January 17, 2013
The Ancient One
She’s not pretty and appears to be as old as Methuselah with her bent and twisted limbs. She is frightening to most when they see her lightening strike scared bark and she could be the star of any horror film with a group of black crows resting upon her craggy branches. The sapling youth of this Sugar Maple is long passed, but the sweet sap of life still courses through her veins.
She’s a hard worker this one, producing the sweetest and largest quantity of sap than any of our other trees. Hopefully the old girl will continue to work for us for many more syrup seasons. She has stood strong for these last hundred or so years, through many a violent storm, but I fear her time is coming. Each year the storms tear a little more of her away.
So think on this the next time you open your bottle of sweet Maple syrup. Remember that a scary ancient tree gave you the best syrup you ever tasted. And we all know that would be Pot Hole Farm Maple syrup. So get your taste buds ready. Its Maple Syrup time.
January 10, 2013
Friday morning we will have just enough Maple Sap to start our early boil. The last 3 days or so had been pretty good weather for a sap run. Typically you need temps like 20’s at night and 40′ during the days for the flow to start. Unfortunately it looks like the next several days it will be too warm for any sap. The 120 gallons collected is just barely enough to fill the evaporator but it is still new so what the heck.
So far most of our 120 gallons has come from the east side of the farm, that area receives some the first sun of the day. The Maple trees on the west side never get much and really warm up and received only a small amount of sun late in the afternoon. It may pick up later in the season as the sun starts to stay out a little longer.
Collecting sap from one of five tanks on the farm.
If it turns out that the west side is a low producer I will concentrate on the east trees for next years expansion. I guess time will tell. The picture above shows how I use a D.C. powered pump to suck the sap from the collection tanks through out the farm.
Transferring sap to the indoor holding tank.
The above picture shows how I transfer the sap from the 65 gallon transport tank in the back of the Kubota into the 100 gallon tank in the Sugar Shack. This process so far beats carrying 5 gallon buckets and pouring them.
100 gallon storage tank in the Shack.
Here is the 100 gallon holding tank that is sitting on a 6 foot platform. It feeds the sap into the evaporator via the float control. Notice the sight gauge on the side. it seems to work good but I still climb up on the ladder to see the level in the tank. That may get old in a year or so.
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 15, 2012
It is kind of a long process but I’m much further along now with getting the new 5/16″ sap lines in place. We had completed replacing the 3/4″ mainline that was laying on the ground and it is all now off the ground nicely secured to the hi-tensile wire.
Now we are about finished connecting the tap lines to the mainlines. I think this will be the main focus around here until we start collecting sap.
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 14, 2012
In between trips to town and putting up sap lines we managed to get a chance to go to Two Lynn’s Farm to pick up our two turkeys. No, these guys are not for Thanksgiving dinner. We were supposed to pick them up weeks ago, but never managed to make it there. Sandy raised an assortment of poults. We had her set aside a pair of blue slate/bourbon mix who are now about four months old.
They are still adjusting to their new environment, and are unsure about their housing. The first night we carried them inside the turkey coop and they were sitting on the roost in the morning when we opened it up. Last night they did not want to go in at all. So we will see how they feel about it tonight. We may have to carry them in for a few more nights. Food did not coax them in. I have seen them walk in and out of it during the day, so I imagine it will just take a little time for them get used to new surroundings.
Hopefully this pair will do well. Pot Hole Farm now has some new voices to mix with the chorus of rooster, hen, guinea, barking dogs and meowing cats. Oh, and yea the occasional call for Sonny to come in for dinner!
Blue Slate/Bourbon Red mixed Turkeys.
November 13, 2012
We have been trying to take advantage of these spring like days to get as many sap lines run as possible. Trips to town start early in the day and consist of a running list 0f supplies to be purchased at Lowes and Tractor Supply, then back to the farm. Sonny has been running the 12.5 gauge high tensile strength wire used to hold up the main sap line for a week now. We later go back and tie the 3/4″ main sap line to the support wire. Once that has been completed we will finally connect up the 5/16″ lateral sap lines or blue lines as we call them. Hopefully we will be finished before freezing weather and the first big snowfall. All that will be left to do is tap the trees when maple syrup season starts in February or March.
Main sap line attached to wire.
We use a spinning jenny wheel to guide the wire as we pull it up and down the hillsides. Otherwise the roll may become tangled and Sonny or I might roll down the hill with a wire slinky tumbling after.
The Spinning Jenny is a great timesaver.
Every few months through out the summer we have purchased additional 35 gallon sap tanks (pigs) that will be placed at the end of each main line to collect the sap each day. Then we will pump the sap into another tank in the back of the RTV and transport it to the sugar shack. This will be much easier than the bucket method we used last year.
We anticipate that it will take a couple of more years to finish connecting lines to the rest of the Maple trees on our property, but for now we have enough trees to keep you all in syrup.
Well lunch break is over and I need to don boots and work gloves. The Master syrup maker is calling.
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.