Archive for April, 2014

A Setback

Friday, April 25th, 2014

When we “draw off” syrup from the evaporator, it is usually just shy of syrup. Where the reading for syrup is 32 on the hydrometer, we usually draw off around 30. Then when we bottle the syrup, we boil it on the woodstove for 20 minutes or so, until it is bonafide syrup. We then pour the syrup into sterilized jars, cap it, and put it aside until it is needed.

The evaporator holds about 3 gallons of fluid in the boiling pan. Depending on when we drew off last, the fluid can be quite syrupy, or not very syrupy. Still, there is a lot of sugar in the pan.

Today I bottled most of the day, and got almost 4 gallons of syrup done. There are still several jars of syrup in the refrigerator to be done, but I ran out of time. We needed to get back out into the woods, gather whatever sap the trees gave us, and boil enough to get caught up.

While I was starting the fire, and preparing to fill the reservoir with yesterday’s sap, I heard Alice say, “Oh gross!” She’d discovered a dead mouse in the syrup in the evaporator pan. This, of course ruined everything in the evaporator for human consumption. We emptied the evaporator and got about 3 gallons of fluid. I estimate there was probably 4-5 quarts of syrup in this fluid… a significant portion of this year’s harvest.

I have to admit I was a little grouchy throughout this ordeal. When a setback such as this occurs, your mind has to race to figure out what to DO. After removing the poor embalmed mouse, and emptying the pan, we cleaned the whole thing out, rinsed it, and filled it up with the sap we had left. Then I left the fire to Alice while I gathered. I’d say 1/4 of the trees had sap too yellow to gather, so I tossed it on the ground. From the rest of the trees, I probably gathered 2 gallons of sap. This was added to what was currently in the evaporator. We then banked the fire, and left for the day.

We had one other mouse incident in the past, where the poor unfortunate fellow got into the bucket we use to catch the filtered boiling syrup when we draw off. Had I have looked into that bucket before I drew off, its life would have been spared. I now, by the way, always look into that bucket before I draw off. How today’s mouse got into the evaporator is a mystery to me. The sides of the pan are smooth stainless steel; too slick to climb, in my opinion. I suppose the mouse could have been climbing around on the rafters above the evaporator and slipped in. Whatever the reason for the mishap, we’ll have less syrup to bottle this year.

The Trees Thought Otherwise

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

There is a story of an ancient king who had a beautiful golden ring made for himself. He called his counselors together and tasked them with putting an inscription inside the ring that would sustain him in any mood. After sweating for some time (in those days, the penalty for failure was death) they came up with, “This too shall pass.” As the story goes, the king was pleased, and his counselors kept their heads.

I believe I would have a different inscription put on my ring, if I wore one. It would say, “Don’t get cocky.” Every time I learn this lesson, I seem to learn it the hard way. Learn is probably too strong a word here, because I will probably never learn this lesson. Once again today, this was made clear to me.

I’ve been tapping maple trees for 5 or 6 years now, and I pride myself in being a fair observer of nature. This year we put out about 70 taps; the most we’ve ever done. Maple trees only run their sweet sap in the spring, and only in the north where the spring temperatures are cold nights and warm days. For the past few days, as I watched this season unfold, I was pretty sure it was ending. The red maples started budding, most of my sugar maples had slowed their runs of sap, and a few of them were running small amounts of sap that had a yellow color… all signs of the end of the season.

I put off my normal weekly Monday trip to town this week in order to catch up on the boiling. We worked pretty steadily all day Monday and Tuesday. Tuesday’s run of sap was almost nil and included some yellow sap as mentioned above. I was cockily confident that today’s trip to the woods would be to pull the taps, clean out the evaporator, and call it a season. So sure was I that on three occasions, I explained to different people that the season was over, and bored them with the reasons why I thought so. The trees thought otherwise.

We had a run of about 20 gallons of very clear sap. As I went from tree to tree, I kept thinking, “OK, this is an anomaly… the rest will be empty. But one after the next bucket was half full with sweet clear sap. Instead of shutting down the operation, we boiled lots more, and stored enough in the barrel for another boiling session tomorrow.

On my trip to town today, I bought us a bag of potato chips to celebrate the end of the season. Well, the season didn’t end, but we’re eating the potato chips anyway.

5 Reasons I Don’t Read Articles With Numbers in the Title

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

The way we consume information has changed, and in my opinion, often for the better. I was never much of a newspaper guy, and we got Newsweek for many years until they refused to stop running tobacco ads. I was an early adopter in getting my news on the computer, and today spend a great deal of my day looking at online news.

The producers of this online news know they have a second or two to grab our attention as we scan the page, and if they don’t grab it, someone else will, and will therefore score a “hit” that they should have had. Hits, as I understand it, translate to advertiser dollars, which is how these folks make their money. So, how to use that second or two to grab your attention? Many are putting a number in their title:

5 Ways to Lose 10 Lbs
The 15 Best Ravioli Recipes in Eastern St. Paul
How to Tune Your Nuclear Reactor in 8 Easy Steps
30 Ways to a More Confident You

I’ve been especially interested in the way the writers choose the number they put in the title. A low number can mean a quick read, which is enticing if you feel rushed or tired. A bigger number can mean this article has some depth to it, meaning the effort to read it all might just bear some elusive fruit.

My Google News Feed seems to have several of these “clever” titles every day, and I do have to admit I read some of them (although the title I chose for this article suggests I don’t, but I got you to read this far, didn’t I?) Some are quite good, but most, in my opinion, are the same quality as the magazines that scream at you while you’re trying to check out at the grocery store. So here is a word to the wise for the people marketing their writing with clever titles… you will likely lose the 1/1,000 or a cent you would have otherwise made on me if you put a number in the title. And here are 4 reasons why…

Yard Snow

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

yardsonwFranko and I have a deal during the winter months. I try not to throw his stick in the deep snow, because it just isn’t fair. The stick does sometimes stray off the trail or the road, and we both accept that. In general, though, the snow is so deep and heavy that poor Frank has to porpoise through it to start to look for his stick, and even when he gets near where he thinks it landed, it disappears beneath the snow and is very hard to find.

Yesterday, we were carrying firewood to the house from the woodshed attached to the garage. This is a well-practiced ritual for the pair of us. Except for one thing. Yesterday, I was able to throw the stick anywhere in the yard, and he could just run straight to it, pick it up, and bring it back to me. As I write this, I realize it sounds strange, but this past winter has been extraordinary. The snow has been the stuff of legend this year, and I think both Franco and I were getting a bit tired of it. Neither of us really talked about it, but I think this relentless winter was getting under our skin.

I wish you could have seen Franko’s exuberance as he chased yesterday’s sticks. It was like a cork had popped out of a bottle. He realized that he could really let it rip, and rip he did. His spirits were lifted, and mine were lifted along with it.

Maple Update

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

maple1I suppose anyone involved in a business that is dependent on the weather will start out a story with something like, “it has been a strange (winter, spring, summer, or fall.) So just to put myself on the record, it has been a strange spring. What we need to get the trees in the mood to pump their sugary sap from roots to twigs is below freezing nights and above freezing days. My best runs usually come when the snow is gone, after a cold night, and when the sunny daytime temps are in the 50s. The sap almost pours out of the taps and into the buckets, and I am out in the evaporator house all day boiling.

maple3This winter/spring we’ve had a lot of snow. There was several feet over the woodpile, and when I walked out in the beginning of the season, the 3 long piles of evaporator wood were firm and tall under the weight of the snow. As the season commenced, the weight got to be too much for the woodpile, and one day I came out to find 2 of the three piles in rubble. (Franco is suspiciously chewing a stick in the picture, but I don’t think he caused the collapse by removing that stick from the pile. I am keeping my eye on him though.)

maple2Like last year, I’ve done all my gathering so far on snowshoes. After a strenuous turn around the circuit, I sometimes have a bit of a sit-down rest on the threshold of the evaporator shack door. Franco sometimes joins me.

On yesterday’s trip out to the woods, I found so little sap in the buckets that I didn’t even bother gathering. Today I went out again. My total sap gather for 2 days of 70 trees was about 3 gallons. I did start up the evaporator with a small fire in order to use up the little bit of sap I had. I don’t like it sitting around if I can help it. The weather man is calling for below freezing days for the next couple of days, meaning the trees will probably rest. I would not be surprised if the next warming spell we have causes the trees to bud, ending the sapping season. Yes my friends, it has been a strange spring.

Modern Day Grandfather Clock

Friday, April 4th, 2014

Our old cat Henne has a very good internal clock. It seems to manifest itself best around food time. She’ll remind us about a half hour before she is due for some food, and her sense of time is often right on the money.

Humans seem less capable of a good sense of time, and have evolved work-arounds. When I worked on the Wilfred Sikes ore carrier on the Great Lakes, the ships bells kept us informed of the time very effectively. Some homes have grandfather clocks that chime the time on the hour, and a quick listen can tell you what time it is.

catfeederAs Henne has aged, we’ve learned we have to be better at regular small feedings during the day. Her stomach is getting to the point that if she is given too much at once, she’ll throw it all up. As we looked around online, we learned there are automatic feeders available that are programmable for portions of food, and the number of feedings per day. We ordered one, set it up, and watched with interest how Henne would respond.

When this feeder goes off, it makes a lot of noise. We were concerned that Henne would fear it, but I guess that goes to show you how we underestimated Henne. Once she got the idea that this machine’s noise meant food, she’ll spring across the house when the thing goes off. Alice and I have also become trained be the machine. It is programmed to feed Henne at noon, 4:30 pm, and 9:00 pm. When the machine goes off, we’ll look at each other and say, “Oh, it must be noon.”

And I have to admit I’ve never bonded with the “BONG BONG” of grandfather clocks. The gear-grinding sound the cat feeder makes is comforting for the cat and me. I’m finding myself salivating 3 times per day now.