Second year for syrup

Tapping a maple tree

It’s maple syrup season again on the farm. Or we think it is.

This is only our second time tapping our trees, so we’re still pretty much guessing. Temperatures are supposed to be above freezing during the day this week and below at night. From what I’ve read and what we learned last year, that’s sap weather.

Last year, we were impressed by how easy it was and how much syrup we made. In fact, we still have syrup left. We just don’t eat enough pancakes at our house.

But we’re not letting that stop us. We enjoyed making syrup last year, so we’re going to do it again.

Like so much of what we do on the farm, this is an experiment, so we’re learning as we go.

Lesson #1: Make sure the drill battery is charged (and the back-up too) before you start tapping. Mr. Dewalt had to hang out for a little while until the bit could spin enough to get him unstuck.

Drill stuck in a tree

Matt has picked a couple of new trees. The only issue is they’re not the easiest to access. More incentive to clean up the brush and junk along the edge of the field.

Tapping maple trees

The other three buckets went on our most productive trees from last year. (Can you spot the puppy?)

Tapping maple trees

Now our fingers are crossed that the weather cooperates and the sap starts flowing.

First fire of the season

Saturday, I was outside in a chilly wind all afternoon. Unfortunately, I wasn’t at the farm, so I didn’t have physical labour to keep me warm.

Saturday evening, home at the farm, was all about big bowl of soup on the couch in front of the first fire of the season.

A chilly day spent outside means the first fire of the season

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Sunday, Matt and I rearranged the woodpiles and took delivery of another load of firewood from his Dad.

We have a serious stockpile of firewood this year. It wraps around all three sides of the pool room.

Woodpile

We’ve gotten so much new wood this year that things have gotten a bit jumbled.

The rearrangement on Sunday was about putting the oldest wood in the most accessible spot: stacked on the side patio closest to the kitchen door. Then there is the original woodpile behind the pool room now expanded to four rows–we’ve never had four rows.

Woodpile

The newest wood is on the other side patio where it can dry for awhile–years given the amount of wood we have to burn through before then.

Woodpile

The fireplace is my thing, but the firewood is Matt’s. I gripe a bit about firewood taking over our house, but I appreciate all of the effort he puts into making sure I’m set for a cozy night after a chilly day.

How are you getting ready for winter at your house?

Things I think about while splitting firewood

We’ve been gradually amassing firewood on our side patio.

Unsplit firewood on the side patio

On Saturday, I was away from the farm for a few hours, and when I came home Matt was deep into splitting. In all, he spent 7 hours splitting. I put in 5 hours stacking.

Matt splitting firewood

By the end of the day, we had three rows of wood split–my goal for our annual firewood allotment.

Firewood piles

Of course, by Sunday one of the rows had partially collapsed, but on the bright side I cleaned up most of the wood chips, bark and small branches that had littered the patio.

Collapsed firewood piles

I’ve been thinking about making a little sitting area here.

Cleaning up the side patio

We’re not really good at sitting, especially when we’re outside, but maybe that’s just because we don’t have a spot. That could be, right?

It has nothing to do with spending a whole day splitting wood or the next one picking up bark or weeding the garden or… or… or…, right?

The mosquitoes haven’t been bad this summer, so sitting outside is actually a possibility.

I love this patio makeover from Love Grows Wild. Back in the spring I uncovered some huge slabs of 6x6s that had been bolted together. I wasn’t sure what to do with them, but then I saw Liz’s chunky rustic table and was inspired.

Love Grows Wild patio

I feel like this post has been building to a reveal of a relaxing new patio area… or at least our own rustic table.

Ha-ha. Yeah right. Projects do not happen that quickly around here.

But we still had a productive weekend. Getting that much firewood put up is a huge accomplishment.

What did you get up to this weekend?

Save

Shoe tree

In the city, shoes dangling over the wires mean you might not be in the greatest neighbourhood. Out here in the country, we do things a little differently. Although I’m not sure what the meaning is of the shoe tree.

Literally, a tree covered in shoes.

Shoe tree

There are fancy shoes and casual shoes. Big shoes and little shoes.

Shoe tree

Sandle shoes and boot shoes and fuzzy shoes.

Shoetree

And of course, Canadian shoes.

Shoetree

I think the fact that we have a shoe tree says less about the neighbourhood and more about the people who live here.

Crazy country folk.

Sweet times on the farm

I looooove maple syrup. Growing up, every spring my parents went to a Mennonite farm and bought gallons of pure maple syrup. Then they put it into containers and froze it, so we had it for the whole year. It was always a sad day late in the winter when we ran out of syrup.

Sorry, Aunt Jemima, you’re just not for me.

You can imagine how excited I am to be making our own maple syrup this year.

We jumped right in to tapping our trees with little thought to how we’d transform the sap into syrup. A lot of what I saw online talked about evaporators or cauldrons over fires. Pretty much everything said, “Do not boil sap indoors.”

We have neither an evaporator nor a cauldron, however. Nor did we have a ton of sap, so Matt and I threw caution to the wind and decided we were going to boil our sap inside on the stove. Daring, I know.

We selected some large pots–including our big roasting pan, dumped in the sap, set the burners to high and turned on the exhaust fan to suck out the steam. And you know what? It totally worked!

Boiling sap on the stove to make maple syrup

On an average evening, we found about 12 litres of sap was a good quantity. It fit in our pots easily and didn’t fill the house with too much steam. After boiling for about 3 and a half hours, the sap had transformed into syrup.

At first we just judged by colour and flavour, but Matt progressed to measuring the temperature. He found online that 218ºF (103ºC or so) was the magic number.

Tip to anyone who wants to try making syrup indoors, we used the soup pot as a finishing pot and transferred the sap from the roasting pan into the soup pot for the last half hour of boiling

Boiling sap on the stove to make maple syrup

The ratio for sap to syrup that we found online was 40:1, and that was our experience too. 12 litres (12,000mL) of sap made about 1 1/2 cups (375mL of syrup).

This picture shows another neat thing I’ve learned about syrup. I knew it came in different grades or colours, but I thought it was just the amount of boiling time that determined what grade your syrup was. It turns out it’s early versus late in the season. The jar on the left is from our second boil, and the one on the right is our fourth. See how the colour is subtly darker in the older syrup?

Homemade maple syrup

An aside about these old Crown canning jars. How perfect is the made in Canada label?

Homemade maple syrup in a Crown canning jar made in Canada

I’m loving having maple syrup again. It’s sweetened a lovely pumpkin soup, made a beautiful golden topping on vanilla ice cream (one of my favourite ways to eat it) and of course added just what was missing to my favourite meal of the day, breakfast.

Homemade maple syrup on French toast

I’m trying to be a bit frugal and not eat it all at once. We already have two full jars in the freezer, so I’m hoping to remember my childhood and make it stretch as long as I possibly can.

Are there any other maple syrup snobs out there? Have you ever made your own syrup? Any tips to share–whether for inside or outside boiling? Do you have a favourite maple syrup recipe?

Getting sappy

We have a new project for these last few days of winter. We’re tapping our maple trees!

Tapping maple trees

I picked up a basic starter kit at the hardware store. It came with five buckets, five lids and five spiles.

Backyard maple syrup kit

Thankfully the kit also came with instructions on how to get started. We selected trees that were the right size, drilled holes, stuck the spiles in, and watched the magic happen.

Tapping maple trees

The sap started flowing as soon as we drilled the holes. Matt was impatient saying, “Stop taking pictures! We’re wasting sap!” (Picture Kermit arm flailing). The maple syrup has totally turned into Matt’s thing.

Tapping maple trees

The spiles, buckets and lids all hook together in a pretty simple system. The sap travels up the tree, into the spile and then drips into the bucket.

Tapping maple trees

Tapping maple trees

Tapping maple trees animated gif

The sap run this year hasn’t been terrific. Last week temperatures shot up, and I had high hopes for a a lot of sap. However, the temperatures were so high that even night was above freezing. Apparently cold nights are critical for sap.

However, we have had a few good days where Matt had to empty the buckets several times.

Tapping maple trees

To collect the sap, Matt takes my biggest stock pot outside and empties the buckets into the pot. Then in the house we strain the sap to get out any dirt or bugs or twigs and put it in big containers in the fridge until we’re ready to move on to the syrup stage–which I’ll talk about in my next post.

Have you ever tapped trees? Are you trying anything new this time of year? What’s your big spring project?

Tough times on the trail

Does anyone watch the Amazing Race? Matt and I have watched every season. If you’ve not seen it, in every episode, as well as having to get from point A to point B, there are specific challenges the teams have to complete.

Sometimes the challenges are ridiculous. As in spend 14 hours doing the most physical, back-breaking, exhausting task possible.

Every so often, Matt and I find ourselves in a situation that could be an Amazing Race challenge.

That was the case about a month ago when Matt came up with the idea to clean up some of the deadfall on the east trail. I’ve mentioned before that our trails are a bit challenging. On the east trail, the challenge comes from downed trees, fallen branches and all kinds of brush.

Deadfall in the back woods

Matt’s done this cleanup before with his Dad. I’ve never experienced this particular version of reality TV come to life. Now that I have, I don’t think I’ll be sending in my Amazing Race audition tape any time soon. Real life is quite enough.

This particular Amazing Race challenge was to

  1. Gather the necessary equipment–trailer, chainsaw, chainsaw oil, gas, chainsaw wrench, safety equipment, wheelbarrow
  2. Take the customary local conveyance (the tractor) from point A (the house) to point B (the back field)
  3. Fill the trailer with firewood.
  4. Race to the finish line (back at the house).

The key to successfully completing an Amazing Race task is smart division of labour. So Matt went to work with his chainsaw, and I had a near death experience pushed the wheelbarrow. I don’t have a picture of this because I was busy dying. Also unlike on the Amazing Race we didn’t have a camera crew following our every move.

This hill may not look like much, but it felt incredibly steep going up (and then down the other side).

Gathering firewood in the forest

The wheelbarrow was not the ideal tool for this operation, given the rocks, mud and sticks buried in the trail. Plus we were pretty far back in the woods, so the push was loooooong. And just when you approached the end, there was the catwalk over the corduroy road at the entrance to the trail.

Pushing the wheelbarrow over the forest catwalk

Between the two of us we managed five loads of firewood and only a small section of trail. But, that worked out to a mostly full trailer, fulfilling our Amazing Race objective. Can’t you tell how thrilled I am?

Trailer loaded with firewood

At the end of an Amazing Race episode, competitors sprint to the finish mat where they are greeted by the host. If they’re first, they get a special prize.

In our case, I drove Wiley back to the house while Matt rode in the trailer. After stacking the wood, unhooking the trailer and putting the tractor away, we staggered to the house. As we were the only team on this leg, I think we came in first. However, our prize of an ATV and a small trailer that fits in the trail were missing.

So we’ll not be doing more clearing any time soon. I’m sure we’ll find another Amazing Race worthy challenge though. They seem to be fairly common around the farm.

Stay tuned for our next episode.

What’s your favourite reality TV show? Have you ever auditioned for a TV show? What Amazing Race-esque challenges do you get into at your house?

Chop chop

This spring, as I tidied up the woodpile after our first winter with a working fireplace, I did a very scientific calculation of how much wood we would need to stockpile for the next season.

We had most of two rows of firewood left after about three months of having fires every night. We planned to have fires every night again, but we’d be starting much earlier this year than last year (given that the fireplace wasn’t finished until Christmas last year).

I figured three complete rows of wood would do.

When a tree came down in the big field, that was our sign that it was firewood time.

Matt’s Dad arrived with his chainsaw, and he and Matt went to work. In an afternoon, they cut the fallen tree into lengths, and trailered it back to the house.

Cutting a fallen tree into firewood

Tractor pulling a trailer full of firewood

After their afternoon of work, it was clear that the downed tree was just one trunk out of four. All of the trunks were dead, so we decided it was best to take them all down.

The following weekend, Matt’s Dad was back. He brought three chainsaws and his splitter this time.

We went with our usual division of labour: Matt and his Dad headed out for the tree, and I started up the splitter.

Firewood waiting to be split

Firewood waiting to be split

After I had split the first two loads, Bax and I headed out to the field to check on the progress. The remaining three trunks were down, and one trailer was full.

Cutting a fallen tree into firewood

We filled it again (and added a puppy) and filled Matt’s Dad’s trailer (he didn’t get a puppy, but his extra deep trailer took basically a double load of wood).

Trailers full of firewood

Back at the house, Matt and I finished splitting and stacking. I got my triple row of firewood.

Firewood pile

And then some.

Firewood piles

Good thing, because fireplace season has started earlier this year. We’ve already had a couple of fires, which are so, so nice… although I’ve not photographed them (#bloggerfail). I am so glad we finally have a fireplace to enjoy this fall.

Have you done any tree clean-up at your house? Who else is enjoying fall fires? Have you put up firewood this season?