Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sugaring #6

I hadn't planned on posting tonight, but after the record day of sap production I decided to.  Scott went and checked the sap earlier this afternoon, because yesterday I had overflowing buckets by the time I got home from work.  I still had overflowing sap buckets when I got home today.  We had a grand total of 9 gallons harvested today.  Way crazy.  So far this week we have gotten 19 total gallons (which is what is waiting in our barn for me to get enough time to boil.)  I am just hoping that we'll have enough storage for tomorrow's harvest and than I'll boil all day Friday.  This weather has really lent it self to sap production.  We have one tree in particular that must have sustained some winter damage to a limb high up.  As I was emptying the sap bucket this week I was getting sap dripped on me from above.  Needless to say it is one of our better producing trees. 

With the sun and warm temps our snow is finally going away, but not fast enough.  This weekend we are expecting some rain so that will help.  I am longing for anything to start growing in my gardens, even weeds.  Friday I am also planning on starting my seeds that will be getting a head start in the sun room. 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Saturday Secrets & Successes

I need your help!  All of my life (at least what I can remember) I have struggled with my weight, like many Americans.  Family genetics do play into this, but I have to overcome this.  I want part of my drive to live a more self sustainable life to also be a healthier & lighter life.  Scott has quit smoking and this is my goal.  I want to be a good role model to my kids.  So here before the blogging world I am going to make Saturdays my "Saturday Secrets & Successes" day.  It won't just be my weight loss/gain ups and downs, but that of life in general.  But it will help give me accountability.  So I hope that you can forgive my diversion from gardening and life sustainability every now and again.  Here goes..... as of today I weighed in at 256 lbs. 

This is a recent pic from when Adin and I
went with his class to Disney on Ice. 
This can be my "Before" Picture.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

March Snow

It wouldn't be March in Wisconsin without one last snow storm.  Weather reports are saying we could get 8-16 inches in the next 36 hours.  Personally I hope that they are wrong, but we'll wait and see.  I think I'll make a nice pot of chicken noodle soup today as I am still sick.  I have been home from work yesterday and today feeling like crap with chills, fever, aches, coughs and sneezes.  After having twins the severe coughing can be dangerous with the bladder.  Other moms, I am sure you understand.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sugaring #5

Yesterday was a banner day for sap flowing, unbelievable.  We got 5 gallons.  It was fun to take my sister and nephew's out on the sugar runs.  Adin was the "teacher" and telling the boys all about it.  The boys were pretty  excited.  Today we got another 1 3/4 gallons so our total since Friday was 7, so I am boiling down another batch.  As of now I am down to a gallon left and I'm finishing it in the house.  Judging from what I got last time, I should get about a pint.  I have the BWB ready to go to can it when it is finished.  I sent some home with Greta and the boys.  We had it on french toast sticks this morning and everyone loved it.  I love making maple syrup.  I'm a dork, I know.
My boiling set up. 
It works great when I can crank up the flame. 
Doesn't take long.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Seeds Have Arrived!

My sister came down this weekend for my son's 5th Birthday party and brought my seeds with her.  We split a lot of the seed packets because some just have more than we need.  I know we could save them for another year on a lot of them, but this just works better for us.  So after our dividing the ones that we are sharing and her keeping some of the ones that she will start for both of us (because she has the small green house and ours isn't built yet) we are ready for spring.

My list of seeds include:
Peas: RSVPea for shelling and Sugar Snaps
Beans:  Burpee's Tenderpod and Gold Mine
Pumpkins: Dill's Monster,SuperFreak Goosebumps Hybrid, and Snack face Hybrid
Squash:  Waltham Butternut Heirloom & Buttercup
Gourds:  Gremlins and Goblin Egg
Carrots:  Atomic Red, Bambino, Cosmic Purple, Lunar White & Solar Yellow
Sweet Zuke Hybrid Zucchini
Baby Leaf Hybrid Spinach
Sweet Basil
Lettuce: Iceberg A & a leaf
Early Pride Hybrid Cucumber
Dimitri Hybrid Brussels Sprouts
Peppers: False Alarm, California Wonder, Sunbright, Horizon, Purple Beauty, Midnight Dreams, Chocolate Bell, White Belle and Lilac Bell
Dukat Dill
Granex Yellow Onions (grown from seed for green onions and sets for 2012)
Tomatoes:  Brandy Boy, Roma & a Cherry

I think that is it.  Looks pretty daunting, but I am excited.  I may add a thing or two as the time get's closer.  I am also getting seed potatoes and onion sets, but they are on back order.  We have this huge beautiful south facing deck that doesn't get much use, so I will be doing a bunch of container plantings up there with the leaf lettuce, herbs, some tomatoes and maybe I'll add some pole beans as my others that will go in the garden are bush varieties. 

Friday, Scott and Adin went and got our glass for the green house.  We got 10 panels of replacement patio door glass for $15 each.  Should work great.  The layout of the green house is once again changing in Scott's mind.  He is now thinking of having it longer and narrower, which is fine with me.  He has a picture in his head and it should work.  He is pretty meticulous when it comes to building so I'm sure it will be beautiful.  He even textured the concrete that he put down last fall for our split wood to sit on.  He is wonderful. 

Today is beautiful, but tomorrow is supposed to rain.  At least we should loose a lot of snow this weekend.  This afternoon I was actually able to get into the garden and dig up some carrots that have been overwintering in there.  I was amazed.  Other than being really dirty, they were still crisp and crunchy and not frozen.  I love it.  It is fun to be harvesting again. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sugaring #4

Success!  I have now come full cycle with sugaring and making my own maple syrup.  This afternoon Scott fired up the turkey fryer for me and I started boiling and boiling and boiling. (I do have pictures but they are still on the phone - I'll add them later.)  I had 8 full gallons of sap all sitting nicely in recycled milk jugs waiting to be added and so they were in time.  Each gallon was strained with a strainer & coffee filter as I poured it into the cooking pan.  That worked great to get out the lichens and small flecks of bark that made their way into the collecting buckets.  As I was boiling, down next to the barn and then under the wood lean-to when it started raining, I was reading one of my favorite authors, Mrs. Carla Emery.  Great read for this kind of work/time killing.  I also chopped some ice next to the barn to make canals for the water to run down the drive way which is already very water-logged. 

Anyway after about 5.5 or 6 hours of boiling I was down to less than a gallon, so I dumped that into my big soup pot and finished it in the kitchen.  It was pretty exciting when it flash boiled and I knew it was done.  I did my best to strain it again, but there still seem to be some small floaties that got through.  I'll have to perfect that process next time.  My friend David said that the best storage for this is to BWB can it, so when it was all said and done, now at 10:30 pm, I now have 1 pint of a beautiful amber maple syrup canned and the remaining almost one cup in the fridge for the kids this weekend.

I have to say that this is some pretty tasty stuff.  It is going to be hard to go back to that fake pancake syrup after tasting this.  Now I am just praying that the sap keeps a flowing so I can keep a boiling.  This has been a very fun process. 

Spring Has Sprung

This morning I walked out the door into 40 degree bliss and it smelled delightful.  I could hear the water running down our drain spout, spring is really here.  Finally!  Our driveway is a mess, I am glad that I have my Muck boots, I practically live in them these days.  The kids are loving jumping in the mud puddles or "Muddles" as Adin still calls them.  It sure doesn't take them long to be completely soaked, but I don't mind.  I was the same way as a kid, you couldn't keep me out of those silly muddles.  The snow in the garden is even starting to disappear, although it still has a long way to go.  We do have some spots of nice green grass though.  They can be found in a nice line from the house to the barn, directly over the buried wood stove line.  Pretty interesting! 

Tomorrow Scott and Adin are taking the long drive to Merrill to pick up a bunch of insulated sliding glass door panels that we are going to use to build our greenhouse.  I am so excited.  Yeah for Craig's List.  The girls and I will be at day care for the day, playing and working respectively.  I guess I get to play some too.  :)  This kind of weather just makes me smile and puts me in the best mood.  Such a great day.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sugaring #3

7 1/2 Gallons of Sap
The last 2 days have been very productive.  The sap is a flowing and the snow is a melting.  We still have tons of snow, but with each 40 degree day more and more disappears.  Yesterday was my son's 5th Birthday (we are having his party this weekend), he and I went out to collect sap with the 4-wheeler and because the snow was so squishy we got it stuck.  I am glad that we have a winch on it, so we were able to get unstuck.  Unfortunately my finger got in the way a bit and I now have no feeling in my ring finger on my left hand.  (typing is a bit challenging)  It was already a damaged finger, but that is a different story all together.  Let's just say it is a very unlucky finger. 

Any way we were able to pull 2.5 gallons yesterday and 2 more today for a total of 7.5 gallons so far.  I am glad that I am off tomorrow, so I can start boiling as I am running out of milk jugs to recycle.  Good thing we drink a lot of milk around here and that I work at a day care where the kids drink a lot of milk. 

I am actually excited to see how much we'll get with this batch.  I know I have read that to get one gallon you need 30-40 gallons of sap.  My brother-in-law says that he gets a ratio of about 14/1 so we'll see what we get.  It would be nice to get a good amount.  Tonight is supposed to stay warm, so I am praying that it doesn't mess up the flow too bad.  After tonight, it is going to be cold at night again, so maybe just one night won't goof things up. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sugaring #2

This morning before work I hiked out to the woods to check on our taps, mostly to see if any critter met it's fate in our buckets. To my thanks no critters and to my surprise - sap! We had sap already and yesterday wasn't even that nice of a day. It was frozen in the buckets, so I left them for tonight. When the kids and I got home from work, we hiked out to the trees and low and behold - more sap. We have now collected exactly 1 gallon from 5 taps. The taps in the red maples aren't doing anything, but those sugars are dripping nicely. It was really fun to see the kids so excited to check out each bucket to see if we had production. We'll go check them a couple of times tomorrow to see how the flow is. I have to work this weekend, so I'm not sure when I'll be starting the boiling process. Until then, the sap is safely in milk jugs sitting in the mounds of snow we have in the front of the house.

One Year of Blogging

Today marks one year and 10 days of blogging our family adventures and what nots. We have accomplished a lot. Beautiful garden built, wood stove purchased (it was fun getting calls from the gas company asking if we needed any propane and us saying "No Thanks") and paid off (as soon as taxes come back), trees cleared around house and barn, learned how to can along with many other things.

As 2011 moves forward, so do our plans for becoming even more self sufficient. This year I fear is going to see some hard times in our state and community for many people. Gas prices are rising at a rapid rate which is not only going to make filling our vehicles painful, but it will also drive up the cost of everything else around here. I am glad we have the wood stove and our garden. We may also see some major fallout from our Governor's new budget balancing bill that he is working on. Don't get me wrong, we really need to get control of the state's budget, but the way he is going about it is going to hurt the education of our children and hurt a lot of us financially. Seeing is how he is pretty dead set on "His Way", I am going to try to plan and prepare for the worst.

Now that we have gone through one year of gardening, I know what I need to plant more of and what I need to can more of. I am going to get over my fear of pressure canning and borrow my Grandmother's pressure canner (she already gave me her hot water bath canner) that way I can can veggies and other things with a lower acidity. I am going to try and produce more potatoes so we can actually store them for the winter instead of just only getting a few meals out of them. We will have chickens so we'll have our own eggs eventually. I am going to do everything I realistically can to make us more able to be self-sufficient off of these 20 ac. we have. I will not get a cow! Here is to better days despite impending trials and tribulations, to looking for the silver lining in every situation, to having a positive & productive year with lots of learning.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sugaring #1

This morning my brother-in-law came over to teach me how to tap maple trees. He had 8 taps, so that was how many trees we targeted. Most of the trees that we tapped were sugar maples, but a few were red maples. I learned that it is best to tap trees over 10 inches, drill at a 30 degree angle upwards and drill in 3-5 inches depending on the size of the tree. You don't want to drill into the heart wood, but you want to drill in far enough to create a pocket for the sap. I found all of this very interesting. We have a huge sugar maple right next to the road, but we didn't want to tap it seeing it is so close and up here you never know who is going to screw around with it.

Greg said in this area we won't get a huge flow because of the sand, but we had a wet fall, so the roots are well hydrated so we'll see. Things aren't flowing yet, the trees are still pretty frozen, but in the next few days as things warm up and we tapped trees on the south slope, they should start flowing soon. From Greg and Darlene's experience a ratio of 14-1 is what they go by when boiling it down, but he said to just go by taste, cause it can get way sweet way fast. We plan on cutting it with some Karo syrup to thicken it up some and help with the "sweet" factor and then try and can it. We could freeze it, but around here with our venison we run out of freezer space and we have a huge root cellar that we can store canned things in.

Here are a couple of pictures from this morning. The kids really got into helping Uncle Greg. Adin already has the taps figured out exactly how they get put in. He is a fast learner.

Tomorrow morning before work, I'll take a hike and see if there is anything of promise in those buckets or anything we need to discard in those buckets. It is nature and you never know what might find it's way into a sap bucket. Maybe if this process all goes well and we all like the product, we'll invest in some more taps and such.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Today as the sun shone and the temp was a beautiful 35 degrees, Scott and I both had the day off as well as tomorrow. Yeah! That doesn't happen much. We started clearing out some trees to make room off of the south east end of our shed "barn" for the chicken coop and the greenhouse. It was so nice to be back out cutting in nice weather. Most of this was green wood so we won't burn it until next year. The kids were out playing in the snow and the play set and also doing some sledding until the snow got too wet and sticky.

On one of trips through the woods with the 4-wheeler the kids and I noticed a spot where an owl came down to try and grab something. The kids thought it was the coolest thing ever. The last time I saw a print like that was about 10 years or so ago when we were raising Guinea Hens at camp and an owl came down and swiped one of those. I actually saw that in progress.
Yesterday I started thinking about tapping maple trees. It was about this time last year that we were talking with Greg, Scott's brother about it and we were a bit late (spring came much earlier last year). I think we are right about on time to start getting this processed prepped and ready to go. I have never done this and neither has Scott, but Greg has, so I gave him a call this afternoon and he is coming over tomorrow to check things out. He also said he was looking for something to do, he's retired now. :)
I also am the proud new owner of a turkey fryer which we are planning on using to boil down the sap to syrup. It is brand new (to us and actually never used but is about 8 years old now) and I am ready to try out this new adventure. Not a bad score for a few hours of computer work for a friend. I have heard that a good tap can produce 5-8 gallons of sap a day, I'll be interested to see how much ours will produce. We have a ton of nice maples in the bottoms out behind our house. If it take 30-40 gallons of sap to make about 1 gallon of syrup, I'm glad that we have a lot of trees. It would be cool to get enough to make enough syrup for us and Greg. Now I just have to do some research on the best way to go about long term storage of the maple syrup.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Sunroom Garden - Day 25

Back on the 9th of February, the kids and I planted cilantro, sugar snap peas and green beans in beautifully decorated pots just to see what would happen. The seed came from our garden last summer and I wanted to see if they would grow and we were all desperate for spring.

Well, now it is Day 25 and things are coming along nicely. They seem to like my south facing window in the sunroom. I have hung string from the top frame of the window for the peas to climb and the cilantro is now finally showing it's real leaves. Each day the little plants get loving kisses from my kids and are gently watered when needed. Freya has yet to find them which is good news.

This winter we have found ourselves using nature's refrigeration system a lot. First with ground venison and today with rice for chicken fried rice tonight for supper. Why use electricity when the outside cold will work. I should have taken a picture of our venison lined up on the rail of our deck covered in snow, but it got used up before I thought of it. Hopefully it won't be much longer until we won't be able to use this system. The sun is shining beautifully today, but alas it is snowing and in the 20's. Don't get me wrong, the 20's are much better than what we had last week.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dreaming BIG!

So as summer work project season draws closer....who am I kidding, it is still many months away. I am at least going to start planning and dreaming about the summer work project season. Much better. Hubby and I have started to toss around the possibility of building that green house and chicken coop this summer/fall.

Chicken coop: We are for sure going to have layers as we go through tons of eggs and we LOVE fresh eggs. We are also tossing around the idea of adding fryers or as combo meat-eggs breed to the mix, obviously keeping the two separate for different feeding needs. Scott sees that as a good reason to get a plucker "for the chickens" that will also work on ducks and other game birds. For any of you out there who may be reading this and who have or are raising chickens, I would love to hear suggestions for coop ideas and breed ideas. We are in Zone 3 so we need hardy hens.

Green House: Just dreaming big on this one as I have no idea what is possible or even in the budget as of yet, but if I could have anything, these are some of the things I would want.
* Raised growing tables where I could grow some fresh veggies year round (provided we have this hooked up to our wood boiler.)
* lots of work space for potting and starting seeds.
* Soil bins that tip out like my Grandmother's flour bin. One for soil and one for completed compost.
* A lighting and watering system.
* A system to collect & store rain water.
I would love to hear other's dream green house components, things that are must-haves and can't live with outs.

I figure I might as well dream big and then pair it down from there to reality.