A Beautiful Spring Day!

After a pretty schizophrenic winter, spring appears to finally be here.  We had big melts in January and February this winter, but I’m hoping the nice weather will stick this time.  This is the U.P., so it’s very likely we will get some snow again, but I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts.  The last few days were kind of crummy – cold and rainy. But today it was finally sunny, and in the low 50s. We got some things done outside, and the animals enjoyed the sunshine.

snow remains
Our chicken coop – you can see our snowbanks are still here. Our yard is pretty much a mix of snow and muck right now. The sun should dry it out.
collecting sap
It’s Maple Syrup gathering time! There have been some weeks this winter where I heard others were tapping, but March is the correct month – when nights are below freezing but days are warmer.  I tapped them today and the sap is really running well.
tap in the tree
You can kind of see the drip of sap getting ready to fall into the bucket here.
The ground thinks it’s really spring as well – the daffodils are coming up!
Baby crocuses are coming up too!
big red
The chickens and ducks enjoyed the sunshine today – here’s our rooster Big Red.
general and hens
Here is The General, our other rooster.
chickens in the mud
The hens enjoying the sun. You can see the muddy ground here – there is a layer of mud on top of ice – the ground has not thawed yet.  Once it does the ground will dry out a little easier.
atat outside
Atat enjoying the sunshine.  At least that part of the yard is just dead grass, not mud.

I’m hoping spring weather sticks around for awhile.



Updates – Maple, Mushrooms, and Growing Chickens

Our maple syrup making adventure is over for the year – It’s still prime collection season but we were having trouble cooking it all up inside the house.  We have a propane-gas stove, and propane is not cheap.  Plus I just didn’t like leaving it cooking for so long at a time.  Next year I will need to figure out a way to boil it outside, preferably using some kind of wood burning set up.  The collection bags weren’t the best option either, but they did the job. I ended up using large sticks to weigh them down so they wouldn’t get out of place.  My sister Diane, commenting on my last post, told me about our parents using old milk jugs to collect the sap, which I still don’t remember.  I’m older so I don’t know how she remembers these things better than I do.   So next year, instead of using flimsy sap bags, or expensive buckets, I will use old milk jugs.   For a couple weeks of collecting and boiling, we did pretty well in my opinion.  Considering that the sap to syrup ratio is about 40:1, I think we got enough for this year:

My syrup in a quart jar

The Mushroom kits I’ve been growing have done somewhat well – It’s possible we just don’t have the moisture in our kitchen that they needed, but I was expecting a little more at one time.  The oyster mushrooms only gave us a few mushrooms for their first flush.  The pom pom blanc, which were supposed to taste like crab meat, were not as good as I hoped.  The mushroom clump doubled in size since my last post, and I wasn’t really sure when I should harvest them – they started to look like the pictures you see online of them – with some little tendrils (kind of like a lion’s mane) – so I thought that was the right time to pick them.  I cooked it up in a little butter, so as to not drown out the flavor, but I was unimpressed.  The shiitake are doing well, here is the large mushroom that is currently growing:

Our Shiitake mushroom.
Our Shiitake mushroom growing out of its log

There are little baby mushrooms on the right side of the log, and in the picture above, I think the white webby-looking stuff on the bottom may be another cap forming – it has a similar appearance to the cap of the large mushroom, but it hasn’t actually popped out of the log yet, so I can’t really be sure.  I’m very excited to eat the shiitake mushrooms, since I know I like them.  The oyster mushrooms were very good too, we just didn’t get a lot.  I have the oyster and pom pom blanc logs drying for now, and in a month or two I will try to start them again – you are supposed to be able to get a few flushes.

Our six little chicks are growing up.  They have changed a whole lot in their three weeks of life.  I’m really excited to see their coloring change – some have changed in unexpected ways. I’m sure they will change a lot more as they grow up too. I’ll have to wait to see what kind of chickens they are (and what gender they are) until they are almost or fully adults.  Here are their updates, along with pictures of when I first got them, so you can see the difference three weeks makes.

I thought this guy would end up being all white, but he is getting some black in her/his feathers, and also now has a black spot on his beak.
black chick
Here’s our little black chick, starting to get more white in his coloring.
black and white spotted face
This little guy already has a comb, which may mean he’s a rooster. Combs can be deceiving though. He looks like he’s wearing a vest from the front now, and his legs are dark and splotchy – I’m wondering if he’s some kind of Maran (copper maran or other). That is just a wild guess though.
Our little orange chick – now getting some brown in her feathers.
mask face
Little mask face – now has brown/black speckles in her feathers, so I think she/he will be a speckled chicken. But it’s really too early to tell for sure – they may change a lot before adulthood.
fighter fuzzy boots
Here’s the feather booted, strong-will-to-live chick. As you can see the feathers on her legs are getting really fluffy. I really like how they look. Her coloring is really nice too – she’s getting some black in her feathers, and a small comb is forming.

I’m really enjoying watching them grow.  I will be getting the replacements for their fallen brethren around April 20th, so I will have even more chicks to watch grow up at that point.  Some day my spare bedroom will stop being a chicken nursery.  Until then, this is pretty fun.

Maple syrup time!

It is finally that time of year… The snow is melting (at least for now) – we have had temperatures in the 40s the last few days, and today actually got up to 63 degrees! The nights are still cold (last night was around 30, so just below freezing).  This is the time of year that the maple sap starts running.

I have a few sugar maples in my yard. I have fond memories from when I was a kid –  my dad would go out and drill holes into the trees, tap them, and we’d cook the sap down and make syrup.   I have been wanting to make syrup again and show my son how fun it can be.

Last year we moved here in January – I knew that somewhere my dad had tree taps from when I was younger.  He hadn’t made syrup in years, but he never threw anything useful out, so I knew they were here somewhere.  I could not find them anywhere.  I looked at stores as well and could not find any that were carrying tree taps.  The days got warmer last year and I heard people talking of tapping their trees, and I was very jealous.  The end of March / early April when we were cleaning out the sauna building to make our chicken coop, I finally found an old coffee canned, filled with tree taps (they are really called Spiles).  By that point the sap was almost done running.  I brought my son Daniel outside and we tapped one of the trees.  We did not get much sap – it was just too late in the year.

This year I planned on tapping trees at the correct time.  Last summer I had put the can of spiles somewhere I would be able to find it again.  And then we did a bunch of renovations and rearranging of stuff (moving things from the workshop in the house to the garage).  So this winter I went to find the can of spiles, and couldn’t find them anywhere.  I finally found one spile in a junk drawer.  That’s not really enough though, because you need a lot of sap to get a tiny bit of syrup.

I started asking at stores early this year, and one place told me that although they didn’t carry them, they knew where I could find tree tapping supplies.  They directed me to a store called Festival Foods in Houghton, Michigan.  I found spiles there.  I bought 2 spiles and a few sap collection bags. I opted for bags over buckets because buckets were way more expensive.

This weekend it was pretty warm so my husband and I went out to one of the maples and tapped it.  The tree is very large so we were able to put all three spiles into the tree in different spots.

Tree sap collection bags
My noob-style tree sap collection setup.

As you can see from the picture, the bags are not the easiest thing to work with.  When I bought them, I saw there was a setup you could get to make it easier, some lid-like contraptions and some metal band things.  Those were extremely expensive.  The bags were 39 cents each, but the lids were like $12 per lid.  I didn’t want to spend that much so I figured I’d wing it.  I ended up using duct tape to tape the bags in place for now, because the wind was whipping them around a lot. I went inside to get tape and when I came out one of the bags was way into the woods – 40 feet or so.  That does not seem far, but when you have knee deep (at least) snow, it gets a little tiresome to trudge through.   I went in, grabbed that bag, and taped them all up.   Next year I will use buckets.

Since we don’t have lids on the bags, I’ll have to filter the sap (to make sure I don’t get bits of tree or stuff that has fallen in, into my syrup) and then cook it down.  I don’t want to make a ton of syrup, so I may just fill these up once.  The sap wasn’t running so much the last couple days, but today it is really flowing, so my bags are starting to fill. I’ll pull them tomorrow and start cooking it down – you don’t want to leave it in the bags too long, I have read, because it can go bad if it gets too warm.

I’m excited for homemade maple syrup!