Today after work (hooray Daylight Savings Time!) I slipped into my snowshoes and went out to check my sap bucket again. The last time I looked (Friday?) there was only about a quart of sap in the bucket. Today there were six quarts!

I went into the house and grabbed a six gallon jug that I keep filled with water in case we lose power (good for drinking, and for flushing). I poured out the water and then poured the sap into the jug. Then I set it down in a snowbank next to the house. When the snow is gone, I will move it to the freezer in the basement, and when I quit getting sap, or the sap starts to come out yellow, or I start catching moths in my bucket, the season is over. That’s when I’ll get my sap out of the freezer and boil it down into syrup.

It takes 30-40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup. All I’m hoping for is a quart of syrup, but I would settle for a pint.

I’ve got huge pockets of melted snow in the woods now, and these pockets form vernal pools.

Vernal Pools

Vernal Pools

I still haven’t seen any salamanders in these pools, but my understanding is that this is the time of year when they breed, and their preferred venue for that is vernal pools.

The other things these pools do besides provide rendezvous points for romantic newts is tell me a little bit about my woods that I did not know. It was once a pasture.

I bought a book a while back – Forest Forensics: A Field Guide to Reading the Forested Landscape by Tom Wessels. When I ordered it, I thought it would cover things like animal tracking. I was wrong, but I was not disappointed! Instead, it tells how to tell what the woods had been used for over the past couple hundred years.

My forest has a stone wall in it which indicates that it was used agriculturally at one time. But the vernal pools tell me that it was never used for crops. Also it was never used for growing hay. That leaves pastures.

These pools form in depressions called “cradles”, and next to each cradle is a mound of earth called a “pillow”. The pillows and cradles are formed when a tree topples over and raises a huge rootwad and excavating the cradle. As the tree decays, the soil in its roots falls to the ground forming the pillow. Forests that have never been used agriculturally will also have pillows and cradles, but they won’t have stone walls. Actually, it’s possible that the land on the other side of my stone wall was used for ag, but not my side. I’ll have to wait for the snow to go before I can really tell.

When land was first cleared, the farmers would pile the rocks up and then use them to build stone walls. As fields were plowed annually, they turned up small rocks. These rocks were added to the walls. If the field was used for growing hay, it would not have been plowed except once – and the pillows and cradles would have been severely attenuated, but not obliterated as annual plowing would. Also, they would not have churned up so many small rocks. They plowed hay fields so that they could work them with a scythe – it’s hard to get hay out of a cradle with a pillow in the way. They plowed them only once because that was good enough.

I found all this stuff rather fascinating, and plan to fully investigate my woods this spring. It’s fun doing this kind of detective work!