Saturday, February 23, 2013


Thanks to Jenny Smith at Verizon Wireless, I can finally...after a month and numerous hours of pulling my hair out...get pics on the blog. Thanks a ton Jenny! You are awesome!
So, since I am at the coffeehouse trying to get this figured out, I will have to get some new pics of the syruping when I get home. For now I will just be content with a pic of the napkin!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Where's the pics?

I would love to show you pictures of the new evaporator. But, the "migrate" button on my Picassa account has disappeared and the blog won't let me upload my pictures. Then Blogger also won't let me use a gmail account so I can just change accounts and get to my pictures. Any ideas from anyone would be much appreciated. I'm still working on it tho!
So far we have made 10 gallons of syrup in 4 days of boiling. Really good. The new evaporator is a dream to use in some ways...we don't have to shut it down when we go out to get firewood or sap, and it is virtually self run. But, it is also so efficient with the heat that we are freezing! It was 44 degrees in the syrup house yesterday. Last year we were in our shirt sleeves by afternoon. This year I'm bundled with hat, scarf, gloves, snow pants over jeans over long johns...etc. and my feet are frozen.
Well, that caused us to get creative. Today we installed a little wood burning stove for us to sit by. I tried sitting next to the door of the evaporator, but was almost inside it and still cold. The little stove should help a ton. Plus I can put my tea on it to stay warm.
I also asked if we could build a cute little (and very functional) outhouse this year. Not close to the syrup house, but not a couple acres walk away, which the house is. We might get that done later in the season. We'll see how that goes.
Two new products for us this year...distilled maple sap (water). We are collecting the condensation from the hoods over the boiling syrup and bottle it (at the source). We call it "Uncle Willard's Sweet Sweat"...sweat from the boiling sap that is. I also like the line "it takes a lot of sweat to make a gallon of syrup." My other idea hasn't taken off tho. I noticed the icicles off the roof from the steam that comes out the roof flaps. I thought we could call them "sap cicles". But they don't look too edible. Maybe we can just put the "sweat" into some kind of maple shaped ice trays and freeze it. Hm.
Stay tuned...I'm determined to get the picture thing figured out at some point!!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Syrup season again

It's maple syrup season again. We began tapping trees on the 8th, or there about. Today we finished up with tapping the last of 269 trees. We decided not to put buckets on the trees up by the syrup house since they have been tapped for the last five years and need a break. So most of the sap buckets are on trees a little further into the woods.
Will has the new evaporator all set up and ready to go. It is bigger than our first one, longer by about four feet, and should be able to boil about four times as much in the same amount of time. We already have around 200 gallons of sap collected and ready to go. So, if all goes well, we will begin to boil this Thursday or Friday.
This season we have a lot of friends scheduled to come help and that makes for a fun time. Many of them come from Chicago for a day. We are excited to also have a group from Slow Food come to help. Usually we do a quick tour of the equipment and set up, then everyone gets together and helps to collect firewood or sap. If we can, we try to boil that day so everyone can see how it works. But, that usually just depends on the weather.
Will also spends time with the local high school agriculture classes. This is definitely a kind of agriculture that the Farm Bureau and the local universities don't teach about. In our area of Illinois there are two commercial producers of maple syrup, us and Funks Grove. Funks Grove is much larger than our operation and is a really great place to go visit if you get a chance.
I think I have figured out how to get pictures on this blog. However...I haven't taken any recent ones so have to get on that! I hope to get some taken this week and show you the new evaporator set up. So, check back!!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Living Arts on the farm

I hesitate to show you any pictures of what it is like outside, altho I will say that it is sunny. The only green in sight is my little table with my cacti on it. Oh, and the pine trees.They look pretty nice. I woke to zero degrees today and have to remind myself that the thermometer is in the shade. It wasn't much warmer doing chores tho as my nose and eyes ran with the cold.
We put Bernie, the Jersey calf, inside the barn over night since he doesn't have much of a shelter and no one to snuggle with. The other two beeves were knee deep in mud from all the recent rain, so the guys moved them to a dry spot yesterday and they (all) are much happier now. And, the pigs just hunker down and sleep in the sun during the day, piled with hay and straw around them. The tarps help keep them warmer.

I've been working inside...and I refuse to take a picture of the piles of paperwork I've been working on. This is my season for getting all our paperwork pulled together. I compile from our weekly sales lists all our product sales, to who, etc. into an Access database. Then I am able to print reports for us that show what we sold, what week, for how much, and to who. It gives us a pretty good idea of our seasons for our products and which products were most profitable for us. Then I can also print reports for the chefs to show them what they bought, when and how much they spent. I have to say...even tho I do the is impressive. And it shows us and our customers that we take our business serious.
After all the end of year tax info is compiled, and the reports for our farm, then I work on the reports for the Stewards of the Land farmer group for what they sold to Chicago restaurants. They sell many other places as well - Dave's Supermarket, as well as other ones, farmers' markets, CSA's, on farm sales, etc. - but those amounts aren't included in what I compile (thank goodness!).

In my off time I enjoy lost arts...well, I (and my mom) consider them living arts really, but some others think of them as becoming lost. Those are the arts that women traditionally did at home on the farms (and elsewhere). They typically include lots of textile work, which is what I love - knitting, stitching, quilting, weaving, spinning, and more. I have my new loom set up and have been working on some smaller bags, trying to come up with a nice pattern of my own creation for walkers (the kind that are usually metal and assist other walkers). These arts also include soap making (check out Donna's farmwife blog at my connection below), candle making, cooking and preserving, and more.
I've been lucky enough to spend some time with Emma and Kiyoshi of Lucky Duck Farm (just north of Fairbury, IL) learning how they process their fleece from their Icelandic sheep. It is really beautiful and they hope to send it off soon and have it cleaned, carded, and spun. I'll update you later when they have some ready for sale. I've learned a lot from them about the different sheep fibers. Kiyoshi makes gorgeous needle felted animals (check him out on his for Kiyoshi Mino).
Some great places to check into these arts locally include the Lost Arts shop in Fairbury. They sell yarns, fabrics, and all the notions. They also provide some classes. Look into Heartland Community College (or a community college in your area) for some classes this spring including cooking, weaving, and quilting. And, of course, keep an eye on Spence Farm Foundation's website for upcoming classes with Donna making soap and Emma and Kiyoshi teaching about wool.
Now I will attempt to add my first picture...

okay...I have a lot more to learn yet...sorry folks, maybe next time.
hey, I did it! only after 4 hours of trying. Cant guarantee it again, but I can hope.
This is my knitting buddy...making him some cute clothes.