Archive for the ‘maple syrup’ Category


Saturday, March 9:

We checked out the auction at the old feed store this morning.  The whole place smelled of cats and rats and mildewed cob corn, and it was packed to the rafters with people who were going to bid much higher for the fence panels, corn shellers, stock gates, etc, than we would ever dream of, so after a quick tour and a mild pang or two we left.

Two sons went to the mill for lumber for the mill shed and siding for the summer kitchen; Papa staked out where the footer for the mill shed will be.  Mostly we mill our lumber but with the mud so deep hauling logs isn’t feasible.  After lunch Papa and the girls took advantage of the beautiful weather to clear all the old bedding out of the chicken house and put in clean cedar shavings, a suggestion we gleaned from the Sisters of Reparation as a way to combat hen lice.  The tow truck came to haul away the old F-150; three sons worked timbers for the summer kitchen, and one collected and boiled another twenty gallons of maple sap.

The old green car may be salvageable as a farm vehicle for going up and down to the monastery; Grandpa is feeling much better and had a hamburger for lunch.  We are safe, well, together, and we like to work with one another; there were steaks and hamburgers, potatoes and braised cabbage for dinner, with a gallon of milk and a loaf of wheat bread; the sun shone today; how much more does it take to make a man happy?

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Friday, February 15:

We are tapping trees this week.  Two of the boys went out Wednesday with a brace and bit and a bucket of spiles; now on the hill two-gallon pails hang on the southeast side of ten or fifteen maple trees, enough to produce all the sap our backyard operation can process, all our household needs for a year of pancakes and waffles.

It is a feat to scramble diagonally across our steep hills filling five gallon buckets from the sap pails on each tree and trying not to spill too much or fall fifty feet into North creek below.   The dogs think this is an exercise designed for their personal amusement and stay close to us, showing us deer sign and getting tangled up with our feet.  Bridget the sorrel pony knows we are wasting our time and stands at the pasture fence to show us that we would be better employed bringing her half a bale of second cutting clover and timothy.  Despite her, and despite the way our boots are slipping on the thin wet snow and the mud beneath it, we are purposeful, determined:  the trees have something to give us, wild food to be had for the gathering, and we are out here to get it.

The cattle at the monastery are only half-way through the forage in the very large paddock that was made for them last Saturday.  When they are given too much space they browse inefficiently, stepping on grass they would eat if they thought they were feeling competetive.  Nevertheless we are going to leave them in that paddock for another two or three days, there is still so much grass.  We will not run out of forage this winter, and in the spring, if the gods smile, we must consider buying extra steers just to keep the pasture grazed.

The black hog made the great transition this afternoon, from Fed to Food.  The boys brought home a bucket of casings to be scraped and tomorrow they’ll break down the sides into chops, hams, belly and sausage meat.  No more going without breakfast meat on Sundays.  On Thursday the farm science class will learn to scrape hogs’ intestines and make five kinds of sausage.

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Saturday, February 9:

The snow in the yard is thawing today and in places the green grass is poking through.  The paths, where we have trampled the snow down solid going to and from the barn, are slick with rotting ice and slush, and in the wheel ruts in the lane snowmelt runs muddy and yellow under a layer of ice.  Very soon we will have to put the taps in our maple trees; so today we unearthed the bag of spiles and the coffee can of bucket hooks from their bin in the basement.  The girls got into the back of the shed and pulled out all the sap buckets.  The sun was already down behind the south hill but they took the buckets out on the porch and washed them with hot soapy water that cooled too quickly; when they came in at last for chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes their hands were wrinkled and pink, and very chilly.

The greenhouse, crowded with things people had put in there to be out of the way last summer, had to be sorted and cleaned as well.  Cracked buckets went into the recycle pile; broken clay pots were discarded, and plastic pots grown brittle from a year in the hot greenhouse were thrown away.  The shop lights which will provide an extra few hours of energy to the tomato seedlings were raised as high on their chains as they would go, out of the way of the heads of whomever will be starting seeds in there this spring.  All the seeds left over from last year have been tested for germination (see our garden page for instructions), so we can begin sowing those tomatoes and peppers almost immediately.

The new Blue Heeler pup is forbidden the basement so we shush him when he is down there and Papa pretends not to hear.

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Saturday, February 25:  It was cold this morning when S-3 went down to milk, and others dug the ashes out of the furnace, lit the fire, and skimmed yesterday’s milk; but by three o’clock, when we were filling the wood rack in the basement, it was so warm we didn’t want coats. 

   The male two-thirds of the family cut trees on the south hill and bucked them down to the dry pond above the barn.  Only two trees — tulip — but they think they will get all the two-by-eights they need for the barn rafters out of just those two.  They also brought an oak, split, off the west hill, to cut for four-by-twelve floor beams.  There was some brush-burning and clearing going on, too.  Up at the house, S-5 was cooking down thirty gallons of sap, and making almost three gallons of ice cream — chocolate and coffee.  S-6, the baby, has a temperature, and put a severe crimp in home progress.

   The mild weather went far to raise late-February spirits around here, and they need raising.  The snow is lying in rotten furrows all around the house, the top layer of dirt has thawed, and now everyone who comes in brings mud in with him.  We have many projects in projection, you might say, but can’t get too forward on most of them.  We are grateful for the sap season, and the repair of the sickle bar mower, to keep us busy on the days we can’t get out.

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February 19:  The temperature is dropping again, but the sun shone on Saturday, and the guys brought logs out of the bee yard and milled six sections -about three tree trunks — into twenty-nine two-by-sixes and some miscellaneous slab lumber.  That is more than enough for framing the walls of the barn addition.  We could hear the yells as they rolled some eighteen- to twenty-four-inch diameter logs onto the road; it was mere enthusiasm, but sounded more like impending disaster.  At the house there was pruning going on, and our hands are bloody today as evidence.  Now the apple and cherry trees at the house are done, but there are still the ones in the south pasture, and at the Sisters’, to do — we hope for a sunny, cold day next week. 

   The hams and bacon from the pigs butchered in January are finally thawed enough for smoking; if the weather doesn’t get too cold this week, we’ll put them in the smoke house next weekend.  That means we have to go get sawdust from our friendly neighborhood sawmill.  We might use the cherry sawdust the boys milled Saturday, but it’s too fine to burn well.

   It hasn’t been cold enough the last few nights to bring the sap down the maple trees, so we’ve only boiled down about a gallon of syrup.  The February warm up is usually like that.  When spring really comes, there will be another run of sap, but we may have to ream out our tap holes to get a good flow.  Maple syrup on Sunday pancakes only masquerades as real food; really, it’s dessert for breakfast.

   The thaw also means shifting Isabel and the steers off the south pasture before they pug it up.  The area around the chicken house is, as anyone who keeps chickens will know without being told, already a blasted wasteland, so we put Isabel over on that side of Jeddo’s Run, and the steers in the little west pasture.  Shawn spread a couple of bales for them, and now that slope will get some mulch and manure, like the header picture for this journal shows on the south pasture.  We can keep the steer on the west hill because it  doesn’t run with water the way the south pasture does in a thaw, partly because the west hill doesn’t hold snow and ice like a north-facing slope will do.  Did we mention that the Sow’s Ear is established on twenty-seven of the most worthless acres in eastern Ohio?  The south pasture, despite an average gradient of about one in four, is a boggy mire when spring comes, and even in a drought like last year’s, there are one or two squishy places.  So much greater the triumph when we make it work as pasture.  If we can do it here, what will others be able to do on reasonably arable land?

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