Macomb Conservation District

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Syrup producers eager to tap into Michigan's maples

Posted on March 31, 2015 at 5:25 PM Comments comments (0)

When Joe and Bobbi Woods bought a 40-acre parcel in Rapid City, they weren't thinking about starting a maple syrup farm. They planned to grow hay.


What started out with a just few buckets 20 years ago, has now grown into a nearly 600-gallon maple syrup operation annually. It’s a family operation for the Woods. During syrup season, their son Grant usually helps out, checking to make sure the sap flows freely through the line system.


"I know there’s a guy over in Gaylord who has three-thousand taps and they’re all on buckets. And I don’t think I have enough friends, who would help me out with that everyday," says Grant Woods, smiling.


Instead of buckets, the Woods take advantage of a massive web of lines that weave a complicated system through the forest. Sixteen-hundred taps are connected to lateral lines and then to a few main lines.


Like a web, the line system stretches out and collects sap from 7 acres of maple forest -- Photo Credit: Daniel Wanschura

"A perfect day is when, I walk the lines, I find no leaks," Woods says. "We go back and we make 40 gallons of syrup in one evening, usually drink a few beers during that time, home and in bed by 10:30 or 11."


In addition to maple syrup, the Woods family makes cotton candy, granular sugar and even a barbecue sauce. The syrup is valuable, too. It sells for about $57 per gallon in Michigan.


Maintaining the market


Joe Woods says there are a number of large maple farm operations popping up in Michigan, with thousands of taps instead of just hundreds. His concern is making sure the local demand is growing with increased production in the state.


"If we’re going to tap the trees, we’ve got to make sure we have the market to go with it," he says. "It’s probably the biggest fear that a person has is somebody down the road puts in more taps than you do. Who’s market are they going to take? Are they going to take your market or are they going to make their own?"


So, Woods has been active in the state’s maple syrup association. Recently they were able to obtain a federal agriculture grant. This enabled them to hire a marketing firm and an executive administrator. Though the association eventually wants to develop global markets, the immediate goal is to develop the local ones.


"Basically we needed to do a little kick start with the promotion of our maple syrup," says Woods. "We were seeing an influx of out-state syrups coming in, and we just needed to get the word out that Michigan can be a real player in the production of maple syrup. And that we need to provide local foods for our local people."


Raising the awareness


The association focused this year on Michigan Maple Syrup Weekend. Syrup producers like the Woods, opened up their farms so visitors could see how maple syrup is made. They believe more and more consumers in the state will choose the local, natural product, if they simply know more about it.


Inside the sugar house, the huge evaporator works overtime to boil the sap as it comes in. Ryan Greiner and his family drove up from Traverse City to taste some of the fresh syrup. He likes knowing where his food comes from.


"When they take their time to open up their facility here and share and talk and are very personal- that’s where I’d like to know my contributions are being spent," he says. "Aunt Jemima doesn’t do this for people like this."


While Joe Woods doesn't expect to be on the shelves of Wal-Mart anytime soon, with customers like the Greiners, he’s ready to expand his own operations next year. He taps about seven acres right now; next year he hopes to add a couple more.

Farmer Dad And His Son Build Transformers From Scrap Metal In China And Make $160K A Year

Posted on March 25, 2015 at 10:30 AM Comments comments (0)

A father-and-son team in southeastern China have started creating enormous recycled Transformer robot sculptures from scrap car parts that they’ve been selling for more than 1 million yuan (more than $160,000) a year.

The Transformers franchise is hugely successful in China, so Yu Zhilin, who is a farmer but has a background in fine arts, decided to start creating robot statues from spare car parts during his spare time. Three years later, he finished his first recycled sculpture with his son Lu Yingyun, and the statues only got bigger from there. Now his enormous Optimus Prime and Bumblebee sculptures, assembled in his makeshift workshop, have gone viral!

Transformers like these are often bought up and proudly displayed in malls throughout China, and this team isn’t the only one creating such replicas.

Renew expiring conservation contracts

Posted on March 25, 2015 at 10:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Participants have until Tuesday, March 31 to renew their expiring contracts

WASHINGTON — Farmers, ranchers and forest landowners who signed Conservation Stewardship Program contracts in 2011 with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) have until Tuesday, March 31, 2015 to renew those expiring contracts.

These farmers, ranchers and forest landowners have the option to renew their existing contracts non-competitively if they are willing to adopt additional conservation activities aimed at helping them achieve higher levels of conservations on their operations, said Jason Weller, Chief of NRCS.

Changes in the 2014 Farm Bill will allow CSP participants with expiring contracts to renew them by exceeding stewardship thresholds for two or more existing natural resource concerns specified by NRCS or by meeting stewardship thresholds for at least two new natural resource concerns such as improving water quality or soil health.

About 9,300 contracts covering more than 12.2 million acres are nearing the end of their five-year term and can be renewed for an additional five years. The agricultural producer or forest landowner must complete all conservation activities contained in the initial contract before a renewal can be granted.

An agricultural producer or forest landowner must meet the minimum criteria established by NRCS to renew an expiring CSP contract. Contract renewal also offers these agricultural producers and forest landowners an opportunity to add new conservation activities to meet their conservation goals and protect the natural resources on their farms, forests or ranches. The 2014 Farm Bill includes an expanded conservation activity list that now includes cover crops, intensive rotational grazing and wildlife-friendly fencing.

USDA’s largest conservation program by acreage, CSP pays participants for conservation performance — the better the performance, the higher the payment. Nearly 70 million acres have been enrolled in the program since its launch in 2009.

USDA offers financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers and forest landowners for the active management and maintenance of existing conservation activities and for carrying out new conservation activities on working agricultural land. Eligible lands include cropland, grassland, prairie land, improved pastureland, rangeland, non-industrial private forestland and tribal agricultural land. Applicants must have control of the land for the 5-year term of the contract.

CSP participants who wish to renew for an additional five years must submit an application indicating their intent to renew to their local NRCS office prior to March 31, 2015, the national deadline.

To learn more about CSP contract renewals, visit your local NRCS office. Visit the Conservation Stewardship Program page for more information about this program.

Local Contact:

Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)


Christina Nicola, Natural Resource District Conservationist

Macomb & St. Clair Counties


810-984-3001 Extension 3861

Michigan officials weighing idea of Great Lakes fish farming

Posted on March 25, 2015 at 10:30 AM Comments comments (0)

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – Michigan officials say they've been approached by entrepreneurs interested in establishing fish farming operations in Great Lakes waters.


Officials with the Department of Environmental Quality tell The Associated Press they've heard from two operators interested in raising rainbow trout in netted enclosures in Lake Michigan. One possible location would be the Little and Big Bays de Noc off Michigan's Upper Peninsula.


Brad Wurfel of the DEQ says so-called "net pen aquaculture" hasn't been done on the U.S. side of the Great Lakes before, although there are fish farms in Canadian waters of Lake Huron.


Wurfel says no formal proposals have been submitted. He says the state will establish an expert panel to consider the pros and cons, and protecting the health of the Great Lakes will be the top priority.


Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Spring wildfire season has returned

Posted on March 25, 2015 at 10:20 AM Comments comments (0)

The melting snow may be a welcome change from winter’s chill, but the Department of Natural Resources reminds residents that pleasant weather also brings the threat of wildfires.


“Fire season gets going when dead grass and leaves become exposed after warm temperatures melt snow from easily ignited fields and forests,” explained Dan Laux, DNR fire prevention specialist.


He added that several factors contribute to the increased wildfire risk in the spring.Burn safe while cleaning up yard debris.


“Dead grass becomes flammable as it dries out,” Laux explained. “People don’t realize there can be wildfire danger even when nights are cool and snow piles linger in the shade. The hazard begins when homeowners start spring cleanup chores by burning yard waste.”


The unsafe burning of leaves, brush and other debris is a main cause of wildfires in Michigan.


A person is required to get a burn permit prior to burning brush and debris in Michigan. Residents in the northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula can obtain a free burn permit by visiting www.michigan.gov/burnpermit or by calling 866-922-2876. Residents in southern Michigan should contact their local fire department or township office to see if burning is permitted in their area.


The DNR reminds people to do the following prior to burning yard debris:

  • Obtain a burn permit.
  • Choose a day that is cool and damp with little wind.
  • Burn in small mounds placed in areas that are clear of vegetation.
  • Keep water close by.
  • Supervise fires at all times.
  • Always extinguish flames, coals and embers properly. Remember, embers can stay hot for days.

“Nine out of 10 wildfires are caused by people,” Laux said. “We all need to do our part to prevent wildfires and protect the natural resources that make Michigan so special."


So far this year the DNR has responded to 10 wildfires totaling 69 acres.


For more information, visit www.michigan.gov/preventwildfires. To check if burn permits are being issued in your area, visit www.michigan.gov/burnpermit.

Wetland Wonders Challenge winners awarded prizes

Posted on March 25, 2015 at 10:15 AM Comments comments (0)

2015 Wetland Wonders Challenge winners

Winners of the Consumers Energy-sponsored Wetland Wonders Challenge, hosted by the Department of Natural Resources and Michigan United Conservation Clubs, were awarded an ultimate waterfowl hunting prize package on Friday, March 20 at the Shiawassee River State Game Area in St. Charles, Michigan.


“I was very surprised to get the call that I was one of the seven winners,” said Chris Armstrong Birtch. “It’s great that the Michigan DNR, Consumers Energy and Michigan United Conservation Clubs do things like this to reward Michigan’s hunters.”


To be entered in the drawing, participants had to hunt at three or more of the seven southern Michigan Wetland Wonders. The seven winners of the 2014 Wetland Wonders Challenge are Mike Ahles of West Olive, Chris Armstrong Birtch of Avoca, Duane Builte of Gaines, Jason Robert Evett of Coloma, Coty Hough of Waterford, Eric Keen of Shelby Township and Henry R. Manial of Burt.


The seven lucky winners were awarded prize packages worth approximately $1,500, including a Mossberg camouflage shotgun with a case, custom Zink duck and goose calls, premium Avian X duck and goose decoys, a field bag, other waterfowl hunting accessories, and a “golden ticket,” good for one non-reserved first-choice pick at a managed waterfowl hunt area for the 2015-16 season.


Michigan’s Wetland Wonders are the seven premier managed waterfowl areas in southern Michigan: Fennville Farm Unit at the Allegan State Game Area, Fish Point State Wildlife Area, St. Clair Flats State Wildlife Area on Harsens Island, Muskegon County Wastewater Facility, Nayanquing Point State Wildlife Area, Pointe Mouillee State Game Area and Shiawassee River State Game Area.


“I hunt Harsens Island the most,” said Wetland Wonders Challenge winner Eric Keen. “Being a member of Harsens Island Waterfowl Hunting Association, you get to see how hard staff members of the DNR work with clubs and volunteers to make it a great place to hunt. After hunting other managed areas through this challenge, I see that other units have people that work just as hard. It is great for the habitat, wildlife and the people that enjoy the units. Thank you everyone involved across this state for another great season.”


Hunters interested in entering should look for a new Consumers Energy Wetland Wonders Challenge to begin in the fall of 2015 and continue through January of 2016. This contest will focus on the managed waterfowl hunting opportunities Michigan’s Wetland Wonders. To learn more, visit www.michigan.gov/wetlandwonders.


The Department of Natural Resources would like to extend a special thank you to Consumers Energy for sponsoring this contest. Its generous contribution allowed for the promotion of the challenge and the purchase of prizes for the winners.


The Wetland Wonders Challenge is part of the Michigan Waterfowl Legacy (MWL), a 10-year, cooperative partnership to restore, conserve and celebrate Michigan's waterfowl, wetland and waterfowl hunting community. The initiative is a "call to action" to honor yesterday, engage today and build for tomorrow.


Conservation Easements

Posted on November 26, 2014 at 1:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Michigan's Forests

Posted on November 11, 2014 at 4:45 PM Comments comments (0)

White Pines

Posted on September 24, 2014 at 3:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Planting Trees

Posted on September 19, 2014 at 2:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Planting Trees

Is fall a good time for you to plant trees?

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Planting Trees

Is fall a good time for you to plant trees?

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Planting trees in the fallQ. Is fall a good time to plant trees? Are there some that should not be planted in fall? - T.J. Carlson, Hendersonville, Tennessee


A. Many trees grow well when planted in fall, says arborist Tom Tyler of Bartlett Tree Experts. Although people often associate planting with spring, fall offers some advantages, he explains. "Warm soil encourages root growth prior to the onset of winter, while air temperatures tend to be cooler and more stable, reducing the amount of stress on newly planted trees. Fall rains make it easier to dig and provide ample moisture." Container-grown and balled-and-burlapped trees are best for fall planting; bare-root plants should be planted while they’re dormant.


Trees that have fibrous root systems lend themselves to successful planting in late summer through midfall. Maples, honeylocusts, lindens, elms, hackberries, spruces, pines, crabapples, and Kentucky coffee tree are among the choices for planting late in the growing season. Avoid hard- or slow-to-establish trees such as oak, birch, ginkgo, sweetgum, bald cypress, magnolia, and hemlock. “Don’t forget follow-up care,” Tyler advises. “New trees will need ample water, right up until the time the ground freezes.”


Plant the right variety for your conditions now and enjoy the benefits for years to come.


Ask Organic Gardening is edited by Deb Martin

Photography by Mark Turner/Getty Images

Originally published in Organic Gardening magazine, October/November 2012