Maple sugaring at The Rocks Estate in Bethlehem, NH

A horse-drawn wagon,
Bright blue tubing zigzagging from tree to tree,
The drip-drip-drip of sap falling into galvanized buckets,
Steam rising up from the sugarhouse as snow gently falls…

The Rocks Estate in Winter, Bethlehem, NH

Photo by Jason Tors

Maple sugaring is a time-honored tradition here in New England. It’s a sign that spring is on its way. To celebrate, we recently visited The Rocks Estate in nearby Bethlehem, New Hampshire for a little Maple Sugaring 101.

Collecting the sap requires the right conditions: warm days and chilly nights. And it takes 30-50 gallons of sap to create one gallon of maple syrup. Once the trees start to bud, the sap tastes different and the sugaring season is over.

Maple Syrup

Photo by Megan Bogdziewicz

We learned how to identify red maples (red buds at the end of the branches) and sugar maples (sharp needle-like buds), and how to responsibly tap trees. We identified a sugar maple in the tree line and used an auger to insert the tiny tap to get the sap flowing. When done correctly and placed in the right spot, the trees naturally fill in the hole after the season and it becomes almost invisible.

The sap didn’t taste like much directly from the tree, but we visited the steamy sugarhouse to see how it is boiled down into syrup and graded based on its color. After, we went back to the main building for a chef’s tasting and cooking demo from a local inn. Sweet and savory fritters with a touch of maple cranberry chutney — the end of a glorious maple-sugaring day.

The New Hampshire Maple Experience is offered in early springtime every year and The Rocks Estate is open all year long, offering various programs.

About The Rocks Estate

The heritage of The Rocks Estate reaches from the pastoral beauty of 1800s through the property’s modern-day role as a conservation and education center for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. Now home to the 1,400-acre North Country Conservation & Education Center for the Forest Society, The Rocks was once the summer home of Chicago businessman and International Harvester cofounder John Jacob Glessner and his family. In 1978, John and Frances Glessner’s grandchildren donated the estate, including 22 buildings, to the Forest Society, with the requirement that there always be a crop in the field. For more than three decades, that crop has been Christmas trees. Today, the Forest Society offers a host of other activities, from springtime maple tours and school programs to various natural history talks and customized experiential tours for small groups. The trail system at The Rocks is open daily to visitors.

A local treasure: Tarrnation Flower Farm

Flowers at Tarrnation Flower Farm in Sugar Hill, NH

Photo by J.Harper Photography

The first thing spring brings to mind is flowers – perhaps because of our work with botanical prints.

Vanessa and Reggie Tarr - Tarrnation Flower Farm in Sugar Hill, NH

Photo by J.Harper Photography

In our neck of the north woods, this means a visit to our neighbors down the road, Tarrnation Flower Farm. The six-acre farm is a local treasure, with manicured gardens and iconic New England architecture.

Vanessa and Reggie Tarr, the daughter and father behind the blossoming business, were recently featured in Design New England (a Boston Globe publication).

Vanessa Tarr - Tarrnation Flower Farm in Sugar Hill, NH

Photo by J.Harper Photography

Vanessa Tarr - Tarrnation Flower Farm in Sugar Hill, NH

Photo by J.Harper Photography

Flowers at Tarrnation Flower Farm in Sugar Hill, NH

Photo by J.Harper Photography

Tarrnation Flower Farm in Sugar Hill, NH

Photo by J.Harper Photography

Reggie, who has worked in landscape design for more than 30 years, bought six acres of farmland in 1997 and began planting vegetables and perennials in his spare time. It wasn’t until three years ago, with Vanessa’s encouragement, that they created a business together, solely growing and selling flowers and arrangements.

As Vanessa was raised running through the gardens, her passion for flowers was inevitable. Today you’ll find her in the barn putting together bouquets for the farm’s CSA, in the studio creating arrangements for weddings, or out in the garden side by side with her father, harvesting or planting.

Originally a veggie grower, Reggie maintains a self-taught approach to growing flowers. His neatly cultivated gardens and beautifully grown blooms say everything about form and function on the farm. The farm is his form of art, and he finds solace in getting his hands dirty planting seeds or weeding the gardens.

For more information (and more beautiful photos of flowers), please visit the Tarrnation Flower Farm website or follow them on Instagram at @tarrnationflowers.

Tarrnation Flower Farm is located at 96 Streeter Pond Road, Sugar Hill, NH. It is open from June to mid-October and Thanksgiving to Christmas, Tuesday–Saturday, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. and by appointment (603-348-2223).