Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Maple Production Glitches

We collected about 300 gallons of sap yesterday, but when we tried to get our Reverse Osmosis machine started, nothing happened.  It wouldn't start, wouldn't run.  Nothing.  The Reverse Osmosis (or R.O.) machine takes a lot of water out of the sap so that we don't have to spend hours and hours and hours boiling with the evaporator.  Sooo, about 11 p.m. last night I think the R.O. finally got working.  

When we tried to unload our sap from the back of the truck into the tanks in our maple building (sugar shack), we had a problem with the feed tube where the sap backed up and poured towards us onto the ground.  We ended up putting a quick connection onto the pump so that the sap would have to run into the tanks.  

Annoying.  Time consuming.  But, we hope to be boiling today!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

We Fire Up The Maple Sap Evaporator

Yesterday was a banner day on Fitzgerald's Family Farm.  We worked on lines in the morning and in the afternoon we filled our evaporator with water and fired it up for the first time.

We started the day by going back to the area I had tapped and fixed all the damage I had marked.  Squirrels and chipmunks love to chew on maple sap lines!  They are a maple sap tappers nemesis.

Marked damaged line

Squirrel damage

Repairing the line

Fitz was very happy with this nice neat junction of sap lines.

We didn't see any bears or deer, but we found evidence that they'd been around!

Deer pooh

Bear pooh

Later that afternoon, we filled the evaporator with water, loaded and started the firebox, and heated the water up to boiling to clear up the impurities and oils that might be in the evaporator (it's brand new), and checked for leaks - none, thank goodness.  We drained off the dirty water after the fire went out.  This is the culmination of months and months of preparation.

Everything worked great!

Now, cross your fingers in hopes that today we'll get some sap to boil!

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Whim Pays Off

Yesterday, on a whim I decided I would take a look at a site that has wonderful classifieds for the state of Pennsylvania: Pennswoods.

We've been looking for a horse/stock trailer for some time now and I found one that looked good and the price was very, very reasonable!

We looked at it, found it had everything we were looking for, and brought it home!

This is going to be really handy for wood hauling, future critter moving (I hope it'll be a lot easier to move the pigs!), and it's even big enough to move our little tractor if need be!  

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Sap Is Really Running!

Yesterday, I tapped one of our smaller sugar bushes (a sugar bush is the name for an area of tapped maple trees) with about 265 taps put into the trees.

The sap is really running well! As I drilled the holes to put in the spiles, the sap would start running out of the holes and down the tree. I used a rubber mallet to get the spiles in as fast as I could because I didn't want to waste a precious drop!

The work is quite physically exhaustiing (I went to bed at 8:30 last night!), but I hope it will be quite rewarding. We have, for the past three years, sold our collected maple sap to a local maple syrup producer. This year, for the first time, we will be boiling our own sap!

Please join us on our journey!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sounds Like Maple Syrup

Sounds Like Maple Syrup 
by Sherri Doyle 
Art by Jim Bernardin
from Highlights Five

Branches creak in the chilly breeze -
Time to tap the maple trees.

Sap drips fast in a silver pail
Snow boots crunch back up the trail.

Sap is splashing, bucket pours.
Bubbles thicken.  Fire roars.

Time for pancakes, "Mmm so yummy!"

Isn't this completely adorable?  Check out the dog.  

I'm tapping maple trees today.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sunday, February 19, 2012

We're Working On The Lines

We've been cleaning up our maple lines and installing new lines in preparation for tapping the trees this next week.

We run high tensile wire down the line of maple trees and then attach our tubing to it.  

I use an automatic wire tying tool and wire ties to attach the tubing to the high tensile wire.  The wire ties are a piece of wire with loops on either end.  I wrap them around the tube and the high tensile wire, put the hook on the wire tying tool through the loops, and pull.  The end of the wire tying tool spins and twists the wire tight.  

Attaching the tubing well keeps the tubing from sagging and getting pockets of sap and it looks more tidy.  

I do this the whole length of the wire and tubing at about 18-inch intervals.

Our children and their friends have been helping us to clean up one of our other sugar bushes by finding trees that need to be cut off with a chain saw and clearing fallen branches.   

We'll get everything connected, tapped, and very soon begin getting sap!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Targeting Children With Treats

Here's a great idea I got from Joel Salatin in The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer.

Rather than spend more money on healthy eating initiatives or agencies, stop government subsidies for corn that will be turned into high fructose corn syrup.  The price of sugar laden goodies and snacks will have to increase and families will, hopefully, cut down on buying them!  What if a bag of oranges costs half as much as a box of goodies?  I'm probably thinking much too simplistically, but it sounds like a win-win to me!

Brought to you by and MAT@USC.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

An Important Part of My Beekeeping Toolkit

I went to the doctor the other day and got an important part of my beekeeping toolkit.  

An EpiPen for severe allergic reactions.  

I've been stung a lot of times, but the last time I was stung I broke out in hives all over and since then I've been fearful while working the bees.  I hope I'll never have such a bad reaction that I need to use this, but it sure does give me peace of mind to know I have it.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentines Day!

Happy Valentine's Day

Note:   18 eggs yesterday!  The hens are finally laying.  My local readers can give me a call if they would like to purchase really good eggs.

Monday, February 13, 2012

NOW It Looks Like Maple Season

We've had such an unseasonably warm winter that there wasn't a bit of snow on the ground and it felt strange to be preparing for maple tapping.  This past weekend we had a bit of snow and very cold weather blow through and NOW it looks like maple season.  I'm happy that there's only a tiny amount of white stuff on the ground because in past years we've had to work through knee high snow.  Now, that's hard work!

The sap evaporator is almost ready, the reverse osmosis machine is almost ready, lots and lots of wood has been cut (although I think you can never cut enough), sap lines are being installed and cleaned up, and tapping (with the help of some friends) begins this weekend!   

Right now, I'm putting my camera batteries into the charger and will take lots and lots of photos!

Don't forget to hop over to Homestead Revival!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

I'm Not Growing Potatoes

When speaking to my father the other day I asked him if he saw the list of vegetables I'll be growing.  He said it might be a shorter list to write what I'm not growing.  One thing I'm not growing is potatoes.  

My property sits upon what, until about ten or so years ago, was for many, many years a potato farm.  

File:Horse drawn wagon loaded with potatoes - NARA - 285660.jpg

Now, when I try to grow my organic potatoes, they seem to get every disease a potato can get.  Most commonly, they get potato scab which (I read) doesn't affect yield, but it does affect marketability. 

Potato Scab photo collage
Potato Scab

Ugly, isn't it?  I believe that so many years of potato production created a soil with organisms inhospitable to organic potatoes. 

 Luckily, there are some local fellow farmers who organically grow the most beautiful heirloom and common potatoes.  They'll sell their potatoes at the Coudersport Farmer' Market.  I'll be buying from them! 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Farmer's Market Nutrition Program and Senior Farmer's Market Nutrition Program (FMNP and SFMNP) Changes

A heavy envelope arrived from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture yesterday and I thought, "uh oh, what do they want now?"

When I opened the envelope and began to read, "Please accept this as formal notice that PDA hereby terminates your current FMNP Farmer Agreement, effective March 15, 2012.


Reading on, I found that I would be required to fill out new forms and here's why.  

From the Bureau of Food Distribution:

On page 3 under Paragraph No. 5, the definition of "eligible produce" has been revised (at the request of the USDA).  Note that the definition allows vegetables that are "grown in neighboring states" to be considered "eligible produce" until January 1, 2013; and that beyond that date produce must be "grown in Pennsylvania: to be considered "eligible produce."

Produce "grown in Pennsylvania."  This is a good thing.  I have heard of farmers who go to the produce wholesaler in the next state (or south of us) and sell the shipped in produce at Farmer's Markets to their customers on FMNP and SFMP programs as their own.  I'm all for buying local and this tightens that definition - though I fear farmers located right on the state border may be negatively impacted.

Don't be afraid to talk to your Farmer's Market farmer and find out exactly where and how their produce was grown - they should know.   

I filled out the new forms for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and mailed them - and I'll be able to accept FMNP and SFMP checks this summer (please note that Coudersport Farmer's Market hours have been changed to Friday 3 p.m. - 7 p.m. and some Saturdays.  I will be at the Bucktail Farmer's Market in Roulette Mondays from 2:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.)  

Why I was required to fill out a whole new form (big waste of paper) rather than just receive a notice of the change is beyond me - but so be it. 


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Garden Planning

The blog has been put aside for the past few days while I happily plan this year's garden.  

I've been using Johnny's Seeds Interactive Tools to help me figure out how many seeds and transplants I'll need for each garden and seed starting dates for transplants.  

The three gardens I'm planning include:  the "Inside the High Tunnel" garden (roughly 26 by 96 feet), the "Outside the High Tunnel" garden (30 by 70 feet), and the "Triangle Garden" (which is 16 feet wide at the narrow end, 70 feet wide at the wide end, and 150 feet long).  My husband is putting strawberries and raspberries in the other high tunnel - with an experimental corner where I would like to try to overwinter rosemary, lavender, and a couple of dwarf fig trees.  


Just writing it down makes me realize the size of the operation!  The majority of the work is done by hand!

When I plan my gardens, have to plan for my own use and for the Farmer's Markets.  This means I'm growing a few things I don't like, but I think they'll sell, such as cauliflower and cilantro.  There are a few things I considered growing - like fennel and rutabagas - but I just don't think they'll sell at the Farmer's Market.    

Here's what's going into this year's gardens (it's a looong list!):

Carrots: Danvers 126, Kaleidoscope Mix
Kale: Red Winter, Blue Curled Scotch
Parsnip: Harris
Beets: Early Wonder Tall Top, Bulls Blood
Onions: Bunching, Cipollini, Cortland, Flat of Italy
Tomato: Burpee Big Boy, Roma, Yellow Pear, Super Sweet 100, Green Zebra, Beefsteak, Black Prince
Peppers: California Wonder, Jalapeno, Pepperoncini, Happy Yummy Hot and Sweet
Cucumber: Picklebush, Orient Express, Sweet Burpless Hybrid, Marketmore
Eggplant: Traviata, Rosa Bianca, Japanese White Egg
Watermelon: Sugar Baby, Orangeglo
Cantaloupe: Honeyrock
Beans: Rocdor, Royal Burgandy, Tender Green, Dragon's Tongue, Italian Flat Pod Jumbo
Flowers: Marigold, Court Jester; Zinnia, Bright Jewels Cactus; Sunflower, Zohar, Mammoth
Summer Squash: Crookneck Early Summer, Zapallo del Tronco, Zucchini Black Beauty, Goldy, Lemon Squash, Zucchini Lungo Bianco, Zucchini Rampicante
Corn: Luscious, Red Beauty
Winter Squash: Acorn Ebony, Delicata, Kabocha Black Forest, Buttercup, Butternut Waltham
Pumpkin: Kakai, Charisma, New England Pie
Peas: Lincoln, Sugar Snap
Drying Beans: Vermont Cranberry
Radish: French Breakfast, Watermelon, Cherry Belle
Okra: Clemson Spineless
Broccoli: Di Ciccio
Cauliflower: Snowball
Cabbage: Farao, Red Express
Brussel Sprouts: Long Island
Celery: Tango
Celeriac: Brilliant
Leeks: American Flag
Turnips: Purple Top White Globe
Asian Greens: Pak Choi, Orient Express Cabbage  
Lettuce: Buttercrunch, Black-seeded Simpson, Lollo Rossa
Spinach: Baby's Leaf Hybrid, Bloomsdale Long-standing
Herbs: Italian Dark Green Parsley, Italian Large Leaf Sweet Basil, Long Standing Cilantro, Bouquet Dill

I would love to know if there is anything where other Market Farmers have had particular luck, or if you live in my area and don't see something you'd love to have.

One of the most delightful things about a garden is the anticipation it provides.  
~W.E. Johns, The Passing Show

In the next few weeks we'll be busily getting ready for the maple season.  This will be our first year boiling our own sap!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Bees Are Poohing

We have had some nice warm weather the last couple of days and the bees from our beehives have been taking advantage of it.  They were flying around the hive and poohing all over the place.   It looks like little smears of mustard all over.  Did you know that bees do not pooh in their hive?  They "hold it" all winter long until the weather is warm enough to go out and relieve themselves.  

We're happy to see so many bees out flying around!  

This is not my picture, but this is what bee pooh looks like in the snow.