Liquid Gold – Light Amber

January 31st, 2013

Light Amber, the early season Maple syrup, is lighter in color but superior in flavor IMO. Medium and Dark  Amber come as the weather warms and the daylight hours grow. This week we had an opportunity to squeeze in a batch between rainstorms and now a hard freeze. Perfect timing.

100+ gallons of sap was collected in just 18 hours of dripping. Tuesday, the 29th, I did the primary boil and got it down to about five gallons. Tuesday evening I sat in the garage watching the final cook down while eating a fabulous egg sandwich (thanks Linda!) and sipping wine. I did give up the ghost and put the remaining three gallons on the wood stove and by Wednesday night (it was warm so the stove wasn’t on much) it was ready to can. Ten quarts in all! 2 1/2 gallons is a great start to the season!

Light Amber - the first of the season

Light Amber – the first of the season

Light Amber - the first of the season

Light Amber – the first of the season

Light Amber - the first of the season

Light Amber – the first of the season

Light Amber - the first of the season

Light Amber – the first of the season

Light Amber ( left ) the early season syrup is lighter in color, but superior in flavor. Dark Amber on the right from late 2012 season.

Light Amber ( left ) the early season syrup is lighter in color, but superior in flavor. Dark Amber on the right from late 2012 season.

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Low tunnel lowdown

January 27th, 2013

Here’s a peek into one of my low tunnels in late January.



Low Tunnel plan

Low Tunnel plan

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2013 Maple syrup season begins!

January 26th, 2013

We got our buckets out today. Forty for now. I’m tapping only trees in the valley this year. They seem to produce the most sap. Is it gravity? Is it wetter in the valley? This will also give other trees a chance to heal. I know tapping takes a minimal toll on the trees, but I don’t like stressing them if I don’t have to. No matter how much I love Maple Syrup.

Timing couldn’t be better. I’m down to my last gallon! Egad!

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It’s Maple Suryp time – but repairs are needed first!

January 16th, 2013

New foundation just poured (Jan. 16th 2013)for the Maple Syrup Evaporator.

New foundation just poured (Jan. 16th 2013) for the Maple Syrup Evaporator.

The winter this year has been a little more normal. Although the cold and snow started late the last month has seen a lot of wood go through the wood stove. Last year we started warming way early and I’m wondering if that will happen again this year. If so, the Maple sap will start to flow sooner too.

The early spring freeze-thaw freeze-thaw that makes the ground more like not yet congealed jello than something solid is exactly what makes the Maple trees start to pump sap. Everything outside is a mucky mess. I’ve brought up several loads of creek gravel and spread it around critical areas for better footing.

When I set up my Maple syrup evaporator several years ago I dug into the bank by the upper garden. A safe out of the way spot for the big fire it takes to boil down that sap 50 to 1. After several years of saying, “this summer I’m going to block that in proper”, and not getting to it and the spring freeze-thaw plus some bank erosion it’s a big fat mucky mess under there!

This spring I’m doing a “phase one” to my overall plan. I got all the muck cleaned out and just poured a high strength concrete base. When that cures out a bit more I’m going to block in, with concrete this time, a better exhaust/chimney.

Eventually, heard that before haven’t you?, I’ll bring that chimney up and on the other side of the evaporator, on the high side of the bank, I hope to build a wood fired grill – that uses the same chimney of course. Any bets on how many years it may take to get to that?

Check out my YouTube video on making Maple Syrup.

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How much wood could a wood stacker stack…

January 10th, 2013

How much wood could a wood stacker stack if a wood stacker could stack wood?


Around here, on Knob Creek, the old timers all have their own ideas about firewood. And it’s firewood that is something to think about. Some like to split to a smaller size, that’s me. Some like big chunks. Some like to stack criss crossed and others stack all the same direction, that’s me too. The biggest thing all of us that see wood as our winter warmth agree on is we strive to handle the wood as little as possible. Meaning, who wants to move stacks and stacks of wood more than the minimum three times needed.

One, from where you cut the tree to where you split the wood. Two, from where you split the wood to where you stack the wood. And finally three, from the big stack to a smaller stack in the house to burn.

Living in the Hoosier National Forest we do have an abundance of trees. Trees fall all the time. If it’s not a dead tree and of proper burning variety, we harvest them as fast as we can. Rule of thumb is firewood should be cut, split and dried for at least a year before burning. Storing that wood in a dry well ventilated space is critical when your heat and even sometimes your cooking fuel is that very wood.

We installed a wood burning stove in our house right away. Later I found and refurbished an old wood burning cook stove and have it operational now. When we started gathering wood we used tarps to keep it dry. That, I’m afraid to say, is not a good idea. Needless to say in our second year here I set out to build a better mousetrap – or a big old woodshed.

The plan was to make a three bay shed. Two bays for each of two years worth of firewood and the third for kindling, axes, wedges and eventually a gas splitter. Each bays inside dimension is ten feet deep, eight feet wide and at the low point of the slope nine feet tall. If I stack to eight feet in height each bay holds four cords.

So now the problem. The reason that the wood stacker can’t stack wood.

Last winter (2011-2012) we really didn’t have a winter. We barley used half the normal amount of firewood leaving two full cords neatly stacked in the back of the right bay. This spring two good trees, a Slippery Elm and Red Oak, were toppled in a storm. If I harvest and split that wood where do I put it? The left bay is full and is for next winter. The wood in the back of the right bay is already two years dry. If I cut and split the newly toppled trees then stack that wood in the front half of the right bay I can’t get to the oldest driest wood now – for this current winter.


Sure I could just chill until all the wood in the right bay is used up but that’s just not me. I was never a Boy Scout but boy do I adhere to the “Be Prepared” motto. As a compromise we did take the three largest straight section of the Slippery Elm to the local sawmill and now have a good stack drying for a table perhaps. The rest was cut and hauled into position for splitting.

One of our old timer neighbors, Jeff, suggested stacking the firewood in rows from front to back not left to right as I have been doing. In that way I could have current and future sides going on in the same bay. I disagreed at first since that’s a standard reaction to a Jeff suggestion. Not that his ideas are not good, they often are, but it’s the velocity in which they come. I explained that stacking left to right had the advantage of the shed’s walls to support the ends and if I was to stack back to front I’d have to add supports to the front and that would not make it easy to get in and out. Case closed.

Jack, another old timer neighbor, recently retired. Now he had both time on his hands and a newly discovered awareness that he would be home all day and need more firewood to make it through the winter. Okay, I did point that out since I work from home and use the wood stove 24/7 in the heating months. Jack had lost many good trees in that same storm and went about harvesting them. Jack is know around KC as the Wood Barron for his large stores of cut, split and dry wood. He has covered areas all over his place where wood is staged from newly split to dry and close to the neat wood box attached to the house complete with doors on the outside as well as inside, right by his wood stove. Now he went about making room in one of the outside sides of his barn for more.

I watched as he went about his process of splitting and stacking and noticed that he, like Jeff’s suggestion, was stacking back to front. But what he was doing was criss cross stacking the end for support… Brilliant! Duh…

So that’s the new plan on how the wood stacker can stack wood, even when the current bay is not empty yet.


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The bread of life

January 6th, 2013

Linda’s busy Sunday baking.


A very untypical light white bread for Linda but has made great sandwiches and grilled cheese this week.



Linda’s sesame seed crackers with fresh ground sorghum flour.


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With 14+ inches of snow our little tractor has been put to good use.

January 1st, 2013

Yes, the inner red-neck comes out when the snowman base grows too large to push. Steven and I managed to push the base from the upper garden all the way to the valley. From there Mighty Mouse, our little Kubota 2320, did the rest. That is until we could no longer push, lift or roll the base. So there, by the lower garden gate, he sits. With geodes for eyes and shale chips for teeth.


How to build a snowman with a tractor

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