Spring? Is that you?

By: Jen Skala

Activities in South Hill Forest Products have always revolved around the weather. Our maple trees start producing sap when days are above freezing and nights are still below freezing, we boil it down to syrup when the sap’s been running strong and has given us a large amount of sap to work with, and we end our syrup season with the bottling of our favorite pancake topping! This year we were able to produce 8.5 gallons of syrup - a step down from recent years but a very good yield for this years group of volunteers!

Even though our maple syrup might be done for the year, we’re far from idle! We’re launching straight into production of our hickory syrup, and will soon be thinking about our bees and they come out of hibernation! And, of course, getting ready for our open house at the end of the month where visitors can come see the result of all our hard work!

Just a small sampling of all the syrup we’ve been able to produce this year!

Just a small sampling of all the syrup we’ve been able to produce this year!

We've Got Some Explaining To Do...


By Sam Castonguay

If you haven’t snooped around the rest of our website just yet, please let me be the first to excitedly introduce you to South Hill Forest Products: a student-run, non-timber forest products business with guided learning and experimentation at its core.

The business has its home base at Ithaca College and is regularly powered by students enrolled in the Environmental Studies and Sciences Department’s “Non-Timber Forest Products” course. The class - led by Professor Jason Hamilton - seeks to educate students about the ins and outs of products like maple syrup and honey while simultaneously inspiring students to reframe their understanding of “environment” and “community”.

Class has been in session every spring semester for the last ten or so years. That is, until now.

This semester, our fearless leader Professor Jason Hamilton is on a well-deserved sabbatical leave. Thus, he is unable to lead a Non-Timber Forest Products course for Spring 2019. Determined to keep the business going and the knowledge flowing, one of our very own team members stepped up to manage operations through the creation of a Non-Timber Forest Products club: the one and only Jen Skala.

Jen is a senior Ithaca College student embarking on her final semester in the 607. Given her 2+ semesters of experience and passion for the creation of our products, Jen is more than suitable to lead our team in Jason’s absence.

Jason won’t be too far away though, as he will be spending his sabbatical in Ithaca to develop a new course on beekeeping. Thanks, Jason, for always thinking of your students and new things to teach us.

So why did Jen and the rest of the team decide to voluntarily give up their free time to boil maple sap at 3am on a school night?

Four main reasons:

  1. To ensure that anyone who wanted to take the course this semester had the opportunity to do so in some capacity

  2. To provide the students who enroll in the Spring 2020 Non-Timber Forest Products course with some prior experience

  3. To further connect with and learn from the supportive community in and around Ithaca, NY

  4. We love what we do

We did have to moderately downsize our operation this year due to the switch from for-credit labor to voluntary labor. In other words, we have narrowed our focus to the production of maple syrup, hickory syrup, and wood-carved items (primarily spoons). Our maple syrup operation was also reduced from roughly 110 trees tapped to about 60 trees tapped.

Not to worry, though! We will still host our annual Sugarbush Open House on Saturday, April 27th, 10am – 2pm, at our sugarbush on the end of Rich Road (Ithaca, NY). Expect the usual: signature South Hill Forest Products pancakes (regular, vegan, and gluten free), sugarbush tours, open fires and ‘shmallows for roasting, activities for all ages, and lots of spoons n’ syrups. We can’t wait to see you there!

In the meantime, please explore the rest of our website and business! You can learn more about our history, meet the team, scope out our products, and see what we’re cooking up for the future!

Want to learn more about what we’re up to this semester? Feast your eyes on this article written by the Ithacan.

Hickory Cupcakes: A Recipe

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 9.34.04 AM.png

By Sam Castonguay

Howdy there, hickory-happy humans! We have a hickory squad update and bangin’ cupcake recipe for you this week!

A few weeks ago, we had a birthday in the South Hill Forest Products team! One of our beloved Hickory Squadron members was celebrating her 20th birthday! To make sure she had one of the best non-timber birthdays around, the team whipped up a batch of these spectacular hickory cupcakes with hickory fudge frosting. The recipe is about an easy to moderate difficulty rating, but I’m sure that difficulty level will drop off when you aren’t making these bad boys in a dorm room kitchen. Oh, the perks of college life!

Check out the recipe below!

For the cupcakes (makes ~24):

2 ½ cups sugar

¾ cup hickory syrup

2/3 cup butter (softened)

3 large eggs

¼ teaspoon salt (we like sea salt)

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 ½ cups flour

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon nutmeg (optional)

¼ teaspoon ground ginger (optional)

1.     Cream together butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy

2.     Add eggs, vanilla, and hickory syrup and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes

3.     In a separate bowl, lightly mix together all dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, and spices) with a fork

4.     Add in dry ingredient mixture alternately with milk (in other words, add 1/3 of dry ingredients, then 1/3 of milk, and repeat until both are all added into the mixture). Mix well.

5.     Pour batter into cupcake tins, filling each tin 2/3 of the way full.

6.     Bake at 325⁰ for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.

7.     Cool to room temperature before frosting

For the frosting:

½ cup butter

1 cup packed brown sugar (we make our own using white sugar and molasses)

¼ cup of hickory syrup

¼ cup half n’ half (or milk)

2 cups powdered sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1.     Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.

2.     Add brown sugar and allow mixture to reach boiling; Boil for 2 minutes

3.     Remove from the heat; add the cream or milk, stirring slowly, and then return the saucepan to the heat.

4.     Remove the saucepan from the heat as soon as the mixture starts boiling again and cool until lukewarm

5.     Beat in sugar and vanilla, beating it until mixture becomes fluffy

Garnish with hickory nuts (or almonds, if you’re cheaters like us.)

Hey Professors, Say "Yes" to Your Students


By Gabriel Shapiro

The Ithaca College Alumni Association hosts a monthly speaker series called “Brains in a Bar”, in which members of the IC community talk about their educational pathways in an informal bar setting. At the Range on the Ithaca Commons last week, our professor Jason Hamilton was the star of the show. He told the story of this class, Non-Timber Forest Products, to a crowd of students, faculty, administrators, and members of the greater Ithaca community.

Free drinks were had, a table was set up to sell our handmade goods, and there was free food with maple syrup for tasting. After mingling for a little while and building excitement for the show, Jason took the mic and started the story.

He talked about the unforeseen path that his career has taken, from being a biology professor to a forest product wizard. He joked that he was forced into it by a “grand scheme” on the part of his students. He ended up taking courses and getting certifications in order to teach skills such as carving, beekeeping and maple sugaring.

Jason started Non-Timber Forest Products around 2007 with a small mushroom growing operation. A few years later, it expanded with an attempt to tap maple trees. Over time, students asked to be taught how to make all sorts of forest products, and Jason said yes. From trees to bees to mushrooms, spoons, salves and soaps, the class evolved through student interest and Jason’s willingness to learn new things and then teach them. Ten years later, the class is large, passionate and committed to the whole line of South Hill Forest Products.

Jason mentioned how his colleagues noticed changes in him over time. While he began to focus on things like herbalism, maple syrup, and woodworking, he spent less time in the classroom and more time in the woods and fields. They began to notice that not only was Jason different, but his outfit itself had also changed. As he was telling us this story, he was slowly pulling off his nice shirt, tie and dress pants, to reveal his more typical outfit of a t-shirt, work pants, and muck boots.

Besides his slick storytelling techniques which had us all laughing, Jason was making a serious point that all of the students present understood on some level. Modern education is trapped in the classroom. We all suffer from nature deficit disorder. Traditional conceptions of professor and student are useless in the process of collective learning. Being connected to the forest in tangible ways is a pathway to good health and self-reliance in a time of global uncertainty.

To finish his speech, Jason said, “the lesson is: you just gotta say yes, and let them go where they want to go.” That is what I like to hear from my teachers. I am grateful for Jason  making the choice to listen to students, because what came out of that whole process is one of the most valuable learning experiences I’ve ever encountered. This is what I wanted when I decided to go to college: skills that will help me survive and thrive in the world, and especially in the forest.

As the annual South Hill Forest Products open house approaches, students are busy carving spoons, checking the beehives, boiling maple sap, making baskets and creating many other delightful products. Mark the date April 21st in your calendars! Bring your friends, because at the open house you will be introduced to our whole operation. For more information, check the South Hill Forest Products Facebook page, or explore our website.

Spring, is that you?

By Adriana Del Grosso

Since we’re based out of Ithaca, New York, the members of South Hill Forest Products are used to around seven long months of winter weather a year. Even today, the day the calendar marks as the first day of spring, temperatures are below freezing. There's snow lingering on the ground from a few days of winter weather last week. Although we are appreciative of winter, we're looking forward to seeing signs of spring soon. 

We experienced some especially unseasonably warm weather around the time of our boil a few weeks ago. While running errands to get ready for the boil one day, we noticed some activity around our bee hives. The warm weather had caused the bees to awaken from their overwintering state and we were excited to see that they were out and about.  

Because winter is an important part of the lifecycle of all creatures, we realize that there is no need to rush spring. It’s colder again now, and we hope that our bees rest well until the official spring thaw. 

However, we’re looking forward to warmer temperatures and to honey in our future. 

Some of last year's honey harvest.

Some of last year's honey harvest.

To celebrate our bees and their perseverance through this winter, here’s a delicious, warm recipe using honey that you can make at home! 



3 medium sweet potatoes or garnet yams, scrubbed 

1 Fresno or other red chiles, thinly sliced

¼ cup honey

4 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar


Preheat oven to 400°F. Poke holes all over skin of sweet potatoes and wrap each in foil. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until potatoes are tender, 45-60 minutes. Unwrap and let sit until cool enough to handle. Combine chile, honey, and butter or oil in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over low heat, stirring to combine. Remove from heat and stir in vinegar.

Cut or tear cooled potatoes into bite-sized pieces (including skin), the more irregular, the better. Place in a large bowl and drizzle with half of honey mixture (do not include chile as it will burn); season with salt. Arrange pieces, skin side down, in a single layer on an unlined rimmed baking sheet and roast until browned and crisp around the edges, 20–25 minutes. Drizzle with remaining honey mixture and serve.

Happy Spring Equinox! 

The Boil

The folks at South Hill Forest Products wrapped up our first maple syrup boil of the season recently. We use wood fires to reduce our maple sap to syrup, a rustic method that is as time- and labor-intensive as it is rewarding. During our boils, students work around the clock. Students continuously chop wood, add sap to the boiling pans, and tend to the fires until the boil is complete.

The boil has begun!

A post shared by Ithaca College (@southhillforestproducts) on

Here's one student's account of our most recent boil:

By Ryan Price

Are you chopping?

Chop. Stir. Add Sap. Repeat.

Did you miss a piece of wood? Try to chop it again. It needs to be smaller.

Don’t stop pedaling the old air mattress pumps used as billows to blow air into the fires either. If the fires aren’t shooting flames out of their smoke stacks, they aren’t hot enough. Add more wood and more importantly add more air to the scorching wood. Singe the hair off your arms and hands as you wave old blue foam butt pads in front of the fire’s flames.

Taste the sap before you add it to the warming pan. You don’t want to ruin the batch. Also, don’t forget to check your boiling pan’s levels, too low and the sap could burn, too high and the sap won’t be boiling. Skim the foam off the top too. Don’t be afraid to taste it either.

Sip some coffee. Your shift doesn’t end till 3 a.m. and it’s only 10. Your speaker and phone died about two hours ago. Luckily, your head lamp light still works, even though the moon and fires light the forest. Your classmates hum campfires songs. Take a break for a second, drink some water. Chop wood while you wait for your relief to show up.

Go home that night. Fall asleep with ash smeared across your face. Smoke is your new deodorant of choice. Consider taking a shower, but don’t because you know you’ll cry once you wash away the dirt. Plus, in 8 hours after sitting through your classes, you’re going to be back in the sugar bush chopping wood and boiling more sap.

In teams of 4 or greater students worked 24/7 doing this. Students started boiling sap Monday, February 26 at 8 am and finished the outdoor portion of the boil Thursday afternoon. Working in a record time students boiled roughly 500 gallons of sap.

As the sap collected grew smaller and smaller so did the fires. The sap, which had turned into syrup, simmered in the pans and gained a higher and higher sugar concentration. Once they were sugary enough the pans were removed from the fire leaving behind a pile of burning ash with nothing to heat.

What the Heck is Hickory Syrup?!

By Sam Castonguay

We’re so glad you asked!

Hickory syrup is yet another delicious, golden brown liquid that the forest was kind enough to grace us with. You can use it just as you would maple syrup: with pancakes, as a beverage sweetener, on vanilla ice cream, and much more! It has a beautifully smoky flavor, followed by toasty notes of molasses, honey, and grandma’s love.

Harvesting the characteristic shaggy bark of the shagbark hickory.

Unlike the more traditional maple syrup, hickory syrup made using just the bark of the shagbark hickory tree. There’s no tree-tapping or sap removal involved, but harvesting bark certainly does not make the process any easier for the tree. The shagbark hickory tree takes its name from the loose plates of bark that jut and curl outward from its trunk. Not a very original name, if you ask us. But you didn’t, so we’ll move on to reveal how we make our scrumptious hickory syrup:

Once enough bark is collected – measured in “toaster loads” by the South Hill Forest Products Hickory Squadron – it is taken indoors and thoroughly scrubbed to remove any not-so-tasty debris. The bark is then roasted to perfection in our state-of-the-art toasty box and steeped in boiling water to make a deep, earthy tea.

Next, the tea mixture is strained, returned to the heat, and mixed with enough sugar to power 30 rambunctious toddlers for weeks! The simmering process continues until the syrup is sweet, relatively thick, and reaches the magic number of 67 Brix on our refractometer (see some of our earlier blog posts to learn more about this device). All that’s left to do is pour it over your favorite breakfast dishes!

Click the image to purchase our hickory syrup!

Click the image to purchase our hickory syrup!

But why stop there? Check out our recipe for Hickory Nut Fudge below.

Be warned, though; hickory nuts are a tough bunch to crack!

Hickory Nut Fudge

½ cup of butter

1 cup of brown sugar

¼ cup of milk

¼ cup of hickory syrup

2 cups of powdered sugar

½ cup of crushed hickory nuts (or walnuts)

Line an 8x8 inch pan with foil or parchment paper, letting the foil or paper extend over sides. Grease lightly with cooking spray. Sprinkle half of the cracked nuts in the bottom of the pan. Melt the butter, brown sugar, syrup, and milk over low-med heat. Turn the heat up to medium and cook until the sugar is completely melted and the mixture turns to a caramel color and thickens slightly. Remove from the heat. Add the powdered sugar and stir until completely dissolved. Mixture will be quite thick now. Spread in the pan; cool on the counter top and then refrigerate until firm (2 to 3 hours). Remove foil/paper and cut into squares.

Welcome Back!

by Carley Newman


Gone are the days of pouring brown tinted corn syrup over your perfectly golden pancakes! Maple syrup season is upon us and our new team of student employees couldn’t be more excited to befriend Ithaca's generous Sugar Maple! 

On the first day of class we went to the Sugar Bush and listened to a story of Nanabozho, the Anishinaabe Original Man. He noticed that people of villages became careless and lazy as they sat beneath sugar maples catching thick, sweet syrup on their tongues, taking for granted the gifts of the world. He then took the responsibility of diluting the sap to make 40 gallons produce only 1 gallon of syrup. This lesson of responsibility and gratitude set a foundation for the months to come. 


In the beginning of the semester, we were gifted a few days that reached into the 40s, followed by nights dipping below freezing. These conditions are ideal for sap flow through the tree, out of the tap and into our collection buckets. 

The trees have provided nearly 9 barrels of delicately sweet sap. Student teams have been working in the lab and among the forest prepping the Sugar Bush. Buy more barrels. Check. Order more jars. Check. Rebuild fire pit. Soon to be check. At this rate we look forward to having our first boil of the season this Thursday, February 22nd!  

All of us are so excited to embark on this journey! We get sappy just thinking about it. Hopefully you'll be joining us weekly for more blog updates. Peace and gratitude my fellow forest folks! 

Spring Cleaning

Maple syrup season is officially over and that means that it's time to do some spring cleaning of the sugarbush.  A group of us headed out to the sugarbush last week to collect the buckets and taps from the trees since the sap had stopped flowing.  It was foggy and swampy but our intrepid crew collected the buckets and other equipment from our over 100 tapped trees.  After collecting the buckets, they had to be brought back to campus to be washed so they are clean and ready to go for next year's maple syrup season.

We also had to collect the large barrels that we had used to store all of the sap and clean those as well.  It was definitely an adventure to get all of the barrels out of the sugarbush, into a car, and then into the greenhouse where we could wash them.  It's important to wash all of the buckets and barrels as soon as possible so that bacteria or mold don't have the chance to grow and contaminate future maple syrup.  We are continuing to clean up the sugarbush and work on our other products for our open house on Sunday, April 23 from 9-3.

Spring Update!

Our working semester is already more than halfway over! Since the heavy mid-March snowfall, and hopefully the last of the frigid temperatures, we have not collected much more sap, but there is plenty to do!

Everyone was disappointed when our last sap boil resulted in some pretty nasty smelling liquid. After barely recovering from the exhaustion of the first boil, we started up on round two since the sap had been flowing nonstop. We began at 10 am and spent all day stoking the fire and chopping wood. At about 4 am, we finally came to the realization that the sap no longer tasted like sweet delight, but instead had a rather unpleasant odor. It was time to abandon ship and pour out the liquid gold our gracious sugarbush had provided. It was disappointing, but I think everyone was happy to go back to bed.

Now is the time to prepare for the arrival of the bees, continue to grow the oyster mushrooms, carve away wood for handcrafted utensils, and much much more. Even though it is a month away, we will also have to begin preparations for the open house! Non-Timber Forest Products, the class that runs the business, is very unique in that it allows each participating student to pursue their own forest product passion, while still learning a little about each of the other products we offer. Personally, I have enjoyed boiling sap immensely, but more than anything I am looking forward to keeping the bees. It is quite amazing to see how this type of project can highlight the unique passions and talents of so many individuals and pull them together to create something larger and really beautiful. Stay tuned for more information about the open house and wish us the best of luck! Spring is right around the corner!  

Finishing Touches - Indoor Boil

After the completion of our first outdoor boil, we then moved to an inside boil to refine the syrup to its final, sellable state. The inside boil process is quite simple, and much less time consuming then the outdoor boil. The process began with boiling the syrup in 4 large buckets on hot plates in our lab until we reached the right sugar content, which is around 67%. We measure this using a neat piece of equipment called a refractometer.


Once the syrup has the right sugar content, we filter it several times to ensure that there is nothing left in it except beautiful, delicious syrup! Next comes the bottling process, which I always find to be a very rewarding experience, as there is something fulfilling about seeing how much all the hard work we have put into this process pays off. We ended up bottling a little over 12 gallons from this boil! That is a record breaking amount of syrup for one boil, and I think its safe to say we all feel proud of all the work we put in. Our next boil starts soon, and we are looking forward to making even more syrup, so stay tuned for updates!

Our First Boil - A Reflection

The first boil is over, and with its conclusion, we made South Hill Forest Products history. The boil, which took 103 hours, was nearly twice as long as the previous record length boil.  Over the course of my shifts at the sugar bush, I learned about and practiced the jobs required to keep a maple syrup boil running. There was the wood chopping, the fire tending, the sap filtering and of course, the morale boosting.

The biggest lesson for me, however, was seeing the dedication of the students to this process. It takes a lot of care and a lot of consideration to boil sap down into maple syrup and those things were never lacking. Some spent hours upon hours at the boil and some even nights upon nights there. As the boil went on, the students got less sleep and more dirty, but they never stopped working to make that delicious maple syrup.

It’s hard visualize this level of dedication without seeing it for yourself – I certainly was not expecting it. When you try our maple syrup, appreciate its taste of course, but also consider the hard work put into it and it’ll taste even better.  Stay tuned for more information about the boiling process and the bottling of the first maple syrup of the season!

The First Boil!

We've started the first maple syrup boil of the year! Our students have been working hard to collect sap every single day from the sugar bush; with upwards of 400 gallons now, we’re ready to reduce it down to some delicious maple syrup.

Starting at 8 am this past Sunday, students have been out at the sugarbush boiling down the syrup. In order to get it ready, the sap has to be boiled from 2-4% sugar to about 66-68% sugar concentration in order for it to be sold. The sap boil starts out as an intense process of continuously boiling the sap.

Beginning as an outdoor boil over a woodfire, students are out in the middle of the sugarbush 24/7, working hard to watch the boil and chop wood for the fire. TAs and experienced students will spend a lot of their time coaching the rest of the students through the first boil, making sure everything is going smoothly. Once we've finished the outdoor boil, we’ll bring the boiled down sap into the lab for the finishing touches: a final bit of boiling and filtering to get the syrup sale ready. Stay tuned to hear more about the process and soon enough we’ll be bottling up our wonderful maple syrup, perfect for anything from pancakes and waffles to popcorn and granola!

Mushrooms: Delicious and Ecologically Important!

Mushrooms - arguably the most important organism to a healthy ecosystem yet easily overlooked. All I knew about mushrooms before reading Paul Stamets’ book "Mycelium Running" was that they were a great topping for pizzas and had a nice chewy texture in my omelets. However, mushrooms are much more important than just food for us. In fact, what we eat is not even the main part of the mushroom!

Some oyster mushrooms grown by SHFP in past years!

Some oyster mushrooms grown by SHFP in past years!

A complex network of single cell width ‘roots’ underground called mycelium are the actual body of the mushroom. Mycelial mats, the entire network of one organism, can stretch for acres! The largest mushroom ever recorded measures 2,384 acres in Oregon’s Blue Mountains. Mycelium excrete enzymes and acids to break down molecules from dead plants into smaller molecules they can absorb as food. These nutrients could not be processed by any other organism and they would be locked out of the ecosystem if it were not for fungi. Hence their title as ‘nature’s recyclers’.  Not only is mycelium how the mushroom feeds, but it is also crucial to nutrient transport in soil among plants, water filtration, soil remediation, soil structure and more!

So what about the fruiting body of the mushroom we all know and love? When conditions are right, mycelial cells start to clump together to form a baby mushroom that will grow and mature in a matter of days. Most mushrooms have a stem and cap with gills on the underside of the cap. However there are some mushrooms that grow in thin disks like Turkey Tail and others can look like a large clumped bouquet of popcorn like cauliflower mushrooms. Gills on the underside of the mushroom, the hymenium, house special structures called basidia which shoot out spores at a force 10,000 the times astronauts experience getting into orbit! Once the spores find a suitable environment they start to grow strands called hypha that will need to meet with another compatible hypha to fuse and create a new mycelial network.

That’s some basic information about mushrooms but we have only scratched the surface. Stay tuned for more about mushrooms in our later blogs and for more information on the mushrooms we at South Hill Forest Products are growing for sale!

Recipe for Maple Granola!

Interested in ways to use maple syrup aside from atop your morning pancakes? Why not try granola? This recipe has fewer ingredients, less sugar, and is cheaper than pretty much any granola you can find in a store.  We made and tested this and this recipe gets our approval!

Dry ingredients:

  • 3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 cup roughly chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 pinch salt

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup coconut oil (melted)
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 275F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a smaller separate bowl, combine wet ingredients and stir to prevent them from separating. 

Granola ingredients.jpg

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly so that the dry ingredients are completely coated and all the ingredients are fairly uniformly distributed. 

Press the granola in an even layer on the baking sheet and place the sheet in the oven. Bake for one hour. After an hour, rotate the pan and turn the oven up to 300F. Bake for an additional 15 minutes. For less clumpy granola, stir gently a couple of times while the granola bakes. Remove the sheet from the oven and allow to cool completely before storing.

This recipe can easily be adapted depending on your preferences. Any kind of nut or seed can be used in place of the almonds, pecans, or sunflower seeds. You can add more coconut if you’d like, or leave it out completely. If you prefer sweeter granola, add a couple tablespoons of brown sugar to the dry ingredients.  

Carving Workshop!

This week, we at SHFP are learning how to carve so that we can bring you a whole new stock of handmade spoons, knives and other cutlery! On Monday, Jason Hamilton ran a carving refresher course for the Teaching Assistants so that all of the new student workers can be as safe and knowledgeable as possible regarding carving techniques. He outlined different cuts and grips all while discussing how carving should have a natural rhythm and flow.

Transitioning between cuts and grips should be a smooth process and by seeing a demonstration of the proper grips and positions, the TAs learned how to properly teach the new workers to be safe and professional while carving. This week, the students will learn the basic carving cuts first on soft pine wood and then progress from there.

Make sure to watch for our progress because we cannot wait to show you our new handmade cutlery!  

Welcome back to South Hill Forest Products!

Hello everyone!  We are the new students behind South Hill Forest Products for the 2017 season and we could not be more excited to continue the great work of our predecessors.  We started this season off with a bang because the warm spell at the end of January made conditions right for the sap to start flowing.  

After some introductions and a demonstration on how to tap trees, we got right to work tapping the trees in our sugar bush to begin the maple syrup season.  We finished our tapping and were rewarded when the warm temperatures of the following day brought a huge sap flow to fill up almost five barrels of goodness!  Once we get more sap, stay tuned for a post about our first boil.

The 2017 South Hill Forest Products Team after tapping our maple trees!


We are so thrilled for this season of South Hill Forest Products and we will keep you updated with what we are working on right here so stay tuned!

It's time for BEES!

Now that syrup season has calmed down, it's time for South Hill Forest Products to make more of their other amazing non-timber first products, such as: honey, soap, spoons, knifes, salves & a bunch of other goodies! 

BUT, since this blog post is titled " It's time for BEES", we are going to spend some time talking about the little critters.

The apiary, a bee yard where bee hives for honey bees are kept(try saying that 3 times over, WOWZA), at Ithaca College is in FULL FORCE. Students from the Non-Timber Forest Products class at Ithaca College will be planting perennials and wildflowers around the apiary in just TWO WEEKS! Planting perennials and wildflowers is important for pollinators to survive! So if you have a yard and/or garden please plant native flowers, perennials or wildlifowers! It makes your yard smell glorious, helps the bees (and other pollinators) & your yard will look beautiful!

MMMM Honey... Pooh bear isn't the only one who loves honey! Let's talk about how honey is made.

              Honey gets its start as flower nectar, which is collected by bees, naturally broken down into simple sugars and stored in honeycombs. The unique design of the honeycomb, coupled with constant fanning by the bees’ wings, causes evaporation to take place. The evaporation makes a thick, sweet liquid, which we all know as honey!

             The color and flavor of honey varies from hive to hive based on the type of flower nectar collected by the bees. For example, honey made from Orange Blossom nectar might be light in color, whereas honey from Avocado or Wildflowers might have a dark amber color. In the United States alone, there are more than 300 unique types of honey produced, each originating from a different floral source. HOW COOL IS THAT!

Soon enough, the South Hill Forest Products crew will be filling jars of honey to sell! Until than, keep up with our blog on the SHFP website & enjoy our other products! We have sweet maple syrup, handcrafted knives & spoons, and mushrooms that will soon be packaged for eating! 



A Brief History and Folklore of Syrup

As you stare into a rich-golden bottle of syrup, do you ever find yourself wondering, how on earth did someone figure out how to make syrup? It’s much like asking the question of who was the first person to discover milk was a consumable substance, and could be obtained by squeezing on the udders of a cow. I’m sure we’ve all heard at some point about the intensive process of making syrup - anywhere from 43 to 86 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. So how might have anyone figured out to boil it down, let alone collect it in the first place?

Who figured it out to poke holes in maple trees and boil down what came out? The answer to that is: no one really knows! It is widely believed the Native Americans were the first to discover the beauty of syrup, and there is a plethora of folklore to support this belief. One story features a chipmunk that scratched away the bark to drink the sweet sap for a spring energy boost, and the Native Americans learned from the chipmunks to collect the sap. In another, a chieftain yanks his tomahawk out of a tree one warm day before heading off to hunt, and sap spilled out and collected in a container at the base of the tree. His wife, thinking this was water, took it home and cooked dinner in it. However, the boiling turned sap to maple syrup making the meal taste better than it ever had previously. And so syrup was discovered.

Which of these stories are true we may never know. But we do know that the early settlers of North America likely learned about maple syrup from the Natives. It became widely made when trade was halted by Britain in the 1800s. Sugar was previously shipped to the colonies, but without trade, they had no sugar canes and thus no sugar. So, they turned to maple syrup. Initially the syrup was boiled much further, until it became loaf-like, resembling common sugar. This had a significantly weaker maple flavor. The maple syrup gradings of A and B can be traced back to this time, when A was regarded as the superior syrup - because it most closely resembled the desired european sugar. B had a more distinct maple flavor and was more like the syrup we all love today. But as time progressed and the colonies later gained access to sugar again, B started to become regarded as the superior maple syrup. And today, grade B still refers to the more high quality, maple-tasting syrup!

History can be a doozy, but history regarding maple syrup is actually quite fascinating, and here at South Hill Forest Products we encourage you to read more about it. Google is a veritable treasure trove for this kind of stuff. Fun fact: maple syrup is the oldest industry in the United States. Who knew!

The early bird gets the syrup

Just four short weeks ago, the students of South Hill Forest Products held their very first maple sap boil of the season. Today, we might be starting our last sap boil until next year.

It's no secret that we've had an unusually warm winter in New York this year. The warming effects of El Niño has kept snow from falling but it also has contributed to an unexpectedly early sap flow. In order for sugary sap to be drawn up from a maple tree's roots to its branches, the temperature has to be below freezing at night and above freezing during the day. These conditions happened so early in the year that the students of SHFP tapped trees on the very first day of class, January 27th. 

Forrest and Joe tapping a maple tree

Forrest and Joe tapping a maple tree

Tapping trees so early is a bit of a gamble for maple sugarers. Drilled holes only stay viable for so long until they close up and no longer leak sap. Plenty of maple syrup producers chose not to tap their trees as early as we did. They believed the weather would turn cold again and another bout of good sap-flowing weather would occur closer to the usual start of the sap season. 

For us at South Hill Forest Products, our tap holes may not stay open long enough to take advantage of a second sap flow. However, we have been able to produce a sizable amount of maple syrup, making over ten gallons of syrup already, with more on the way!

Beautiful bottles of Amber Rich syrup!

Beautiful bottles of Amber Rich syrup!

The weather has been especially strange this year but SHFP students know how to roll with the punches. As syrup production comes to a close, we are ramping up our oyster mushroom growing, our wood carving, our hickory syrup cooking, herbalism projects and much much more!