A view of life on our farm
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The maple sugarin' season was very short this year with a low yield. We made about 25% of what we made last year. Lucky for us we have a very diversified farm and we don't rely on one product/season. My advice is that if you are looking to get fresh CT maple syrup this year, snap to it! Many of the larger producers will be buying their syrup in bulk from Canada and re-bottling it in their own containers. If you want REAL CT syrup. Go buy it before the end of April.
In other news, we have a busy day on the farm:
Erica and the the kids are going to the sugar bush to gather all the buckets. Then we will need to clean and store all the maple syrup making equipment.
I'm working on the first batch of chicken coops. We've already sold a few and have customers waiting.
We've also just acquired some new calves and the turkeys and chickens are arriving later this week.
The eggs in the incubator in the house should be hatching any day, as well as the various clutches of turkey and chicken eggs "hidden" under hens throughout the barnyard and barn.
Another batch of bees should be ready for pickup any day.
Manure needs to be loaded, moved, spread, and tilled.
Spring veggies need to be planted. Seeds need to be started.
WOW! Let's get busy...! New photos of SPRING to follow.
Posted by Chris
@ 10:49 AM EDT
Not sure what it is...but most everything around here has a bit of rust to it.
Sort of makes it better, I think.
Posted by Chris
@ 04:32 PM EST
We had the evaporator firing late into the night over this past weekend and our results yielded our first batch of 2010 Maple Syrup!
The full moon was out, the steam was rising from the pan, and Hurricane Farm's Official "Taste Tester" was on the job!
It's the moment of truth. Violet grabs her tasting glass and takes a "sniff": "Mmm. Sugary," was her first verdict.
She takes the first taste of the year...and...
It's good! Her smile tells it all...
We ended up with a very nice "light amber" for our first batch. The pan is still full, the holding tanks are at maximum capacity, and the sugar bush is still pouring forth the sap. It looks to be a good season so far...
Erica worked late into the night boiling down to the finished product, filtering the syrup, and then bottling it up.
Our first bottle of 2010. Yummy.
Posted by Chris
@ 05:41 PM EST
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
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
The sugarin' season is just about up, but here are some photos of last week's late night boil.
The whole family was out there working on making the sweet stuff, and we managed to even rig up some lights so we could see what we were doing.
We had a "warming" fire going as it was starting to get pretty cold again that night. It hit about 20 degrees, but the sugaring season is so short that one must take advantage of every possible moment!
We had a pretty yummy dinner out there!
We even set up a little serving table! We're so lucky that the kids enjoy this sort of thing...
In the past, I mentioned that we have the fire so hot in the evaporator that you can sometimes see flames licking out of the smokestack...In the next picture you can sort of see them shooting out a little bit. Watch out! Hot fire!
We still have a few more gallons left to boil, but it looks like we'll be topping 11 gallons of pure maple syrup this year! Quite an improvement from our make-shift efforts with Hotel pans over an open fire...
Gallons of our finished syrup ready to be bottled into glass jars...Yummy!
Posted by Chris
@ 11:25 AM EDT
Every since we started farming--with four chickens and a rabbit--our family has been keen on lending a hand. From my dad, who chops wood, gathers sap, and gives tractor rides, to my Mom who brings really tasty spinach salads, to Erica's Mom who makes us custom "Hurricane Farm" T-Shirts, to her Dad who allowed us to have a "farm" when renting out his house.
Then there is my brother:
Above please note how he is examining the power cord that I am currently using to illuminate my sugarin' operation. He's a fire-fighter and a consummate stickler for details. Thanks to his unceasing vigilance, we have yet to burn anything down (accidentally) here at the farm.
There's my Dad and brother working hard keeping the boil going. I have to say that my dad split a ton of wood and we were able to boil for three days on the stack that he left us with.
One of the greatest things about this new evaporator is that we make so much syrup that we need to draw some off while boiling...We made over 5 gallons of syrup from that last boil! Above see my Dad using his new gloves to hold the hot pan. Look really closely...I labeled them "Left" and "Right." Heh heh.
We have a good time here from time to time!
Thanks for the help throughout the sugarin' season, Dad!
Posted by Chris
@ 02:48 PM 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
Update on the sap flow here in Scotland, CT. (How come they did away with the old Conn. abbreviation, by the way? I was always partial to that.)
We added 10 more taps in our new sugarbush up the road and collected the sap that ran over the past 24 hours...100 gallons came in from the new taps. This is prime time for maple sugarin'! At this rate, we will have to be gathering in the morning and the afternoon. The trees here in our woods have also picked up and we gathered another 30 or so gallons. Since we're in a valley, our temperatures are always about 10 degrees below the rest of the area. Not so good for the early sap run, but great for extending the sugarin' season!
Did I mention how useful these things are?
We'll be sugaring in earnest now for the next several weeks it looks like. If you are in the area, give a call and stop on by to taste some warm maple syrup. It looks like some snow for the next few days, so we can serve it up "sugar on snow," the good old fashioned way!
Posted by Chris
@ 05:50 PM EST
We fired up our new evaporator and worked on our first batch of maple syrup yesterday. We'll be finishing off a little over a gallon of syrup this morning!
We were warned by several people--both in books and in person--to NEVER let the level of the sap get too low. Otherwise, we might scorth the pan and ruin it! (Psst...I actually did this to one of my little pans last year, don't tell anyone.) So to avoid this devastating mistake, we designed a measuring tool. Note its fine wood grain, robust coloring, and tightly hewn edges. With a little practice, we were able to keep the sap level just above that bottom line. This meant 2" of sap in the pan. Perfect for evaporating.
Here is a picture of the steam rolling off the top of the pan. It took some adjustments, but we eventually learned the correct amount of wood to put in and the frequency of feeding the fire. It needs the hottest fire imaginable!
Here you can really see the fire cranking. We were planning to use some of last season's left over--and really dry--hardwood for sugaring. That is what I used to do. However, the folks at the maple sugar making store suggested that we use pine, as it burns hotter and quicker and is more desirable for use in one of these units. We had about 1/2 cord of slabwood from the local lumber mill left over from our summer parties and we used most of that yesterday. Erica called the mill and they delivered a little more than 3 cords of slabwood yesterday morning. That should be enough to hold us for the sugaring season, but the mill has plenty more and is more than happy to deliver. That's a relief as we were a bit concerned about our truck when they loaded that first bundle in back in the summer. The truck was riding LOW...
Back to the issue of keeping the sap level constant. When in full blaze, the evaporator is supposed to handle 8-10 gallons per hour. We did a little measuring and timing and it seems that we were close to 10 at our peak yesterday. Lots of improvement from my exploits in previous years. Below is a my "S.D. 3000." We like Wallace and Gromit here on the farm and tend to name our inventions the way they do. (Anyone recall the B.V. 6000?) I used--that's right!--a five gallon pail and added some plumbing. It takes a little patience to get the valve dripping just right, but the old "Sap Dripper" is doing its job. I might switch over to a ball valve as they seem to be easier to adjust than the gate valve that I am currently using.
The "S.D. 3000" attaches to the evaporator via a hose and is able to supply fresh sap on demand. Once I move the evaporator into the sugarhouse, I will be making the "S.D. 4000" which will not only drip sap into the pan but will preheat the sap. I will be running some coils of copper tubing around the lower portion of the chimney pipe where it exits the firebox...That should heat up the sap as it drips from the bucket and help speed up the evaporation rate even more. Who knows, maybe I'll work on that sooner...
My Dad came down again this weekend to lend a hand. This photo finds him skimming the top of the sap to remove some undesirable content (a little ash still gets in from time to time as we are still boiling out-of-doors).
Of course, there is lots of waiting while sugaring, so we decided to work on some other farm tasks. We have a batch of replacement laying hens--about 45 or so--that need leg bands so we can identify their age. My Dad figured out the banding tool right away. Glad I didn't try this by myself. I probably would have ended up banding my thumb to my index finger!
And then, of course, there is the tasting of the syrup...
Both Violet and Dad agree...it's not done yet. This was Violet's third or fourth tasting. She was out there with her wooden spoon just about the time that I finally got the fire going!
We'll post some photos of the finishing and bottling process as it progresses.
Posted by Chris
@ 10:38 AM EST
The new evaporator is here! Erica went up to New Hampshire Friday evening--returning at midnight--to pick up the supplies.
With the help of my father, who put in some solid work while keeping strong hold of his advisory role, we assembled the evaporator. It is supposed to use 40 firebricks. We managed to use 48 of them. We got it all together, ready to try out, and.....The doors did not fit! Someone at the old evaporator makin' factory drilled the holes in the front doors incorrectly. The doors DO fit upside down and backwards...Hmm...too much Moosehead up there in the Canadian factory, perchance.
The good news is that Chris, one of the guys at The Maple Guys, where we bought the unit, is sending a new set of doors to us today. We should be up and running tomorrow making our first batch.
We'll be posting photos of the tapping of the trees later on today...
Posted by Chris
@ 08:24 AM EST
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