Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Pancakes and Spring Golf connected?

 The trees are sprouting buckets signaling maple syrup season is upon us, normally followed by spring golf.  With unseasonably warm weather thawing out the Traverse City area could we be in for an early season at the course?  Time will tell… while you’re waiting for us to open here’s a great read on how the weather affects more than we realize

 

MASON, Mich. — Bryan Droscha spent a recent afternoon in the woods, running sap lines in a newly leased parcel that will add to his family’s maple syrup operation.

With another sugaring season beginning, there was no time to waste.

Like other maple syrup producers, Droscha had to decide on the best time to tap his trees. Do it too early and you could miss the best flows if conditions are better later. Wait too long and you could miss the best sap. Once trees start budding, the quality of the sap quickly declines.

There’s even more uncertainty this year, given the unusually warm winter that threatens to shorten the season. Some producers are collecting less sap than in previous years, or having to use more to make the same amount of maple syrup.

“I’m very concerned,” Droscha said. “We’ve had a few warm days in the past, but a week-long warm-up like we had (in February) is pretty unheard of.”

 

February was the second-warmest recorded in the Detroit and Flint areas, said Joseph Clark, meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

In Detroit, the average temperature for the month was 37.9 degrees, 9.8 degrees above normal. One stretch, from Feb. 18 through Feb. 24, saw some record-breaking high temperatures in the upper 60s and even 70 degrees.

Ideal weather for sap flow is when temperatures are below freezing at nighttime and above freezing in the 30s and 40s during the day. When the weather is well above freezing both day and night, the sap can run to tops of the trees.

Taps are drilled into a maple tree with buckets to collect sap, which is later used to make maple syrup on Saturday, March 4, 2017 at U-M Dearborn’s Environmental Interpretive Center in Dearborn.  (Photo: Elaine Cromie, Detroit Free Press)

“The sap continues to make its way to the branches of the trees where it’s going to nourish the buds,” said Rick Simek, program supervisor at the Environmental Interpretive Center at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

“If it stays warm day and night over the course of several days to a week or so, the sap mixes with enzymes in the buds and turns bitter, and that marks the end of the maple syrup season.”

Maple syrup is a multimillion-dollar industry in Michigan. Over the past four years, the state has produced anywhere from 90,000 to 148,000 gallons a year.

The season typically lasts four to six weeks. March is usually the sweet spot. This year, some producers in southern Michigan tapped as early as late January.

Steve Henson, vice chair of the Commercial Maple Syrup Producers of Michigan, tapped his trees at Doodles Sugarbush in Blanchard about a week and a half ago. He said he decided to wait out February’s warm-up because bacteria can thrive in warmer weather.

Kirk Hedding, president of the Michigan Maple Syrup Association, said prolonged warm weather, for a variety of reasons, can lead to a drop in sap’s sugar content. He owns H&H Sugarbush in Chelsea, where current conditions are mimicking what typically doesn’t happen until the end of the season.

“When the sugar content is low, you’re using almost twice as much energy to make the syrup,” he said. “Now it’s taking more gallons to make syrup. We pull in 2,000 gallons of sap a day, and we should get 40 to 50 gallons of syrup out of that. We’re only making 20 to 30.”

Droscha and other Lansing-area producers are hoping for a bounce-back season after a difficult 2016. Midwest producers struggled in 2016, even though the industry as a whole had a banner year.

“Last year, the trees never really went to sleep,” said Droscha, whose operation typically produces over 1,000 gallons a year.

Experience Program Director for the Environmental Interpretive Center, Mary Fastiggi, shows how she’s turning maple sap into maple syrup on Saturday, March 4, 2017 at U-M Dearborn’s Environmental Interpretive Center in Dearborn.  (Photo: Elaine Cromie, Detroit Free Press)

Michigan’s fruit growers also are watching the weather with some trepidation.

Apples, peaches and other fruit crops were devastated in 2012, when a streak of summer-like temperatures with highs in the 80s in March caused the trees to bloom early. Subsequent freezing temperatures caused widespread losses.

It’s a little too early to say how fruit crops might fare this year, experts say. But there’s been no sign of weather-related crop damage.

“We’re concerned, but not really worried right now,” said Mark Longstroth, a Michigan State University Extension fruit educator.

Crops need a sufficient number of “chilling hours,” or a period in which they remain dormant, over the winter before they can begin growing in the spring.

Trees in the southern part of the state are showing signs of growth. But further north, the trees probably haven’t completed their chilling requirement and wouldn’t be harmed by a cold snap, Longstroth said.

Many farmers in southern Michigan welcomed the cooler weather late last week, when high temperatures in the Detroit area were in the upper 20s and low 30s. Longstroth said it wasn’t cold enough to hurt fruit crops, but cold enough to stop them from continuing to grow. Plants and trees are the most susceptible to cold weather damage after they begin flowering.

Meanwhile, maple syrup producers and hobbyists are wondering how much more time they’ll have in their season.

Maple syrup season typically ends in mid-April at the Keller Family Farm in Almont. But this year, Richard Keller, who handles media relations for the farm, said they’re wondering whether it will last another week.

In the first four weeks of this season, the farm collected about 1,500 gallons of sap — about 3,000 gallons less than what they get in the first four weeks of a typical season.

The Environmental Interpretive Center in Dearborn has about 50 sugar maple and black maple trees with taps.

Simek said he noticed about two weeks that the silver maple trees around the center had experienced “bud break,” which is when tree buds burst in spring. Silver maples typically have bud break a week or two before sugar maples, he said.

“Since we had this spike of warm weather so early in the season, it’s leaving us wondering” how long the season will last, he said. “I think if I could use one word, it would be uncertainty.”

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Friday, March 3, 2017

Golf rules getting simpler? After centuries, it’s about time

Golf has been in decline for at least a decade. Almost every graph is down. There are not enough new young players, and too many current players quit. The game is often too slow, expensive, white, male, elitist, stuffy and full of antiquated rules. Among pros, nobody right now is Tiger, Jack or Arnie yet.

The game may even be too hard in practice, discipline and honesty to suit the age. Too much deferred, not enough gratified. Walk miles, carry a bag, hold your temper, and you don’t even get to zap aliens while gulping junk food. Lousy game.

Even the environment itself sometimes dislikes the water-greedy game. If you count in generations, golf may expire before it adapts. But that’s all old news. This is good-news day: For the first time since 1744, they’ve changed the darn rules!

The transformation is radical, wonderful and what millions of us, playing for two bucks and picking up after we reached “quad,” have been doing all our lives.

Golf is hard enough without some 15th-century shepherd deciding that it’s a two-stroke mortal-sin penalty if your putt hits the flagstick while it’s in the cup. Or if your ball moves a hundredth of an inch as you address it, visible on slow-motion replay, as happened in both the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens last year. Dustin Johnson survived his kerfuffle; Anna Nordqvist lost a title.

On Wednesday, the USGA and Royal & Ancient released the result of their five years of study, bless ’em. They came up with suggestions, to be discussed throughout golf for the next two years, that almost every man or woman, public course or private, that I’ve played with regularly has already discussed or employed all their lives.

Once, I went 36 holes with Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte of the Yankees. Darn, I said, so you guys play by common sense, too — not strict Rules of Golf.

It’s as if the rest of us had three open holes behind us but the folks who run golf had to get scared of falling profits, popularity and ratings before they decided to catch up. So, once every 283 years, they’re “in place.”

You’re not going to believe what the ruling bodies now endorse! Actually, you will. Half of it you already do. The other half you wish you could. Soon, we all can — and without telling each other, “Shhhh, don’t tell anyone we play that way.”

Hit when you’re ready, not just when you’re “away.”

Don’t search for that stupid ball for five minutes. Three is enough. Move on.

If someone in your group doesn’t hit after 40 seconds with clear fairway in front of them, say, “While we’re young.”

Want to remove a loose impediment in a bunker? Sure. They’re “loose” for a reason. Is something messing up the green on the line of your putt — spike marks, ball marks, whatever? Well, fix it. You stoned it to six feet. You deserve a smooth putt.

Who cares if you hit the flagstick with a putt or accidentally ground your club in a bunker if you aren’t hitting a shot? Two-shot penalties, my foot.

If your drive embeds in the soggy rough, pull it out; for the price you’re paying to play, that ball should bounce. And if you accidentally move your ball while searching for it, that’s not a penalty — are we supposed to be psychic?

Apparently, I’ve been ahead of the times for decades. I thought I was just begging my friends to understand and forgive me. When I took a drop on a hill, I didn’t hold my arm out at shoulder height like a dope and drop the ball twice to prove that gravity still works (while my ball rolled down a gulch). I held it an inch above the ground and kind of “drop-placed” it. Now, that’s the new rule.

Most important, I haven’t counted all my strokes. I’ve played in very few groups that do; we seldom take more than a quadruple bogey. Right up until that putt for triple, grind it out. After that, pick up — not out of pity for yourself but out of mercy for everyone else behind you on the course. The new rules say: Define a max score — twice par, triple par, whatever — and don’t keep beating the poor ball after you reach it.

(Exception: The only time I ever played Pine Valley, the hardest course in the world, we all decided we would count every stroke. So, I asked the caddie to read my putt for a 10. He said, politely, “Sir, I don’t line ’em up for double digits.”)

All golfers wail at the game’s gods. But now we’re actually getting divine answers. When you hit the ball into jungle or lava, why are you expected to go in after it? Why not just let us play it like a water hazard? Now, or soon, we can.

Why should we ever have to hit a ball across the same water twice? Why shouldn’t all courses, when possible, be allowed to treat all water as “lateral.” Just let us drop beside the water, not behind it again. That change is suggested, too.

 

Why can’t we ground our clubs in hazards if we aren’t trying to cheat by “testing the conditions” and we aren’t attempting a shot? That’s as insane as getting a two-shot penalty because you point at your target line on the green and accidentally touch the grass. Both have been penalties since 1744, but not now.

I may have misstated some wrinkles in these new rules. I wasn’t much good on the old ones. I’ve loved the game all my life, but the 97 pages of basic Rules, plus 457 more pages of “Decisions on the Rules of Golf” — no, not so much, personally.

To me, these belated rules are fabulous. Tour pros who think it’s all about them, not the health of golf, may complain. So might Oldest Members, who also know the codicils in their home owners association bylaws. Let’s steamroll ’em.

Golf has tough issues, some outside its control. But this one’s right in its grip. The game is hard enough. And its honor code adds a second layer of discipline and difficulty. That’s good. But incomprehensible and unnecessary rules are not.

I don’t know what to do first: ground my club in a bunker or hit the flagstick with a putt. And not get a penalty. New rules — let’s flaunt ’em. Why, it’s almost enough, on a winter day, to make you want to go out and . . . play golf.

Source: Washington Post

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