Area residents had a chance to get a head start on celebrating Earth Day and to learn more about the world around them at the Amsterdam Free Library on Saturday morning. The library hosted the educational program “Living off the Land- Producing Organic Food, Honey, and Maple Syrup.” Area farmers and hobbyists John Naple, Bill Germann, and Bill Blance were guest presenters.
“One of the greatest joys of my life was when we bought our first family cow,” said Germann, who for the past 38 years has been growing his own vegetables, raising animals and producing maple syrup.
He spoke to the audience about his experience living off the land.
“People don’t like the taste of raw milk,” said Germann. “That’s because it doesn’t cool fast enough. The quicker it cools the better it tastes.”
German told the people in attendance (some of them farmers and some who were taking notes) that he only bought Jersey cows and would milk them only in the morning and only three days a week.
“Let the calf take care of the rest,” he said.
Germann went on to discuss how to make butter and yogurt from the cows milk, and continued with an informative discussion on growing tomatoes and keeping the seeds to get “true plants” and not hybrids every year.
“There’s no cross pollination for true plants,” he told the audience, letting them in on his secrets for keeping the seeds of true heirloom tomato plants. Germann went on to talk about the maple syrup process and how he started with only wooden spiels in the trees and coffee cans to catch the sap.
According to Germann this was a poor year for maple syrup mostly because of he persistent cold temperatures. Germann began tapping trees on March 26, and tapped 38 trees this year producing five and a half gallons of syrup. When boiling the sap he said the most important tool you have is the thermometer.
“Bring it to seven degrees above the boiling point of water,” he said. “The further into the season the darker the syrup.”
Germann indicated that because the season is short this year, the syrup will be darker than many will like. The cost of maple syrup will also go up to what he estimated would be $55 to $65 per gallon.
“I love the lifestyle,” he said. “I love the simple things in life.”
After a brief intermission, John Naple spoke about his hobby of honey making.
“When I ordered the bees and they arrived at the post office, I got a phone call telling me they were here and to pick them up,” said Naple describing how the bees were shipped. “They were a little scared.”
Naple used a video presentation as he took the audience through a brief history of raising bees in North America. Settlers from Europe originally used straw hives before wooden bee boxes started being used in the 1850’s. Naple displayed the frames from one of his boxes and showed how the bees had created beeswax and honey in the frames. He also talked about the different layers of the box. He explained how the young are raised in the lower level and the queen bee can be kept in the lower box laying eggs by using an “excluder.”
Naple talked about the three types of bees: workers (females), drones (males) and the queen, who mates only once and is fertile for life, and can lay up too 2000 eggs in a day. Worker bees live only four to six weeks and spend much of that time taking care of the hive and producing wax and honey. Naple described how he he burns burlap and straw to create smoke to make the bees less aggressive as he opens the boxes. He also described cutting the wax out of the frames and boiling it to separate the wax to make honey. Naple said that he harvests honey in first week of September and that one box can produce up to 30 pounds of honey.
“A friend of mine got me started,” said Naple on his hobby. “I like to eat honey. It’s cool to make your own.”
Visit the Amsterdam Free Library’s web site for a schedule of upcoming educational events like this one.