UPDATE OF THE WEEK

February 28, 2012

Tuesday

Linda

I know I have been lax on updating the blog on a daily basis and it is not that I don’t wish to, but we have been super busy as of late. So I will give you a run down of activities from Saturday.

SATURDAY

Our day started early with a quick cup of coffee and a fried egg sandwich. We donned our winter duds of flannel shirts under insulated carhartt coats, snow boots, wool hats and gloves. The cold wind blew around us like an angry banshee as we fed the chickens and released them from the coop. They gathered around the feed bowl, feathers puffed and ruffled. Stray snow flakes landed on our shoulders and we wondered if the pruning class would still be held on schedule. No matter, we made a commitment and Carol would be waiting at the country store for us to pick her up.

Our new neighbors and friends Bill and Paula Guinazzo and Paula’s mother Nellie followed behind us as we drove the curvy roads towards Richie County. We hit pockets of snow in some areas and others were clear. We stopped at the McDonalds in Ellenboro and enjoyed a cup of coffee before going on to the pruning class.

We drove up a long drive that led to a farm situated on rolling hills. The view was breath taking. The family hosting the class raise grass fed beef cows and have an orchard of young apple, plum and peach trees as well as grapes and berries. We were surprised to see a large group of cars and trucks parked in front of the house and were glad that we weren’t the only people crazy enough to come out on such a bitter cold day.

Close to fifty people crowded into the two car garage. We were lucky enough to get a seat at one of the tables, others had to stand. The instructor showed us the various tools for pruning berry bushes and fruit trees. He showed us the proper way to prune and answered questions. After lunch we went outside to the orchard. Old man winter blew out his icy breath, trying to scare us all back behind closed doors, but these were all folks of substance and grit. People of the land, un-thwarted by the elements.

The instructor went from fruit trees to berries, trimming away unwanted growth. I would like to say that I retained all the info, but that would be lie. Thats not to say that we all didn’t learn something. It was an informative class and we learned a few tricks about pruning berry bushes and grapes which is what we came for.

Snip, Snip.

Rose has pruned off a twig of her own. Good Dog.

SUNDAY

This was an exciting day because we bottled up syrup for the first time. We took another eight gallons of sap over to Twolynns Farm and added it to the other sap. So far we have taken seventy-six gallons of sap to be processed into syrup. Sandi had a gallon of sap already processed in four quart jars waiting for us. We brought over some of our newly acquired plastic syrup jugs that we had ordered from Sugar Bush Supplies Co. Sandi and I boiled the jugs just like you do when your canning. We heated the golden syrup to boiling and then poured it into the jugs. That simple. Sonny and Lynn were out in the sugar shack keeping the fire stoked and processing more syrup. It takes hours to boil off the water from the sap to get it to that sweet golden syrup you enjoy at your table. Mmmmm good!

Jugs filled with gold.

I will have to finish more of this update tomorrow. Sonny is calling me and its time to recheck the sap buckets.

 

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TAP THAT SAP

February 23, 2012

Thursday

Linda

Last night Sonny and I dropped off fifty- five gallons of sap to TwoLynn’s Farm. That combined with the thirteen gallons we dropped off the other day gives us sixty-eight gallons. We poured them into the evaporator and Lynn will begin to process them today. So we will get a little over a gallon of syrup, but remember Lynn and Sandy will get half of that for their services. Boiling down the maple sap takes hours and requires constant observation, feeding the fire and monitoring the temperature. Excellent maple syrup can’t be rushed.

The temps didn’t drop enough last night to cause the sap to go back down into the tree roots which has made the sap slow to flow today. I am hoping to get at least one five gallon bucket filled or possibly one and half. Nature has its own plan and way of doing things. We all just have to stand by and patiently wait.

Sonny wants to tap more trees, but the sun is already starting to slip down behind the hills by the time he gets home from work. Hopefully he will get a chance to do that this weekend. Maybe he can tap a few Saturday morning before we head off to a pruning class we signed up for. We are going to learn how to prune fruit trees and berry bushes. Should be fun. The class will be held at a nearby farm so I will try to get a few pics and let you all know what we learned.

I know I promised that Sonny would do a blog on the solar hot water heater install but he has been spread pretty thin. We did have a small mishap when he first turned it on. There is antifreeze (non-toxic) that flows through lines attached to the solar panel. When he turned on the pump for the heater and when the very very hot fliud hit the pressure relief valve all the antifreeze blew out and ran down the roof into our rain water barrel. I am not really sure what went wrong, but sometimes good ‘ol Murphy likes to throw his law at us. As a matter of fact he often sends his brother Mayhem over to check in on us. The only problem is Mayhem leaves his gremlin children behind and we end up with a mess. Maybe they turned on a valve or something, but anyway we’ve ordered another batch of antifreeze from the company and it should arrive sometime tomorrow. I have no doubt that Sonny will have it reinstalled and working in no time. Thats if he has time and the gremlin children get lost in the woods.


TAPPING THE TREES FOR MAPLE SYRUP

February 20, 2012

Monday

Linda

Its time to start tapping the trees for Maple syrup. A few months ago Sonny and our daughter-in-law Clarissa, trekked around the property and marked the maple trees while they still had leaves to identify them. We aren’t tree savvy enough yet to know what they are just by looking at the bark, but we are learning. The best trees and the first to start running sap are the sugar maples, then the red maple and silver maples will begin to flow. The sap from Sycamore trees can be used too, but it takes about 90 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup as opposed to about 40 gallons of maple sap to make one gallon. Suffice it to say we won’t be tapping any Sycamore trees and we don’t really need to as we have plenty of Maples. The sap usually runs for about a month and a half in our area.

You know its time to tap the trees when the night temps get down to the 20’s and 30’s and then warm up into the 40’s and 50’s during the day. Lynn from TwoLynn’s Farm came by Friday to give Sonny some instruction on how to tap the trees. You want to tap your trees on the south side. A hand drill or power drill on low can be used to drill the hole. When using a power drill you don’t want to drill too fast because that burns the sap as it first seeps out and the tree tries to heal itself by crystalizing the sugar and blocking the hole. To drill the hole you need to use a 7/16th drill bit and drill at a slight up angle, so that when the tap is placed the sap can flow in a downward direction into the attached hoses and into the bucket. Some people just attach a bucket directly to the tap. That method is fine when your land is flat or slightly inclined but when your trees are on a steep hillside its easier run hoses down into buckets. The buckets need to be checked a couple times of day and be switched out if full.

Sonny and Sugar Maple we almost cut down.

Tree tap.

Bucket of sap.

We took about 13 gallons of sap to TwoLynn’s farm yesterday which is not that much in the scheme of things, but it came from just three trees. Sonny has tapped more trees this afternoon and we should be able to acquire an ample supply of sap. We have a deal with TwoLynn’s Farm where they will process our sap and we will get half of the syrup product  back. We won’t get a lot of syrup this year, but it will be enough to share with family and give us an idea as to whether or not this is a good endeavor for Pot Hole Farm. If it is we may invest in a sugar shack of our own, but the equipment is quite costly.

I just want to mention that the first tree we tapped was an ancient sugar maple that sits on the right side of our house. We almost cut it down last year because it looked like it needed to be. We put four taps into that tree and it filled our first bucket. Large Maples that look like trees from a horror film can have up to four taps placed into them. Tapping the trees does not harm them and they can continue to be tapped for decades.

This is another new experience for us here at PHF and as always we are grateful to TwoLynn’s Farm for showing us the ropes.

Note: We have tapped about twenty trees so far and we just checked the buckets. We now have 15 gallons of sap. More trees will have to be tapped.


SNOW DAY FUN…PHF STYLE

February 19, 2012

Sunday

Linda

This winter has been extremely mild and has felt more like spring than winter. Our daffodils are sprouting up and I noticed yesterday that one of our crocus plants is in full bloom with a crown of mustard yellow flowers. Old man winter may be in a romantic mood this year but his heart was on the frosty side last weekend when he blew six inches of snow across our hillsides. It was a perfect time for Harold and Clarissa to come out for a visit and the snow was perfect for some winter fun…Pot Hole Farm style.

Harold and Clarissa wrestled Duke into his blue snow suit and boots. Duke was pretty good about the ordeal, but I still think his parents deserve a gold medal for patience. All you parents out there know what its like to push boots on a kid’s feet who doesn’t want wear them. Once dressed Duke floundered on the bed attempting  to pull himself up. He reminded me of  Ralphie’s little brother from the movie “A Christmas Story”  when he fell in the snow on the way to school and couldn’t get up because his snow suit was so bulky. Duke finally gave up and imploringly looked at his parents to pick him up. The whole snow suit ordeal would soon be forgotten once he was outside and ready to play in the snow.

We were like a bunch of kids when we saw the snow piled on the hill across from the house and ideas were thrown back and forth on what we could use to slide down it. A toboggan would be the best mode of transport, but unfortunately we don’t own one of those. A trip to the garage was in order to find a substitute. How about one of the metal trash can lids on the feed cans? Nah, they have a handle and if we tear them up we won’t have a lid anymore. How about some cardboard? Don’t have any. Then I spied the chicken feed bags we had stashed in the corner. The labels on the outside were shiny and slick. Perfect for sliding.

The air was clear and cold as we trekked up the hill, our feed bags clutched in our hands. Moisture from our breath swirled passed our child like smiles and crystalized into the air. With pink cheeks and gleaming eyes of anticipation we crested the hill. The games were on.

Harold held his feed bag in front of him, took a few running steps and did a belly  flop. He sailed down the hill, snow flying up and over him as he cleared a trail.

Go Harold Go!

Clarissa followed close behind, gracefully doing a belly flop onto her feed bag and riding it like a magic carpet down to the bottom.

Here comes Clarissa!

I was not about to belly flop for fear that I would just bounce right back up, so instead I sat on the feed bag and pushed off. I ended up sliding down on my back, feet in the air, sliding out of control until I was flying backwards.

WAHOOOOOO!

The sounds of my screams echoed through the holler sending every coyote in the neighborhood scrambling for the protection of its den. Sonny was a little out of practice since it had been years since he slid down a hill, but he still managed to look smooth… for an old man. Sorry there is no picture of Sonny, but he was on Duke duty at the time and the photographer.

Duke got to take a ride with his mama and daddy. He wasn’t a bit afraid and sported a big smile between his apple red cheeks. It was too cold for him to be outside for very long and Clarissa took him in to put him down for his morning nap. He had no complaints and went right to sleep. Now it was free time for the rest of us big kids. Sonny challenged us to see who could go the farthest. We slid down on our stomachs, in sitting positions and Indian style. It didn’t matter how I started out I always ended up backwards. Harold was the victor and slid the farthest.

We made a feed bag toboggan by splitting the feed sacks long ways so all of us could sit on it and slide down together. Then Sonny stuck his feet into a another feed bag to make the front. Off we went down the hill ending in a pile at the end. It looked like a four car jam up.

The moral of this long story is that your never too old to act like a kid. We had a great day and our spirits were uplifted from it. So play in the snow, kick a ball, swing on a tire swing, or eat a PB&J under a weeping willow tree. It will do your heart good.


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