Saturday, March 31, 2012


It's amazing how well you can feed yourself and your family with a few dollars worth of seeds.  

It's seed planting time!  In fact I'm a bit behind on getting my transplants started - maple season consumed my time - but better late than never. 

Do you ever feel like you're doing something kind of futile when you put those hard little seeds into a planter?  You think, "they're not going to grow."  Then, doesn't it make the miracle of them coming up out of the ground just that much better!?!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


I'm in Florida for a few days. I'll be back on Friday!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Chicken Fencing

It's happened.  We finally have decided to build a fence to contain the chickens.  

They have developed a nasty habit of hanging out around the house, pooping all over the walks, coming through the dog door into the garage to eat dog food (and pooping in the garage!), dig up my flower beds, and with a whole world of beautiful green grass and clover to munch on they decide they'd rather eat the newly sprouting hostas and daylilies.

We decided that the cost of fencing in the chickens is much less than the cost of fencing in all of the gardens.  I find that chickens are very destructive to a garden!

We're planning a very large enclosed area so they can scratch and peck and do their chicken things and we'll bring them all the weeds from the gardens for fresh greens.  

The end result is that I can actually have nice landscaping, I don't have to fence around every single garden (that's a lot of fencing), and the kids will be able play outside with bare feet!

... one other bonus is that the chickens will be more protected from predators.  Red-tailed hawks are a big  problem for my chickens (that's what killed our beloved rooster, Pants On The Ground) and I plan to run strands of fish line across the top of the enclosure to discourage the hawks.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Pulling Taps And Battling "Red Brush"

Most of the maple taps have been pulled.  I just had one area to finish in a more remote part of the forest.  As I worked I became reacquainted with a fiendish shrub for which I just learned a new name.  

I've always simply called it "pricker bushes" but in this area, and maybe this is the correct term, it's called red brush.  When the weather is too hot to wear heavy canvas clothing (78-degrees yesterday!), and you're wearing jeans and a t-shirt, it can make pulling taps a misery!


It some areas it grows taller than my head.  I have a scratch across my forehead to attest to that!  As it grabs you it breaks off it's stickers into your clothing so that even if you pull yourself free, you still get a sharp point poking into you.  

By the time I finished yesterday (and I couldn't finish pulling the taps - I called my husband and told him we needed to get in with a weed whacker to clear some paths) I looked like I'd been in a fight with a bobcat!

Red brush.... I think pricker bush is much more accurate.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring Is Here - For Now Anyway!

Odds and ends....

This morning, while the children got ready for school, I stepped out on the front porch and listened to the birds.  One can't help but smile when listening to the music!

The maple sap run is over. Now we've moved on to cleaning the sugar house and pulling taps.  It seems like we barely started and it's already over!  But there were a lot of full days of work tending the evaporator and collecting sap.  Maple sap almost consumes your life for the short period that it's here.  According to my husband we finished with almost 100 gallons of maple syrup.  A lot of it, though, is quite dark.  Personally, I'm partial to the dark maple syrup, I feel like it has a richer maple flavor.  I just hope that it will sell!

So now, planting has begun.  I'm a bit behind the ball on getting my seeds for transplanting started, but better late than never!

I entered a Grow It Forward Heirloom Garden Contest.  The contest encourages gardeners to grow heirloom, non-GMO vegetables.  They want to Grow It Forward for the benefit of future generations.  I love their logo:

Grow Heirlooms. Grow Diversity. Grow Community. Grow It Forward.

I entered the contest and was sent five packs of seeds.  It's kind of funny that I was already growing three of the packets they sent me!  The packs I received were: 

Artichoke, Gobbo di nizzia cardoon (You eat the stalks and they're supposed to taste like artichokes - I'm growing them in the high tunnel because they like a lot of heat and have a loong growing season 

Beans, Royalty purple pod (I had these) 

Peppers, Lemon Drop (Interesting, a tiny, hot, yellow pepper) 

Tomato, Striped green bell ( I had these)

Beet, Mammoth Red Mangel (Ironic, because I had ordered these - and paid too much money - from eBay!  They're supposed to be a good winter feed for livestock - including chickens) 

In the contest, I can win prizes related to gardening.  So it would be nice if you occasionally clicked on the Grow It Forward widget to the right of my blog posts and left a comments for Fitzgerald's Family Farm.  
The quickest way to find me is to go to the Gardens tab along the top and click on it.  Then go to "All Grow It Foward Heirloom Gardens" tab near the top and after you click on that you go down along the right, to where it says "Find Gardens in Your Area." Put in Coudersport, PA.  Hopefully I'll show up! (They didn't make this easy!)  

My camera is AWOL.  As soon as I find it I'll be posting lots and lots of pictures!  

I need to go out and enjoy these beautiful days!  Some cooler weather is on it's way!

Spring, Almost

The sunshine gleams so bright and warm,
The sky is blue and clear.
I run outdoors without a coat,
And spring is almost here.

Then before I know it,
Small clouds have blown together,
Till the sun just can't get through them,
And again, it's mitten weather.

Friday, March 16, 2012

We've Boiled Down All The Sap

All the sap we collected is finally boiled down with a grand total of about 80 gallons of maple syrup made! A lot of it is quite dark.  

The maple taps get pulled today.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Crazy Maple Making Time

Making maple syrup takes quite a long time and we're in the middle of a rush of sap, so I haven't had much time to write.  Next time you're in the grocery store and wonder why in the world real maple syrup costs so much, here's a breakdown of why (and the sap season is only about 6 weeks long)!

Making Real Maple Syrup

Cut lots and lots of wood for the evaporator

Clear brush and fallen trees from maple lines, check sap lines for damage, install new sap lines (after putting together the spile section at home), wash out sap collection tanks, put sap collection tanks in place.  If you're lucky, there's not a couple of feet of snow on the ground while you're doing this. 

Clean evaporator and sap making equipment, make sure you have a really good supply of cut wood, check that lines don't leak, make sure collection pump works, make sure Reverse Osmosis machine works.  Make sure you have plenty of maple bottles (order more if necessary).

Tap trees (drill hole, tap in spile, repeat 1000 times or more)

Wait and discuss the weather

Pick up sap from collection taps (and sometimes get truck stuck in mud)

Pump sap from the tank in the back of the truck into the sap tanks in the sugar house

Run sap through reverse osmosis machine to take out some of the water and cut boiling time in evaporator

Build a fire in the evaporator and get the sap boiling.  Make sure all the sap levels are set correctly so that  you don't burn the boiling pans.  Make sure all the correct valves are open or closed.  Check to see what the boiling point of water is that day and set the automatic draw off for 7-degrees above that.  

Wait, feed fire, check to make sure the sap isn't foaming up to run over the sides of the evaporator (it's like cooking candy).  This part takes hours.

Finally, when the maple gets to the right temperature you get a flow of syrup.  Check to make sure the syrup the correct consistency.  If not, you might need to pour it back in and readjust the temperature on the automatic draw off.   

Put some diatomaceous earth into hot syrup and run through multi stage filter press to remove impurities and cloudiness.  Check to see what grade of syrup you end up with.   

Run into bottling unit. Keep hot.

Put into bottles.  Put sealing lid on top, lay on sides until bottle cools.  

Put proper stickers on bottles with your farm name, address, etc, and the grade of syrup.

You finally have maple syrup you can sell!

There's the list of little things that I didn't add to this list (or forgot about!).  The little things that slow you down and perplex you.  Things like having to fix the leaks and drips on your hoses or trying to figure our why all the sudden the quick-connect from the back of the truck doesn't fit on the tanks (o-ring fell out).

Now that you know, you can really savor that next dollop of real maple syrup that you pour over your pancakes! 

Friday, March 9, 2012

1025 Gallons of Sap

Yesterday we had a sapalooza!  

I collected collected 850 gallons of sap and the person from whom we're buying sap delivered 175 gallons.  I wish I had taken pictures, but throughout the day it literally down-poured and I just wanted to get the job done!  

One of our sap collection points gets very, very muddy.  I feared that the rain would make the area impassable, but I managed to get in and out (though saying prayers under my breath the whole way as I drove with 300 gallons - about 2500 pounds - of sap sloshing around on the back of the truck!)

At the other pick up site, I put the hose into the tank in the back of the truck and it popped out as I started pumping.  It literally looked like a fire hose of sap going up into the air!  I very quickly turned off the pump and got the hose back in.   

This is yesterday's photo, but you can see how the collection tank is set up in the back of the truck. 

After I got the sap home I ran as much as I could through the reverse osmosis machine and fired up the evaporator to get the sap boiling.  

Sweet success. 

Successfully boiled and drawn off maple syrup

Thursday, March 8, 2012

We Gottalotta Sap!

300 gallons of maple sap

And a lot more coming!


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Will We Have Sap Today?

This morning the thermometer shivered at 10-degrees fahrenheit.  But according to the weather channel it's supposed to get up to a balmy 42-degrees today.  If this happens the maple sap should run like crazy!  Then I'll add pictures of (hopefully) full collection tanks to this blog.   

Sap update:  The temperature never got above 34-degrees yesterday and when I looked at the maple lines I could see the frozen sap inside them.  Today the temperature started at 32-degrees and I'm crossing my fingers for sap-flowing weather.  Thank you for your "warm" thoughts!

Monday, March 5, 2012

We Finally Have Maple Syrup!

Since we boiled sap for a long time the other day, when we started up again it didn't take very long for our condensed sap to get up to heat and boil off enough to become maple syrup!  

Our first jar of unfiltered maple syrup

We pulled a quart out of our first draw off  of syrup and discussed what we would do to it.  This is our $10,000 jar of maple and we thought maybe we should bathe in it!  But no.  Sunday morning I made a big batch of waffles and we poured it over.  Ab-solut-ely delicious!

Saturday night, as we boiled the collected sap, we learned the excitement and the tedium of making maple syrup.  We wait and wait for the temperature on our automatic draw off to go up high enough.  It climbs within a few tenths of a degree and you get all excited that it's going to get there - then the temperature drops a degree.  By the time it finally starts spitting maple syrup you can hardly stand it!  

After it draws off though, it's another hour to hour and a half of waiting, watching for foaming, feeding the fire, and standing around.  The great part of this was that we had friends come by to share our excitement.  We really, really enjoyed that. 

We made about 15 gallons of maple syrup on Saturday.  The temperature outside dropped again and the maple sap hasn't been flowing much, but the temperature is supposed to go up again tomorrow! 

Don't forget to go over to Homestead Revival for the Barn Hop!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Still No Maple Syrup

The reverse osmosis machine is finally fixed.  We ran our sap through and removed about 70% of the water.  Then we boiled and boiled the sap, but the it never quite thickened enough and got to the correct temperature (219.1-degrees) to be maple syrup.  

Worrying that we were doing something wrong, we called all of our maple producing friends and were told, "it just takes time." 

 I guess the first time you boil - before you're pushing condensed sap - it just takes a long time to get going. As our sap supplies got lower and the maple got thicker, but not quite thick enough, we decided we had to stop loading the evaporator with firewood and let it all cool down, because one of the worst things that can happen is you run out of sap, burn what's in your evaporator pans, and destroy the pans (a very expensive fix) in the process.  

Today, we have sap that's very close to being maple syrup and hopefully we'll collect more sap today and tomorrow and finally be able to finish it off.  

The learning curve is very high here!