I didn’t go to the farm Tuesday because I was busy making soap, but while my husband was out there making maple syrup he called me to let me know that the killdeer had returned. Each year a pair (presumably the same pair) of killdeer set up home on the farm. They never fail to select a fairly high traffic area to build their nest. A couple years it was right on the edge of the driveway, after that it was in the beach area, and last year it was in the prayer garden. Once they build their nest and their lay eggs they treat us as intruders. They run around and screech at us and do their broken wing dance to try to get us out of the area.
Although their behavior can be annoying, I understand where they are coming from. I was also an over protective parent when my kids were young, and there were probably a few people who thought I was annoying. I use to say that I watched them like a hawk, but maybe the phrase watched them like a killdeer would be more appropriate.
There are some benefits to having killdeer on the farm. One of them is that baby killdeer are so darn cute, and it is quite entertaining watching the mother and father try to keep track of three or four babies running all over the place. Killdeer babies are up and out of the nest within about a day or two after being hatched, but the parents tend to them for several weeks until they begin to fly. Another benefit is that unlike robins and many of the other birds who frequent our farm killdeer do not eat berries, they eat bugs and larva. They are a natural insecticide and since we avoid the use of any chemicals on the farm we can use all the help we can get.
Welcome back Mr. and Mrs. Killdeer!
The following pictures were taken in the spring of 2017
Killdeer sitting on the nest – could be Mom or Dad since they share the responsibility.
The other parent on watch nearby.
Three of the four babies have hatched.
The other major sign that spring is here is that the maple sap is turning cloudy. My husband noticed this yesterday. When the sap begins to run cloudy instead of clear it is no longer good for making syrup. Tuesday, March 27 was our last day of cooking syrup this year.
We did not keep records of how much sap we collected or how much syrup we actually ended up with, but I’d estimate that we made between 4 and 5 gallons of syrup this year.
I’m seeing lots pancakes and French toast in our future. 🙂
It doesn’t seem like a whole year has gone by since we last tapped maple trees and made our maple syrup. Maybe that’s because it hasn’t really been a whole year. While I didn’t remember the exact date that we tapped trees last year I was able to review the post I wrote about it, and I discovered that last year we tapped the trees on February 13th. Last year’s sap flow was considered early and we read that some syrup producers actually missed the season because the were not expecting the season to come so soon.
It was only January 20th according to the calendar but nature doesn’t necessarily go by the calendar. Despite the brutal cold we have had this winter we had been watching the forecast and preparing for the sap season to start. This is only our third year making syrup, so we don’t have much experience to go by, but since temperatures were forecast to be in the high 30’s and low 40’s Fahrenheit (between 3 and 7 degrees Celsius) 7 out of the next 10 days we thought this might be the right time. My husband thought that it would be a good idea to do a few test taps to see if the sap was flowing. So we took supplies for four taps to the farm.
The day was very reminiscent of the day we tapped last year. The sun was shining, there was still a thin layer of snow on the ground, and the pond was mostly still frozen.
The chickens were happy to be out scratching , pecking and even dusting themselves.
My husband and I worked together, taking turns drilling the holes and setting the taps.
When the sap began running within seconds of being tapped we knew we were on the right track. After setting the first four, we went home, gathered the supplies and returned to set the remaining 13.
A couple days after tapping the trees the high temperatures again stayed below freezing so no sap was flowing. Then we had a couple more day where temperatures reached into the 40’s F so the sap began to flow again. By Friday my husband determined that he had collected enough sap to make syrup. We would cook it Saturday.
My husband had the cooking station set up in the driveway. Because cooking sap produces so much steam cooking it the house would be a horrible mistake, and we are not equipped with a sugar shack so we do it much the way we imagine our ancestors would have – outdoors over a wood fire.
The fire pit is simple – made of two layers of concrete blocks on three side
He spaces the concrete blocks so that the shallow stainless steel pan sits on the edges of the blocks. We build the fire within the blocks and continually feed wood into it from the open side.
We used a mixture of hardwood limbs and logs that we had cut on the farm and some scrap lumber my husband had picked up from the local sawmill. We began cooking the sap around 11:30 A.M. and by 4:30 P.M. we had reduced the estimated 23 gallons of sap to the point that we could finish it on our kitchen stove.
Before cooking it on the stove we poured it through a sieve to remove some of the ash that was floating in it. I then brought it back to a boil and continued cooking it until it reached 7 degrees above the boiling point on the candy thermometer 219 degrees F.
Filtering the sugar sand out of the syrup is something that we have struggled with the past two years, so I decided to pay close attention to the temperatures while doing this. I let the syrup cool to between 180 and 190 F. For a filter I used one layer cheese cloth with one layer of felt placed on top of it. I placed the two layers together in my canning funnel then poured the syrup through the fabric lined funnel directly into the jar.
After pouring each jar I needed to change the filter, so I put the pan of syrup back on the stove over a low flame so I could maintain the proper temperature. The syrup flowed easily through the filters. I sealed each jar as soon as it was poured. We ended up with just a very small amount of sugar sand in the bottom of the jars. There is no harm in eating sugar sand as it is said to be made up of calcium salts and malic acid, so filtering out this sand is purely for aesthetic reasons (it does look like muck in the bottom of the jar).
Even though once sealed the syrup should not spoil, I like to bottle the syrup in wide mouth mason jars, because as long as I leave the proper amount of head space the syrup can be stored in the freezer. We ended up with nearly four pints of beautiful, sweet maple syrup.
What the rest of the maple syrup season will bring is anyone’s guess. Our weather forecast for the next 10 days shows daytime temperatures below freezing for all but one day, so we are not expecting the sap to run again for a while. When the temperatures do warm again, if the trees bud out quickly the sap will turn milky and is not good for making syrup, so we are grateful that we tapped the trees early and at least have some syrup this year.
I also made an interesting observation as I looked back at my post from last year, “The Sap is Flowing and the Hens are Laying”. Again this year, as we tapped the maple trees we noticed that the hens have began laying more eggs. For five or six weeks we were getting an average of four eggs a day, this was enough to keep us in fresh eggs through the winter. On January 20, the day we tapped trees, we collected six eggs, then over the next week the amount increased so that we have collected 12 eggs each of the last two days. I honestly expected that the increase in egg production was more related to the number of hours of daylight and similarly to last year would occur in the middle of February. Perhaps it is more about the warmer temperatures we have been enjoying, I’m really not sure, but I do think I will attempt to track these two events in future years to see if they continue to coincide.
The following picture was sent to me as an email. The sender apparently found it on Facebook. Since I’m not on Facebook I thought I would share it here.
Our maple syrup season ended Saturday, March 25th . This is the second year we have made our own maple syrup, and I will share some of the things that we learned this year.
We started the syrup season by tapping the silver maple trees on our farm on February 13th. The weather over the four weeks that followed was very erratic as was the sap flow. Some days were warm and sunny and the sap seemed to flow good, then the temperatures would drop back down below freezing and the sap would stop. Some of the trees stopped flowing early on, so we moved taps to trees that had better sap flow. We lost track of the amount of sap that we harvested and the amount of syrup we made. I guess next year we should keep a daily log.
A few things we learned about the silver maples are that they seem to have a sugar content equal to or better than the sugar maples. When we cooked the sap down into syrup it took about 10 gallons or 40 quarts of sap to make 1 quart of syrup. Silver maples make a dark syrup with a robust flavor. Silver maples bud out earlier than sugar maples so their sap flow season ends earlier.
We pulled all of the buckets before the wild wind storm that came through on March 8th. At this time the sap flow on the silver maples was to a minimum and the trees were beginning to bud.
The weekend following the storm we had freezing (winter) temperatures, but once the weather began to warm again my husband noticed that the sugar maples in the woods behind our house were not yet budding. With permission from the community manager he set 20 taps in the sugar maples.
From March 13 until March 25th he collect the sap from the sugar maples. The weather was still erratic with some days having great sap flow while others yielded little. As with the silver maples we cooked sap on days when we had collected 10 or more gallons of syrup. On March 25th, when my husband collected the last of the sap, the trees were flowing slowly but had not completely stopped and the sap had not turned cloudy. We were, however, done. My best guestimate is that we cooked 3 1/2 gallons of syrup all together which at the ratio of 40 to 1 means we collected about 140 gallons of sap.
The syrup made from sugar maples was much lighter in both color and flavor than that of the silver maple. Both are very good.
Our biggest challenge in making syrup is finishing and filtering. Real maple syrup is usually very runny but we like our syrup a little thicker, so we first started cooking it down to a quite thick consistency. When we did this the we were unable to filter the final product, as the syrup was too thick to run through a filter. We discovered that there was no need to filter this because apparently any sand, or niter, had cooked into the syrup. We had no sand settle to the bottom of the jars. The other thing that happens is that the syrup has a tendency to turn to sugar. We didn’t consider it ruined because it still goes good on pancakes, French toast or waffles.
When we began cooking the syrup so that it was not so thick filtering it was still a challenge. We first tried pouring the syrup through a store bought filter. Even though it was still hot enough the syrup just sat on top of the filter. We next tried filtering it through felt. This worked well to remove a lot of the sand, but we still ended up with some sand in the bottom of the jar. After reading some websites I learned that before using the store bought filter it is best to pour hot or boiling water through it. So we tried this and the syrup ran through. Much of the sand was removed but we still ended up with a small amount of sand on the bottom of the jar. The sand is really nothing to worry about as it is largely comprised of calcium salts and malic acid, neither which are harmful when consumed. The act of removing the sand is purely for aesthetic purposes and a must for commercial producers.
It may seem like a lot of time and effort for so little syrup, but we consider this time well spent. Fortunately the season does not conflict with planting, growing or harvest seasons, and it is a great activity to get us out of the house in the late winter/early spring.
On Sunday, the last day of winter, we spent much of the day cooking sap at the farm. This little guy (Squirrel!) spent the whole time in the poplar tree near by. I will be sharing more about this years maple syrup season in an upcoming post, but for now I wish you all a Happy Spring. 🙂
I don’t know about other writers but it takes me a while, anywhere from couple hours to a couple days, to write a blog post. I’ll write some, then go back and read and edit and stop to do other things or just collect my thoughts, then I’ll write some more and reread and edit and you get the picture. It seems to happen quite often that I’ll be working on one post when something else comes up, and I decide to write about that instead. At this point I have no fewer then a dozen drafts saved, potential posts that are started but just haven’t got completed and published yet. I suspect that some will get finished in the future, some may be deleted, and some of the thoughts may be incorporated in other post.
With several things on my mind this morning, I just realized that life is happening faster than I can write. (This is probably why I’ve never been able to keep a journal for very long.) Todays post we be about various things.
In Like A Lion
It’s hard to believe that today is March 1st already. See what I mean about life happening fast. Today is actually March 2nd. Still hard to believe. Whichever day it is, March did arrive and in our area it came in like a lion. I wouldn’t describe it as a raging or even roaring lion but the lion was not sleeping last night either, it was perhaps was just resting or playfully romping. We got a decent amount of snow, but as seems to be the case lately, not as much as the weather forecasters predicted. Probably the most accurate weather forecast that I heard yesterday was given by the radio DJ that said “were gonna get a lot of snow”. Since it was snowing pretty hard at that time it was a safe bet that he was right. Looking at flat surfaces outside it looks like we got about four inches, but since it was a light fluffy snow and the wind was blowing, some areas on the ground may have eight inches while others only have a couple. The “lion” may have caused adverse travel conditions, and shut down schools and senior centers, but I am not aware of any power outages or actual storm damage in our area. The “lion” did give us the opportunity to play in the snow a little today. 🙂 My big hope now is that when “March goes out like a lamb” it is not an unruly lamb.
Maple Syrup Update
One thing I didn’t realize about sap flow, and I don’t know how typical this is, was how it will stop and start again. Since the temperatures have been so unstable we have had the sap flow for a day or two, then stop for several days, then flow for a day or two, then stop again. We had a whole week between the first sap boiling and the next time we had sap to boil, but this past Sunday, with temperatures topping out near 60 degrees, was a great day to be at the farm boiling sap. While my husband was there all day, I joined him there for a few hours and took some pictures of the process that I did not get during the last syrup making.
You can see in the above pictures that the sap has boiled down some.
The next series of pictures shows how the sap will foam up and boil over if the fire underneath is extremely hot.
Stirring the pot and reducing the flame brought it back down.
The next picture shows that were getting close to the point where we will finish it off on the stove in the house. It has cooked way down and is turning brown. It also tastes sweet.
When we brought the sap home the first step was to filter it. To do this we used a jelly bag set inside a flour sifter. It may not be a professional method, but it works. We did set the filter up on two small glasses to give the sap room to drain into the pan.
We then followed the same process that we did previously, boiling the sap until it became thick and reached 219 degrees Fahrenheit on the thermometer. Instead of bottling it immediately like we did last time. We let the temperature drop to 200 degrees and filtered it again.
Last time we did not filter it after boiling, and we ended up with sand in the bottom of the jar. I did a little research and found out that the sand is formed during the boiling process, so in order to have clear syrup it must be filtered after the boiling is complete. This time we do not have any sand in it.
My husband estimated cooking about 50 quarts of sap and our yield turned out to be these (10) 4 ounce jars of syrup, equal to 1 and 1/4 quarts, so our ratio of sap to syrup was 40:1. And the flavor is oh so good!
Sharing The Kitchen
With Sunday being such a nice day the sap continue to flow and my husband spent yesterday, again, cooking sap at the farm, while I spent the day at home peeling garlic to dehydrate. Once I got the approximately 3 lbs. of garlic peeled. I realized that Dom would be bringing syrup home to cook this evening. Knowing that once I put the garlic in the dehydrator the smell of garlic would permeate the house, I decided that I would wait. I don’t know if it would happen, but I didn’t want the syrup to pick up the smell and perhaps the flavor of garlic. Garlic flavored syrup just does not sound appetizing. I put the peeled garlic in a zip lock bag freezer bag and put it in the fridge for the night.
We cooked up some of the sap last night and the rest will remain in cold storage until we are ready to cook it. Today the garlic is in the dehydrator. It should be finished by tomorrow morning.
The chicks are doing well.
Getting their pin feathers.
Enjoying their playhouse.
And making new friends.
Others Enjoyed Sunday’s Weather As Well
The bees were out on Sunday.
The Chickens enjoyed the weather as well.
I don’t know if the pond ever completely froze over this year.
Widely because the windmill has done it’s job.
You can’t tell from this picture but the windmill was spinning.
That’s All Folks
At least that’s enough for today. Until Next Time 🙂