Archive for April, 2013

You Know It’s Spring When…

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

barefeetToday I walked Franco along the front pond dam, which has been accessible only with snowshoes until the past couple of days. I noticed the overflow was a bit clogged with dead cattails, so I gingerly walked out to the overflow. Not quite gingerly enough as it turns out. My shoes and socks got soaked. I took them off, and wonder of wonders, the ground was warm. Ahh! The first day of spring for me is when I can feel the ground with my feet.

Later on I walked Franko for a mile on the road with no shoes. What a delight to feel the earth under my feet again.

The End is Nigh

Monday, April 29th, 2013

I pulled about half my taps, buckets, and covers yesterday. As I made the rounds, if the tree wasn’t producing, out came the tap. Today when I made the rounds to the trees that were still tapped, I gathered, but none of the trees produced more than a cup full, so I’ll pull the rest of the taps tomorrow. The storage barrel is empty, and I have about 5 gallons in a pail to process yet.

This time of year is tricky, because I can no longer dilute the syrup in the evaporator with raw sap. So I build small fires and try to keep things warm enough to steam away the last of the moisture without burning. I’ll empty the evaporator when I get it down as far as I dare, bring it inside, and finish it on the wood stove.

It looks like a good year. Things can still go wrong, of course, but all-in-all, I’ve worked hard and made some syrup. And who could ask for more?

Find The Doggie

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

frank1Franko and I have settled into our maple syrup routine. I throw sticks for him when he delivers them to me, as long as I’m not too busy. When he gets tired of chasing sticks, he finds a nice place to lay down and watches me.

frank2Franco is very well camouflaged, and sometimes when he lays down, it is very hard to see him. I’ve often wondered if he consciously looks for a place to lay down so he will disappear into the background.

frank3Often when I’m gathering sap, he’ll walk with me for a while. He knows the route as well as I do by now, so he’ll sometimes lay down and wait for me to come to him. Franco has been known to run off on occasion, so when I don’t see him, I’ll often call him. And he’ll pop up right next to me and give me the look that says, “are you blind? I’m right here!” Yes, I’d say compared to him I probably am blind.

Bricks Tied To My Feet

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

It was perfect maple sap weather today. Sunny and relatively warm, and below freezing last night. And the trees responded. Some trees had spectacular runs, and some very little or none. But the aggregate was a very good run. The problem was in the gathering.

tracksThe paths I’ve made between the trees with my snowshoes have been like ice roads throughout this maple season. Well today, the combination of sunshine and several days of warm weather rotted my ice roads. Walking along between the trees, the snow came up through the lashings on the snowshoes, and built up into piles of slush. This made my feet very heavy indeed. I’ve learn a toe-kick to remove the slush, but when every step just adding more, eventually I just plodded along.

As the gathering buckets filled up, my gross weight increased. Again, not bad in itself, but I found today that some of the places I’ve been walking on top of the entire season turned out to be brush piles, and the thin layer of snow over them gave way and sent me crashing down through. During a fall, I’ve learned how to quickly set the buckets down before I try to catch myself, and sometimes I’m more successful than others at this move. All-in-all, by the time I was done gathering today, I was ready to close up shop and head home.

I keep telling myself this is a very nice problem to have… that the syrup season is a short one and it should be enjoyed while it lasts. Yes, I answered, but there are limits.

Deer Are Supposed To Run Away

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Franco and I do a lot of walking on our road. He gets a walk every evening after supper, and we make a trip or two each day out to the sugar bush. Our travels take us past the big power lines on our property. The power company is doing some clearing out there, and have left some of the green branches on the ground. The deer in our neighborhood are having a tough spring because of all the snow. Normally this time of year they would be eating fresh green grass, but it is still buried under a lot of snow. So they have been congregating along the power lines, and pawing around to try to get at some of the tree greens that have been overlooked.

Franco is an exuberant deer chaser. I can let him run because he always comes when I call him. The deer are in no danger, since they can see him early enough to be long gone by the time he gets to them. The sight of all those luxurious white tails waiving good-bye to him fills his heart with lust. I don’t think he’s ever given any idea to what he’d actually do with one if he caught it, that is until the other day.

We were walking along the road as usual, and a deer was coming down the road towards us. Franko was ahead of me, and saw the deer first. He froze with interest. I continued walking and the deer then saw me, but not Franco. It decided that it didn’t need to hurry to reach the safety of the power lines ahead of me, so it sort of trotted towards me getting ready to make a left turn. Franco put on a burst of speed and got to the turning off point before the deer did. Franco immediately determined that deer are pretty big creatures, and that the one coming closer to him lacked that fluffy white tail. The tracks in the mud and snow told the story when I got there. Franco hit the brakes and barked/growled at the deer. The deer jumped about 3 feet sideways to avoid Franco, and made some pretty astounding leaps along the power lines to get away.

I looked at Franco and he looked at me. Clearly a lesson of some sort was learned from that 1 second encounter. As near as I could tell, part of the lesson was, deer are more fun when they run away.

Mushroom Genesis

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Thanks to the encouragement of one of Alice’s colleagues at work, we’ve decided to bite the bullet and try growing our own mushrooms. While Shiitake mushrooms prefer oak (which we don’t have) for their substrate, we learned that they also do well on sugar maple, which we have a lot of. The logs need to be 36-40″ long, and harvested as close as possible to when the spawn arrives.

So this afternoon, I loaded up chainsaw, safety gear, and myself into the Scout and went sugar maple hunting. The 40 acres we have on the corner of Cabbage and Cemetery roads was the most likely place. Over the years, previous owners have harvested from the edge of the forest closest to the road, probably because it was close to the road. Therefore, there are lots of clumps of sugar maples growing that need thinning. In about 5 minutes of walking, I found a likely tree, and cut it down.

logsOf course, it hung up on a poplar tree. I measured and cut approximately 3′ sections hoping the tree fall down, but it didn’t. Once it got close enough to the poplar tree, I was able to push it over and finish the job. The goal was to get 12 logs, no bigger than 8″ and no smaller than 3″, and at least 36″ long. I managed to get 11 logs out of that tree, and called it good.

When I got the batch home, I emptied my gear, covered the logs with a tarp, and shoveled snow on the whole thing to hold down the tarp and keep the logs cool. In theory, the spawn should ship tomorrow from Field and Forest Products. As soon as it comes, I hope to drill the holes, insert the spawn, and let the mushrooming begin.

The Old, The New

Friday, April 19th, 2013

oldtI’ve been accused of hovering around the syrup evaporator. I can’t make myself read a book while I’m out there, because I’m often up and around every few minutes looking at the fluid level, checking the specific gravity, looking at the firebox, etc. etc. I admit it. Even with a tiny evaporator like mine, there is enough going on that I feel I have to keep on my toes.

Yesterday I was near the back of the evaporator looking at something, when a strange color caught my eye. It was an orange/red slit coming from the back. On closer examination, I saw that the 6″ “T” through which all the smoke from the firebox is transmitted to the chimney had a crack in it that was probably a quarter inch wide. The orange glow I was seeing was the hot gasses from the fire! This was bad news, because if the “T” came apart, the entire chimney could fall down, leaving the hot gasses out into the shack.

oldt2As quickly as I could, I shut things down, closed up shop, and walked back to the house. I got in the truck and drove to town, where I bought a new “T”, some new stove pipe, and some other odds and ends. This morning I bundled everything up in my big duffel bag and headed out there. I was prepared for this job to be a long one, but it went pretty well. After I got the old “T” off, I put it on the shelf and took a picture to show how close I’d come to having the thing disintegrate on me.

newtThe new “T” went on without a hitch, and the stovepipe chimney was still in good enough shape that I put it back on. I started a new fire in the reconfigured stove, and it worked like a champ. This little problem surely could have been worse. I’m glad I fuss around the evaporator enough that I noticed this problem before it got much worse.

I Hear You Guys Are Getting Snow

Friday, April 12th, 2013

snow1A buddy of mine from the Detroit area sent me an email saying that he heard we were getting some snow. Oh my goodness yes! Another storm came through yesterday and today leaving several more inches of the wet stuff. When I walked out to the maple orchard this morning, many of the bucket lids were askew from the wind, and lots of snow had infiltrated those buckets. I carefully removed as much snow as I could from these buckets, replaced the lids, and put several handfuls of snow on the lids to hold them down.

Interestingly, the trees are continuing to run, even in this blustery snowy weather. One of the trees near the boiling shack had an icicle about 2 inches long on it, with drips coming off the end. That is a tree with heart!

mittensAt the back of the shack, I’ve hung a used piece of sheet metal behind the stovepipe, because the wall studs directly behind the stovepipe were getting very hot during prolonged boils. The sheet metal deflects the heat up and away from the flammable studs, and gives me a place to hang my wet mittens. When I came in from a project and saw them there, I took a picture because I thought they looked interesting.

With about 3 feet of snow still on the ground and more falling, I’m hoping for a prolonged syrup season this year.

The Dali Snowblanket

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

bucketsThe weather has been snowy again. This seems like the most snow ever for an early April. We still have lots of snow on the ground from our big spring storm, and in the last 24 hours, we’ve gotten several more inches. I got a kick out of how the snow blanked the bucket covers, partially slid off, and drooped down like the famous Salvador Dali painting with clocks.

Alice and I spent several enjoyable hours in the sugar orchard this afternoon. We boiled until we got mostly caught up from yesterday’s gather, drew off a batch of syrup, and gathered today’s run. Even with the snow, the trees produced nicely. The weather forecast is calling for decent maple sap weather into the middle of next week too. If this keeps up, we should have a good run this year.

Ice Bucket

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

For the maple sap to run, you need cold (below freezing) nights, and warm (above freezing) days. In this neighborhood, this magic time of the spring season gives us anywhere from 2 – 5 weeks of this weather. One caveat to this rule of thumb is if we get several nights of above freezing weather, the trees may decide to bud, ending the sugaring season.

icebucketThe below freezing nights can cause some problems for the boiling operation the next day. The sap can freeze in the storage barrel, and especially in the valve pipe from which I draw the syrup into the bucket for transfer into the evaporator. When this happens, I have to somehow thaw the pipe before I can start boiling.

One solution I’ve come up with over the years is to draw some sap into gathering buckets the night before. That way I can usually find a way to get the sap into the evaporator even if things freeze. The picture is what happened on a very cold (single digit) night recently. I was able to pour some of the sap out of the bucket, but the majority of the contents had frozen solid. Luckily the bucket was tapered, and was able to get the ice plug out and into the evaporator. As the sap heated up, the frozen plug gradually disappeared into the boiling fluid. As I was going about my business that day, I smiled several times when I saw that unlikely cylinder of ice slowly sinking into the boiling sap.