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!
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
(cleaneatingkitchen.com). 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.