"north carolina"

A Passion for Moths--My 2010 Moth Big Year

Clymene Moth, Haploa clymene ©Merrill Lynch

Snowflakes are falling as I type. Winter has arrived in the High Country and, I'm afraid, the end of the moth season for 2010. So now is the time to summarize my season long quest to see as many species of moths as possible at a single location. I hope the following account of my mothing big year will be interesting and inspiring to those of you out there who share a passion for the nocturnal leps. (Image to right: Painted Lichen Moth, Hypoprepia fucosa ©Merrill Lynch)

I have been interested in moths for the past ten years or so (noting new species in my tattered copy of Covell) but only started keeping detailed records in 2009, shortly after moving to Watauga County. In 2010 it became an obsession when sometime in June I added up the species I had recorded for the year and was stunned that I had close to 300 species and summer had barely begun! I then set my first goal, 500 species, which seemed at the time both realistic and reasonably ambitious. When I hit 500 species in early August, I decided to just keep at it full bore and vowed to keep the lights on and check the sheets until the last moth flew (or I was evicted from the premises by my long suffering partner!). I was also inspired by the efforts of the Tennessee moth'ers who had gotten together in the spring and decided to undertake an ambitious effort to document all of the moths in their state in 2010. (Image above right: Ailanthus Webworm Moth, Atteva punctella ©Merrill Lynch)

Before I get into the details of the big year, let me just say that I find moths infinitely interesting. For one thing, they are beautiful insects that have an incredible diversity of shapes, patterns, and palettes--even the ones that at first glance appear brown and dull reveal intricate patterns and subtly beautiful colors at closer inspection. Sorry, diurnal lepsters, but butterflies don't have anything on moths! And another thing about moths. They are ubiquitous and abundant and exist in almost endless diversity filling every conceivable ecological niche. And they literally come to you--you don't have to go and chase them! Digital photography has really opened up the moth world to closer examination and has become an essential identification tool. (Image above right: Rosy Maple Moth, Dryocampa rubicunda ©Merrill Lynch)

In 2010, I recorded 632 species of moths in my backyard, starting with a Grote's Pinion (Lithophane grotei) on March 8 and ending with Acrolepiopsis heppneri (a micromoth in the family Acrolepiidae) on November 3. (Image below right: Io Moth, Automeris io ©Merrill Lynch)

Other Parts of this Article:

©J. Merrill Lynch
Echo Valley Farm
Watauga County, NC
Elevation: 3,400 feet

A Passion for Moths--Equipment

Dark-banded Geometer, Ecliptopera atricolorata ©Merrill Lynch

Equipment: My equipment consisted of 2 sheets lighted by one 160 MV lamp located in the front yard near a small stream; one towel mounted on the sheltered wall of the house under the porch roof, lighted by a single 15W fluorescent black light; and a porch light lighted by a 15W compact fluorescent white light. I also experimented with a sugar bait concoction that I painted on a tree in the front yard. I did this periodically throughout the season and was rewarded with at least a dozen species that never came in to my lights. (image above right is of the Ironweed Borer, Papaipema cerussata ©Merrill Lynch)

My general routine was to turn the lights on around sunset and check the sheets for 1-4 hours each night, first in the early evening between dusk and midnight and again in the early morning between 3-7am (pre-dawn), leaving the lights on all night. I tried to take multiple photographs of each moth that I did not recognize and also photos of fresh specimens of all species.for photodocumentation. (Image to the right: Skiff Moth, Prolimacodes badia ©Merrill Lynch)

All of my photographs were taken with a Panasonic GH-1 using a 45mm (90mm slr equivalent) macro lens. The images were downloaded daily into my computer where I would begin the arduous task of sorting and identifying the photos to species. The identification process sometimes took days and even weeks. I relied primarily on the images on Moth Photographers Group and Bugguide websites and also consulted moth guidebooks such as Covell's Moths of Eastern North America. Occasionally, I would send photos off for identification help, sometimes to Bugguide but also to moth experts. I took over 9,000 images during the season and have photodocumentation for about 80% of the 632 species identified. (Image above left: the Hebrew, Polygrammate hebraeicum ©Merrill Lynch)

I entered the data on an excel spreadsheet that I stumbled upon on the Internet which contained a database of over 1,600 species of moths recorded in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Over 90% of the moths I've recorded in Watauga County are in this database.

Other Parts of this Article

©J. Merrill Lynch
Echo Valley Farm
Watauga County, NC
Elevation: 3,400 feet

A Passion for Moths--Location

False Crocus Geometer, Xanthotype urticaria ©Merrill Lynch

Location: All moths were recorded in my yard or in a few instances at mobile light stations set up on my property within a 1/4 mile of my house. My farm is located in northern Watauga County, NC about 15 miles north of Boone and less than one mile from the Tennessee border. It is located in the headwaters of the North Fork of the New River and is about 3,400 feet elevation. Snake Mountain (elevation--5,580 feet) is the dominant local topographic feature; the summit is about 3 miles due south. Habitat is early to mid-successional mesic northern hardwoods (containing patches of older growth forest) with a narrow open riparian zone and nearby pastures. The area around my property is very rural and dominated by a mosaic of open pasture and hardwood forest with abundant small streams and springs/seepages. The only evergreens are scattered Fraser fir christmas tree plantations and planted white pine stands.

Other Parts of this Article:

©J. Merrill Lynch
Echo Valley Farm
Watauga County, NC
Elevation: 3,400 feet

A Passion for Moths--Summary

(Polyphemus moth, Antheraea polyphemus ©Merrill Lynch)

Summary: I kept track of the nights that I actually checked the sheets and photographed moths, by month. The tally (monthly species total followed by mothing nights) is as follows:
(image to the right, The Herald, Scoliopteryx libatrix ©Merrill Lynch)

March: 9 spp; 7 nights;
April: 55 spp; 20 nights;
May: 146 spp; 20 nights;
June: approx. 200 spp; 15 nights;
July: 272 spp; 30 nights;
August: 214 spp; 28 nights;
September: 187 spp; 24 nights;
October: 87 spp; 22 nights;
November: 7 spp. 2 nights.
Grand Total: 632 spp; 168 observation nights.

The first moth of the season was Grote's Pinion (Lithophane grotei) seen at my sugar maple sap buckets on March 8 (with a foot of snow still on the ground!). Moths were few and far between until the first really mild nights of mid-late April when species diversity and numbers increased substantially. My first exciting find was an Immigrant Pinion (Lithophane oriunda) seen at my sugar bait station in early April. Recognizing its rarity, I sent off pics to various experts who corroborated the identification and confirmed the first record for this species in North Carolina! May and June brought an endless number of new species including many micros and many geometers. They also brought the first big boys, the larger sphinx and saturn moths. July was the peak month of moth diversity with 272 species recorded. August brought the first of the fall flying moths such as the borers (genus Papaipema) and September/October heralded the arrival of various noctuids collectively known as darts, pinions, and sallows. One of my favorite moths, the Large Tolype, made multiple appearances during these months. The final moth of the season was Acrolepiopsis heppneri, an interesting micromoth in the obscure family Acrolepiidae, noted on November 3.

Of the 632 species, 209 species were the so-called micros- families such as the torts (Tortricidae), grass-veneer moths (Crambidae), pyralids (Pyralidae), and plume moths (Pterophoridae)--122 species of geometers (Geometridae), 13 sphinx moths (Sphingidae), 24 prominents (Notodontidae), 19 tiger moths (Arctiidae), and 221 species of owlet moths (Noctuidae). One of my favorite groups, the Underwings (genus Catocala), were represented by 16 species. (image above left: Locust Underwing, Euparthenos nubilis ©Merrill Lynch)

I should mention that I missed a number of day-flying moths that are not attracted to lights such as the wasp mimics in the family Sesiidae, some of the day-flying sphinxes such as bumblebee clearwing, and many others. I also do not claim that my list is 100% accurate--in fact, I'm sure there are some mis-id's. I tried to be conservative and only record those species I was reasonably sure about and in some cases I left the identification at the genus level. But moth identification can be very challenging and there are many pitfalls one must traverse in the process: bad lighting or angle in the photograph can obscure important details; many species can only be identified by genitalic dissection and are visually inseparable; many species are not represented by photos (or the photos are low quality) on the various websites; some species are highly variable and come in many different color forms; many moths that are worn and have lost many of their scales simply cannot be identified; etc. I'm guessing that of the total number of moth images that I took over the season, unidentified images amounted to about 5-10 % of the total. (image above right: Giant Leopard Moth, Hypercompe scribonia ©Merrill Lynch)

To put my record in perspective, there are probably at least 2,400 species of moths in North Carolina; however, no one knows for sure because there is no official published list (although I hear rumors that Steve Hall at the NC Natural Heritage Program is working on this). This compares to 174 species of butterflies known in the state. Parker Backstrom, an avid moth'er in Chatham County, has recorded, I believe, around 700 species in and around his property over several years. Bob Patterson in Maryland probably holds the record for the most moths recorded at a single site--1000+ species-- but his record is cumulative over many years. I am not aware of anyone who has attempted a big year for moths but I'd be interested in hearing about it if anyone knows.

I should also say that I don't think my location is particularly exceptional in terms of moth diversity. I am fortunate to live in the country and have an abundance of natural habitats around me but I think my number could easily be duplicated (or exceeded) by anybody dedicated and crazy enough to devote the necessary time and energy required. Dave Beadle, the author of the upcoming field guide to moths, tells me that he has recorded over 500 species in his tiny backyard in downtown Toronto, Canada that is less than 100 square feet!

I want to thank Bo Sullivan, Parker Backstrom, Dave Beadle and Steve Hall for their inspiration, camaraderie, and identification assistance. Special thanks go to my partner, Gabby Call, for her infinite patience, understanding and encouragement. Thanks also are due all of the folks on the North Carolina and Tennessee moth list serves who provided much inspiration and encouragement.

Looking back on the year, it has been a thrill to observe and learn about such an amazing diversity of creatures, literally at my doorstep. Beauty and the diversity of life exemplified by tiny creatures that are right in front of us but we know so little about. I've developed a greater appreciation for the small things and hope that others will too. Moths are just cool, period. I hope that all of you out there who are already bitten will share your passion with others. And for those of you who have not paid much attention to moths, I hope you will give them a second look. I'm eagerly anticipating the arrival of Dave Beadle's moth guide due in 2012-- think back ten years ago when butterflying took off after publication of Glassberg's guide. And there is so much potential for folks to make contributions to science by simply observing and keeping records of these creatures; even basic life history information (flight season, food plants, etc) for many species is not known. And you never know, you may have a new species unknown to science waiting to be discovered right in your backyard. I can't imagine anything more exciting than that possibility. And finally, the most important thing to remember is that moths (and most other insects) exist in such profusion because of their long and intricate co-evolution with the plant kingdom--the conservation of biodiversity is the most important task and responsibility that we humans face.

Other Parts of this Article:

©J. Merrill Lynch
Echo Valley Farm
Watauga County, NC
Elevation: 3,400 feet

Autumn Update: From Backyard Sugarer to Commercial Syrup Production

After much preparation and anticipation, Doug Munroe's sugar house is up! In the true spirit of traditional house raising, the family gathered, coming from far off places. They brought skills, creativity, sweat, and jubilation.

The week of raising, August 1-8, was one of pure mountainous glory, as the meadows were full of flowers, butterflies fluttered about in great numbers and variety, and the skies offered several days of rain-free weather. With architectural plans in hand, a horse pulled logging crew and sawyer, a crew of experienced carpenters, and another crew providing food and drink...locust and poplar were turned into a sugar house in a week, save for some complicated connections on the roof.

As roof construction reached the final details, it became apparent that finding the right roof jack for the flue opening would be a challenge. That issue was resolved, and after many technical challenges, the roof jack was secured. Since then the roof has been completed, all the way to the cupola. A tin roof was installed, and custom flashing was made. The siding is up, and two holes were cut, making room for two large windows that hold old wavy and bubbly glass panes. Today, Doug is building a front door. Next week an electrician will arrive to install lights and wiring.

With the timing of September’s drought and the addition of the sugar house, Doug is quite overwhelmed. Like many other farmers throughout the region, there is a rush to do work that could not be done when the ground was dry and hard. Gardens are being tended for next year’s crop, remaining hay is being harvested, grading and hole digging has commenced, and the time for gathering firewood is upon us. Busy, busy , busy!

While Doug tends to his usual tasks, including the planting of saplings for his tree nursery, he’s scrambling to ensure the sugar harvest operation is ready in time for next February’s sap drop. It looks like the sugar house and related equipment will be in place in plenty of time. The final and hefty bit of work to is to install tubing. This can be a complex thing to do, especially on complex terrain. So, to gain some confidence and hands-on experience, Doug will be traveling to northern Vermont in early November for a class at a tubing demonstration site . The workshop will be held at Leader Evaporator Company’s retail facility in Swanton, Vermont (to learn more: www.leaderevaporator.com ).

The trip will also be used to save shipping costs. Doug will pick up the final pieces of major equipment needed, including 3 tanks, a custom-built evaporator and a filtering sytem. This should save nearly $500 in shipping costs! The resulting tubing experience and increased confidence in using tubing tools should bring the sugar operation to a state of readiness!

2011 production estimates: Doug anticipates that he will produce about 20 gallons of syrup in 2011. He will be selling it in 8oz. and 12oz. portions because of the limited quantity and the large amount of requests. In summer of 2011 the final remaining network of tubes and maple trees will be tied into the production system, and that will greatly increase capacity for 2012. American umbrellaleaf fruit, Diphylleia cymosa.

All images ©Devin Floyd.

Doug Munroe shares his story. Video by Sheridan Hill. July, 2010.

Links to prior articles:
Introduction 2009
November update, 2009
December update, 2009
February update, 201o
March update, 2010
Summer update, 2010

Summer Update: From Backyard Sugarer to Commercial Syrup Production

Drawing of the proposed Waterfall Mtn. Sugar House. Aaron Floyd (copyright, May 2010)

July 20, 2010. And the Sugar House will rise!
Things do move slower in the mountains, or so it seems sometimes. I certainly have a harder time continuing my break-neck multi-tasking ways when I am there. The beauty and the harshness slow you down. The steep hills, the rough winters, ....and the meadows and forests so rich with life and beauty that one is spellbound immediately upon entering this world. Ahh...it is summer in the highlands of the Blue Ridge...morning dew, the gentle breeze laced with complex sweetness, deep earthiness... and the people, up at sunrise, are busy as bees maximizing the coming bounty of fall as the inevitable struggle of winter will quickly follow.
Up at Doug Munroe's farm, on the NE side of the amphibolite mountains, preparation is full steam ahead...but not for the resulting fruits of summer and fall. Late winter brings its own sort of sweetness. The sugar maple tree (Acer saccharum) gifts its sucrose, nearly all at once, to those that are prepared to receive it!

Here is an update on Doug's effort to shift from simple backyard syrup production to commercial viability:

The utility lines are in, and RAFI (Rural Advancement Foundation International) has given this stage of construction a thumbs up. Approval on standards and quality was verified today! With major equipment arriving in October, sugar house construction must begin at once.
Over the last 4 months much preparation and planning has taken place. The site was prepared, wood milled, and plans were drawn up. Doug received a sugar house design from the University of Vermont, but the plans did not quite suit the planned site. Doug worked with Aaron Floyd to come up with a new design that would meet the unusual needs of a mountain-side site.
For detailed plan drawings, see PDF file: Sugar House Plans (by Aaron Floyd, 05/27/2010)

A volunteer sugar house construction effort will take place from August 2-7. This will mostly be a family affair, with sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, children, cousins and friends coming from afar to lend a hand. There should be four generations on hand. The goal will be to get the structure up and the roof on....in 5 days.
This week the Mountain Works horses will return to assist in the moving of milled sills and posts. With the help of those strong horses and some skilled and hardworking individuals, the sill plates, the posts, and a concrete pad should all be installed in plenty of time for the volunteer construction arriving in early August. Doug has already assigned volunteer roles, job boss included.
Black Locust is the wood of choice for these parts of the house. It is an Appalachian farm-use staple (see Native Range Map). The rot resistant wood is used frequently for fence posts, and it burns hot, lending itself well for heat production in the winter months. Locust posts have been known to last a lifetime in the ground, so this locally growing species of tree is the perfect choice for sill plate material! I should mention that this tree is considered a nuisance by many, as it is hardy and aggressive. This early successional pioneer plant will send up many new shoots when cut to the ground...you will find it advancing into freshly abandoned fields and roadsides (you may even find a fence post sprouting!). Like many hardy and invasive plants, this one can be utilized for so many things. Last spring, my nose utilized the trees' super sweet droop of creamy white flowers! Species Fact Sheet: Black Locust

If you would like to join this volunteer effort, contact Doug Munroe at 336-385-6507.

Image Sources:
>Illustrations copyright Aaron Floyd, 2010.
>Black Locust illustration borrowed from the Forest Service Silvics manual: http://www.na.fs.fed.us/pubs/silvics_manual/volume_2/robinia/pseudoacacia.htm

Links to prior articles:
Introduction 2009
November update, 2009
December update, 2009
February update, 201o

March update, 2010

A woodland hike...MST to Alligator back, NC

Today (May 2, 2010) I decided not to join my friends on their discovery hike in Virginia because my dog really needed an outing and may have been disruptive in a large group. So we went by ourselves this morning up to the Parkway where we walked on the MST (in the complete open, with 360-degree vistas) to Alligator Back, and returned. Then we took a shorter woodland hike nearby.

Here's what we discovered:

  • Coyote scat plentiful: I noticed it often here in the winter. I'm quite sure it was from Coyote as it was full of fur and we do have plenty of these critters around.
  • Bluets EVERYWHERE. Lovely.
  • Very young Rabbit Tobacco (I think).
  • Hawthorn trees blooming. I usually break off a thorn to use as my favorite toothpick. When I tried to do this today it was resistant, felt more green than brittle, so I left it alone. Perhaps the thorn starts off soft in the Spring.
  • Ant hills in close proximity to each other like black polka dots the whole mowed trail. I'm wondering if it's one colony. I heard E.O. Wilson recently speaking on his speciality, ants, as conducting great wars ("the most warlike of the whole animal kingdom.") This makes me think perhaps this was one colony. I'll see what more I can find on this. I saw no ants and didn't want to disturb the settlement so I don't know their size. May Apples in bloom.
  • One Flame Azalea in full bloom.
  • One Locust sapling in bloom (@ 1' tall). Perhaps Black Locust.
  • Young Pine Cones developing. Perhaps Pitch Pine (3-needle bundles) My husband has our camera in Mississippi or I could have better documented my finds. I looked in my flower books and online for something that looked like the "Young Rabbit Tobacco" but could find nothing.

I enjoy the Buddhist teachings, including "Signlessness"-- stepping fresh into each moment without the need to name ("sign")/compare/judge etc. I used to always run to books and maps to identify everything I saw. Then I tried to modify this habit. Today I felt I reached a happy medium and enjoyed noticing in preparation for sharing on this blog.

-Martha Magroski

March Update: From Backyard Sugarer to Commercial Syrup Production

March 11. Good News! Doug Munroe received news that he has been awarded a grant from the Tobacco Community Reinvestment Fund to jump start his project. This resource is offered by the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI). Here's a link to the current grant recipient projects (2009)...Doug's effort will be right at home!!: Current Projects
This means it's official. Doug will be able to move forward with putting in place the infrastructure needed to shift to full scale syrup production. This is exciting. This effort will serve as a very strong example of how a nearby land owners may make a living by sustainably harvesting natural resources on their land. This project will provide details of how to make the transition. There are plans to provide demonstrations and/or seminars for other farmers in the area, using Doug's effort as an example. Details on the timing of these small events will be shared as they are scheduled.

Bad News! Because of the recent rise in popularity of syrup production it appears North Carolina will begin regulating maple syrup production and sale. Up until recently, one could make syrup in the backyard and sell it at the local market without regulation. It appears this will no longer be the case. What does this mean for Doug and other farmers making the transition? ...added costs for the farmer. Doug's plans for the sugar house will probably have to change. He may be required to have a certified kitchen (including water heater, stainless steel equipment, pipes, etc.) which will increase his cost substantially. Doug has been informed that regulations have already been put in place!! It is probable that the effort to bring greater awareness to local sustainability brought about this change. An article in "Our State Magazine" featured the maple syrup farmer. The word is getting out. Too bad increased popularity means increased regulations.

This year's harvest was modest. On the side of that mountain, two feet of snow and 3-4 foot drifts has made getting around a bit of a challenge. Doug exclaimed," I haven't seen snow and cold like this since the 1970's!". Even with the recent influx of warmth, on Tuesday he still reported 6 inches of snow in the open fields.
On Sunday Doug hauled 80 gallons of sap to the cooker. By Tuesday (at the time of the interview for this article) he had collected 20 additional gallons. This year's snowy and cold February only produced 1 quart of maple syrup. So far March has produced 1.5 gallons. The adverse weather has caused a very late sap drop. Doug still cooks his sap over burning wood, all of which is gathered from the forest floor around his house. I remember how challenging it was to gather this wood last year! This year, Doug dealt with deep snow and did wood collection without the large group of wood-gathering volunteers! Believe it or not, he is hoping for another spell of very cold weather. It is the cold night and subsequent warm day that brings more sap!

All Photographs in this posting taken by Patrick Considine

Links to prior articles:

Introduction 2009

November update, 2009

December update, 2009

February update, 2010

Summer Update, 2010

February Update: From Backyard Sugarer to Commercial Syrup Production

Snow!! Since the December 18 snow that left 20 inches in Ashe County, the ground has been exposed only three days! A very wet fall and a couple of months of snow have put the brakes on everything at this mountainside farm. Basic annual rituals of planting and harvesting have been stalled. The ground is saturated. An occasional break in the snow reveals either ice or muck. The resulting stress is extra potent in the highlands...in those areas where folks use firewood on a daily basis and rely upon the bounty of their land to produce income.

Slow but steady: Doug's plans for a maple syrup farm are moving forth, slowly. He received a response to his early-bird Tobacco Community Reinvestment Fund grant application (sent in early December) from Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI). They have requested some minor corrections and clarifications. They want to know Doug's plan for getting word out to local farmers about his project. He hopes to get fairly good coverage in a local newspaper and an Agricultural Extension Agent will host a workday to share the details of the project with local farmers. In this way, farmers will get an introduction to this untapped resource and its potential to be a sustainable farming practice. They also wanted to know how much net profit is expected from this operation. The final word on whether Doug is successful in securing the grant will come on March 9, 2010. Right now things look positive.
Some small scale tree tapping and syrup production will take place again this year....with a few changes. Doug has proceeded to order new taps and tubing. The new taps will be 5/16", compared to last year's 9/16", in order to fit the tubing. He expects the taps and tubes to arrive any day now. In fact, the UPS may have attempted delivery already. Doug saw the truck turn around after trying to get up his driveway. Along with these larger items, Doug has been acquiring smaller things gradually, like a wire spooler (which will carry 1/2 mile of 12.5 gauge wire....the spooler prevents kinks) and a cordless drill for tapping trees.

Pouring sap into the cooking pan, February 2009

It is time to harvest sap: For this year's harvest, tapping will begin this week. With the new taps and tubing, the lines will run directly to buckets, and the buckets will be covered with a lid. This will be an air-tight system, which should increase efficiency substantially. Another benefit of the closed system is that the taps won't dry out during windy conditions. Doug plans to tap only 25 trees this year (we witnessed 40 taps last year...some in very hard-to-reach places) and expects a greater output because of the new system. For this year's small harvest, Doug will again rely upon an exterior fireplace and boiling pan. Some preparation work will be needed in the coming week to repair this setup...the weather has wreaked havoc on things. Yesterday Doug plowed snow and ice from the site and he anticipates needing some gravel to level things.The full upgrade to his system won't begin until the fall. This includes full installation of tubes, placement of a collection tank and the construction of a sugar house.

The outdoor fireplace and processing pan, February 2009

This summer sugar house preparation will begin. The foundation will be installed and trees from the property will be milled. Doug hopes to construct the Sugar House during the week of September 20th-24th. He is looking for volunteers, and has some commitments already (Wheeler, Louis, Steve). If enough people show up, he plans to install the extensive network of tubing planned for next year's production.

Links to other updates:
Introduction, 2009
November, 2009
December, 2009

March, 2010

Summer Update, 2010

December Update: From Backyard Sugarer to Commercial Syrup Production

A view of part of Doug's farm.
Doug has submitted an early-bird grant application to take advantage of a review process. This will point to any holes that may remain in the application.

While Doug awaits a response, he continues to study. On December 1, 2009, he made a trip to White Top Mountain, just across the NC/VA state line, to have another look at the maple syrup operation and to took notes with an eye specifically toward tubing. It is Doug’s hope to find a local source for his tubing. This may be a challenge because the tubes required are not the standard "black tubing" we see at hardware stores. Maple syrup tubes are made of a material that will not transfer a "plastic" flavor. So, he continues his search for a good source, and is preparing for the order. Within a week, and if the weather permits, Doug will begin the first step in installing the main line of tubing. This begins with running wire. Only after a main line of tubing is installed will lateral lines be installed.
For a glance at highland weather, it is 35 degrees and cloudy today at Doug’s house, with mountain peaks nestled in the clouds. Doug expects 3-6 inches of snow Saturday. Keep in mind that elevational differences. Doug's land sits at 3,200 - 3,400', and the peaks near his house rise to between 4,400-4,600 feet. Remember that the air cools on average 3.4 degrees F with each 1,000 feet of climb, which is just enough to give Doug a little extra snow every year!When he was at White Top Mountain (one can drive up to 5,440 - 5,520 feet) in Virginia on Tuesday, he encountered 2 inches of snow and a crystal clear day! Mt. Mitchell could be seen on the horizon, a view of nearly 65 miles!
Links to other updates:

November Update: From Backyard Sugarer to Commercial Syrup Production

November 1, 2009
Doug has graded the yard behind his house in preparation for building a syrup processing house. The building will be constructed from timber harvested from his land during recent thinning. This thinning was done by Mountain Works out of Todd, North Carolina using sustainable and low-impact techniques. The wood will be milled at a local mill this winter so it will be ready for construction next year. In addition to using the wood from his property for construction needs, a large recycled greenhouse frame will be incorporated.
Doug is currently planning to install tubing to the trees down slope from his house. He is plotting the main line of tubing using string. This main line will connect nearly 100 taps and plotting its path has been a challenge because of the steep and varied slopes. The line must run consistently uphill while hitting as many trees as possible. The tubes will create an airtight system and thus a vacuum. This greatly increases sap flow as it draws the liquid from the trees. He expects the output to be significantly more this coming winter. A 100 gallon tank will be placed at the bottom of this tubing run and the sap will be transported to the site of production further up the hill after the sap has dropped...saving lots of time and sweat. Last year small buckets and jugs of sap were muscled up the hill to be processed!

Links to other updates:

From Backyard Sugarer to Commercial Syrup Production

Introduction to the Project:

BRDC’s Doug Munroe of Warrensville, North Carolina lives along the northwest edge of the Amphibolite Mountains. He has worked this rocky slope for 34 years and currently operates a tree nursery there. The land rests at an elevation of about 3,400 feet upon very rich amphibolite soils. The mountain directly behind his house climbs to a height of 4,600 feet, a transition that happens in less than a half a mile. Very rich soils, very high rainfall amounts, and high elevations have created a forest dominated by yellow poplar and sugar maple. Selectively cutting the poplars is increasing the already dominate presence of Sugar Maple trees. It is Doug's hope to soon utilize this forest of Sugar Maples for commercial maple syrup production. With some simple improvements to techniques of harvesting and processing sap he plans to produce about 15 gallons of syrup this coming year.
Doug is seeking a grant from the Tobacco Community Reinvestment Fund to jump start this project. This resource is offered by the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI). RAFI "cultivates markets, policies and communities that support thriving, socially just and environmentally sound family farms" (see link to website below). It is hoped that this grant will cover the costs of purchasing an evaporator, a tube cleaner and a 750 gallon sap tank. The evaporator will allow for syrup production to increase 3-fold above the current capacity.
Links: Doug is seeking a grant offered by: http://www.rafiusa.org/ (Specific information about the reinvestment fund : www.rafiusa.org/programs/tobacco/tobacco.html )

Links to other updates:

September 15, 2009: Mountain View Elementary School

This event was a partnered effort offered by Grandfather Mountain, Blue Ridge Birders, Ashe County Gardeners, and Blue Ridge Discovery Center.

Event summary: Jesse Pope presented his program at Mountain View Elementary today,
with Doug Smith and Scott Jackson-Ricketts providing back-up. Two program sessions were offered before noon, that in total included 90 kids, with a sound approach of conversation as opposed to lecture. Education tools included two live owls, bones, feathers, visual backup with Thayers software, nests, and the the most popular...a hands -on 'build-your-own-bird' activity, based upon choice of habitat. Special thanks go to Doug, Jesse, and Scott... and to Ruth Turnmire for being the smartest and most enthusiastic teacher Scott has ever known.
After the presentation, Doug, Jesse, Scott and Ruth walked the campus and found huge trail and garden possibilities. Many ideas were discussed, with the understanding that a long term vision will be required, along with the requisite patience and persistence.