Sunday, March 30, 2014

Harvest Monday - 31 March 2014 - Sugar Time (Final)

Welcome to Harvest Monday, brought to you by Daphne's Dandelions.

We did our final collection and boil of maple sap on March 12, and pulled the taps. Really, the season was just getting started, but we were leaving for our annual pilgrimage to beautiful Key West. Here is our total production for this year:

Pretty pathetic, compared to last year. Not even a full quart. But we're grateful for anything given this challenging winter and spring.

Before we left, I had given permission to the local high school's forestry/environmental sciences program to enter our property and tap the trees we weren't using. They tap a number of trees around the town (a few of ours in the past), as well as their own school grounds. The students get to keep some syrup and the school sells the rest.

They set up a dripline from 12 of our trees into this big collection tank:

This is the modern way. Just string 'em together and let gravity do the work. Then just pump the tank into the one in the back of the truck.

When we got back from vacation last Sunday, we found the kids had put up 45 additional taps using the old-school bucket method!

Some of the trees look a little too small to be tapped. I'll have to have a word with the instructor.

There can't be many tapping days left. Once the trees break bud you get "buddy sap" which has an off-flavor. But they're the experts, so I'm sure they know what they're doing

The school typically pays us back with a pint or so when they just do a few of our trees along the road. I wonder if they're going to be a bit more grateful this year! Just saying.

As the pictures show, the snow is mostly gone now. That does not mean I can do anything in the soil though. It's still frozen solid below the top one inch of moosh. First it has to thaw, then dry out. And the past couple of days have seen torrential rains--maybe helping with thawing but not drying! This is the brook on the adjacent property, which is only a trickle in summer:

At this rate, I worry that there won't be enough time to get a good pea crop before the weather gets too hot.

Still, there's some green! Here are my artichoke seedlings, looking pretty good, plus a pot of tiny rosemary seedlings.

Other seeds started now are broccoli (emerged already), eggplants, peppers, parsley, basil, dill, marigold, lettuce, and cumin. Also some perennials. More to come!

Speaking of Key West, I did not know that it's the only place in the continental United States that is Zone 11 (I'm in 5). It would be fun to garden (and live!) there, except for one soil! But beautiful (salty) water:

If you visit Key West, I highly recommend checking out the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden for plant and wildlife viewing. We did, for the first time this year, and really enjoyed it. I can't believe we missed it all the times in the past.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Harvest Monday - 3 March 2014 - Sugar Time, Part 2

The weather this week turned against us in our "small batch" production of maple syrup. Even daytime temperatures were well below freezing. This causes the sap flow to cease. The taps freeze up and plug. Driving around, I see very few taps on other properties. So us amateurs jumped the gun I guess.

We did do a boil of the 3 gallons of sap we got before the weather turned. Last year we did all boiling on the kitchen stove, which worked, but takes a long time, and generates huge amounts of steam. Ideally you would use a commercial evaporator that has a large surface area. But the cost of this is prohibitive for small-scale operations like ours. So we  bought a 100% redneck-approved propane-fired turkey fryer for this use.

It has a 36 quart kettle, and the burner really pumps out the BTUs. We do this outside for safety.

When the liquid has reduced enough to fit into a saucepan, we transfer the operation back inside to the gas stove, as it is easier to finesse the temperature for the final reduction. You want to bring it just to the boiling point of water (at your elevation), stirring frequently. If it gets any hotter it will start to crystallize. A candy thermometer is essential for this.

So we got just a half-pint out of this run. Here it is, on the right, compared to what is left from our last year's production (it stores fine in the fridge).

This year's is much darker in color; I really don't know why. Maybe the more-rapid boiling makes a difference.

And looking out, the weather pattern does not look very favorable. We won't have any days above freezing until March 6, and even then, not much above. Hopefully we accumulate enough sap to have another boil before we have to stop and pull the taps in mid-March, as we have a schedule conflict. The commercial producers will probably just be getting started then.

I hope there aren't fewer pancake breakfasts in the forecast!

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Daphne.