strawberries

I’ve been really excited about our strawberries this year, partially because that part of the garden has the least amount of weeds (due to last year’s newspaper and mulch layer), but mostly because the plants have just looked so promising all spring.

strawberry1

may 24

I was fretting early on about all flowers not getting pollinated because I expected to see our bees all over the plants. They were busy in other places, but it turns out other insects did the job just fine.

strawberry2

may 30

I wrote about how making maple syrup was a patience maker, but I think it’s true for growing food also. I’m trying to make “wait a day after you think it’s ready” my strawberry picking rule because it’s so tempting to pick the fruit before it’s fully ripe.

first_strawberries

june 3

strawberry3

june 8

bowl_of_berries

june 9

I’m looking forward to picking more tomorrow!

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2014 sap & syrup stats

Our first maple sugaring season is now in the books. We pulled the taps on April 18th or 19th, I’ve already forgotten. By our best estimates, we gathered about 80 gallons of sap and ended up with about 2 gallons of syrup.

We tapped trees on Feb. 18, which was probably a few weeks early in hindsight, but a small amount of sap did run in those next few days.

Luckily we still had some snow banks left in April to keep the sap cool. We’d usually save up sap during the week and boil on weekends since it would take all day. We ended up burying the last few buckets over at the end of the driveway where the plowed snow had been deepest and last to melt.

I read somewhere that making syrup is a great test of patience. It’s true in so many ways: first in waiting to get enough sap to boil at the beginning of the season (where you are careful not to spill a single drop), then during the actual boiling which seems to take forever (a watched pot never boils), and then at the end of the season when you just can’t wait to be done (and you don’t mind pouring out that last half gallon of sap that somehow got too many bugs in it).

Next year, we’ll definitely have to upgrade boiling capacity in one way or another.

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spring is here?

One of our first stops at the beach this year. Cale was really excited that the snow was gone and wrote “2014 Spring is here!!” in the sand. ghcitybeachexcitedforspring springishereThat was a couple weeks ago (April 16) and I still don’t think the weather has gotten the memo yet.

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syrup: round 2

Wednesday, March 12, 2014, 8 pm to midnight

Approximately 3.5 gallons of sap, first run boiling on modified barrel stove (top cut out for pan). For the record, the barrel stove already existed because Steve would say you can never have enough ways to burn stuff, but now it has been repurposed.

barrelstove1 barrelstove2boilingsapbatch2syrup(Took this last pic this am. Gotta love sunlight shining through syrup-filled jars!)

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first syrup

A few weeks ago after we tapped trees, I collected the first few gallons of sap. This wasn’t really enough to warrant the full blown outdoor burner setup, which wasn’t ready yet anyway (but is now – future post hopefully, if we get enough sap). Steve was gone for the weekend, so I decided to handle it on my own because I knew we wouldn’t be getting any more sap in the next couple weeks (upcoming forecast was below freezing for many days).

One thing I wasn’t anticipating was that the sap would be frozen on the top, so getting it out of the buckets was a little challenging. I ended up with part liquid sap and part bucket-size frozen disks, which I thawed in a tray on the wood stove.

warming

I ended up with about 3 gallons of sap which I then boiled down. In an ideal world, with sap from sugar maples, it takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup! So, doing the math, my 384 oz. of sap would give me at best 9.6 oz. of syrup.

boiling

In the end I got a mere 2 oz., but it was a worthwhile (though very time consuming) practice round. It tastes sweet with a hint of vanilla, which I’ve read online is typical of the first batches of the season and also the lighter amber grades.

first_syrupI checked the buckets yesterday and there was only about another 1 to 2 gallons out there. At this rate, I am not sure we will get anywhere close to a usable quantity, but it is building appreciation for the people who make mass quantities. We bought 3 gallons of syrup last year (a year’s supply for us at a quart per month) from a friend’s parents who make syrup about 2 hours north of here. Our hope is to make that much ourselves (in a perfect year), which would be at least 120 gallons of sap.

It was kind of cool to learn that pretty much all maple syrup comes from the northeast United States and southeast Canada, since that is the only location with both the correct types of maples and the climate needed (temp cycling above and below freezing) for sap to be collected.

map_maplesyrup(http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2013/04/07/geography-in-the-news-maple-syrup-time/)

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blue bee hive

I hope our future bees like blue because that’s what color their new house is going to be. Apparently they don’t like red, which is the other color of exterior paint we have left over from the cornhole project.

painting_supers

10,000 bees are scheduled to arrive on May 2.

Steve’s been gradually putting the hive together with a little help from the rest of us.

The boxes are officially called supers and each holds 10 frames, with a foundation sheet upon which the honeycomb will be built.

frames

This hive will have 5 supers and can accommodate 50,000 bees.

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tapping maples

We’re hoping to make some maple syrup this year for the first time and tapped the first 5 trees today since it was above freezing. We could have done more, but my lack of bucket washing motivation is the gate. One of the trees started dripping right away.

tapped sap_collector

The sap only flows during a 4-6 week period, usually mid to late February through March, when temperatures cycle above freezing during the day and below freezing at night. We should get a few days this week and then might have to wait a bit longer before it warms up again. There are thoughts on tapping too soon or too late, but it’s hard to predict what the weather will be like and this is our rookie season, so we’ll see what happens…

drip

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winter reminder

Note to self: do not let the snow pile up on the deck.

shoveling_deck

The sad part is that this is round 2. Steve shoveled this much off the deck about 3 weeks ago.

doneFeeling a little less claustrophobic now looking out the door, but probably not for long. I should just stop looking at the weather forecasts.

This was March 13, 2013.mar13_2013

Seems impossible this year, yet the day is sure to come. Dear weather, I challenge you!

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jan 7, 2014

I could tell from a look out the front window early this morning that it was warmer than yesterday because there were a bunch of birds out at the feeder. After shoveling off the deck stairs down to the trail, I headed out to see how much snow was at the firepit.

For comparison, here’s a pic from Dec. 24, 2013. The view was a little more photogenic then!

dec24firepit

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wood crate

We’ve been burning lots of firewood thanks to winter firing both barrels at us and needed a better indoor storage place than the metal log rack we’d been using. Steve was able to get a large wooden shipping crate. It’s a little larger than I anticipated, but it’s been keeping the mess of wood shrapnel contained and holds a couple days worth of firewood.

crate1crate2We wanted it to have a rustic/weathered look and heard from a friend about “staining” wood with a mixture of vinegar and steel wool. We happened to have everything we needed on hand, so we gave it a go. After consulting a few youtube videos, it didn’t seem to be a precise science, so we filled an old 32 oz. yogurt container about 3/4 full of white vinegar and put a couple pieces of steel wool in to soak for a couple days. Then we just brushed it on with an old paint brush.

crate3crate4It took a few minutes to react, but it turned out pretty well. The color almost matches the floor and we’ll likely use this method to “stain” the trim around the floor and windows when we get to that stage.

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