Monday, April 22, 2013

April blizzards bring May snowbanks

 Would you just look at this??
It's a drift left over from our last blizzard, AND there's another one on the way.
(The disturbance you see in the middle of the drift is where Lizzy tackled Michael during morning farm chores--if nothing else, fresh snow is always good for that.)

 This is what I'm pining for, in my dreams, our garden fence to look like:

And this is what it looks like in reality:

 I should be mad. Frustrated or annoyed at least. But I'm not. I'm actually finding the combination of the April 22nd date on the calender and the 13inches of snow predicted for tonight almost humorous... in a weird sort of way. Either that or I'm quite possibly going hysterical over it. ;)


At least there is sunshine in between the blizzards, with cute animals that never seem to lose their play (no matter the weather) and persistent robins in the trees. 

The baby goats and Kady play like litter-mates during the morning farm chores.

 "Spider! Eeeeek!"

I'm surviving this ridiculous excuse of a spring by finding quiet sanctuaries to meditate and write, like this one overlooking the river.

My critique partner (always nearby) falls asleep listening to an early draft (better ditch that one).

After spending an hour in this peaceful environment, with the sun on my face, my mood is considerably lifted and strong enough (though temporarily) to withstand any kind of weather. 

Well spring, who's laughing now?!
...Oh yea, I guess I am. ;)


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Maple Sugaring: What it's about and how to do it for cheap..

 I'll be honest; if you are looking to make a quick buck, selling Maple syrup is a terrible way to do it for a non-pro, even though it goes for over $60/gallon.

That being said, if you happen to live up north and also happen to have a few Maple trees, there's no reason you have to break the bank to get started, and the results are very rewarding! We've been having a pretty good run this year, and I thought I'd share some of the things we've learned over the years.

Now, for those of you who have never seen Maple sap, it isn't the sticky, thick substance that immediately comes to mind from your Christmas tree pruning experience. In fact, it's pretty much water, with some extra minerals and 1-3% sugar. It takes up to 60 gallons of sap to boil down one gallon of syrup. For those of you who don't feel like going through that hassle, putting in a tap or two and drinking the sap straight is still a refreshing and very healthy thing you can do, even in the city! Keep in mind that the slightly-sweet sap only has a shelf-life of a week or two in the fridge, until it starts to ferment.

I'm not going to get into too much detail here, but let's go tap some trees! The goal is to put a small pipe, (around 1/2'' diameter or less), about 1.5'' deep into the tree. The pipe should be tapered for a tight fit, or much of the sap will "leak" out around the edges.. We've tried many kinds of pipe, looking for an inexpensive alternative to the $3/ea commercial pail taps. A 4'' length of 1/2'' cpvc, tapered on one end with a sander is serviceable. Avoid copper, as it quickly oxides from the sap.

The diy taps work well enough, but this year we broke down and started using a more commercial (but still cheap!) option. These plastic hoseline taps are meant to feed into a large commercial sap collection system; they're only $0.50/ea and the hose is $0.18/foot. We combined the plastic taps, 4'' sections of hose and repurposed milk jugs, as you can see in the following pictures.

 The jugs are simply hung from the taps with a loop of twine. So far we are extremely happy with this system, and now that we are doing over 100 trees, they are much more convenient than the cpvc pipes.

 Sugar water!

 This is another neat thing you can do with the pipline taps, if you have a cluster of maple trees in close proximity.


 This is your typical steel pail-tap, used with a 5 gallon pail here. Our best trees give about a gallon a day, so a pail this large is overkill.

 Straining the sap into a barrel. There seems to be many bugs that enjoy the sweet sap as much as we do!

 Boiling boiling boiling... This is a good way to use up all of that leftover firewood.. ;-)

 The stainless steel boiling pan might be the largest start-up expense for the "hobby" maple syrup maker. A couple 4gal pots could get you started in a pinch.. A nice pan is a great investment for a homesteader, however, and you will find uses for it all year round! (Apple sauce, rendering animal fat, tomato sauce making, even boiling clothes!)

We keep adding sap until there is enough 'almost-there' syrup for about three gallons. Straining the syrup can be a pain, as there is this "sugar sand" sediment that quickly clogs a fine cloth. We strain through a coarse cloth and accept a bit of sediment..

 How do you know when it's ready? Well, there are a few ways, but I generally just use a good ol' spoon. I keep boiling the syrup down slowly on the stove until I feel the consistency is about right.. It's not the best method for long-term storage, but we will be using this up within the next year, so I'm not overly concerned about it.

 There we have it! We're up to nearly 6 gallons of syrup for the year, and it's still coming. It's been a pretty good season for us! 

Hope that little insight inspires the curious among you to give it a try!

Thanks for stopping by!


Monday, April 8, 2013

Sorry March, I forgot about you...

Well March, sorry for completely forgetting about your existence. I'd like to say I was really busy, but I can't really think of any watertight excuses to back that statement with. That being admitted, however, I can say that my 'short story ideas' folder, is quite plump, my pile of reading material all mostly read and my current works in progresses are all receiving a lot of my attention lately. I know I said you would see more of me after my last manuscript was finished... I guess I lied.

The truth is, this winter is taking so dadgone long that I fear I've slipped into a creative fantasy dream-land, not much unlike a hibernating bear awaiting spring. However, I think my daily walk, drinking sap, smelling the woodsmoke of the maple syrup, hearing the gurgle of the creek again and  the general chatter of life returning to the barnyard and woods, is helping me to wake up.

 Here's some pictures:

Recent spring snowstorm. Pretty ...but I struggle to admit it. ;)

Theresa's curly mare is expecting a spring baby!

 And pray tell, what does this butt belong too?

Yay! Two very colorful baby goats! So fun. :) 

And the best part? They're sisters; both girls!
 And they like cats. :)

The scene of my daily walk. I have company on most days, but even those days when the weather is really bad, Kady is always faithful enough to accompany me and her puppy playfulness and enthusiasm helps me to find joy in every kind of weather. :)

The sap season has been frustratingly on and off this year. We have a good week and then another cold week, then it warms up and flows again. But through all the on and off, it's looking like a good year.
 We've already put up a few gallons and we're still burning.

End of the season hat fashion show got the rest of Annie's inventory of newsboy hats listed.

 Check out all the pretty hats, girls and cats in the new hat listings HERE. ;)

The warmer days offer us the opportunity to make music in the studio without needing to make a fire to heat the room first.

Plugged-in ear protection allows Andrew to play full-out on his drums while allowing us to still hear ourselves and preserve our hearing. It's pretty wild fun stuff, that happens out there... :)

Rockstar warning... Coming back to the house with 'da bass'.

Easter was a knock out day for my sweet tooth, so I guess that makes it a success right? Annie and I put together baskets of homemade gifts and goodies for Johnny and Donna (in our typical fashion, we didn't begin work on them until Easter...).

 The shop work continues...
Mike's carving out one of his Lord of the Ring's swords. When he's finished, Annie will wood burn the Elvish runes on it, somebody will wax it and Dad will package and ship it to a lucky new owner!

 Steven has been reintroducing his calf back into the pen with the big girls in order to empty out the barn stalls for the expectant Mommas. I swear, his interaction with his big-eyed calf would melt the stoniest heart. ;)

Cat friends.

Flying baby goat.

"dis a' my barn!"

For those of you who didn't see this back when I shared it on facebook, this is one of many shirts I re-fabricated for Donna's new wardrobe. It's really fun and satisfying to recycle clothes (I'm also working on a quilt and a rug with recycled materials), but just so you can't say I didn't warn you: recycling can also be overwhelming and time consuming. But look at that proud smile...
The faithful farm watch dog watches the sun set on one of those 'false-spring alarm' days.

 Okay, that's all for now. I've got to go work out the climax on my latest work in progress. Somebody wake me up when spring gets here, okay? And this time for real... getting downright tired of all of these false alarms. :-P