New rooster, and more snow.

We got hit with a big snowstorm yesterday (as did most of the upper Midwest, and other parts of the country).  We probably got somewhere over 10 inches of snow, but it was very windy so it settled in drifts – some spots had no snow but in other spots there were swaths of snow that were over 3.5 feet tall.  Because of the way it settled I really am not sure exactly how much we got, but it was a lot.  And in mid April it is definitely unwelcome. I was looking back at old notes and realized that at this time a couple years ago I was putting my ducks in the pool outside to swim –  it was 70 degrees that day.  Last year I was putting in the onions. THIS year, I haven’t even seen my yard yet – there was a small bit of driveway exposed for awhile but that is all so far.  This coming weekend we’re supposed to be up in the upper 40s, so this snow is all going to melt and become a big mudpile. What fun!

We also added a new rooster the other day, since my old roosters both are gone.  The hens need someone to watch out for them, so I decided to look for a new one. I found him on Craigslist.  He’s a Russian Orloff, and I’ve named him Bertram. The name stuck in my head when I got him, so that’s his name. It fits pretty well, actually.  Here are some pics of the new rooster, and our yucky new snow:

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Here is Bertram, the Russian Orloff rooster. They are a very very cold hardy breed, and he doesn’t have much in the way of waddles or comb to get frostbit.
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As you can see here, he’s quite large. The hen next to him is a Copper Maran, so she’s a standard size hen. He’s probably about the size of a Brahma rooster, at least height wise. I have not weighed him so I don’t know how heavy he is. But he’s tall.
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He’s very nice to the hens, and they are getting along well with him. He’s ok with me too – he keeps an eye out to make sure of what I’m doing in there, but he has realized I’m the food-bringer, so I think that helps.
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Another picture of him in the coop.
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I got this cute pic of two of the ducks last week as well.
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Here are some deer out near the chicken fence. They cross through behind our property every evening, and they’ll come close to the fence sometimes looking for treats. They get the occasional apple or carrot thrown over and left for them to find.
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Here is the snow bank the other day. It was down a bit – this is the driveway-plow snowbank (created from plowing our driveway)- in winter, we can’t really get behind the chicken house. My son climbs this though and creates forts in it. Here it was on its way to sort-of melting…
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And here it is today. It is taller than my son with his arms outstretched. He’s just over 4 feet tall.
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Here is what the driveway looked like before we tried to plow/dig out cars this morning. I was worried the plow wouldn’t cut through that (where you can see to the right of the car, toward the road), but it did. The snow was really tall in spots but our plow handled it.
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Here was the swath of snow next to the truck – where I was standing there wasn’t any snow, because the wind had pushed it all up to the truck.
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Our back porch is now exactly level with the snow. The dogs walk right off the top step into the snow, as if we just have a patio out there.

Oh, so an update on my last post about syrup.  I was still cooking it down when I posted that day; right after posting, I decided to put the sap into a smaller pan to finish the cooking.  I chose too small of a pan, and ended up making maple sugar instead! The temperature got too high with the small pan. I thought I had made hard candy, but over a day or so it ended up crumbling. It’s quite nice in tea, but it was not what I was going for. After that day, we had some cold temps, so we didn’t get any sap for about a week.  This past week (before the storm) was really decent – we were getting 1/2 gallon per day from some trees, and one tree actually gave almost a gallon per day for a few days. Temperatures dipped Saturday when the storm was heading this way, so I just pulled the taps in for this year.  I ended up with about 9.5-10 gallons of sap through the week, and cooked them down yesterday:

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Here is the syrup!! Just about one quart (4 cups) total. 

I made sure to check the temperature this time and didn’t cook it to candy / sugar stage.

 

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Coming out of winter into spring

It’s officially spring, but here in the U.P. we are just starting to come out of winter.  We still have a lot of snow, although this week we’ve had decent temperatures during the day (above freezing) so the snow is melting and turning driveways into mud. They freeze at night, luckily, so I was able to go to work this morning – my car wasn’t stuck in my muddy driveway. We are supposed to get a little bit of snow this week (3 inches, I heard) which is typical. Spring is usually like this.

This winter has been really hard – we lost both roosters. Big Red died in January, and The General died just a couple days ago. They both got really bad frostbite this winter – Red had it so bad his waddles got really swollen.  General’s toes got it really bad. I’m not sure if they eventually both died because of frostbite complications, but it’s possible. They both seemed to recover (and be feeling better) before they died, so I’m not sure. With chickens it’s sometimes hard to tell.    The frostbite came when we had a really bad cold spell in January.  The ducks sometimes make it hard to keep the moisture out of the coop as well, which can contribute to frostbite in the chickens. Roosters with larger combs/waddles are really susceptible, and both of our boys had them. We are very sad about losing our roosters.  Now we have 19 chickens (all hens), and three ducks.

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Here is General on the right, with one of our hens a couple years ago.
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Big Red – our Black Copper Maran rooster, this picture was from last year.

Today we let the chickens out into the yard for the first time this year – there is actually a bit of grass/muddy driveway for them to hang out in, instead of just snow. The ducks found a big icy puddle to dabble in – they loved that. Here are a few pictures from today:

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Here are some of the hens out in the yard today.
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There was really only a little bit of yard and the driveway for them to go in, but they enjoyed it.
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Another picture of hens in the driveway.
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This is what remains of our snowbank in front of the coop.
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Here are the ducks heading back home.
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We also tapped trees this week! Usually maple syrup time is earlier in March, but we didn’t have the necessary warm daytime temperatures till this week.
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We’ve been getting just under a gallon a day of sap, with 8 buckets out.

Spring is on its way, luckily. I’m glad to see this winter mostly behind us.

 

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.

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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.
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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.
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You can kind of see the drip of sap getting ready to fall into the bucket here.
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The ground thinks it’s really spring as well – the daffodils are coming up!
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Baby crocuses are coming up too!
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The chickens and ducks enjoyed the sunshine today – here’s our rooster Big Red.
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Here is The General, our other rooster.
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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.
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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:

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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.

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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.
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Here’s our little black chick, starting to get more white in his coloring.
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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.
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Our little orange chick – now getting some brown in her feathers.
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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.
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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!