite part of the process is enjoying the “maple cream.”

“It’s a specialty product you won’t find in grocery stores and is delicious spread on just about anything,” she said.

The family makes the syrup mostly for their own consumption. As the weekday breakfast-maker, LeSage uses a lot of it on waffles and pancakes. What he doesn’t use, he gives away.

“It’s neat because you did it in your own backyard,” he said.

Interested in getting an up-close look at maple sugaring?

Check out Maple Syrup Day at Hartwick Pines Logging Museum in Grayling on Saturday, April 1—with tree-tapping demonstrations, information on how to start your own sugar bush and kids’ activities—or visit one of the other local maple syrup festivals around the state.

Find out more about making maple treats from maple trees at several online websites, including www.tapmytrees.com.

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Coming soon — a new library


This rendering shows the new Cedar Springs Library building.

This rendering shows the new Cedar Springs Library building.

The building contractor will be chosen on Monday, June 27, which means building should begin sometime in July. The project is estimated to take 6-8 months, and cost just under $2 million.

The Library Board, Community Building Development Team (CBDT), and the City of Cedar Springs collaborated to make this lifelong dream come true. The vision of the Library Board, the drive of the CBDT, the support of City Council, and thousands of hours given by many people from our community, have made this extraordinary effort a reality.

One of the final approvals needed was from the DEQ. That approval came through this month. This had been a major hurdle because the Cedar Creek and attendant wet lands run through the ten-acre project site, now being referred to as the Heart of Cedar Springs, where the library building will be constructed.

Between Maple and Pine Streets, on the northwest side of town, ten acres is being developed, which will include the new library building, an amphitheater, a boardwalk along the Creek, with rain gardens and sculptures, a community building and a recreation/fitness center. Complementary to this Town Square development, the White Pine Trail and the North Country Trail will intersect right here in Cedar Springs.

N-Library2-and-heart-of-city

In The Post last fall, the Library Board announced a fundraising opportunity for people local to Cedar Springs. While several folks have already participated, there are still bricks—available in two sizes—4”x8” for a donation of $50 and 8”x8” for a donation of $100. Bricks will be engraved with the name or message of your choice and will be used to pave the walkways into and around the Library.

In addition, there are a very limited number of retaining wall blocks available for a donation of $1,000 each as well as capstones for a donation of $2,000 each.  Retaining wall blocks and capstones, about 36 inches high, will have an inset engraved metal plaque to recognize donors, as individuals, organizations, or businesses. The donation may also be in honor or in memory of someone.

Over $3,000,000 has already been raised towards the whole ten-acre project—the Heart of Cedar Springs. A good portion of those funds have been designated to the new library building, and unless otherwise designated, all donations will be directed to the Cedar Springs Community Library until it is completely and totally funded. At that time donations will be directed towards other parts of the Town Square project.

“We want to take this opportunity to thank all donors and volunteers for their dedication to make this dream come true for Cedar Springs,” said Community Building Development Team chair Kurt Mabie. “It has taken years of planning by the Library Board, the City of Cedar Springs, the Community Building Development Team and various sub-committees to get to this point. We are now hoping that others in our Community will step up to the challenge and help make all of this possible.”

All gifts are tax deductible.  Both the CBDT and the Library are non-profit organizations.  The CBDT is a 501 (c) 3 and the Library is a 170 (c) 1. Checks should be made out to the Community Building Development Team and sent to the treasurer of the CBDT, Sue Mabie, at 15022 Ritchie Ave, Cedar Springs, Michigan, 49319

To obtain the forms for donating towards a brick or a block, you may call Donna Clark, Director of the Library, at 696-1910 or email her at ceddc@llcoop.org.  Checks for these fundraisers should be made out to the Cedar Springs Community Library. General contributions will be recognized inside the Library.

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Dust from water tower not toxic


A recent complaint to the Department of Environmental Quality about lead dust emanating from the Cedar Springs water tower proved to be unfounded.
According to Cedar Springs City Manager Christine Burns, DEQ Air Quality contacted them on Friday, August 26, about an anonymous complaint of dust being emitted from the top of the tower. The tower is currently being cleaned and repaired. DEQ advised that all blasting work should stop until an investigation could be made.
DPW supervisor Roger Belknap visited the work site and asked the crew to stop blasting activities until a bonnet could be put in place, which they did. The crew chief also explained that the blasting media they use encapsulates the coatings, pulling it downward, and the dust coming from the top was not hazardous.
The DEQ Air Quality division and the district drinking water engineer arrived on August 30 to perform an investigation and suggested a bonnet, which was already ordered, and a dust vacuum to pull dust out of the air.
On August 31 the DEQ Hazardous Waste Division and took various samples. Samples taken from inside the tarped area and from the wet waste pile have both come back non-hazardous for lead and chrome.
“We want to assure residents that we are doing everything we are supposed to do,” said City Manager Christine Burns.
She said that the goal is to have the tower restored before Red Flannel Day.

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