Arcadia Farms

  (Portage, Michigan)
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Homemade Pure Maple Syrup Part 2

Last week I shared that we’ve been collecting maple sap for making our own maple syrup. It has been a great family-time endeavor and the first step – collecting maple sap – couldn’t be simpler. To learn how to collect your own maple sap, click here.

Our first batch of sap (10 gallons) has already been turned into 3 pints of golden, delicious maple syrup. (And a pint of that maple syrup has already found its way into a batch of oatmeal cookies!)

DSC03770

The first batch of syrup from Arcadia Farms!

From my perspective, the second part of the process (boiling sap to convert it to maple syrup) has been pretty easy too. That’s because my father-in-law (hereafter lovingly referred to as “Papa”) did all the work. This is Papa’s third year making homemade maple syrup and he’s figure out a thing or two about how to make it work. You can learn from his experience (along with other tidbits I’ve gathered from the web and a book called Backyard Sugarin’: A Complete How-To Guide by Rink Mann) to discover how to make your own syrup too.

To start, I’d like to give you a general overview of how the sap-to-syrup process works. Put simply, you need to:

  1. Collect sap from maple trees.
  2. Boil sap so that the water evaporates and the sugary syrup remains.

Easy-peasy, right? Essentially, it is. But there are nuances to boiling sap that are critical to understand if you’re going to end up with maple syrup instead of a gooey, burned mess. As Rink Mann puts it:

“the process involves boiling the sap so that the water in the sap evaporates off in the form of steam, leaving the sugar behind in the boiling pan. Sounds simple, doesn’t it, and it really is, although at certain stages of the process , particularly as you’re getting your brew close to being syrup, there can be terrifying moments. Remember, we’re talking about starting with, say, 33 gallons of sap and ending with 1 gallon of syrup.”

 Click here for the rest of this article, which includes the following info:

 
 

Homemade Pure Maple Syrup

drilling holes for maple sap syrup tapMy father-in-law (hereafter lovingly referred to as “Papa”) is currently in his third year of making homemade maple syrup from his own trees. Last year he made an abundance and we’ve been blessed with as much free, pure maple syrup as our little pancakes hearts can handle. I’ve been eager to try making our own syrup ever since it dawned on me that we have some maple trees of our own (four of them, in fact). I’m especially interested in making my own maple sugar. Since this is my first year and I’m getting a late start, I doubt I’ll end up with a large volume of finished product. But just like everything else, you’ve got to start somewhere! I’m hoping I’ll get enough experience this year to be able to make a decent supply (maybe a whole year’s worth?) of maple sugar next year. Next year maybe I’ll even wear this t-shirt while I work.

Why would I want to make that much maple sugar? Namely because I think it would be a fabulous, “healthier” alternative to highly-processed, non-local cane sugar. Pure maple syrup is also way better than a bottle of anything Aunt Jemima can cook up. Have you ever read the label on store-bought syrup? Here’s the label from a bottle I found lingering in the disarray of our fridge (soon to meet its destiny in the garbage can):

Take a peak at what's in store-bought syrup.

Take a peak at what’s in store-bought syrup.

Boo. My maple syrup will contain only two ingredients: Maple syrup and love.

So far, maple sugarin’ (<– said with my best hick accent) has been pretty easy. Here’s the skinny on what we’ve done so far and how you can make your own pure maple syrup too!

How to Make Maple Syrup and Sugar

The basic concept of making maple syrup is easy. First, you gather sap from maple trees. Next, you boil the sap down until the water evaporates and the sugary-sweet syrup remains. To make maple sugar, you continue to boil the syrup until it crystallizes. The general rule is that you’ll need about 40 gallons of sap to get 1 gallon of syrup. That 1 gallon of syrup will net you about 8 pounds of sugar. Of course there are details and nuances to the process that you’ll need to know, but that’s the process in a nutshell.

Papa lent me a book called Backyard Sugarin’: A Complete How-To Guide (by Rink Mann) to help me get started. The book is short, to-the-point and a good practical guide. I spent about 15 minutes reading before our tree-tapping adventure yesterday and felt fully equipped. Most of the information I’m going to share with you in the rest of this post either came from Papa’s advice or this book.

Click here to read the rest of this article, which includes the following headings:

 
 

Olla Irrigation for a Market Garden

An olla buried in the garden.Image fromhttp://www.apartmenttherapy.com

Clay olla buried in the garden.
Image from http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/olla-gardening-the-original-dr-78565

It’s January. And it’s cold. And I’m glad… mostly. I’m not a fan of cold weather, but I’m hoping a cold, snowy Michigan winter means a drought-free Michigan summer. Cold weather also means I have some time to create plans for making our 2013 season even more successful than 2012. I’ve been doing research on irrigation systems for our 2013 garden and I’d like to share the results of this research with you this week.

A major component of my irrigation plan is hugelkultur. If you’ve been following this blog than I’m sure you’re sick of me throwing that term around. If you haven’t been following my German-term throwing antics, then I’ll just let you know briefly that hugelkultur (“mound culture”) is a gardening method that has been used in Eastern Europe for centuries and is essentially a sheet-composting method that involves burying woody debris (logs, branches, sticks) and other organic matter under a mound of earth to add nutrients to the soil and retain moisture. For more on my adventures in installing hugelkultur beds, click here.

I sincerely hope that hugelkultur will reduce our irrigation needs but I’m not quite optimistic enough to trust that it will eliminate the need to water. So I’ve set out to develop a sustainable irrigation system that minimizes labor, reduces costs, avoids overhead watering, and stores extra water while maintaining aesthetics appropriate for our suburban setting. I want the system to minimize reliance on city water. And I’d like fries with that too, please.

Click here to read the rest of this article, including:

 
 

Is Hugelkultur Sustainable?

leavs in hugelkultur beds

We recently incorporated several large hugelkultur beds into our market garden. For those who have not yet heard about hugelkultur, you can learn more about the how and why of this gardening practice in my original hugelkultur post. In short, hugelkultur is a German term that roughly translates to “mound culture”. The hugelkultur gardening method has been used in Eastern Europe for centuries and is essentially a sheet-composting method that involves burying woody debris (logs, branches, sticks) and other organic matter under a mound of earth to add nutrients to the soil and retain moisture.

Hugelkultur boasts some pretty audacious benefits: Dramatically increased soil aeration, increased soil fertility, creative use of what would otherwise be ‘waste’ (the brush/burn pile) and biggest of all – little/no watering.

No watering? Hard to believe, right? As I did my initial research into hugelkultur, this claim caught my attention most. I read all about the benefits of hugelkultur, the science behind it, the how-to instructions for making it happen and the first hand experience of those who’ve given it a whirl. Everyone had great things to say and claimed that these audacious benefits were legit.

Digging for Disses

I was convinced that hugelkultur raised beds were the way to go for expanding our garden… well, almost convinced. As I concluded my research I decided to search for one final thing: Naysayers. I purposely searched terms like “hugelkultur fail” or “hugelkultur myth” or “hugelkultur doesn’t work”. After quite a bit of digging, the only thing I found was a handful of articles about people who doubted the process would work and were amazed at the results; converts. From all my reading, it appeared that hugelkultur has a whole slew of fans and no foes. In fact, through all my digging I only found one diss, and it has to do with sustainability.

Any Naysayers?

The one negative commentary I could find on hugelkultur was the purported idea that hugelkultur is not sustainable. Why? Click here to read on about what we found and our answer to the question "Is hugelkultur sustainable?"

 
 

What is Sustainable Living?

In January of this year I wrote Our Story and mentioned that I would eventually share with you why we believe a micro-farm provides health (sustainability) not only for our family but also for the community. Since that time, I’ve used the term sustainable living several times. Now that the main growing season is over and my focus is turning to more of the non-gardening aspects of the farm, this seems like a good time to share those thoughts with you.  [Read More]
 
 

Bread and Broth

Now that the weather is getting cooler, I’m hoping to turn my efforts towards some of the non-gardening goals of Arcadia Farms. A major reason why we started this farming thing in the first place was to learn to eat healthy, live sustainably and to be producers instead of consumers only. Starting with this post, I’d like to introduce some topics that I’m going to categorize as “homesteading”. These topics will cover ways to create your own {fill in the blank here}, save money, save energy and generally provide for yourself. As with everything I blog about – keep in mind that I’m no expert. If you’re here looking for 100% expert advice, you’ve come to the wrong place. If you’re here for a front row seat to a novice learning from the real experts and sharing her ups and downs so you can learn from her mistakes, this is the place to be!  [Read More]
 
 
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