Author Archive

NTFP Highlight: Blueberries!

By Julie Miedtke

Blueberry Basics:

In Minnesota, native blueberries thrive on acidic soils (pH 4.0 to 5.0) that are low in fertility.    Blueberries are frequently found on burned-over areas from recent wildfires, areas that have been logged or sites with ledge rock or rock outcrops.  Blueberries can also be found growing along the edge of bogs.

Wild blueberry plants are readily established from seed.  As they grow, plants send out underground stems, or rhizomes, that grow on top of the ground.  Roots develop along the rhizome and produce new stems/plants. By the end of the first year, buds are formed and over winter on the plant.   The second year is dedicated to berry production.

Full sun is an essential requirement for berry production.  Plants will tolerate some shade, but overtopping vegetation limits blossoms and fruit production.

Lessons in Integrated Management:

Wild blueberries and Woodlands

An excellent example of integrating blueberry production into woodland management comes from experienced foresters.   In northern Itasca County,  a stand of mature jack pine was harvested in 1978.   The landing area, about 1.5 acres in size was designated as a permanent wildlife opening.  A year later during a field inspection, the forester noticed blueberry plants that had naturally seeded into the site—a definite benefit to wildlife.  The decision was made to manage the wildlife opening for berry production.

The site has been periodically mowed to the height of about 12 inches in 1980’s and 1995.  Overtime, willow and hazel began to encroach into the site, overtopping the blueberry plants, and vegetation treatments have been timed to not interfere with harvesting.   The managing forester is quick to note that this blueberry site is a gem and protected by silence by local families who return each year to harvest berries.

Blueberry Meadows

Lucille Lauer graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in horticulture in the 1980s.  While on campus, Lucille was able to have direct conversations with hort researchers Dr. David Wildung and Dr. Jim Luby while they were developing new cultivated varieties of blueberry plants.  Lucille was excited about the idea and looked for an opportunity to put her knowledge and skills into practice.  After college, Lucille’s family returned to Grand Rapids living on eighty acres of land.   Working with her family, Lucille developed and planted four to blueberries, and has established a thriving ‘u-pick’ business called Blueberry Meadows.  The business was started on a shoestring and has provided gainful employment for extended family and neighbors.  For Lucille, Blueberry Meadows is really about quality of life with no traffic or commute, healthy outdoor work and interactions with friends, family and neighbors who come and pick berries!

The most recent patch was established in 2006, planting two acres with Chippewa and North Blue varieties.  The meadow was fenced to keep deer from depredating the site that was cost-shared through DNR.  During the spring of 2010, Lucille obtained funding through the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and installed a 30x 72 foot high tunnel was installed over a few rows of blueberry plants.  The high tunnel will benefit the plants during cold, wet springtime weather AND to give her business an edge by producing berries earlier.

For more information:

Commercial Production in MN and WI

For home landscapes

University of Maine’s Wild Blueberry Page

13Moons

July 6, 2010 at 10:54 am Leave a comment

Thirteen Moons workshop brings people, natural resources closer together

Thirteen Moons workshop brings people, natural resources closer together

October 8, 2009 at 11:14 am Leave a comment

Birch Bark Canoe Workshop

Testing bark qualityHave you ever seen a birch bark canoe being built? Check out the upcoming Language Immersion & Canoe (Jiimaan) Building Project being held from 08 – 28 June at the Fond du Lac Reservation Cultural Museum. A team of master bark canoe builders and Ojibwe language experts will guide 8 students through the harvest of materials and creation of a birch bark canoe, a process that takes around 3 weeks. The daily workshops are open to the public and those interested can attend for as little or as much time as desired. The FDL Cultural Museum is located at the intersection of Big Lake Road and University Road off of Hwy 33 in Cloquet. Canoe building activities will occur outside under the wigwam. For information contact the Museum at 218.878.7582.

Framing the Canoe

June 4, 2009 at 11:42 am Leave a comment

Saps and Syrups in Minnesota

Maple Syrup

It’s time to start tapping the sugarbush when we start to have warm days (above freezing) paired with cold nights (below freezing). Tapping Maple trees (Acer spp.) is a great spring activity for individuals, families, and friends. The ratio of sap to syrup is determined by the rule of 86 (86 / % sugar in the sap), and is roughly 45:1. Small producers, those with only a few trees, can freeze sap until sufficient quantity has been collected for processing. Maple sap is most often processed by reducing the sap to syrup through boiling or, more recently, through reverse osmosis. The resulting Maple Syrup can be consumed, traded, or sold. In some cultures, the sap is consumed without processing as a medicinal tonic. Putting a new twist on the old, Wind Tree Winery in Cloquet, MN produces a Maple Syrup wine. Demand has exceeded supply in the last few years and prices look to be great this year.

MapleSyrupManual

Each year, University of MN Extension offers Maple Syrup Clinics in different locations throughout the state. For those unable to attend, Extension has produced several publications on Maple Syrup and there is a MN DNR video on the process. There is also the MN Maple Syrup Producers Association. Ohio State Extension’s Maple Syrup Producers’ Manual (see image below) is a comprehensive resource for producers.

Birch Syrup

When spring peepers hail the end of the Maple Syrup season, a few hardy producers switch gears and collect birch sap. Tapping birch trees is much like tapping maple, but the similarity ends there. While maple sap contains sucrose, the natural sugar in birch sap is fructose.  Birch sap, collected from Paper birch (Betula paperifyera) also contains several vitamins and minerals including vitamin C, potassium, manganese, and calcium. Native American Indians have long known of its medicinal benefits and there are many cultures that bottle the sap for a health drink. Alaska has several major producers that create a variety of birch products. On average, 100 gallons of birch sap are needed to make a gallon of birch syrup.The sap is processed differently, with boiling techniques that evaporate water and avoid burning the fructose.

Connoisseurs also tap yellow birch (B. alleghaniensis) in early spring, before the leaves unfurl.  While yellow birch bark is a known source for ‘Wintergreen Oil” the sap is sweet with a slight wintergreen taste that is boiled to create syrups and flavor beer and wine.  Yellow birch sap is known to have a sweet flavor, with very low sugar content. Stay tuned for a forthcoming post about our yellow birch tapping trial!

For more information on NTFPs:

March 20, 2009 at 12:01 am 3 comments

Drinking Maple

“One person’s trash is another person’s treasure” takes on a new meaning when applied to Minnesota’s abundant forest resources and diverse cultural traditions. When discussing Non Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) with landowners and forest resource users, I like to pose the question: “Do you really know what’s in your woods?” While this is not a case of trash versus treasure, it certainly puts a new twist on a familiar NTFP, Maple Syrup. In South Korea the maple tree is called Gorosoe.  This article from the New York Time’s International Herald Tribune details the South Korean custom of drinking Maple Sap (not syrup) to cleanse the body. Thirst is kept up with salty fish and snacks…I think we could manage that here! The sap sells for $6-7 per gallon!! Sounds like a sweet deal, pun intended, when you consider the fact that it takes roughly 45 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of Maple Syrup. (Maple Leaf photo, Jurveston, CC 2.0) maplestructure1

For more information on nontimber forest products (NTFPs):


March 9, 2009 at 11:31 am 2 comments

Nontimber Forest Products: Balsam boughs

By Natural Resources Extension educators Julie Miedtke (Itasca County) and David Wilsey (Cloquet – American Indian Programs)

Have you heard of nontimber forest products, or NTFPs? Oddly, they are defined by what they are not; meaning, NTFPs are most everything you find in the woods that is not timber. Mostly, the term refers to the many products that enhance and contribute to our lifestyles and our livelihoods. These products often have strong connections to our respective cultures and shared history and economy.

A large handmade wreath. Photo by John Krantz. Click to view original.

A large handmade wreath. Photo by John Krantz. Click to view original.

NTFPs are the berries and mushrooms we pick to eat; they are the game that sustains our families. They are the medicines that we gather and the barks we collect for baskets and crafts. NTFPs are the balsam boughs and princess pine that, when worked by Minnesota hands, become the wreaths upon our holiday doors. For some, NTFPs provide affordable outdoor recreation. For others, they generate a much-needed paycheck. For many of us, they do both.

Winter months offer prime opportunities for exploring forests and discovering NTFPs. Frozen soil conditions allow us to stray ‘off the beaten path’ in the woods. Winter provides a chance to discover bogs & swamps, swales, and islands that may seem inaccessible during much of the year. Winter excursions are memorable and invigorating but most of all will inspire greater appreciation of forests and NTFPs.

NTFP Highlight: Balsam boughs

Making a balsam wreath. Flickr photo by JMiedtke. Click photo for a closer look.

Making a balsam and cedar wreath. Flickr photo by JMiedtke. Click photo for a closer look.

Each fall, Minnesotans take to the woods to gather boughs to be clipped and woven into decorative wreaths, swags and garlands.  What used to be a family activity has grown into a multimillion dollar industry.  Minnesota is a national leader in the seasonal greens industry, shipping wreaths to every state in the nation and across the globe.

Wreath making provides seasonal employment to people all over Minnesota and there are many non-profit organizations such as scouts, 4-H, schools and churches that use wreath and garlands sales as a fund raising event.  This short and intense seasonal industry employs thousands of people in Minnesota, and allows many ‘home based businesses’ to earn a substantial amount of income.

Harvest considerations:

Northern white-cedar and balsam boughs. Flickr photo by JMiedtke. Click photo for a closer look.

Northern white-cedar and balsam boughs. Flickr photo by JMiedtke. Click photo for a closer look.

Approximately 98% of the boughs harvested for wreaths are from the balsam fir tree, Abies balsamea.  In Minnesota, bough harvesting season begins after hard frosts have “set” the needles on the branches. Other species, including northern white cedar (pictured at right) and white pine, are also gathered to create mixed wreaths.

Boughs harvested properly cause minimal harm to the tree and, in fact, can lead to more prolific branching for future harvests.  On the other hand, careless harvesting can quickly deplete and degrade the resource.

More details are in the Careful Harvest Brochure and this Extension publication, but here are the highlights:

  1. Harvest boughs in a uniform fashion from throughout the tree rather than completely stripping boughs.
  2. Harvest short, clipped boughs rather than whole branches.  Harvested boughs should be no larger in diameter than a pencil.
  3. Harvest boughs only from trees taller than 7 feet.
  4. Minnesota law requires a permit for bough harvesting from state lands.
Where to cut to ensure a sustainable bough harvest. Click to see original.

Where to cut to ensure a sustainable bough harvest. Click to see original.

Careful Harvest Brochure. Click to view original.

Before and after proper harvest of balsam boughs. Source: Careful Harvest Brochure. Click to view original.

Making wreaths

In November 2008 the Itasca County Private Woodland Committee hosted a Woodland Advisor session that focused on bough harvesting and making a wreath.  Janet Christensen, an expert wreathmaker from Deer River, taught the group how to make a beautiful, hand-wrapped, layered wreath using a 10″ wire hoop, 10 pounds of boughs and 23 pound wire.   Over the course of two hours, the group quietly clipped boughs, created layers wrapping the foliage onto the hoop.

Itasca County PWC wreath group. Flickr photo by JMiedtke

Itasca County PWC wreath group. Flickr photo by JMiedtke

To make our layered wreath, boughs were clipped in three lengths:10″ and about 6″ and 4″ –and we sorted and stacked boughs into about 50 bundles.   We secured the wire to the hoop by wrapping it around a couple of times.  Bundles were placed at an angle and wire was rightly wrapped around the hoop, securing each bundle.  The final step was creating a hook.

Ensuring a future for the resource:

To help protect the resource, members of the wreath making industry, harvesters and land managers formed the Balsam Bough Partnership in 1996.  The partnership promotes sustainable harvesting practices of the bough resources and strategies that compliment other forest management practices.  The partnership meets periodically to review seasonal needs, compliance on legislation and review permits.  The Balsam Bough Partnership has also developed educational materials for harvesters and advocates sustainable harvesting practices.

For more information on nontimber forest products (NTFPs):

December 8, 2008 at 6:10 am 3 comments


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News and information of interest to Minnesota woodland owners. Sister site to MyMinnesotaWoods.org.

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