Sunday, May 6, 2012

Rosey days and Rhubarb recipe

   I'm still working with the edible flowers! It's so much fun. We've come across some really wonderful ones that we didn't know about, such as black locust blossoms. Unfortunately the trees are at the end of the bloom. We were a week too late. After searching all the trees, I found a small spray that was still somewhat fresh. WOW! They taste like jasmine tea. Really terrific. I'll put them in my little notebook for harvest next year. The house is surrounded with these trees.

   Now every time I see flowers someplace on the farm, I have to research to find out if they are edible. We have a list from online that includes the usual veggies and herbs. Then we looked in the wild handbook we have to find out about some of the flowers blooming in the woods and around the house. We're very careful to make sure they are listed as edible someplace before we taste them.

   Today's find isn't new...just that they are blooming now. Roses! I've saved the petals of roses for years to make teas and sachets. The red ones are up by the house and smell wonderful, very pretty fragrance and strong. The little white ones I found in the woods on an invasive plant called Multiflora Rose. It's wild and we usually try to pull them out. They aren't as fragrant and are smaller, but they are still pretty and taste nice. I lay the petals out in the bowls and on plates, stirring them every day, until they are all dry, making sure the are very dry so they won't mold in the containers. I'll enjoy rose tea this winter!

   Today we participated in the spring bird count. We've done that for many years. A list of birds is sent to us by the organizer. Then we go out all around the yard, thru the woods, and along the praire to see what we can find. We mark them on the list and send it back for it to be compiled with other people's finds.
   I have to say that this year was a lot of the regulars. Downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, blue jays, red-tail hawk, grackles, red-wing blackbird, morning dove, goldfinch...etc. We saw a sharp shinned hawk in the woods and a couple of grosbeak. Nothing fantastic like the coot that flew in last year. But...we do have lots of robins sitting on nests this year.

Here's the rhubarb chutney recipe I promised...
   from the cookbook "The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest" by Carol Costenbader
   (This is a great canning cookbook! It has a really terrific ketchup recipe that can be easily changed into bbq or salsa. And I use a lot of her recipes every year.)

Rhubarb Chutney

Water bath canner, 8 - 1/2 pint jars
2 large oranges
2 1/2 pounds rhubarb washed, cut into 1" pieces (I do smaller even)
5 1/3 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
4 cups cider vinegar
2 cups gold raisins
2 med. onions, peeled and chopped (I don't include these!)
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
12 whole allspice berries
12 whole black peppercorns

Grate zest from oranges and set aside. Halve and section oranges as you would grapefruit, remove white membranes, place in 2-quart bowl. Chop oranges sections coarsely, squeeze any remaining juice out of halves into chopped sections.
Combine rhubarb, oranges, sugar, vinegar, raisins, and onion in 4-quart saucepan.
Tie spices in cheesebag cloth and add to pan. Slowly bring to boil, stirring to dissolve sugar.
Simmer uncovered until thick, about 1-1 1/2 hours, being careful not to burn and stir often. Remove spice bag.
Ladel into hot clean jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Cap and seal.
Process 10 minutes in boiling water-bath canner. Adjust for altitude if necessary (chart in book).

It really tastes great!! We use it on toast like a jam. But she suggests in the book use on poultry, pork or lamb. I leave out the onion and might've left out the mustard seed also, making it more sweet like a jam. I also figured out how many cups the 2 1/2 pounds of rhubarb fit into, then chopped my rhubard and filled freezer bags and put it in the freezer, one bag for each recipe amount. That way I could process it when I had more time.

Happy spring!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Springtime flowers

Spring is always a delightful time here on the farm. Chickens are laying colorful eggs,
Little banty hen, Peng (short for Penguin) has been
on the nest being broody lately. She lays beautiful tiny eggs.
the wheat and alfalfa are greening up, and the trees and flowers are all in bloom. Ah. (That’s a very small rendition of the roaring winds we hear every day…that’s Central Illinois for you.)
Lilacs smell incredible right now!
Our hoophouse plastic is hanging in there, barely. It is still windy most every day but we keep patching it until we get the quotes for the new plastic. Inside the hoops everything is going pretty good. We’ve been harvesting quite a bit of spinach for chefs, lettuce for ourselves, and sold all the early green garlic. The potatoes that Marty planted between the garlic are looking good and we’ll be mulching those this week. Can’t wait for our regular potato order to come in so we can start them sprouting in the sun!!

We were having baby rabbits in the hoops eating all our bok choi. Argh!! Needless to say, we relocated them (not to the oven tho as they were too small). We mulched around the hoops in hopes of keeping the rest of the bunnies out! Also in the hoophouses we have some cilantro and arugula that we harvested the leaves from. Now they are setting flower heads so we hope to harvest the flowers soon.

And that leads me to flower season. We harvest a lot of “wilds” on our farm. They are some of the specialty items that we are known for. Wilds include some “weeds” that are highly nutritious and edible, wild plants from the woods, and also the wilds in our yard which include redbud blossoms and violets.
Redbud blossoms
Also edible are the apple blossoms. All of the apple trees are loaded. We taste tested them and found that each kind of apple had a different flavor of blossom also! The red delicious were somewhat sweet. Some of the others weren't as sweet but had more of a floral taste.
Red delicious apple blossoms are sweet.
Every tasted a turnip blossom? Tastes a little like turnips. How about making dandelion tea? Or trying some colorful tulip petals on your salad? There are lots of edible flowers. Make sure you know which ones are edible and which are poisonous tho! asian daylilies are NOT edible. They are Poisonous! However, the other kind that are in our yard are.
Daylilies we harvest the flowers and buds from.
I love harvesting the flowers. I get to spend time with the wonderful smells, beautiful colors and textures, and also with the little bee ladies that hang around. The bees are busy on all the trees and flowers in the yard. They are working on the apples and even on the weedy Creeping Charlie in the grass. It’s nice to see them so busy. And they never sting me as we are friend harvesters.

Harvesting in the woods right now gives us some early mushrooms and wild onions. We have some sweet cicely coming. It has sort of a licorice flavor.
Sweet Cicely
Lots of work to do outside, and it’s good to go out and enjoy the great springtime weather (except the wind!). We’ve  all our spring root crops and many of our leafy crops in. Now for some rain so they germinate!
Super dry for us lately. The rain has been skirting around us. We are really hoping we get a good shower tonight…really need it!!   Well…off to work outside!!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"Drowning in Eggs"

That quote came in an email from my friend and fellow farmer, Emma Lincoln. She and her husband have a farm north of us called Lucky Duck Farm (

Emma brought us some delicious hard boiled eggs a few weeks back. They were all cracked looking and tea stained. They tasted spiced and were beautiful. She said it is a Japanese recipe.
So when I also was “drowning in eggs” I asked her for the recipe. Here it is…

For 6 eggs
Put the eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water.
Bring the water to a boil, turn of the heat, cover with a lid, and let sit for ten minutes.
Run the eggs under cold water, then tap all over with the back of a spoon to crackle the shell.
Rinse out the saucepan, put the eggs back in, and add:
- 2 tea bags (I used Oolong)
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 2 tsp salt
- 3-4 pieces of star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tsp whole peppercorns
- a little bit of dried orange peel or lemon peel
- water to cover the eggs

Then heat on low for 1-3 hours, turning the eggs periodically and adding water if the liquid gets too low.  The longer they cook, the more the flavor penetrates.

I tried it out, left them on low for four hours. I read my book “Future of Ice” by Miyazawa Kenji (1896-1933) while my eggs steeped.
What a beautiful book! I love his poetry as he talks so much about nature, using words that make me think. I like this simple one…

“A snatch of cloud
reflected on the wings
of a beetle nibbling parsley flowers
flies in the valley sky.”

Some are much deeper and you have to read each line slowly, savor each word, let them deepen in your head, then let them drift back up into consciousness, before you go on.

There is another longer poem I like about a cypress and how it changes from day to day. And an even longer one about a farm that he went to work on called “Koiwai Farm”. Apparently he worked on some farms when he was a young man.

So I checked my eggs and here’s how mine turned out.

Hm. Not much for pretty cracks showing, no decoration. Hm.

Ah ha! My eggs are brown to start with. Duh. So the tea dyed cracks didn’t show up on the outside like I wanted. I decided to steep them longer the next day...close to 8 hours total.
They turned out better, and on the inside they look like this…

Pretty cool looking!
And they taste pretty good. Not as good as Emma’s but I think that is because I had to substitute the oolong tea for all I had, which was china black. I’ll have to get some oolong and try it again. Yum!
I wonder about trying it with different recipes and colors. Maybe using beet juice to get pink lines. If you try it, let me know how they turn out!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Franken Hoops

Spring in Central Illinois, in my experience, always has seemed windy. This year is no exception. A couple of days ago we experienced severe REALLY severe! One building was rocking so bad I thought it would go over at any second. Glad it didn't! The cow hut was flipped over so we moved them to the pasture where the pigs are...not to the delight of the pigs.

Then there is the problem with plastic over the hoophouses. Our plantings in our hoops are doing pretty good right now. We harvested red mustard, arugula, cress, and some lettuce in them this week. Radishes and cilantro are springing up, as well as the fennel and some spinach. In another two weeks we expect to have some green garlic ready. We certainly don't want to lose it all due to the plastic giving way.

But, Thursday morning we went out and saw huge rips on the roofs of the hoops. The rips went up the plastic at each metal rib and the east hoop's east side was a disaster. (Thankfully the west hoop only had two rips.) We scoured the buildings and came up with some spare plastic and started to do some quick repairs while we wait for a call back from the plastic company.

Here you can see one section kind of flapping around and the metal ribs sticking thru the other sections.

Here's two of the three (I'm the third) of the repair crew. Can you tell they are patiently waiting me to stop with the photos already? We used a piece of plastic and fit it between the ribs and the original plastic piece. Then we stapled and taped on the inside to hold it in place. The guys (while I weeded cilantro) put Gorilla tape on the outside at each rib also to hold the ripped pieces to the new plastic (I was too short to help so I just stayed close to the ground inside where it was 70 degrees).

That is how we ended up with this Frankenstein looking hoophouse. Looks like it has sutures or something. Weird, but works for now. Hope we don't get anymore wind!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Augh! Computers!

   This is obviously NOT a good computer day here at the farm! I've had to restart mine three times, been kicked off, restart again, it stole my homepage and I had to reset that, and it won't let me go where I need to!! So...if all of a sudden I disappear - you know why!
   I'll try to keep it short and sweet...or salty...depending on the pics.

Here's the smoke house that we smoked the hams in...

They turned out a little salty - okay the bacon is WAY salty for me. But, Marty assured me he can fix that. I haven't had any strips of bacon with my eggs yet tho. Not sure about the ham yet. The smoking went really well tho. The guys smoked them for two days and the smell and flavor of it is great.

Ducks are loving the spring weather...

Chickens are roaming far and wide into the fields to get the worms. Suzy the Sussex and Della the Delaware are really out there far. Then, of course, they convince Top Top to go out too. She is the goofy looking one with the white top hat hair do that can't see anything. I worry about her getting scarfed up by the hawks. So far she's still with us.

Syrup season is closing down. We boiled all the sap we had left yesterday. Today, since it is warmer again, we'll check the buckets one last time and try to get another two gallons before shutting down completely. Our year was really patchy - cold, hot, cold, hot - so we got less syrup this year. We are at 30 gallons right now on the chart. Last year we had 53. Each year is different and we never know what to expect. But, that is farming!

After we boil the rest down we will go thru the clean up process, washing buckets and lids and taps, cleaning up the evaporator (no small feat), washing the floors, and putting everything away for the next season so the mice don't get into it.

In the growing room in the basement - wow! Stuff is really tall and gangly this year. We are trying to figure out why. The peppers are looking good. We will start seedlings of tomatoes, eggplant, and other fruiting plants next week (14th) which is an ideal day on the calendar for it.

This next couple of warm days I'll be cleaning out the "south greenhouse" and repairing the plastic...

then I will move the colder loving plants from the basement into it on the shelves across the back wall. These will include the kale, brussel sprouts, and bok choi. When the bok choi are big enough I'll plant them in the ground in that same greenhouse (actually it's a hoophouse as it has no heat added to it). We lost our bok choi that were planted into the big hoophouses, not sure what happened but might've been that cold snap last week.

Spring work is also starting. We planted onions last Wednesday in the field - 500 feet. Will has been checking the wheat field, waiting for a dry stretch so he can till. We are fixing tractors in anticipation of using them soon. And, building work is beginning now that the weather is getting warmer (I love that job!).

We have heard the news about bad tornadoes in southern IL, IN, KY, TN, AL. Wow. Our hearts go out to all of those who have lost so much.

Oh well for short and sweet...

Friday, February 24, 2012

Recipes for curing Pea are the recipes we used to cure the hams, bacon, etc.

From the book "The River Cottage Cookbook" by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Pea Bacon  (Sorry it's all in Engle-measure)
1 kg sea salt (non-iodized), 100 g brown sugar, and 1 tablespoon cracked black pepper.

   Mix all together then rub into the slabs of bacon with your hands. Rub into all the surfacs with your fingers (wear gloves if you have any cuts on your hands or eyaw!). We put all the pieces into a clean 5 gallon bucket, stacked on top of each other, then the lid on. We put the bucket in the basement.
   Every day Marty would take the pieces out, drain out the salty liquid in the buckets, rub more salt mix into them, and then restack them in the bucket with the bottom ones on top and the top ones on the bottom.
   He did that for five days. Then he took them out, rinsed them very well under water to get the saltiness out, then put them into pillow cases and placed them on the porch to dry.
   Now that they are dry he plans to put a couple in the freezer and then smoke a couple over a very cold smokey fire in our little smoke house.

Hams and shoulders (recipe 1)
   We put together a mix for a "basic brine". It was 2 kg sea salt and 6 litres of water. (We leave out the saltpetre as they said it was optional.) Brought it to a boil on the stove then we cooled it thoroughly.
   We put the meat into another 5 gallon bucket (we have tons of these great buckets thanks to our friend Tom from White Oak Gourmet - thanks Tom!). We added the brine, put a dinner plate over the ham and a brick inside a plastic bag on the plate to keep the ham under the brine, and then put the lid on the bucket.
   Then we put it into our walk in cooler (38 degrees) for ten days. It was figured at ten days because of the weight. Our meat was 3 kilos and it was to be three days for every kilo. 
   Tomorrow Marty will take the piece out of the brine, dry it as much as possible with a cotton cloth, and hang it to dry further for 24 hours. He plans to smoke that one also.

(recipe 2)
   This one is called the Suffolk cure. (we left out the beer as we didn't have any on hand)
2 litres of beer if you have it, 2 litres of malt vinegar (we added a little maple syrup vinegar as we didn't have enough malt vinegar. We make the maple syrup vinegar ourselves...not sure where you would buy it), 1.5 kg of sea salt (non-iodized), 25 g peppercorns, 25 g cloves, and 1 kg brown sugar. Left out the saltpetre again.

   This brine was also brought up to boil, then cooled. The meat was also put into another 5 gallon bucket, brine poured over, plate etc. to weight it down, lid on, in walk in cooler for 10 days.
   Marty will smoke this one tomorrow also.

Whew! My job was the easiest. I just measured the stuff and boiled it. So I'm wishing Marty luck on the smoking part. After smoking the pieces, we'll hang the pieces in the basement to cure (in the pillow cases).
Then we'll have Chef Chris help us out by taking a look a them and determining if they are edible. I sure hope so after all that work and time curing. They could take as short as a couple of months and as long as a year to cure.

All I can say is...don't try this at home! or if you do then find someone who knows what they are doing to give advice. And don't plan on asking me any questions about it! I'm just the guinea pig (no pun Pea) who gets to eat it when it is done.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Pea Chops

   I love my pigs. They are cute, happy, efficient foragers, fun, look like black hamsters when born, act like dogs when grown, and give me kisses (the big boys anyway). But, they still are livestock. And, according to my rules, I don’t name the ones that get butchered.
   Unfortunately, sometimes one that is named will have health issues and need to be “put down” as pet owners call it. And, as they are PIGS…”put down” means butchered and put in the freezer. Sorry folks, but that is farm life.
   When Pea got to where her bowed back legs were just too painful and she wasn’t even wanting to stand up, we had to make the decision to take her in to the Chenoa Meat Locker. They butchered her for us, scalded her black hairs off, and sent her home. I had a hard time looking at the head…really hard time. But, the body is just meat now and we had to figure out what to do with it. Cure it? Freeze it? Hm.

   Last Wednesday was to be a visit with our great friend and chef, Chris Pandel. He is the chef and one of the owners of the restaurants The Bristol ( and of Balena ( His food is fannn-tasss-tic! Check out the websites and these two Chicago restaurants…Balena is to open soon. But, unfortunately Chris couldn’t make it on ham day. So…we forged ahead (no pun intended Pea) anyway. We’ll get his take on how we did next time he comes down for a visit and see if we did everything okay.

Here’s the meat…

Here’s the resident chef all ready to go…

Here’s the reference books…

Will helped Marty break the carcass down into pieces...hams (back butt), shoulders, loins (upper back section), and belly. We used a picture so we knew where to cut. It also helps that Will works at the locker in the winter.

The belly was for making our bacon. Four pieces were salted with a mix of non-iodized salt and spices, all was rubbed into the meat. Then they were put into a white 5 gallon bucket and placed in the basement. Each day Marty would drain off the liquid and re-salt them. He would restack them so the bottom two were on top. Did this for five days.
He'll rinse the salt all off, then dry it for a couple of days. We hung it in a pillow case to dry. And, then we will use some (yum) or smoke it over a very cool smoky fire for a day and then store it. We will smoke a couple of the pieces and put the rest in the freezer. 
We packaged up the cute little Pea Chops into bags and froze them, as well as some loin cuts.
One shoulder was cut up into chunks to make sausage. We chopped up meat chunks and then fatty chunks, mixing it half and half as we put it thru Grandma Hazel's old grinder.
We were VERY careful not to get our fingers in!
Check back for the next blog and I'll include the recipes we used for the brines and spice/salt mixes for the hams. I'll also include the sausage spice mix - it turned out wonderful!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Mr. farm employee

This is Mr. Vole (at least I think he is a vole…it’s hard to hear what he says. Maybe he is a shrew). He made his way into the washtub in the basement and didn’t make it back out. So, I hired him. We always need a helping hand, even if the hand is about 2 millimeters long.

I started him out with the basics –
Syrup sales.

Then we moved on to taking care of the cacti garden.

He was a great assistant for helping me glue up some fabric

And for arranging my next quilt project. He has no eye for color…well, he can’t see now can he?

He tried his hand at emailing the order info for the week. He doesn’t like using the mouse tho.

And, you never know who you will reach when you call the farm.

As we became better friends I learned more about this handsome guy.

During his time off he enjoys reading,


Hanging out in nature,

Volunteering for great non-profit organizations like Spence Farm Foundation,

And taking dancing lessons.

And he likes cats…and thankfully Petie liked him too (kisses).

So, I guess I’ll keep him on for a while. At least until he begins to smell.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The New Old Tractor

   We got one of the best Christmas presents ever this year from our friend Rich Aberle. He asked us if he could restore the Allis Chalmers D-15 tractor. Wow! Such a generous offer not only left us speechless, but also dumb founded. We didn’t know what to say…so we said yes.
  She sure could use some help.

   A few years ago our neighbors, Wally and Dorothy Alpers, asked us if we were interested in purchasing the D-15 from them. It had a pull behind mower and was heavy duty enough that it would really help us with the field work. Wally said he would like to see it be used again in the fields. So, we asked an Allis Chalmers expert (Doc Smith) to take a look and tell us what he thought. He said it was in fair condition and gave us a suggested price to offer. We bought her and brought her home to Spence Farm and she has been a life-saver with the tilling and planting ever since. (Thanks Wally and Dorothy!)

   But she was looking pretty tough…she is 51 years old after all…

   So, in January she was sent in to Fairbury to Ben Meister and Adam Roberts. They worked on her for a few weeks and did a great job.
   Will took some pictures of her when she was all broke up into the skeleton pieces as they worked on fixing her innards (she needed some work to keep her oils in) and painting her (they even got all new Allis stickers for her). Unfortunately we can’t figure out how to get the pics off his phone so you can see them. But, when she came home…WOW!

   It is almost scary to use her! We keep telling each other – “watch out for that stick!”, “Don’t bump that tree!”, “for cryin’ out loud! Don’t scrape the paint!”, “you’re gettin’ her durty!”

   She is soooo purrty! And she runs great leaks.
   But, there is only one minor flaw…I have to get the guys to put the little steering wheel wheely thingy back on so I can swing her around the corners easier. (That is truly MINOR to them.)

   We are so happy with her. She’s beee-youuu-tee-ful!

   Thank you so much Rich for this wonderful present!!!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Sprouts & Pea

   Remember those pepper seeds I wrote about...putting them on damp paper towels on the warm radiators to sprout? Well...
They sprouted! I planted them on a "fruit" day according to the biodynamic calendar and yesterday I planted them into the soil on another "fruit" day. These guys are just coming out of the seed. Cool!

This is my method...the finger method. I just put a hole in the soil with my finger and drop the seed in and then cover it, water it, put the lid on, place it under the lights. Not much to it.

I have to say that sometimes I'm really glad we aren't a huge producer. Oh yeah, we could use the extra income and it would be great to feel like we are really packed with tons of produce all the time, to look out over the farm and have it chock full of greens all the time. To see thousands of seedlings packed into tiny spaces. To have everything that everyone wants, all the time.

But, I also don't have to use the gadgets. I don't have a metal soil block maker, a seed-drop-in-the-holer thingy, and don't have to transplant four times. We use the bigger cells so we only have to transplant once. We learned from experience of planting into tiny cells and then transplanting that it just set us back too much in our growing time. And, with only us three we chose plants that didn't need started inside so much, saving on space and electricity and time.

We also don't do farmers markets where we have to have tons of produce in piles. We don't grow a lot of greens that are in thick blocks of rows. And, we have a lot to learn. TONS. So...maybe someday we will be able to have a unique system for blocking soil, dropping seeds, etc. Maybe our desire to try to do it all will override my desire to enjoy digging in the soil.

And...maybe someday we will have other people to do all that. I personally like digging my finger into the soil, dropping the tiny seeds in by hand so I can pump all my love and good energy into them. I like talking to them, taking my time, knowing that I don't have thousands upon thousands of transplants to do later. My simple methods might sound kinda whimsical - how will I ever be a big business if I keep doing it the small way? Guess it comes down to my quality of life - this is quality to me...not quantity. So...

Did you know that the seed casing sometimes stays attached to the plant leaf as it sprouts? Maybe you've seen this. It meant that when I had a bunch of really leafy seeds sprouting I had to be careful to drop the right end into the soil!

These were a little further along than I like. But they will do fine. Serrano peppers!
I love doing this...planting the seedlings. My allergies kick in and my nose gets clogged, my eyes get itchy, and I have to take a break every so often to breath (all from the soil molds and dust), but I still enjoy it. I'm glad I only do this once a year tho.

We have a friend farmer named Alma Augsburger of North Avoca Farm. She grows quite a few pounds of pea shoots and tendrils for restaurants every week. She amazes me cuz she grows these all year long in flats under her grow lights. Her growing area must be like a little jungle in the winter. Very impressive!

Animal news...we had to take our piggy Pea to the butcher. She had bad back legs, bowed, and as she grew they got worse and worse. She got where she looked miserable and laid around a lot...not good. I'm thankful to her for her life and for the food she will give us, wish she hadn't had leg problems and could've stayed around.
   The ducks have figured out the water tank for the cows. They reach their heads up over the sides to slurp up the water. And, they are shy about it! I see them from far away, but whenever I get closer to take pic, they quit doing it.
   The little roosters aren't chasing me as bad as they were. I have a new strategy. Used to be we would chase them back. Then Marty accidentally caught one in a bucket, swung it around, and now it leaves him alone whenever he has a bucket in hand. For me...well, I turn around and face the little bugger. I quietly ask him if he is thinking. "Are you sure you want to do that? Are you thinking that is a good idea? Are you sure you wouldn't rather think some more about what you are going to do? Think hard now. It might not be a good idea." Strange...but he turns and walks away. Hm. Peaceful, calm, direct,

Have a peaceful, sunny day!

Monday, February 6, 2012

An Early Syrup Season

   The last couple of days have been foggy and it has attached itself to the trees and plants. Lovely.

Syrup season is underway, a whole week under our belts. The first week is really hard. We are excited to start, but aren’t used to the physical work after sitting on our butts in the warmth for a couple of months. How physical is it, you ask? Well…

There’s tapping trees…and thanks to the Prairie Central high school agriculture classes, Will only had to tap about 50. Last year we tapped 322. This year we decided to get wise and only tap 150 to see if we wouldn’t have so much wasted by it flowing over on the really heavy running days. So, far it is working out.

Then there is the collecting the sap. Once again, we’ve had help from the teens at the school (they are terrific!). We’ve collected twice and they’ve collected twice. We put all the sap into a large stainless steel tank that holds about 400 gallons. It is well insulated and with the temps below 32 at night it keeps for a few days.

Here you can see the cool lean-to and the big sap tank
Then there is the firewood. Loads and loads and loads…We fill it in the back of the pickup and it takes 1 ½ loads a day to boil…minimum. Lots of wood. The best is dry and under 3 inches in diameter. That burns hot and makes for less work keeping the sap at a rolling boil. We stack it under the lean-to that we built last year and bless that thing every time we walk under it…so nice to have. Then we cut piles of the firewood and carry it in to put in a box inside, filling it quite a few times during the day.

Other physical work includes pouring buckets of sap into the evaporator. Sounds easy, but for me…well, I’m shorter than the guys. So, I like to use an old water jug to pour it in a gallon at a time. We also fill a 55 gallon drum in the morning and it trickles in thru a pipe until about 2:30 when the barrel runs dry. Then we bucket it until 5pm...closing time.
The blue barrel behind Will holds 55 gallons of sap.
Marty is watching the back pan to make sure it doesn't boil over.
Will is getting ready to draw some syrup off to put in the finisher (not shown).

But, there is some great down time also. With two or three of us, we are able to take some time to read, chat, listen to music, etc. One person has to keep a constant eye on the sap so it doesn't boil over and the other two will add wood as needed. But we take some breaks to just sit. We all take turns with cutting and bringing in firewood, hauling sap, and watching the boil. It makes the work less and more enjoyable by far!

Here's Marty taking a much needed break.
I love the walk to the syrup house. There are three paths, all are nice. One is thru the prairie, one along the edge of the prairie and woods, one just along the inside of the woods. Today there was a yearling deer that I scared up unknowingly when I passed it. The guys saw it flit away. I’ve also heard the starlings come into the trees with their incessant chatter, and the kree-kree of the killdeer scouts entering the area.

Everything is a few weeks early this year. The season itself is three weeks early! We were afraid if we didn’t start to tap trees then we would miss out. It all depends on Mother and what she wants to do. Temps above freezing during the day (up to 4o is ideal) pushes the sap up into the branches of the trees. Then below freezing at night, it goes back down into the roots. As it passes the spout…drip, drip into the buckets with a musical ringing sound. And, this week the last of January was perfect weather to start.

So far we’ve bottled 48 – 12 oz jars and a gallon and a half of syrup. Almost all sold out! We have a lot of gallons presold every year to our chefs, but we like to bottle some for other people also. If all works out good, we will beat our record of 53 gallons made last season. Fingers crossed!

More syrup news to come...and animal updates!