Category Archives: Maple Syrup

Signs of Life? Or Not.

We were blessed with a beautiful spring day here in Minnesota with temperatures reaching into the 50’s.  Finally!

It was a gorgeous day to get outside and start checking for signs of life around the farm.

Since the snow finally started melting, Jesse decided to make his way out to the beehives to check on them.  After 50 plus days this winter of high temperatures not even reaching zero degrees Fahrenheit, our expectations were very low about the likelihood that our bees survived.  When our bee supplier called in January, we decided to play it safe and order two more nucs of bees to install this spring to make sure we were not left without any bees.  As it turns out, we made the right decision!

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We knew it was a bad sign this afternoon when Jesse pulled the covers off the hives and we saw the carnage of dead bees on the inside hive cover.  There was also an eerie silence that was a tell-tale sign that the bees had not survived.  It was the same scene when he opened the second hive.

No survivors. No signs of life.

We will start fresh with new bees this spring.  Again.

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Our snow cover was melting quickly today with the warm temperatures.  The turned soil is starting to reveal itself in the plowed field next to our house.  The neighbor planted a bean crop last summer and plans to re-seed an alfalfa crop this spring.  This will delight our new bees.

3Wherever we wander on the farm, including out to the bees,we can always count on Sofie being somewhere close by.  She is a constant sign of life on the farm, even in the bleakest of times.  Dogs are such comforting companions.

4After visiting the bees, I trudged through the heaps of piled snow to get to the edge of my vegetable garden to take a picture.  With a solid foot of snow remaining within the perimeter, there is sadly no sign of life here.  It is hard to imagine that in a few short months this will be green and brimming with new growth and possibilities.
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The warm temperatures today did manage to stir awake the juices of the maple trees.  We ventured in to the woods and discovered the first signs of the sap running.  Although it was not a very productive day (only about 1 gallon), it is a start.

6And after this long winter, I will celebrate any sign of life that reveals itself around here!
-Lynell

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Filed under Animals, Bees, Daily life, Maple Syrup

Spring? Finally.

Last Friday we received about a foot of heavy wet snow.  It was depressing and everyone was complaining and crabby, including me.  It felt like spring would never arrive.  April has been a strange and very snowy month.spring1

One week later and it looks like this…

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Yes, I think spring has finally arrived.  The last two days we have enjoyed temperatures in the low 70’s.  It is not expected to last all week, but it sure has helped to melt the snow and get spring kicked into gear.

Last weekend, when it was still cold, we hosted a smoking party at our house.  Jesse was going to fire up the smokehouse while the temperatures were still cool with the snow on the ground, so he invited friends to bring over anything they wanted to smoke.  We had a real assortment of good stuff:  almonds, peanuts, cheese, cheese curds, leg of lamb, pork chops, pork roasts, ribs, and chickens.  Once the smokehouse was loaded up, we enjoyed chatting and having some beverages while we waited for the smokehouse to work its cold-smoking magic.

We also started cooking sap to make maple syrup the same day.  The sap ran very late this year due to the crazy spring.  We were not sure if it would run at all, but the trees finally started dripping and actually produced a lot of sap.

Jesse found this stainless steel pan at a restaurant equipment store and it works great on our outdoor stove to cook the sap.  It has a lot of surface area to help with evaporation and to cook the sap down faster.  The sap looks just like water when you first collect it from the tree to start cooking.

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As it cooks longer, it starts to brown up and begins to have a sweet caramel-like aroma.  We cooked down enough sap last weekend to make one gallon of syrup.

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This past Thursday evening Jesse fired up the stove once again and cooked down the rest of the sap overnight.  In total, we ended up with two gallons of syrup.  Yum!
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Yes, spring is here.  The birds have been singing, the geese are honking, and the frogs have awoken and are singing their lovely spring song.

All varieties of wildlife are on the move. During the day yesterday, I was working at home and as I glanced up from the file I was reading, I noticed these turkeys come walking past the back of the barn and headed towards the river. I grabbed my camera and snapped a few shots.

We joke sometimes about living in a nature preserve.  I guess we have the river to thank for the wide array of wildlife we get to see and/or hear (the owls hooting at night are my favorite) on a daily basis.
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Along with the melting snow comes spring flooding.  The water has risen rapidly in the last two days and the river is overflowing.
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We spent yesterday evening and today outside enjoying the warm temperatures by starting our spring cleanup.  I cut down any perennials that stood through the winter and raked all the leaves out of the gardens.

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Tired of the chickens coming up by the house and digging in the dirt of my perennial garden, we decided to lock them in the vegetable garden fence today to enjoy the sunshine.  Ironically, we built this very fence in part, to keep the chickens out of the vegetable garden.  They loved kicking around the bit of straw, pecking at the grass, and digging in the dirt all day.
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Underneath the piles of leaves I discovered some flowers eager to get growing.  These tulips had obviously decided that spring was here, despite the foot of snow we received just a week ago.
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Likewise, the peonies are bursting out of the ground.  I love peonies so much.  They remind me of my grandma.

spring8Our old girl was out soaking up the sunshine today too. I love her an awful lot too.

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The beehives are sitting empty across the field awaiting their new residents.  We ordered two nucs of bees that should arrive in about 10 days.  The nucs contain some frames of brood and a queen, so they are already somewhat established.  Since we are starting over again after a year of bee-keeping drama (swarming, robbing, etc.), it will be nice to have the hives get up and running quickly.
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So, after a very long winter, it seems as though spring has arrived.  Finally.

There may likely be a few more bumps along the way, but we are definitely headed in the right direction.

Lynell

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Filed under Daily life, Food, Maple Syrup, Miscellaneous

Spring Preparations: Winter Sowing and Tree Tapping

The days are getting longer and the sun’s rays are growing stronger each day.  Even with a foot or so of snow still on the ground, I can feel spring in the air and we have begun our preparations.

I finally got around to getting some winter sowing done this past weekend.  My first attempt a few years ago was enough of a success to convince me to continue trying this process.  I started saving milk jugs earlier this year and requested a friend to do the same, so I had a good supply.

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I discussed the basics of the winter sowing process in this earlier post from 2010:

Sowing Seeds Outdoor in Winter

Some changes that I have made to the process since my first attempt is to not cut the milk jugs completely in half, but rather to leave the handle side attached to act as a hinge in the spring when you need to open the containers during the warm days.  I also write the flower variety on a craft stick and place it inside the container instead of writing on the outside of the milk jug, which wears off in the weather over time.

This year I am attempting to winter sow the following varieties of flowers:

  • Coneflower White Swan
  • Coneflower Bravado
  • Coneflower Magnus
  • Delphinium Magic Fountains (Cherry Blossom)
  • Delphinium Pacific Giants
  • Foxglove (Foxy Mix)
  • Larkspur Lover’s Mix

I am even attempting winter sowing some kale (Kale Winterbor Hybrid).  I will let you know how that turns out.

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The milk jugs are all taped up and ready for placement in the snow to await spring.  In a few months, these containers will house some little seedlings to add to my gardens.

I wrote the following post in the summer after my first attempt at winter sowing, showing the little seedlings and the bigger plants once transplanted to the garden:  Winter Sowing Update.

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It is hard to believe that this cost-effective process can yield such great results.  My biggest success in winter sowing to date has been my poppies and foxgloves.  I wrote about my foxglove successes in winter sowing in 2011: Foxgloves: A Favorite.

On the flip side, I have struggled with the germination of Delphinium, typically only getting a few seedlings out of a packet of seeds.  I adore Delphiniums in my garden so much however, that despite my limited success, I continue trying to winter sow them.  And considering the cost of perennial plants, a $2 packet of seeds is still a good deal, even if I do eventually only get 3 or 4 plants for the garden.

DSC_0009Besides winter sowing, we also got some trees tapped in hopes of getting some sap this year.  Last year was such a strangely warm winter and spring that the sap never ran and we were unable to make any maple syrup.  The summer continued with very little rain and drought conditions.

Jesse’s mother sent him an article, Maple Syrup and Drought, from the University of Minnesota Extension website that discusses the dilemma of tapping maple trees after a drought year. After reading the article and comments, Jesse decided to only put one tap in each tree, as opposed to the two or three he usually does in the bigger trees.

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Our youngest helped insert the spiles into the drilled holes.DSC_0048

After hanging milk jugs on the trees to collect the sap, we will be ready to go when the sap starts running.DSC_0049

Not only do we all enjoy the process of making the maple syrup, we also love having it on our pancakes, waffles, french toast, etc., and in our oatmeal throughout the year.  Last year, we missed both the maple syrup process and the product. We are hoping for normal spring conditions this year that promote a healthy sap run for our trees.

I hope your spring preparations are going well in whatever part of the world you live!

Lynell

For additional posts on making maple syrup, see the following:

Maple Syrup Adventure: Part I  (March 3, 2010)

Spring Flooding and Maple Miscalculations  (March 14, 2010)

Maple SyrupAdventure: Part II  (March 28, 2010)

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Filed under Flower, Gardens, Maple Syrup

Maple Syrup Adventure: Part II

Our maple syrup adventure is finally winding down.  The sap reluctantly started to run last weekend after the night-time temperatures started dipping below freezing.  By all accounts, this year has not been a great sap run because of the warm temperatures.  We decided to tap more trees along the river once the flood waters receded to increase our quantity of sap.  It was time to start collecting sap last weekend and everyone wanted to get involved.

We have a large water tank that we put on our ATV in the summer to water trees.  The tank functioned well as a collection and holding tank for the sap.  Below the boys are emptying sap into the tank.

Continue reading

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Spring Flooding and Maple Miscalculations

Remember last week, before we left for our trip, when we tapped a few of our  maple trees in the river bottom behind our house?  The pails sat safely next to the base of the trees, waiting to catch the sap when it starts to flow.

Apparently it rained nearly the entire time we were gone.  It rained a lot and the snow melted…a lot.  We arrived home Thursday night surprised to see how much of the snow was gone.

It was still raining on our drive home from the airport.  It was evident that winter was on its way out and the dreariness of spring was upon us.  In the morning, I glanced out the windows in the back of the house towards the river.  Sadly, our tree-tapping experiment had gone awry.

The river has already flooded, a little earlier than usual.  The flood waters have interfered with our first attempt to collect the sap out of the maple trees.  Instead of sitting safely next to the tree, the collection pails are floating in the swollen river.  We need a new plan.  Despite my frustration over the floating pails, I do find the flooded river bottom eerily beautiful.

Wasting no time, Jesse formulated a plan to retrieve the pails.  Using the scow boat, he floated out to the pails and gathered them up.

We located more maple trees on higher ground behind the house and drilled new holes for the taps.

Once the spiles were inserted, some sap started dripping out.  We were so excited!!

So excited that our daughter did not want to see it go to waste.  She said that it only has a hint of sweetness.

Once again, we are all set up and waiting for the sap to really start flowing.   Let the adventure continue…

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Maple Syrup Adventure – Part I

The river bottom behind our house is filled with large maple trees.  As if we aren’t already busy enough trying to keep up with all of our kids’ activities and our other projects around the farm, we decided to try to make our own maple syrup after – you guessed it – seeing this great article entitled “Sugar From Trees” in the March/April 2009 issue of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer.  Our beekeeper friend also produces and sells maple syrup on a larger scale and Jesse went to observe his operation last spring.

Last fall, while the trees still had leaves, we identified sugar maple trees and marked them with orange tape.

As the weather started to warm up during the days this week into the low to mid 40’s (“warm” is a relative term when you live in Minnesota), we knew it was time to get the trees tapped.  The best syrup is made from maple sap after it first starts to run in the spring.  Tree sap starts to flow when temperatures rise above freezing during the day but fall back below freezing at night.

To tap the trees, Jesse and our oldest drilled holes into the tree trunks and inserted spiles. Sap drips out of the tree during the warm days and into the spile.  We purchased plastic spiles on-line from Leader Evaporator, but there are also metal ones.  I’m not sure why we got plastic, other than it was more cost-effective.

We also purchased some tubing to attach to the spiles to direct the sap into buckets sitting next to the trees.

The length of the sap run can vary, sometimes ending after only a few weeks.  Even though the tree sap flows through fall, once the weather warms up and stays above freezing at night, any syrup made from the sap won’t taste good any more.

We tapped a total of five trees, each with two spiles running into a five gallon bucket.  The temperature had already dropped below freezing when they were tapped tonight, so it was not evident whether the sap is running yet.  We have a large plastic drum to collect the sap in so that we can refill the buckets.  It takes around 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup!

There are a lot of steps that need to successfully be completed between collecting the sap and having maple syrup.  We need to collect the sap, keep it cool, cook it down the right amount, and boil it to the proper temperature.  I have no idea how this adventure will play out, but it always fun to try something new…even if we don’t really have the time.

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Filed under Daily life, Food, Maple Syrup