Sunday, March 20, 2011

Didn't Jack say something like..."I'm Baaack!"

   Okay...I'm not sure if Jack in the Shining said quite that, but here I am. It's been a while - eek! - okay a LONG while and we've been pretty darn busy. But, today is a nice slow (I'm lying) Sunday morn. I got up bright and shiny at 7am and mopped the upstairs after having swept it last night at 9pm. It is absolutely amazing how busy those bunnies are when I'm not using a room. I think I made one bunny for each room! We are trying to play catch up a little this week. That means catch up on cleaning too.
   I have to say THANK YOU to all of you who were waiting patiently for the updates and who read this mumbo jumbo. You are a terrific group of moral supporters! And, it isn't that I didn't write the blogs when we were in the syrup house, I just couldn't get the time to dump them on the internet. I excuse. I've never been very good at journal writing either. But, here is the update...

   This is our chalkboard that we keep in the syrup house...say Hi to Donna's pigs (in the corner picture). What does all this blah blah mean? Weeellll....I'll try to decipher it for you. You'll see on the right side of the chart the number of trees tapped, when we tapped, when we collected sap first, how many total gallons of sap we boiled (2,255 is about two hundred more than last year), when we started boiling the sap, the number of loads of firewood (about one wagon full is a load, approx. one load used per day), how much sap it took before we could get our "base" and draw some syrup off for the first batch, and the supplies we used.
   Then the bottom blah blah is our little notes to ourselves about the boiling point of water. Did you know that the boiling point of water changes according to the weather every day? Yep. So, every day we boiled water in the house in the morning and sometimes at noon to check it. Some days it was 212 degrees, some days not. Then we thought we would experiment a little and record the temperature we finished the syrup at and the barometer reading. We use a hydrometer to check when the syrup is finished. That way if the boiling point has changed, the syrup should still be the right consistency. The hydrometer, a weight in the bottom of a glass tube that has a paper with numbers on it stuck in it, is put into the syrup which is in a long tube and it will float at a certain thickness of syrup. Scientific stuff. So, anyway...that is what that is about at the bottom. And...the flues in the back pan hold 4 gallons of sap. The whole evaporator (we think) holds about 15 when it is at the correct level.
   Onward...on the right...the days we finished syrup and how many gallons finished. Usually it is 40 gallons of sap per 1 gallon of syrup. That depends on a lot of other scientific factors tho. Our goal was to get 3 gallons per day and over 50 gallons for the season. Darren Ropp's Prairie Central high school agriculture classes came out a few times to help (that is the number of kids that came out total) and there is a tiny HS next to the days they came. The number of visitors is recorded and a "V" next to the days we had visitors.
   We are truly sorry that we couldn't do a public program or programs for other groups this year. It was just too much with our already long and tiring days. We are really glad that all the visitors that came out helped collect sap and firewood some and were part of learning the process. It made for a nice exchange, giving us a little break from the work while they got to learn what was going on. Thanks a ton to all of you! We hope you enjoyed the time in the syrup house.
   At the very bottom is the nature report: Redwing blackbirds arrived on 2/19, killdeer arrived on 2/27. Not reported were the peeper (little frogs that make a peeping noise) that started the day we began to clean up on the 16th. It was a nice farewell to the season...their send off. Or...maybe they were chearing that we weren't tromping around their woods, who knows.
   So...the total (not on the chart when I took the picture cuz we were trying to sqeeze out another 1/4 gallon) was 53 gallons. More than last year (50), but not as much as we wanted (100). We learned this year that our evaporator just can't do more than we are doing. It is the size of it. We run it super high boiling all the time for about 12 hours a day. It just can't go faster. Another scientific thingy...the rate of evaporation only occurs at a certain rate due to the surface area and such. So, we determined that we need to come up with about $4,000, sell our evaporator for $3,000 and get a larger one (2'x8' is the dream size costing about $7,000). Then we could produce more than twice as much, possibly even four times as much. That would be WONDERFUL!! And, wonderful for all of you who aren't getting this delicious stuff.
   All of the syrup was delivered on Friday. I made cool new labels that read "Uncle Willard's Sticky Yum-Yum" and have a picture of Will's great-great-grandfather, WD, and his buddies next to the old syrup house. (Thanks to Riley for the great idea!) Marty and I trekked to the jungle of Chicago to deliver gallons to the chefs and Will went around home and to Champaign to deliver. We have a few jars to send out to people on Monday. But, the season is done...sorry we didn't have enough for all of you...maybe next year.
   I know this is very lengthy but the rest of the update is this: no Spunky return (I really miss her), no more crazy stupid people driving through our yard, no piglet babies YET (hopefully soon), lots of little "frankenstein" greens (as Scot would say) in the basement coming up nicely and being watered and tended daily (throughout the syrup season also), and lots of clean up to do.
   The syrup clean up takes a while. Marty got all the 300+ buckets cleaned (and lids and taps) with help from mom (thanks mom!). Will sprayed the floor and walls, cleaned out the big tank, and has done lots of other clean up. He also started work on the new lean-to on the syrup house and exploded the wood shed. I say exploded for a good reason...but that might be another story.
   And me...I just sit and supervise...NOT!! It looks like that in the pictures cuz I take the pictures. But my job this season is cleaning the evaporator. Call me the Fool for volunteering to do that! I did the buckets last year and that was back breaking. The evaporator tho is another whole back breaker. It is a huge job of scrubbing for hours and hours and hours.
   Try this...turn on your oven to 200 degrees or so, then constantly dribble watery syrup on the bottom, letting it evaporate and harden. Do this for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 4 weeks. Hm. You will begin to notice after the first few hours and couple of days, a very hard mineral deposit building up. It got about 1/16 thick this year in spots. That is the easy part to get off, just soak some vinegar on it and it chips off. The HARD part is the little thin residue of minerals around the edges...AUGH! Jack from the Shining looks sane compared to me when I'm scrubbing!
   I have worked on it about 7 or more hours so far and got one bottom (there are three) and four sides (there are twelve cuz of the dividers) in the front pan. That's just the Front Pan. The back pan I started on and Will has been kind enough to help some. It comes off a little easier as it boils thinner sap. Thanks to mom Willa for the Shaklee scrub stuff that smells like raspberries and works like Comet but is all natural. It is helping a TON. I figure now it will take two weeks to finish instead of two months. Well, we'll see. 
   We hope to get the syrup house lean-to and wood shed done before moving on to the next big projects of field work. And, that is as soon as it dries enough to get the tractor in the field. Hoophouses are weedy as it was too wet to get in there and walk around. The water had run under the sides from all the snow melt. They are drying out and, of course, it is to thunderstorm today and tomorrow. We'll try to get them weeded soon. Stuff is growing super slow so far, green garlic is being slow and that is the next large crop we will harvest. Animal pens and houses get cleaned out this week (peee-yeww!). They will be very happy about that. And I'm on a cleaning rampage, getting the house done and starting on the buildings one by one. We've been so busy the last five years with all the extra-curricular projects that we just piled stuff and now it is piled to the ceilings. I'm cleaning out so check back for the latest goodies on sale soon!   
   Oh yeah...Our Allis Chalmers 1944 "C" tractor, with side arm mower is FOR SALE for $3,000 (see picture on home page "cool equipment"). Email us thru our website if you are interested.
   And, Will's diesel truck (has used bio-diesel) is FOR SALE. Contact him thru the email on our website if you are interested. Here's a pic...


  1. Yar...what a process that syruping is! What a ton of work, and what with the clean-up, it sounds like the gift that keeps giving after all the processing is finished. That is quite an accomplishment, all you've done. Looks like it was an intense couple of weeks and that you learned a lot in the process. Great to have collected all the variable information so you can compare it to previous yields and future ones. It's like a big lab experiment in there! Would love to see the new label design on your blog sometime, if you have interest to post it.

    Sorry to read no return of Spunky; happy to read on return of idiot drivers; and looking forward to future blog installments on the lean-to, the honey house and other projects as they sprout up!

  2. Hey, I wanted to say that we received your batch of syrup and honey. THANKS so much! You'll be happy to know that we are taking them to Thailand to give as gifts. They'd never had syrup there before. They wanted to try it with tea (yes, the syrup!).