Tuesday, March 15, 2016

maple syrup

This year for the first time I am trying to collect maple sap and make syrup.  I bought some minimal equipment to see if it was something that I wanted to do before investing in everything that I would need to make good use of my couple of huge maples that are in my yard.  According to a booklet I purchased to get me started my trees should be able to support three taps each but I bought one to start with and then a second.  I am not sure how long our season will go but so far it has been fun so I am thinking that I will expand my operation for next year.

Collecting sap is dependent on the right weather conditions and this year I have had my sap stop running when it got too cold during the day and too warm at night.  There is a formula for cool nights and warm days that causes the sap to run.  Right now it is too warm so there has been no sap for  a couple of days but there is a cooler period coming so I am not giving up yet.  In the meantime I am cooking up the sap that I have.  It takes a lot of sap to make a little bit of syrup.  My first attempt, the first sap that I collected before the cool spell, cooked up to make perhaps a cup of syrup.  It tasted great.

I started cooking some of the second batch of sap and discovered that it requires close supervision at the end and my syrup ended up being maple brittle.  Still tasty, but it won't work on waffles.  My set up for evaporating the water from the sap is fine for a small batch but to make syrup on a larger scale I might need to consider a way to cook larger batches.
sap bucket

first syrup

maple brittle
Sharing at BNOTP here.

two blacks...two browns...two babies...two--wait a minute

Whenever I do farm chores I repeat the following sentence:  "Two blacks, two browns, two babies and two others".  It is my way of getting a headcount and making sure that everyone is present and accounted for.  The 'two blacks' are our black goats. Monte Carlo is our buck.  Gemma is a a female born a couple of years ago when Caitlin was still in college.  The 'two browns' are our brown and white goats.  Belle Etoile is the goat that Cait showed at the State Fair in high school..  Cache-Cache is Belle's daughter.  Cache-Cache is the mother of Gemma. and the mother of two babies from last year.  They are brown and white like their mother and grandmother but still noticeably smaller so still easy to pick out in a crowd--the' two babies'.  The 'two others' are Sneaky, a sheep, and Holly, a horse.  The herd. 

A couple days ago I went out to the barn to do chores and the herd was out on the pasture.  The barn is always open and they can come and go between the barn and pasture and usually when the weather is nice they are only in the barn to eat and sleep.  So when they saw that I was doing chores they slowly trickled in.  Holly was first, of course, and Monte was second, of course.  Neither of them is likely to miss a meal.  Sneaky was next and while I was still throwing hay down and filling their water Gemma, Belle and finally Cache-Cache wandered in.  I started my little verse and realized that the babies were not with their mother.  Now, these babies are a year old but they still stick pretty close to mom.  I headed out the door to see if they were coming and Elke, the youngest of our three dogs and still pretty much a puppy, took off for the gate that leads to the pasture.  She shimmied through the gate, quite a feat for a 70 or 80 pound dog.  She ran barking onto the pasture and collected the babies who were at the far edge of the pasture and herded the missing babies up to the barn.  The babies were pretty surprised and they hustled right along.  They are never herded.  The dogs are rarely inside the pasture.  They will follow me in, but for the most part they stay outside the fence.  The dogs sleep in the barn as well, if they want, but there is a wire enclosure that separates them from the herd.  They know each other but have their own space.

Elke is a Great Pyrenees.  Our other dogs, Sadie and Codie are each half Pyrenees.  The breed is a natural livestock guardian dog and they instinctively keep our herd safe.  Elke is very watchful and learns from Sadie and Codie but herding the baby goats was something that she did all on her own.  I see her maturing into her role as protector.  The day after the herding episode  while I was working a bit in the big garden she found and caught a rodent that was in the weeds.  Later that day she chased up some large birds, probably ducks or geese that were in the ditch across the road and followed them halfway across the field to make sure that they stayed away.   It is a joy to watch them working and they love it.  I will hear one bark at some real or imagined danger and then immediately all three will be barking and they will have fanned out in different directions, spread out but working as a team.






The babies



. Sharing at BNOTP here.

Friday, March 4, 2016

A little catch up on projects at the farm.

Maple Syrup

A couple of posts ago I shared that I was collecting maple tree sap in order to make syrup.  Well predictably about the time that the post was published the weather turned cold and the sap stopped flowing.  I decided that the sap that I had collected should be cooked down even though there was less than 2 gallons so I set to work evaporating off the water.  I did get a bit of finished syrup.  I think it tasted pretty good.  I divided it between two small jars and took one to my parents to get their opinion.  I will share the second jar as well hoping to get some feedback as to whether we should expand and add more taps to my trees.

French Macarons

A weekend ago we had a party celebrating the upcoming wedding of my daughter and her fiance.  I helped prepare some of the food and two of the items that I made, several batches of homemade rum raisin ice cream and two kinds of flan, required egg yolks but no egg whites.  As I was going thru a couple of dozen  eggs I saved the whites and they have been aging in my fridge and I have been attempting macarons with the saved and aged egg whites. I have wanted to learn to make them for a long time.  I have read that they can be fussy with lots of places that they can fail.  I found a website with troubleshooting tips that was a couple of pages long.  Pretty intimidating even for a person who likes food challenges.  I am not terribly proud of my macarons but I am not out of saved egg whites yet so I will keep making them and hoping to improve.  Here is a picture of a few chocolate and a few plain macarons in a cute silver bonbon dish that was a thrift store find.

Spring seed starting

I have been getting prepared to start seeds for the summer garden.  I moved the metal shelving out into the dining room which required some rearrangement of furniture.  I have been sanitizing the seed trays that I will be using by soaking them first in soapy water to loosen any stuck potting mix followed by a rinse and then another soak, this time 20 minutes in a mild bleach solution.  It was kind of time consuming.  I had a big tub on my counter where I soaked the trays in the soapy water and there was only room for one at a time.  The bleach water container allowed for three trays to be soaked at a time but they stood on one end in the bucket and had to be flipped to do the other end.

The last couple of years we have ordered all of our seeds from one mail order company and it worked out well.  Last fall I decided to try saving seed from my plants and so this year I need to sort what I have and what needs to be ordered.  Last year we had our order in our hands earlier than this.  I am trying to plan what is the best plan of action for seed starting.  The upcoming wedding is a destination wedding so I will be away for a few days which means that all those little seedlings will be needing a babysitter.  Quite a few of the seeds can be started after I return and at this point my plan is to wait with as many as possible.  I have heard that often with an El Nino weather pattern that produces a mild winter often is followed by a cool, wet spring.


 I did start some asparagus plamts from seed that I saved from last year.  Asparagus is kind of slow to germinate and it is usually the first seeds that I start.  My trays are really inconsistent at this point with how they are doing.  So far about 1/3 are up.  All of our asparagus has been started from seeds instead of plants but last year is the first that I have saved the seeds from our plants in order to grow more plants. In the past we have always ordered seed.  This is the first spring that we are staring plants from our own seed.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

so ready for spring

I can't complain as our winter has been pretty mild but I am so anxious for spring to get here.  Our little bit of warm weather last week when it got to be 60 has got me unpacking some Easter and spring decorations.  I have to admit that for quite a while I haven't decorated much for the holidays so for many years the Easter decorations stayed in their boxes.  I won't probably get everything out this year either but a few things for the center of the table will be fun.

A few weeks ago when going thru my fabric stash--it has been a few years since I have done much sewing too-- I found some fabrics in pinks and blues.  I cannot even remember what it was intended for but I decided to make a table runner out of it.  The runner is finished.

 It holds the kids' bunnies, made by their Grandma Rose when they were small.

It holds the eggs.

New this year is a tiny banner that says SPRING.  The eggs are plastic, but if the kids are home and we color some eggs I will swap them out for real ones.

It holds the tea set.

And stacked at the end of the table the Easter dishes.

 I am pretty sure that last time that I used these there was the right amount for the number in my family.  Now the family is bigger and if everyone was at the farm we would need more.  I will have to keep a look out for more of the same or something that coordinates.

I have four egg cups.

And four plates, each a different color with a different bunny in the center.



   Linking to Tablescape Thursday at BNOTP here.