RicelandMeadows


Sap Weather Returns 2021
March 4, 2021, 11:37 am
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March 4, 2021

Today is the date that tells us what to do…March fourth! We are in maple season full swing. It is a favorite time of year for me. This picture was taken on March second. The air was crisp with an east breeze. The steam stayed a bit close to the ground, but made for a pretty picture. This was our first run of the year. It went well.

This photo shows the new sap rig in use. The horses pulled it easily even when loaded. It rolled along and travelled well on the muddy and bumpy sap roads.

We got the pans “sweet” as we boiled and condensed the sap. It takes awhile to get the sweet liquid to the density needed for syrup. Occasionally, we don’t even get any maple syrup from our first boil. We make a lot of steam and reduce the sap but run out of sap before it yields the yummy maple syrup. This year we had an ample supply of sap (1450 gallons) so we managed to make some syrup. From here on out, we will get syrup every time we boil.

This process is a lot of work. It is truly a labor of love. We make it the old-fashioned way. We gather the sap from tree to tree, using horses to pull the sap sled. We boil the sap over a wood fire, without the benefit of reverse osmosis. This takes longer, but allows for the flavor molecules to develop. I follow in the footsteps of my grandparents in this time honored vocation. I make syrup. I make memories and I get to relive my childhood just a bit. For me, this is a sweet deal!



Its Time!
February 28, 2021, 11:07 pm
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February 28, 2021

It is maple time! After a couple of weeks of very cold temperatures and me having the worst cold that I have had in years, we are all tapped. The weather turned warm in an instant. We weren’t quite ready. We had a full week of playing catch up, but we got it done. The steam will be rising soon from the sugarhouse roof. It is a sweet time!

Not to be outdone by Mother Nature, the redwing blackbirds showed up. They come in big flocks signaling the coming of spring.

They were happily enjoying something in last years corn field. They make a lot of noise, but it is welcome noise.

They gathered in the treetops for a bit. They seemed to be making sure that everyone had made the trip north. As February comes to a close and we get off to a bit later syrup season than usual, the return of the warm season birds lets me know that warm weather is coming fast. It is my hope that we get a few good cold nights with the coming warm days to fill our sap bags.

Only God knows what is in store, but we are ready and we are thankful to get the season started. The redwings will just make the season a bit sweeter as we listen to their songs. Very soon the spring peepers will join the chorus, but for now they continue to sleep. Spring has sprung as the old saying goes. I say let “er” rip, but maybe I should say…let “er” drip!



Neighborly

February 21, 2021

These horses belong to our son. He has been working steady with them. They are coming 3 and 2 years-old. This is their third time hooked together. They are doing great. I have been under the weather this week, so no training going on here. It’s nice to see it continuing at the neighbors :o)

We are looking forward to spring and summer weather. The hope is to have the young horses able to take a small part in the work. No heavy loads, just lots of driving and different situations. Patience on our part will pay big dividends with these youngsters.

This coming summer, during the last week in June, we will be helping to host a “Suffolk Horse” gathering. We hope to catch folks as they travel to Horse Progress Days , a draft horse event held in Mount Hope, Ohio, later in that same week. We think it will be a great time to meet people and introduce these amazing animals to the public. We will hold the event at the Ashtabula County Fairgrounds in Jefferson, Ohio

I hope some of you can make it! Come on out and say hello.



Cold Starts, Warm Feelings
February 12, 2021, 12:40 pm
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February 12, 2021

Hank, in the middle, is learning very quickly. These past cold days have been perfect for training because most other farm work is on hold. He has a ways to go, but is patient, willing and attentive. Occasionally, he acts like a teenaged boy, but most of the time he is a gentleman.

It is pleasing to see a young animal or human, “get it”. The look of understanding, the body language that comes with the sudden confidence is pleasing to see. Hank has been having a lot of “Ah-Ha” moments. I am very happy with his progress. My mares, Abby and Amee are teaching him well. They know their job and make very big anchors. He has figured out to pretty much, just do what they do.

He is learning the clues from the lines and my voice, but looks to the girls for reassurance. He is fast becoming a vital part of the team. He wants to do good. He is not shy about pulling. He steps right into the collar, but stands quietly at rest breaks.

Here is a shot from the front. I had my buddy’s boys drive so that I could take a picture. This photo was taken on Hank’s first time in a three horse hitch. The photo on top was from his second time out taken the day before yesterday. Hank turns two in April. We do not work him hard, but we work him often.

We are in a cold snap, no maple sap yet. The weatherman says no days above freezing for the next ten days. So, we wait on Mother Nature for the maple season to begin. In the meantime, we will enjoy the cold by making lots of warm memories…often around the shop wood stove!



Sunset Sled Ride and a Prototype
February 5, 2021, 3:58 pm
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February 5, 2021

Cold is upon us. Winter has finally made itself known. The next several days are to be the coldest in the past two years. I am enjoying the frozen ground. One of my friend’s calls it, “God’s concrete”. We took advantage of the snow the other night to take a sled ride. The horses pulled the recently reworked sled with ease. I added high density plastic to the bottom of the runners. It slides extremely well now! The girls, Abby and Amee, pulled us effortlessly. It was fun albeit cold :o)

The plastic can easily be seen in this photo. I knew it would help the runners when it came to wear, but wow, does it ever pull easy. A tongue is an absolute necessity.

My friend Joel and I built a prototype sap gathering rig. It will be tried and tested in the woods very soon. It is a hybrid of sorts, having both sled runners and wheels. A sled works very well on snow or even mud, but it drags hard on our dry spring days. Sap must be gathered no matter what the soil conditions may be. It is my hope that this rig will get the job done and be a bit easier on the horses on those dry days.

I remember my grandfather Rice having one something like this. I may decode to level the platform where the sap tank will set, but for now I am going with this design. It will unload well no matter where I position the sled on my unloading hill because of the downward slope. I look forward to giving it a try.

I will pull it through the woods and around the sap roads in the next few days. I want to see how it pulls and also make sure there are no surprises along the trail. You will notice the steps on the back for children and old men with bad knees. My handrail also is a help when riding through the woods. I still have to put a tongue on the rig, but it is mostly ready to go.

The only downside to my sloping platform is that I won’t be able to fill my tank all the way to the top. No worries, I have a large tank, so a few buckets left out of each load will not be a big deal. Besides, I want to make the season last as long as possible anyway. So, if I have to make an extra trip, it just adds to the experience!



Bye Bye January

January 31, 2021

It is hard to believe that today is the last day of January 2021. It has been a full month. Our Christmas gatherings were pushed into this month as we celebrated in small groups. We, of course, had lots of chores and work to do, but we found plenty of time for some fun too. In the photo above, Hank (in the center), got hitched with the mares for the first time. He did remarkably!

I have been driving him single for a while. We would take walks around the farm as he got used to the harness and being driven. His progress is steady. He is a baby , so we are going slow. Hank won’t be two years old until April. Hank is a stallion. I hope to keep him busy with daily work, to keep his mind busy, as his body struggles with all those teenaged hormones.

I didn’t expect any problems, but I still enlisted the help of my buddy’s boys. They are driving in the picture while I took the photo. It was good insurance to have the help, even though I didn’t need it. One can never be too cautious. Hank learned fast what to do. The mares beside him did amazing, as they worked and paid him no mind. The noise behind him and the weight they pulled, did not cause any concern for Hank. He just did what the girls did. We have many more days of training in our future, but this was a wonderful “first time out”.

February, brings us maple syrup season. I have been busy preparing for this time too. Things are getting completed and a few blog posts in the coming days, will show and explain my efforts.

The last of the pig butchering is behind us now too. We worked up the last smoked meat last week. It is a blessing to have the knowledge, the ability and the equipment to do our own processing. This year small processors are backed up for months on end. We, by law, can’t process for others, but we can do our own. The place smells wonderful as the hickory smoked bacon gets sliced…and fried :o)

Bye bye January, thank you for the harvest, the accomplishments and the gathering of family and friends!



The Road to Maple 2021
January 28, 2021, 1:36 pm
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January 28, 2021

In the photo above, taken very early this winter, you can see my road we use for gathering maple sap. I am pleased with the roads condition, especially when considering that I harvested over 60 trees late last spring. We have since cleaned up most of the treetops. This road saw many trips of not only sap, but heavy logs as well. The light impact on the land by our horses can really be seen here.

We have plenty of work to do as the 2021 maple syrup season quickly approaches. Supplies and equipment must be made ready. We are doing well in that effort this year. I am even working on a few upgrades and improvements to the sugarhouse and sap handling equipment.

The horses are getting ready too. Training the young horses continues as well. Even in the winter, there is much to be done. Animal feeding and manure handling are daily chores. These chores make me happy and feed my soul. January is all but gone. It is hard to believe that winter is waning and the days are getting longer.

Today, mother nature is sending us soft snow. Its the snow globe kind that is pretty. The woods and fields are asleep, waiting on spring, then summer. I am content to enjoy the beauty of the snow, the warmth of the shop stove and the time to rest and enjoy the farm.

We are keeping an eye on the calendar and the thermometer. The time to tap the trees is fast approaching. The road to maple is a year long journey. It begins with the last clean up of the year and starts with the first one, as we scrub tanks, pans and barrels. The wood has been stacked and dried in the woodshed for months, but the woodcutting goes on all year. Making maple syrup is a labor of love, especially when done the old-fashioned way…but for me, it is the only way.



A New Day Dawns
January 10, 2021, 3:21 pm
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January 10, 2021

What a beautiful sunrise. If you look close you can see the steam rising above the compost pile. Perhaps a fitting tribute to recent events? Well, wherever you stand, keep your eyes on the sunrise and not the compost!

It has been an unseasonable January so far. The temperatures are warmer than usual for this time of year. The whole farm is muddy, but today, the entire landscape was frozen solid. What a relief to walk on firm ground, no matter where I stepped. It was wonderful.

I turned the horses out to run, roll and romp. They did just that. Then, once the sun came out and warmed us all, the frost left the ground. In celebration, the horses promptly rolled in the softening soil. In other words, they rolled in the mud! Their coats will be thick with the mud, but it must feel good to them. Oh well, it’s not the first time that I have worn a mask, to brush them clean.

It takes a little effort to keep them clean and make them shine, but to me it is worth it. I get to talk with them. I get to feel their whole body, watching out for any new bumps, cuts or potential problems. I also get to let my mind wander, far from anything that bothers me. I get to enjoy a peace not found in many places.

Maybe for me, clean stalls and clean coats make for a clean heart? All I know is that I am at peace with myself, in tune with my animals and in the right spot in the universe. I am a man truly Blessed.



New Year, Old Challenges
January 5, 2021, 12:32 pm
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January 5, 2021

We welcomed in a New Year a few days ago. I honestly don’t expect things to magically change, but I have no fear. God is in control, I just need to remember this in all things.

We had just enough freezing temperatures at night to freeze the chicken poop in the coop. The recent thaw in the last few days made it possible to finally clean things out. It is amazing how much manure 20 hens can generate. The compost pile loves the manure, I like a clean coop, so I guess its a win win.

We are working steady with the young horses, as their training continues. The fields are wet, muddy and simply a mess. This makes for a few jobs to be put on hold, but no worries there is always stuff to do.

A recent wind storm laid a few trees across our fences. I am still working to clean up and repair the mess it made. I am salvaging the logs and firewood, as well as, fixing the fences as we go.

Daily chores, a little butchering and repair work keep me busy. I also manage a little time at my forge, just for fun. Soon, maple syrup time will be upon us, but for now I will enjoy the daily grind and the normalcy that comes with it.



Let it Snow, Let it Snow!
December 26, 2020, 1:05 pm
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December 26, 2020

Wow! We just got buried in another winter blast of snow. The temperature dropped big time too! I will take credit for the madness. My friend Marvin and I reworked my old sled. I made the remark that now all we need is some snow! Holy Cow did we ever get some! Last night at chore time it was twenty inches deep on the flat!

I had cleared the drive on Christmas morning. I had to be very careful because the water, mud and gravel under the snow was not frozen. In fact, it was mush! I cleared just the main parts and will try to do a better more complete job later today.

The sled is a “Pioneer” style, with a steel frame, including the runners. I added the chains in front for times when the sled needs help staying in place. The ones in the picture need to be just a bit longer to allow for a more sweeping turn. We also added high density plastic to the runners to increase the sliding efficiency of the sled. I will use this for general purpose stuff like hauling wood, bales and children.

So, I guess its okay to say “Let it snow!… but maybe no need to say it twice :o)