Green Talk: Maple Taps & Sugar Shacks

February 2016

By Elizabeth G. Fagan for the Ozaukee County News Graphic on behalf of Mequon Nature Preserve, mequonnaturepreserve.org


Green Talk February 2016

The leaves of sugar maples turn from green, to yellow and orange, and then to red in the fall. Trees are tapped when they are 30 or 40 years old.

By the time Europeans arrived in what is now New England, indigenous Americans had already discovered the lovely nectar with which we drown our breakfast pancakes. When carefully boiled, they found, maple sap turns into maple syrup. Today, artificial syrups dominate the grocery shelf, but pure maple syrup is usually there, too. And it is still made the way Native Americans made it―with 21st-century tweaks, of course.

In spring, sap rises through the trunks of deciduous trees to promote growth and nourish branches and leaves. The sap of maple trees (species Acer) is relatively sweet—especially that of the tree now called the sugar maple (Acer saccharum). By drilling holes into a maple’s trunk, one can release the sap and let it drip into a bucket. Done right, the process does not kill the trees; healthy maples can be tapped spring after spring. The ideal time to gather sap is late winter/early spring, when day temperatures are warmer than 32 degrees and night temperatures still dip below freezing.

Green Talk February 2016

Tapping maples at Mequon Nature Preserve

Like any other raw food, maple sap may contain harmful bacteria. If you want to taste maple sap, boil it for a couple minutes to kill possible germs. To make maple syrup, try to get yourself into a sugar shack—an out-building with a safe place for boiling and a well-ventilated roof. When heated, maple sap loses water and creates a great deal of steam as it thickens. Cooked correctly, the result is pure maple syrup, the preferred substance of most waffles.

Green Talk February 2016 by Elizabeth Fagan

Green Talk February 2016 by Elizabeth Fagan

Mequon Nature Preserve hosts a free maple syrup demonstration on Saturday, February 27 beginning at 3 PM. Check out maples already tapped, help tap new ones, and visit a sugar shack. To register or for more information, contact Emily Biagi at 262-242-8055 or at emilyb@mequonnaturepreserve.org. The Preserve accepts donations to help build is its own sugar shack.

Visit Mequon Nature Preserve at 8200 W. County Line Rd., Mequon, WI 53097. Walking trails are open from dawn to dusk 365 days a year. Leashed dogs are welcome. Call us at 262-242-8055, look for us online at mequonnaturepreserve.org, and like us on Facebook for the latest news!

Green Talk: Lake Michigan’s Rise & Fall

January 2016

By Elizabeth G. Fagan for the Ozaukee County News Graphic on behalf of Mequon Nature Preserve, mequonnaturepreserve.org


Lake Michigan's rise in northern Ozaukee County, WI ( © 2016 Elizabeth G Fagan)

Lake Michigan’s rise in northern Ozaukee County, WI ( © 2016 Elizabeth G Fagan)

In 2014, Lake Michigan began to rise. By early September of that year, the water level surpassed its historical average for the month. Ozaukee County residents began to see the Lake swallow beaches from Mequon to Belgium. By July 2015, the Lake was up three feet from its all-time low only a year and a half before. The Lake retreated intermittently to reveal sandy beach and fresh deposits of lake stones. But high waves continued to take down stands of grasses, shrubs, and residents’ barriers between backyard and beach.

Each of the Great Lakes has an annual rise and fall cycle driven by precipitation, snow melt, and evaporation. Evaporation rates vary with air and water temperatures. Beginning in the late 1990s, a period of low precipitation and warmer temperatures causing greater evaporation created record-low water levels in January 2013.

Lake Michigan's rise in northern Ozaukee County, WI ( © 2016 Elizabeth G Fagan)

Lake Michigan’s rise in northern Ozaukee County, WI ( © 2016 Elizabeth G Fagan)

Then came the polar vortex of January 2014 and continued low temperatures. Between January 5 and 7, record-shattering cold spread across the United States. By early March, more than 90 percent of the Great Lakes had frozen over. Lake Michigan set a new record for ice cover on March 8, when it hit 94 percent. The cold caused an enormous drop in the evaporation rate, and another cold winter in 2014–15 perpetuated the trend. With lower evaporation, our Great Lake became our even-closer neighbor in 2015.

Green Talk January 2016 by Elizabeth Fagan

Green Talk January 2016 by Elizabeth Fagan

Mequon Nature Preserve hosts its free Winter Frolic on Saturday, February 6, 10 AM to 4 PM. Celebrate winter with us! Visit Mequon Nature Preserve at 8200 W. County Line Rd., Mequon, WI 53097, 262-242-8055. Look for us online at mequonnaturepreserve.org and like us on Facebook for the latest news!

Green Talk: The White Stuff

December 2015

By Elizabeth G. Fagan for the Ozaukee County News Graphic on behalf of Mequon Nature Preserve, mequonnaturepreserve.org


Green Talk December 2015

Green Talk December 2015

Basking in the near-warmth of early December, Ozaukeeans might wonder, “Where’s the white stuff?” Forecasters say the El Niño winter of 2015–16 will bring warmer-than-average temperatures, but precipitation will probably remain close to normal.

Whether it lightly powders our evergreens for Christmas or dumps heavily on our sidewalks in March, snow always starts the same way: as water vapor, ice crystals, and dust that collide in very cold clouds. Depending on air temperature, snowflakes take various shapes. The folk wisdom that no two snowflakes can be alike is almost true. It could happen, but the likelihood of two identical snowflakes forming within the lifetime of the universe is indistinguishable from zero.

Green Talk December 2015 by Elizabeth Fagan

Green Talk December 2015 by Elizabeth Fagan

Any heavy snowfall can be called a snowstorm. In a true blizzard, snow and wind combine to obscure visibility for several hours. Snow shower is a term for an intermittent snowfall, while flurry is used for very light, brief snowfalls. Thundersnow is a thunderstorm with snow instead of rain. While rare anywhere in the world, thundersnow is more common in our Great Lakes region, usually with lake-effect snow.

On the ground, snow texture ranges from the dry, light powder that skiers prefer to the heavy, wet slush that seems to fall on our driveways. Highly branched (dendritic) snow crystals create lower-density, “dry” snow. Columnar or plate-like crystals form dense, “wet” snow. With melting and refreezing cycles, even the most picturesque Christmas snowfall can turn front steps into icy hazard zones by New Year’s Eve.

Join Mequon Nature Preserve for winter camping with REI on Thursday, January 28th, 2016, beginning at 5:30pm. This season’s Winter Frolic is on Saturday, February 6th, 2016, from 10am to 4pm. Sleigh rides on the restored prairie were part of the fun at our last Winter Frolic. Like us on Facebook for more news and updates!

Open year-round, Mequon Nature Preserve is at 8200 W. County Line Road, Mequon. Visit us at mequonnaturepreserve.org or call (262) 242-8055 for more information. Like us on Facebook for news and events.

Green Talk: Remember Our Friends in Nature this Winter

November 2015

By Elizabeth G. Fagan for the Ozaukee County News Graphic on behalf of Mequon Nature Preserve, mequonnaturepreserve.org


An uncapped artesian well creates a picturesque stream alongside Mequon Nature Preserve’s headquarters. The water surfaces at around 55 degrees. It does not freeze over in winter, creating a natural water source for wildlife. Provide fresh water year-round for your outdoor neighbors, then enjoy the sight of them imbibing. (© 2015 Elizabeth G. Fagan)

The lovely weather this autumn is attributed to El Niño, an irregularly occurring climatic event. Southern Wisconsin is forecast to see, on average, a warmer, drier cold season. While we prepare for winter, plants and animals with whom we share our corner of Wisconsin do the same. Consider these special preparations for the El Niño winter ahead.

A mild winter can mean armies of garden pests next spring. To discourage them, cut back perennials and prune trees of dead wood. Leave shrubs uncut but watch for mice and voles who may nest around them.

Leave the leaves! Fallen leaves are natural mulch and compost. They are protection for such creatures as toads and salamanders, fellow soldiers against insect pests. If you rake, wait until spring and watch out for the good guys who might be hiding.

Green Talk November 2015 (© 2015 Elizabeth G. Fagan)

Common buckthorn cannot hide at this time of year. While other trees have shed their leaves, the stubborn buckthorn still sports leaves of green. It is the perfect time to hunt down this invasive and eliminate it. In particular, target the trees with purple-black berries. Another nasty invasive that is still green: the dreadful Alliaria petiolata, commonly known as garlic mustard. (© 2015 Elizabeth G. Fagan)

To seed native species, wait until there’s fallen snow, then scatter seeds across the top. These plants need cold. They sink down into the snow to soften before they germinate next spring. Spread them and leave them uncovered before the ground freezes, and you will feed a variety of critters.

Fresh, open water is a scarcity in winter. An all-season water feature in your landscape is fantastic for creatures great and small. But a heated birdbath or container of water replenished every few days will do the trick.

Keep watering your vegetation until the ground freezes. New trees and evergreens especially need lots of water to get through winter. The upcoming El Niño may be the strongest yet, and with lower precipitation, your own watering could really make a difference.

To feed or not to feed? Birds, yes, with often-filled feeders and suet to build fat and provide energy to face winter’s cold. Feeding deer, coyotes, and larger mammals is not recommended.

Green Talk November 2015 by Elizabeth Fagan

Green Talk November 2015 by Elizabeth Fagan

Visit Mequon Nature Preserve at 5:30 PM on Thursday, December 10, for a FREE performance of Kohl’s Wild Theater’s “Wisconsin Wonderland.” A collaboration with the Milwaukee Public Zoo, this kid-friendly, musical teaches people of all ages about what animals do in winter. For more information about the performance or for preparing your natural world for winter, visit Mequon Nature Preserve at 8200 W. County Line Road, Mequon, online at mequonnaturepreserve.org, or call (262) 242-8055.