March 24, 2013
The date on the calendar may say its spring time, but we are already getting prepared for next winter. Our first year making maple syrup taught us that the evaporator is an insatiable beast when it comes to its favorite fuel. Wood. The furnace consumes the wood logs in the same manner a dog scarfs a chunk of steak and then looks for more.
We hope to get about ten cords of wood stored and set aside for the evaporator. Our house is heated by a wood stove too, so we will need to cut another three to four cords for it.
There is a stand of trees in our east pasture that we have wanted to clear out, so that is where we have begun our wood harvest. Sonny fell one tree yesterday and then another today. We cut the trunks up into rounds and have temporarily stacked them on the wood racks. Later we will use the log splitter to split them and then replace them in the racks to dry over the summer. They should be ready to use by next winter.
Wood rounds waiting to be split.
The weather is still cool and perfect for wood cutting. Better to get the majority of it done now before the temps rise. Its no fun cutting wood when its sweltering and the last thing you want to think about is fire. Thats homestead life. You are always preparing for the season ahead.
December 29, 2012
We awoke this morning to a farm wrapped in a blanket of fluffy snow. Gray tree limbs dressed in white highlights stood out against the darkened woods. Sounds were muffled as walked back to the chicken coop.
The guineas are usually the first to drop from their roosts in the morning, making a daily pilgrimage to our porch railings to beg for breakfast. The turkeys trot close behind them. On the African plains they would be tall giraffes that follow a herd of zebras. Not so this morning. We caught the guineas still lounging up on the pole barn rafters while the turkeys milled below searching for scraps of cracked corn on the ground.
What’s all this white stuff out here? My toes are cold.
Guineas on the rafters.
The bird netting on the twinny pennies coop yard was blotched in snow and the ground was covered. We shoveled out a path so they could get to their feed station. Of course we couldn’t leave out the chickens from the coop next door and shoveled a path for them as well to the feed station in the pole barn.
Its a day to stay under cover and watch the snowflakes fall. None of the fowl will venture far from their shelters this day, the barn cats are snug in their beds, and Ruby is stretched out by the wood stove. All is quiet…peaceful. Shhhhh. The farm is at rest….for now.
December 3, 2012
During the summer one of my barred rock hens was beaten up by the rooster. She had a few gashes in her head and along her back. I found her by the strawberry patch and thought she may not make it, but she surprised me by stepping in front of me, looking as if to say, “Will you help me?” I nursed her back to health, her comb is now bright red and her feathers are thick. She is completely recovered other than being blind now in one eye. Anytime danger comes her way she runs to me and I will pick her up. Long story short I separated her and her twin sister who is also disliked by the rooster Captain Jack and put them in their own coop.
When the turkeys came along we tried to put them in with the two henny pennys, but the girls were not happy with their new house guests. Unfortunately it was the only coop with a fence to keep the turkeys confined until they became accustomed to their new surroundings. Since the hens were less than gracious hosts they had to be put back in the main coop until we could build another. Everyday the one eyed henny would stand outside the fence and look wistfully at her old home, wondering why these long legged birds had displaced her.
A few nights ago as evening fell we went to close up the coops and found that the back of the now turkey coop had been opened. The turkeys had escaped and decided to roost on top of the pole barn. We have no idea how the back hatch opened up, but the turkeys have never returned and choose to roost with the guineas or chickens.
Today I put the blind hen back in her home. She strutted around the pen, taking a bite of food and a sip of water before entering the house. She perused the inside with her one good eye then fluffed her feathers as if to say, “this place needs a good cleaning.” Of course I cleaned it for her, scraping and sweeping out the old turkey poop and putting down fresh hay. Later we brought her sister in to keep her company.
Sonny built them a new feeding station with a roof to keep their food dry and clean. I don’t think there could be two happier henny pennys and I’m almost sure I heard a sigh of grateful satisfaction as we closed the hatch tonight. All is right with the world for these two girls tonight. Content once again in their home sweet home.
New feeding station.
November 4, 2012
Sonny has been working hard to get the sugar shack completed before the maple season starts in February and March. I do believe he eats, sleeps and dreams about maple syrup. That is a good thing for all of you because it means he is passionate about maple syrup and will do his best to produce the best maple syrup in West Virginia.
Yesterday we crossed a big milestone. The evaporator and tanks are all in place so we did a little test run of the system. Sonny filled the large holding tank with water and we watched as it flowed down the pvc pipe into the evaporator. He worked up a system to where we will not have to use buckets to pour the sap into the evaporator. Instead he will pump the sap from a tank in the back of the RTV into another holding tank that sits higher than the evaporator. He can then control the amount of sap that is put into the evaporator by the use of shut off valves. Confused? Maybe a few pics will help.
(notice the sap holding tank above the evaporator)
The day was cool and perfect for starting a fire in the wood stove or wood furnace as Sonny calls it, that will heat the sap and boil off the water. We could smell the newness of the wood furnace and evaporator as the metal warmed up. Soon the water began to bubble, creating steam that rolled up from the evaporator like an ethereal smoke. It made its escape to the outside through open vents along the sides and top of the sugar shack. To look at the outside of the building one might think we had a moonshine still working in there.
Firing up the Firebox
We still have a few things to tweak to finish up, but this dry run was a success. Today Sonny is out running lines to the new trees we marked. I will have more on that tomorrow.
I really hope to give you all a play by play of the maple syrup production so you can be a part of the process and when you pour that sweet amber syrup over your pancakes and watch in anticipation as it drizzles down the sides, you will know exactly where it came from and what had to be done to get it.
October 30, 2012
Well we weathered the storm here on the homestead. Like most places on the east coast it rained and the wind blew. Lucky for us no trees were blown down and no flooding to speak of. Around 4a.m. in the morning is started snowing and it has continued all day. The ground temp never got quite cold enough to freeze so the snow never accumulated more than an inch.
But, there was enough snow to cover the solar panels. A couple of years ago, we got a extendable squeegee and it worked just fine for the chore. We have also been working a lot on the sap evaporator. We built a heavy duty stand to hold the raw sap, plumbed the 100 gallon tank to the evaporator flue pan and will be putting up the smoke stack and flashing as soon as the weather gets better.
October 16, 2012
Last Monday the Sap Evaporator was finally delivered from Leader. I went through Anderson’s Maple Syrup for my order and advice. I purchased the American model because that one fit the amount of taps that I hope to eventually get to.
So far we have only done a fit check and dry assemble. Now we have to rent a wet saw to cut about a dozen fire bricks for the tunnel. Once that is completed the drop flue pan and the syrup pan can be put in place and a simulated sap cook will begin with water.
May 17, 2012
We had a wonderful visit today with one of our readers, Luann Barbagallo, who stopped by to pick up two pints of syrup and to see just what PHF was all about.
Luann and her family are starting their own homestead in a nearby county. I’m not sure what pearls of wisdom we had to offer as Luann has twenty years of gardening, canning and raising milk goats under her belt. That experience will go a long way in starting a homestead. I hope to keep in touch Luann, you never know, we may need some milk goat advice when we finally get to that stage.
We showed her how the off grid system worked and then took a tour of the farm, stopping by to see the princess piggies. The girls were on their best behavior and allowed Luann to view the pig palace set up. She was interested to see what methods we use to raise our pigs since she and her husband will be purchasing their own feeder pigs in just a few days.
We showed her the smoke house where we smoked eight hams last fall, because if your going to raise pigs you have to have a smoke house. She whole heartedly agreed.
In the past few years we have come to know several homesteading families and one of the nice things about it is that we all share ideas. Everyone has abilities that can help another. We are all folks who choose to live a simpler lifestyle, who choose to leave the whirlwind world of consumerism and depend on our own ingenuity to provide for ourselves.
It was a great experience to meet someone from our blog family of readers. Luann, thank you so much for stopping by, we thoroughly enjoyed your visit. Wish you lived a little bit closer. You and your husband are always welcome.
April 24, 2012
Last night as we closed the chicken coop up for the night we left five guineas resting comfortably in a tree just behind the pole barn. This morning we had three milling around the yard and two were MIA. The raccoons had attacked us with yet another midnight raid, but we were ready.
The night before last we put out a catch cage filled with savory delights to lure in a hungry raccoon, consisting of a can of sardines and a bowl of dog kibble drizzled with fish oil. That should make any raccoons mouth water. Unfortunately he was smart enough to figure out how to get the scrumptious delicacies out without tripping the cage door. I think he just stuck his paws in and pulled out what he wanted through the bars. It must have filled him up and probably his family members too cause they left the guineas alone that night.
Last night we reset the traps, putting out a marshmallow trail to entice the greedy little bugger inside. We also covered the back of the cage with a feed bag and pushed it against the wall. We only have the one cage right now.
This morning we found a prisoner locked inside. That was great, but we still lost two guinea casualties and the raccoons are up on us by seven. This guy had to have had a troop of raccoons with him to be able to kill two more guineas. There is absolutely no sign of the two. So tonight we will set the cage up again and try to place it in a little different location. We really need to get a few more cages. If things keep going this way we will have no guineas left.
April 14, 2012
Bill Guinazzo has proven himself to be an expert in the art of road grading. We noticed the nice job he did on making an access road on his own property and asked if he would do the same for us. We didn’t have access to one of the pastures that connects up to the neighbors hay field other than crossing the creek and its too difficult to get the tractor across it. Of course no one lives there and the only time you see anyone there is during the hay season.
We have permission to cross the field only after the hay has been cut so that we don’t pack it down or destroy the grass. Lost bales of hay equals lost money. That limits our use of our adjoining pasture, so Bill cut in a road that leads off the main gravel road directly onto our property.
Nice job Bill.
Back up the hill.
Now Sonny will be able to keep the pasture bush hogged and we have the potential to fence it in for goats.
The nice thing about living out here is that each one of us has skills that can help another, whether its construction, planting gardens, canning or making roads. There is all kinds of knowledge floating around these hills and all you have to do is ask for help. Its a code of neighborliness that was here long before any of us recent transplants showed up. Its a nice feeling to know you can count on one another.
Speaking of that, John and Sonny are planning another project here at PHF. We are going to build a lean too addition onto the right side of the pole barn. Now that we have more farm equipment than will fit in the pole barn we had to expand. We can use the extra space to park the tractor or the Kobota RTV and the four wheeler.
Sonny and I ran to town this morning to pick up the building supplies. Now, this afternoon John is going to taking us to see a guy who is selling his bee keeping equipment. It doesn’t hurt to go see what he has to offer. Right now our bees seems to be doing just fine, but we want to have another hive available for them to expand into.
April 4, 2012
Sonny and Bill set out on an adventure yesterday to pick up four piglets. They purchased them from a farm located a few hours from here near the town of Farmington. I’m not sure why it took all day but I believe the directions may have been a bit difficult to follow. Out here in the country roads are not always labeled and landmarks are often used instead. If you are not familiar with the area it can be quite a tail chaser to find your destination.
But despite that Sonny and Bill came home with four piglets. Two are blue butts and two are Hampshires. We will be raising the three females and Sonny delivered the hampshire male to Twolynns Farm where he will be treated like king.
Our three girls have already made themselves at home and are quite the princess piggies. I went down to the pig palace this morning and they were still asleep in their house, stretched out on a thick mattress of soft hay. I poured their morning rations into the feed trough and sweetly called out for them to come to breakfast. One of the girls raised her head slightly and gave me a look of royal disdain. How dare I wake them? I left them to their beauty sleep and figured they would eat when they were ready. So young and already full of attitude.
Who are those two guys? Are they our new footmen?
Checking out the new digs.
What...no truffles hidden under this hay?