NOS Mission

Nevada Outdoor School inspires exploration of the natural world, responsible stewardship of our habitat and dedication to community.
This is the spot for us to share stories, fun ideas or general musings. When you aren't in here, we hope to see you out there!

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Winter Harvest

While harvesting is far from most of our minds in northeastern Nevada right now, did you know that there are some things that are only harvested in winter?  Maple syrup is one of those things.  Maple syrup harvesting takes place when nights are in the 20 degree Fahrenheit range, and days are in the 40 degree Fahrenheit range.  Sugar Maple trees have the highest sugar content, but other varieties of maple trees can also be used.  Healthy trees that are at least one and a half feet in diameter are used.  On the sunniest side of the tree a hole is drilled about 3 feet up from the ground, about 2 inches deep into the tree.  A tap is placed firmly into the tree and a bucket is hung from the tap.  The sap (which becomes the syrup) is collected every day and either boiled and canned or stored in cold storage for further processing. 

Where does the maple syrup come from?  It is like a hibernation strategy for the trees.  In cold climates, trees store starch in their trunks and roots before winter arrives.  That starch is later converted into sugar that rises up in the sap in late winter and early spring.  Sap is filled with nutrients and minerals, and is used to carry energy out to the branches and new buds in the spring.  For those who remember high school biology or are botanists (those who study plants), sap is the combination of xylem and phloem.  Simply speaking, xylem forms the channels through which water, nutrients, minerals and phloem, the sticky sugary stuff flows.  Most trees can produce 5 to 15 gallons of sap per season!

Just because we don’t live in a place that produces maple syrup doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it, especially during these dark and cold winter days.  Eating healthy is a good way to fend off the winter blues. For example, making a fresh kale salad with carrots, radishes, beets and a fruit like a pear, topped with a Maple Balsamic Dressing may brighten your day.  Combine 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, ¼ cup olive oil, 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, and ¼ teaspoon sea salt for the dressing (  Toss with your salad and enjoy.

In Nevada, the extremes of temperature and dryness impacts what we can grow and when we can harvest.  Depending on where you live, which seasonal fruits and vegetables are grown and when they are available from local producers will vary. Much of Nevada is in the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) zones 5 to 7, while the southern tip (including the Las Vegas area) is in zones 8 and 9.  The USDA Zones are useful to estimate planting and harvesting timelines.  The estimated last frost dates for Elko and Winnemucca are June 18.  The estimated first frost date for Elko is August 20 and for Winnemucca August 26.  These frost dates help gardeners start their seedlings to optimize planting and harvest times.  In Nevada there are a variety of foods, such as beets, broccoli, kale, and spinach, that can be harvested as late as October. 

Since most of the harvest in Nevada happens during the late summer and early fall, learning how to preserve food is a great way to be able to eat homegrown food year around.  Canning provides an extended shelf life, typically up to around 5-years, while maintaining nutritional value.  Canning can be highly technical and there are physical and toxicological hazards associated with canning, so it is a good idea to learn from someone who is experienced.  

However, canning can also be simple.  For example, here is an example of a simple pickling recipe to extend the life of cucumbers.  In a ½-pint lidded jar, place thinly sliced cucumbers.  Add 1 teaspoon salt, one sprig of dill roughly chopped, ¼ cup white vinegar, and 1 tablespoon water.  Close jar, shake to distribute the ingredients and place in refrigerator.  Enjoy your pickles after 2-hours, but ideally overnight.  Pickles will be good in the fridge for 3 - 4 weeks. 

It may be cold outside, but appreciating that yummy things are still being produced and learning new skills helps us to find joy during these months.  Having a good attitude is good for humans everywhere. 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Destination Recreation: Lovelock Cave

While it may not be far, it is quite a unique historical trip! Lovelock Caves, located 18 miles outside of Lovelock, NV, is a perfect day trip for those who want to get out of the house but may not have the resources to go on a big excursion. The cave itself is surrounded by a short hike, about a half mile in total, where it features several numbered stops along the way featuring plants, animals, and geological formations that are key factors to the cave's importance. 

Lovelock Cave is well known for its historical findings of artifacts including duck decoys, arrowheads, human remains, and bat guano. The duck decoys were one of the greatest discoveries in the cave. Eleven duck decoys were found in total, and at 2,000 years old they are the oldest duck decoys found anywhere in the world! Many of these artifacts are located at the  National Museum of the American Indian of the Smithsonian Institution, including the original duck decoys. The Cave received the heaviest use between 2,000 BC and 1,000 AD during which water was more plentiful and the area was rich in plant and animal resources. Unlike today, where it is warm and much dryer with the decline in the lake water.

Duck decoys, circa 400 BC-AD 100, are in the National Museum of the American Indian of the Smithsonian Institution. (Courtesy/Ernest Amoroso)

Lovelock Cave is on the National Register of Historic Places, making it one of many sites in the United States that are key to interpretation of our nation’s past and present. As an honored place, Lovelock Cave deserves our admiration and respect. Please follow the Leave No Trace Principles and “leave what you find” so others after you can come and enjoy the same scenery that you did.


Enjoy the Journey!