A view of life on our farm
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It was "supposed to, maybe, probably, it could" snow all week here in Connecticut. We had rain. But...Friday came and so did the snow. Finally!
The maple buckets are in the woods and there is a fresh layer of clean, peaceful snow on the ground. Perfect conditions for woods-walking and maple sugarin'!
The ducks and geese love it. They take this opportunity to escape from the mud and clean their feathers.
Even the hogs like the snow, since it gives them something new to dig in. This one is almost ready for market.
This is Butch. He seems to be the current ruler of the barnyard. He doesn't mind the snow, and is the first one out of the barn despite weather conditions.
The Sugaring Hut...now fully piped, roofed, and ready to keep on sugarin'. We'll be adding some tin roofing in the Spring time. As it was, I was barely able to finish it to this stage before the sap started flowing! It works great, though, and now we can sugar in all sorts of nasty weather.
Here is one of our "snow plows" hard at work.
Another shot of the new Sugarin' Hut.
Here's Liev heading out to "plow" the "bridges" that we've put out to get us across the small streams and into the woods.
With all the rain, the water in the woods is flowing quite rapidly! In fact, some of the jugs that we set out on some the trees are now inaccesible. The larger brook has swollen beyond its banks and we can't get to some of the maple trees to retrieve the sap. Paco the Cat, however, does not seem bothered by this.
We use milk jugs to gather the sap once we run out of metal buckets and 5 gallon pails. You can see a couple of the jugs on some trees that are now in the midst of the brook. We'll have to wait to collect from those for a while...Or else brave the bitter cold water? I think we'll wait...At least until my Dad comes down and is loking for a job to do! Bring your waders, Dad!
Another tree now in the middle of the brook...
Finally, here is a cool tree bound by wild grape vines. Pretty neat find out there at the edge of the woods.
Posted by Chris
@ 09:54 AM EST
It took only a few hours and a sunny morning to get about 100 taps in. We dug out the buckets, lids, tools, and spouts, loaded up the trucks, and headed across town to the sugar bush.
The owners of the land that we use have been hard at work clearing out the brush, thinning the trees, and making the sugar bush more productive. You can see in the above photo some of the smaller trees that they had cut down to allow the larger trees room to grow.
The darker hole in the photo below is the hole from last year. To the right you can see the a new hole with fresh sap already dripping out. We generally put two taps per tree. This works out well as the two taps will generally fill a five-gallon bucket each day during the sugarin' season.
The first step once we make it to the woods is to lay out the buckets at each tree we plan to tap. We put out about 50+ buckets today. We still have at least 50-60 more spouts to set back at our farm. Hopefully we'll get to this in the next day or two.
A few slight knocks with a hammer and the spout is set!
One a sunny day like this, the sap starts to flow before the drill bit is removed from the hole. It starts with a steady stream, but then slows to a pulsing drip. Those drops sure do add up, though!
Once again, everyone lends a hand. First we loaded up the trucks. Then we unloaded them in the woods and set out the buckets, covers, and spouts. Finally, we drilled and set the spouts into the trees.
It takes some focus and concentration to score a direct hit with the hammer!
The old-fashioned hand drill (brace) works better than an electric drill, in our opinion. Less noise and more elbow grease makes for some contemplative moments in the woods. (The more keen of our readers will notice something about the photograph below. Examine last year's photos...any takers?)
Teamwork all around makes quick work of the trees in the sugar bush.
The buckets are set, the trees are tapped, the sap is flowing...Maple lovers prepare to have your taste buds tantalized!
Posted by Chris
@ 08:42 AM EST
With the roof on, the trees tapped, and SNOW in the forecast, it was time to bring in some of our dry firewood.
Our design of a post/pole building leaves plenty of open room for the sunshine, for fresh air and ventilation, and for stacking wood! We started with the remaining slabwood from last season and then moved on to some of our super-seasoned hardwood. To get the sap boiling, you need as hot a fire as can be mustered.
The stacks of wood will also make a nice windbreak. An added bonus!
Every one in the family lends a hand at maple time.
Once we get all four walls stacked, it will be as if we're in a bear den. And...once the evaporator is firing, it will be nice and cozy...
It's almost SUGARIN' TIME...
Posted by Chris
@ 01:32 PM EST
We've been planning for a couple of weeks to tap the maple trees today (President's Day). So...for the past couple of days we've been frantically working on getting the sugaring hut finished up.
Erica and I were able to move the evaporator--about 1 foot at a time--all by ourselves. We removed the pan, the smokestack, and even the doors. We were able to get the whole thing down to what seemed like only 1 ton. Nicely done!
But...the sugar hut still needed a roof.
First we needed to add the chimney pipe and make a cupola for the steam to escape. We're going to extend the pipe 2 feet up from where it stands in this picture so that it gets sufficient clearance over the cupola.
Have I mentioned how I do not really like ladders? I must have back when we were posting the pictures of the meat chicken coop. Anyhow, I've been getting better, but I still don't "prefer" the task...
Meanwhile, Liev was stacking milk crates. Then knocking them over. Then stacking milk crates...
Here is the cupola just about finished. We'll still need to shingle the roof, but that will have to happen after this year's sugarin'...the sap is already flowing!
We used double-insulated Class A chimney pipe to connect to the evaporator's smokestack. When researching smokestack installations, I learned that most sugarhouses seem to go with single wall galvanized roof jacks (which cost WAY too much, by the way). Also, they tend to incinerate the roof, making yearly replacement a tradition. Not cool! So, we opted for more of an "interior wood stove" installation. Better safe than charred!
Perched like (an uneasy) bird.
Soon to come...we move in the wood and tap the trees. Stay tuned!
Posted by Chris
@ 06:21 PM EST
It's just about time to pull out all of the equipment and head out to the woods! This week we have lots in store at the farm...
100's of buckets, lids, tubing, and spouts will need to be rinsed off, loaded into our truck, and driven across town to the sugar bush. I need to sharpen up the drill bit on the hand-drill, or brace as it is called, and grab a hammer as well.
This weekend I have been working on the roof to the sugaring shack. Chimney piping has been ordered and I hope to have the roofing up and ready before the piping arrives. Today I will be working on the venting system (like a long cupola) and then the rest of the roof will go up.
Perhaps the toughest task of all this will be to move the evaporator into the sugar shack. It is only about 12 feet away right now, but this is a very heavy piece of equipment. We can take some of it apart, but the 50 or so firebricks that are cemented in place inside of the arch will not be removable. We'll be enlisting anyone nearby to help with this, I'm sure. Luckily, the ground is still frozen and icy so maybe we'll be able to slid it as we move it.
And, of course, there is a ton of wood to be split into small, quick-burning pieces...
We plan to set out the supplies in the woods this week and hopefully tap the trees next weekend. It's still a bit cold here, but things could change at any time here in New England and then the sap will be running!
Posted by Chris
@ 10:02 AM EST
Last weekend we started to put the roof together for our sugar shack. It will ultimately be an open-walled pole structure to house our maple syrup evaporator. We'll be able to make much more syrup once we're able to get a roof overhead the whole operation. No more standing around in the cold drizzle!
The first task in getting up the roof was to set the ridge pole over the center of the framing. I got the longest 2 x 8 available, but I still wish it was a few feet longer so I could have an nice overhang on the end. I have an idea as to how to make an overhang in a slightly different way, so it will still probably work out.
Next we had to measure out the angles for the rafters. I personally do not enjoy doing math, so we measured out the first rafter while holding it in place. We got the perfect angle on the second try. Not too bad. This rafter became the "cookie cutter" by which we measured and cut all the others.
Measuring out the first rafter was a two person job. Luckily, we have enough ladders.
As a side note, the weather is starting to become hat-weather...Nice. My favorite time of the year!
A cluster of turkeys watches our progress from the background, while their constant gobbling urges Erica further up the ladder.
The first rafter is measured and set. We ended up completing 1/2 of the rafters. Today the plan is to finish up the roof and get ready to put on some covering and make a cupola from which the steam from the evaporation process will escape later in the week.
Did you know? Rafters make great race-car ramps!
Posted by Chris
@ 09:35 AM EDT
There are lots of new things here at the farm. We're always keeping busy...
Work has begun on the Sugar Shack. We decided that since we really enjoy the outside aspect of sugaring--especially on those sunny late-winter noons--that we'd build an open building. The idea is to make a pavillion style building that is attached to the barn. We'll have a roof to allow us to suger through the rain and snow, but we'll also be open to the air around us.
I started this project by setting four posts into the ground just off the rear of the barn. This is a pole building, meaning it will not have a foundation; rather, it will be secured to the ground by the corner posts. I used some of the larger cedar logs that I had remaining from my fencing projects.
Yes, I'll have to move that pallet of bricks YET AGAIN...This will be the third time that I'll have picked those up, one by one...It is handy to have bricks around, though, so I can't complain too much. They should be added to our official list of necessary farm items.
Next, I used some large threaded rod to secure the back posts to the barn for extra stability. The roof of the shack will peak perpendicular to the barn and I'll also attach the ridge pole to the roof of the barn.
I had to buy an extra-long drill bit to make it all the way through the post and the barn. I also used it to drill through the posts at the top where I mounted the beams with 12" carriage bolts. Using bolts results in a much tighter and more secure connection.
Here is a picture of one of the beams that I constructed out of 2 x 6 dimensional lumber. I made four beams in total. Two 10 footers and two 12 footers. The size of the building will be 12 x 9 when finished. We'll have plenty of room to upgrade to a larger evaporator in a year or two.
I have mounted the beams and am ready for the next step: to install the ridge board and rafters. I still need to figure out the best way to vent the chimney pipe and have to also construct a cupola which can open to allow the steam from the evaporator to escape. Luckily, I have some great books on contruction and sugaring.
Stay tuned for more updates as the warm weather ends. This project needs to be done before it snows!
Posted by Chris
@ 04:02 PM EDT
With the end of the maple sugarin' season come and gone, it is time to start cleaning up the pails and buckets and taps. There is lots of equipment to dismantle, carry in from the woods, and clean.
Yesterday, Erica spent 6 hours at least scrubbing, washing, and rinsing the buckets, pails, spouts, tubing, and holding tanks. We'll have some photos of that later. For now, here are some shots taken by Liev and Violet of Mom out in the woods gathering all the maple gear.
Not bad shots for a four and five year old!
Yuck! Look at those critters in that bucket. Always a sign that the spring is really here and the winter is gone.
It sure looks different out in the woods without the snow and ice. I almost forgot what it looked like out there. Actually, we moved in here last May, so we never experience the "naked" spring woods without all the growth of the late spring...
Check out the size of that oak tree!
Posted by Chris
@ 09:46 AM EDT
It's time for an update on the maple sugarin' here in Connecticut. It's been a really busy week--with a brief trip to our favorite Phishing hole last weekend (more on this later)--but we're full scale on our maple syrup operation right now. We've got a great system to allow us to boil sap during the week as well as on the weekends. Erica fires up the evaporator during the day, and then it's my turn as the daylight slips away.
We will be running the evaporator almost non-stop Friday through Sunday this weekend. We have a few hundred gallons of raw sap to boil with more to collect as it continues to flow. Weather conditions are perfect!
So here is our set up in full operation. We've been cutting the slab-wood and splitting it into small, almost kindling-sized pieces in order to get the fire raging inside of the evaporator. While cutting and chopping, we take a break every 5-10 minutes to add more wood to the fire. It's a fluid process that needs constant attention. Leave the fire unattended for 5 minutes too long and it's almost out! The slab-wood (mostly spruce) burns quickly.
Here is a pile of split spruce and some pine. Imagine putting 2 x 4 scrap into a fire. That's quite close to the effect we get with the split spruce. At times it seems like a race as Erica feeds the fire and I split wood to replenish the pile. My brother is coming tomorrow for a visit, so perhaps I can get him on the splitting task for a while. This miight make for a good trade for a trunk load of firewood for his fireplace.
In addition to always adding wood to the fire and splitting some reserve wood, we must keep a constant eye on the level of sap inside of the evaporator. We need to refill the 5 gallon reservoir of the "SD 3000" every 15 minutes when we're really boiling. Here Erica is adding more sap.
It looks like I've momentarily caught up with the splitting! That pile, though it looks impressive in this shot, will only last a few hours while we're at peak boiling. Luckily, the softwoods split readily and I can use my axe instead of a maul. Aside from 5 gallon buckets, the axe is the most important tool on our farm.
On Monday we got a surprise snowfall! That didn't keep us from boiling, though. You can begin to see how much heat is generated by this process by noting the large circle of melted snow (the ground in that area is actually DRY from the heat) around the evaporator. The heat radiates for several feet. (Hey look! The tractor moved.)
While it's rather hard to make out, you can begin to see the color of the syrup as it forms in each of the chambers within the evaporator pan. The raw sap enters into the channel on the bottom of the photo and moves along to the channel at the top of the photo as it becomes more concentrated. We then draw off the "near-syrup" using the spigot and finish it off on our kitchen stove where we have much more control over the intensity of the heat. Check out the coloring of the liquid in the top-most channel. Almost syrup!
Posted by Chris
@ 02:51 PM EDT
Here is a photo that my Uncle sent me after I mentioned one of my Grandfather's paintings in a previous post. I am not sure when he painted this one, but the one below of him actually painting is from 1963. I imagine that Grandpa painted the snowy maple sugaring scene after a winter's drive to VT with my Grandma and Uncle. They were always driving around to points North, South, and West. They oftentimes would go points East, but that would require using their boat (which they had).
Below is a photo of Grandpa working on what I believe to be a painting of a wharf in Rockport, MA.
We owe quite a bit here at our farm to my Grandfather, I suspect. He always bought me REAL tools for Christmas, even when I was 4 and 5! He would take me down into his cellar workshop and let me pound nails into scrap wood with my hammer, or let me reorganize his nail-holding coffee cans. I use the same system here in my workshop and our kids have hammers and enjoy pounding nails into scrap wood too...
Posted by Chris
@ 09:04 AM EST
It's back into the woods to start gathering sap. It's been still pretty cold at night--it got down to 10 here last night--but the sun is doing its work during the day and there is sap to be gathered. Here's Liev making his way across our smaller brook.
As I've mentioned before, we like to put people to work here at the farm. We like them to feel like they are at home, and we all know that there is no sitting around while at home. Here we have my Dad tapping a tree. Watch out for that poison ivy, Dad! Everyone helps out. Liev is carrying the bag of spiles and Violet is supervising and explaining to my Dad how to use the brace.
A closer shot of my Dad hard at work.
In addition to using the new 5 gallon pails, we also put out our older style buckets on some of the smaller trees. Even though they have to be emptied more often, I think that they have a warm old-fashioned feel to them. My grandfather was a painter and he had a fondness for painting maple sugaring scenes. There is one large painting at my Uncle's house that offers a glimpse of the sugaring process complete with oxen pulling out the sap from the woods! This photo of our buckets reminds me of my Grandpa and that painting.
Finally, here is our "Maple Syrup Quality Control Tester" hard at work. Note that she does not feel it necessary to wait for the sap to be actually processed into syrup! Her verdict: yummy!
Posted by Chris
@ 07:54 AM EST
For the past two days we have been trekking back and forth from the woods, hauling in planks to get across small brooks, hauling in tapping supplies, and hauling back our two children when they are finally ready to go inside.
We have a series of photos to share from the past two days. The photo spread will take you from the arrival of our new sugaring equipment through to the tapping of the trees. We will be adding more as we fire up the new evaporator for the first time. I made a pretty cool device that will allow us to continually add sap to the boiling pan and I will add a photo of that later on. It seems that the camera is on strike from being dropped in the snow...
Here is the new gear arriving from New Hampshire.
And here we have it all unloaded out behind the barn. We have used a combination of aluminum buckets and milk jugs in our previous experience making maple syrup, but with our new evaporator we will need LOTS more sap to keep up. So, as you may recall from a prior post, we are resorting to one of the most useful farm implements all around: the 5 gallon pail! We'll be adding 50 more (for a total of about 100) taps this year. Also, the buckets will be nice as we can empty them once every other day instead of the twice daily routine with our smaller pails and jugs. It is pretty far out to the woods, afterall.
You can see that we have the evaporator just about assembled in this shot.
The next step was tapping the trees. We still have a bit of snow on the ground out in the woods, and there are also lots of hidden "water holes" beneath these patches of show. Look out! There goes a boot!
My son has taken to using the brace and bit. If we're not watchin him, he'll have every tree in the area tapped. I wonder how oak syrup would taste?
Here is Erica carrying the tubing. We're using short pieces of tubing to connect the spouts (technically called "spiles") to the buckets. In the future, we might run tubes directly from the trees out of the woods to large gathering drums. We would start tapping the trees higher up, about 6 feet, and then gravity would help move the sap out of the woods as we slope down to the drums. We're not sure that we want tubing running all through the woods, though. I guess we will decide on this once we've determined the relative fun-to-labor ratio of hauling this stuff out by hand this year.
Here is a close up of a tapped tree. On a good tapping day, you should be able to see the sap start dripping out. If you look closely, you can see it starting to run out of the hole.
Here is shot of several trees tapped alongside of our stream. This summer the stream swelled significantly during a series of storms. It was well up beyond the buckets in the photo.
And here we are after working hard at enjoying a hobby. My son snapped this one whilst the camera was still with us.
Part two to follow. Stay tuned...
Posted by Chris
@ 09:52 AM EST
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