For Better or Wurst
March 30, 2016, 10:29 pm
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cheddar wurst

March 30, 2016

Monday was a cold wet day. I decided it would be a good time to make a few batches of sausage and smoked items. Today is Thursday and I am finally finishing those tasks. I over extended myself a little! I think it is worth it. The Cheddar wurst in the photo tasted real good with a bowl of soup today at lunchtime.

It wouldn’t have been so bad, this week, but I should have just picked one favorite thing. I could have made that one product, cleaned up and waited until next time. Nope! I made five different things. Each thing required a different cook and smoke cycle time. It’s fun for me…and it’s a darn good thing!

Today, as I was finishing up a batch of snack sticks, my wife came out to check on me. Maybe she came out to take pity on me, I’m not sure. She pitched in and helped wrap and bag up all the lunch meat. Then she jumped right in to the day’s clean up job. By the time I was pulling the cooked snacks out of the smokehouse, she was turning off the water in the big sink. The work was done. The clean up was done. I guess she did marry me for better or wurst!

3 Cheers For Spring
March 29, 2016, 12:56 pm
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March 29, 2016

Carmella, one of our ewes had her lambs last night. She had triplets. So far mom and babies are doing great. Momma gets her name from her coloring, caramel and vanilla. I’m original like that…we have had three different black ewes named midnight!

It’s lambing time for us over the next few weeks. I didn’t think we had any due until very early April. I moved the ewes to this pasture for them to lamb in the fresh air and sunshine. They have been in this paddock for about a week. I am glad that I moved them when I did. Obviously, it was a good idea for these little ones. So, does this mean that March is going out like a lamb?

The Little Ones
March 27, 2016, 9:20 pm
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Grammy says Hi

March 27, 2016

As I continue to farm, I include the little ones. It is good to expose them to the animals, the work and the joy that comes on  farm. They are the ones who will ensure this way of life continues. They might not choose it for themselves, but they will have an understanding for those who do.

Today, my wife and my youngest grandson were visiting the draft horses. He is not fearful, but he respects their size. Getting to know the gentle giants, in the safe arms of grammy, is a great way to be introduced. He had a ball. He talked to them and pointed. I am sure he approved.

I have a faded black and white photo of me sitting on the back of a milk cow. I was about a year old. My smile was almost as big as my face. I was bitten by the farming bug at a very early age. I have not, nor will I ever, get over it. The love of farming runs deep in me.

I enjoy talking to just about anyone who will listen about farming. I especially enjoy the children. The excitement they have is hard to contain. Some like to see the farm babies, others like the big horses, a few just like the dog and cats, but all of them take a memory when they leave. I think that the memories are the important things, the things that really matter.

It’s The Simple Things

spring 2016

March 25, 2016

In life, it is the simple things that matter. We all get too busy, caught up in the world and all the drama that goes with it. We need to slow down, take a minute to rest our brains, and let our hearts and souls talk to us. This is where true peace comes from. The kind of peace that restores us.

Last night we got a good amount of rain. The grasses and this field of spelt greened up over night. They know that spring is here. I was a little miffed because I had a different plan, but looking around the farm, I can see that the rain was needed. It is also forcing me to change gears, slow down and enjoy a rainy day….and I am doing just that!

Once I settled into the fact that my plans changed, I am making strides in a different direction. I am making progress in a couple of areas that were very needed and all because I had to slow down to think about them. I am sure that I will be better off and enabled to make even more progress once the rain stops, all because I slowed down.

Yesterday, I got to spend a little time with family. I worked on an old firewood tree and completed a list of errands. As I walked among the trees listening to the spring birdsong, I was refreshed almost by accident. Who would think that singing birds and the feeling that comes from completing a job, could make a man feel so good?

The documentary that we filmed here the last few days will air on RFD TV in May. It is two episodes shown on four different dates. It is my hope that folks will watch my horses work and understand why I choose to farm in this manner. I do tell our farm’s story, but the show belongs to the horses. They are the stars.

It is the simple things like harness bells and birdsong that keeps me going…not to mention a good morning kiss or an I love you spoken from a grandchild. The flame of a fire in the dark or the taste of a home canned peach on my tongue fills me with emotion and restores my soul.

Movie Stars


March 24, 2016

Yesterday, the folks from Rural Heritage magazine were here to make a movie about my farm and draft horses. We spent the entire day filming. The horses pulled my sled, hauled the manure spreader with the power cart and skidded logs with our log cart. They performed beautifully, as expected…but you just never know…they are animals after all.

We will finish up this morning with the film crew. The movies will appear during the month of May on RFD TV. The videos will also be available from the Rural Heritage website. If you check out the Rural Heritage Facebook page, you can see some teaser photos taken during the filming.

They will be making two segments one geared toward our environmental and woodland stewardship. The other video will be about using draft horses for power on a mixed powered farm. The videos showcase our work horses Knight, Hoss and Duke. (each horse was played by himself) I am there too, but the real stars were the horses.

These are exciting and busy times here at Riceland Meadows. I’m sure glad you folks are along for the ride!


Dam Beavers

dam beavers

March 22, 2016

We manage our woodlands in a three pronged approach. Our first consideration is for for maple syrup production. We open up the canopy for growing sugar maples using a method called “crop tree release”. Other undesirable trees are taken out to provide sunlight and nutrients for the growing maple trees. The trees taken out are used for lumber or firewood.

Our second consideration for our woodlot is for wildlife. We are all hunters, so we try to manage and enhance our white tailed deer and wild turkey numbers. We also look out for small game like squirrels and rabbits, as well as song birds. We don’t eat song birds, but we try to maintain three levels of forest canopy for them. Song birds nest at different heights, so having the three levels enhances their habitat.

The third part of our forestry management plan is for timber production. I don’t see our woods as ever being real valuable due to the species of trees growing there. It will however be a constant source of income over my lifetime. If managed in this way, the next generations will benefit as well. I’m talking about very light harvests generating a thousand dollars a year. The revenue coming mostly from undesirable trees that are removed for reasons listed.

Now, sometimes my best efforts get a set back. I babied the tree in the photo. It was selected and given space to grow, only to have the beavers decide it was a tasty treat. That was last year’s casualty.  A couple years ago, a big wind storm decided which trees would be culled. I worked in the down limbs and tangled mess for quite a while and still the effects from that wind storm can be seen.

dead matron

This big old fallen , long dead hard maple tree was dying when we moved here almost twenty five years ago. I left her stand to put down seed and provide a place for raccoon to live. The area is now littered with hard maple saplings and seedlings. The raccoon palace came crashing down just this spring. The wood is brittle and “punky” with no value for firewood, but the nutrient rich wood will be left to rot and enrich the soil.

Woodlot management is best done with a plan. I had my own, but did get the state forester to walk and talk with me. We agreed on my ideas and put a plan in place that I have been following since we took ownership of the land. My impact is light but the results are huge. Sugar maples are growing everywhere, wildlife co-exists with my farming and every now and then we get a little paycheck from our woodland savings bank.




March 21, 2016

Despite my muddy jacket, baggy pants and barn boots, I made a good teacher last week. I mentor to the local Vocational School. I teach woodlot management, environmental stewardship, and give a short maple presentation. I also give talks about small sustainable farming and the difference between community based farming -vs- commodity based farming. It is a good day for me when I can reach out to these young minds.

I have been doing this sort of thing for over five years now. I gear the talks to whatever curriculum at the time dictates.I have found that no matter how boring my presentation is…they think it beats sitting in the classroom! I figure that if I only reach one kid…it was worth it.

all about sap

I explain the process of maple syrup. I talk about how that process is somewhat complicated when working in an environmentally sensitive area such as along the banks of Mill creek. It gives me one more platform to sing praises about the low impact of my draft horses upon the land and landscape. They pull the sap sled effortlessly leaving very little sign that we were even there.

My hope is that by opening my mind and my farm to these young people, one day farm policies and public opinion will support small, even niche type, farming. These young folks are the future.  It is my hope that small farming is a part of their future too. If not farmers themselves, at least educated, informed people who buy farm products and vote.

Looking Ahead
March 20, 2016, 2:40 pm
Filed under: March 2016 | Tags: , , ,

chris looking ahead

March 20, 2016

The 2016 maple season has come to an end. Friday, I boiled the last sap we had and chased it with fresh water. We made a few more gallons of syrup as the steam headed heavenward. My cousin stopped in to visit, smell the steam and check the finished syrup quality of course! It was a good year for us, even though the sap was not sweet. Our ratio of sap to syrup was 80:1 at times. I burnt lots of wood. I made some great syrup and I made a few more memories to hold me over until next year.

last boil 2016

The new head tank worked great. I do need to raise my hill outside to make gravity unloading a better option, but it was a successful year. I do have some opportunities to capitalize on by next year, but work does not scare me.

making the best of it

One of my old tanks and a new plastic sump pump, made it possible to unload the sap and get it to the fill line for the new head tank. I need more stone on the hill, but that is a job done much easier when better weather is upon us.

new sled

The new “long tailed” sled worked much better that I thought it would. It shattered all of my expectations. I used it with three horses and no tongue. It traverses the uneven terrain so smoothly that not a drop of sap was spilled. The long runners are much easier on the land. The horses pulled it easily and turning with the fifth wheel action of the “bob” front end made that job a breeze.

Yes, it was a great year filled with lots of good things. It leaves me looking ahead for next year. I have more plans and dreams as we continue to grow our maple operation, but just like the little wooden sign in our sugarhouse says…..”Dream, Believe, Achieve!”

Nice Day
March 13, 2016, 9:19 am
Filed under: March 2016 | Tags: , , ,

half bag

March 13, 2016

After a nice freeze, the sap ran again! The season continues and that for me, is a happy thing.

I spent much of yesterday cleaning and making ready for what is left of the season. The pans are sparkling. I am amazed at just how much work this “fun” of mine can be. I was soaked from the cleaning. Apparently I need more practice with a mop, broom , brushes, sponges and a water hose, especially that doggone hose!

It was worth the effort to clean everything. It will be like the start of the season. Our syrup has been nice and light so far this year. I want to give myself every advantage to keep it that way. It may not make a  difference, but at least I can say that I tried.


Yum times Six


March 11, 2016

We completed our sixth boil of the maple season yesterday evening. It has been a great year for us so far. The sap is not very sweet, so it takes a lot of it to make a gallon of syrup. This year’s syrup has been light and creamy tasting. The ratio is closer to 65:1 , than our usual 40:1, but it is still worth the effort to me.

The weatherman say we are in for a warm up. Lots of folks are giving up for the season. I am not one of them. I did chase the pans with water and will do a mid-season clean up tomorrow. The pans and all equipment will be drained, cleaned, rinsed and made ready for what I hope will be the next run. It’s only early March and the trees know. A few warm days will tease them just like us, but it’s not time to start gardening yet!

As I write, the thermometer just dipped below freezing. It may not be cold enough to make the sap run, but it should remind the trees not to set buds yet. Next week looks cold and seasonable. So, with fingers crossed and plenty of wood in the woodshed, I will wait and hope for more maple sap.

Just to help things turn cold, the horses and I will start plowing. That almost always makes for a good freeze. It’s like washing your car, no sooner you get started and the rain starts to fall. The warm days and cool evenings makes for pleasant plowing. The horses ease into spring work while shedding their winter coats. I get to work the horses while the greedy maple trees hold their sap.

Last June, when we got 19 days of rain and cool temperatures, the trees could not get enough sunshine to make sugar and send the nutrients to their roots. Now, when we want the sweet juice bound for the treetops, we are reminded of the rainy days of last year and trying to make hay.

The season will be what it is and I can speak all about how it went much better in a few weeks. For now I will enjoy the nice days and continue to do farm work being ever ready to jump back into the sugarbush. It has been awesome so far. I will be satisfied with our success, thankful for the memories and happy as a little boy as I breathe the sweet steam.