RicelandMeadows


Sugarhouse Steam

sugarsteam2018

March 9, 2018

What a roller coaster maple syrup season we have been having! We started off with a bang in mid-February. We had lots of sap as the temperatures rose to unseasonable highs. It lasted for a few days, but boy were we busy! We boiled until after midnight several nights.

March blew in like a lion and buried us in a wet heavy snow, that closed schools and made driving hazardous. Since then we have had one small run here at the farm where the bulk of our sugarbush is in a small valley next to the river. My son lives a few miles away on a ridge. His sugarbush is about 500 hard maples. Several of those trees are very large and situated in their yard and along the road. His trees seem to gush sap every time the sun shines! These trees have kept us in sap making for a good season so far.

Thanks in part to my son’s sugarbush and us gathering partial bags, we have boiled five times so far. We are making syrup and having a great time. The horses are liking the partial loads as they toughen up from a winter rest. It has been an unpredictable season so far, that has caught us off guard more than once.

Today, after another March snow storm that has blanketed us with about 8 inches of snow, the sap is not running and thankfully….neither am I



Is it over?
February 23, 2017, 12:49 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

ralphsyrup

February 22, 2017

Tonight, I finished boiling in the sugarhouse, after ten pm. I have been going almost non-stop since last Wednesday. We had to get ready, tap the trees set up unloading tanks, do a little extra cleaning, gather the the sap and start boiling. Every single thing over lapped the other! We started boiling very early Monday morning. The evaporator rested a total of 15 hours since then…only because I had to get some sleep, oh yeah and gather more sap!

The weather has gone nuts! It has been warm, no freezing in sight for another few days. I fear the trees will bud, then no matter how cold it gets, the syrup season is over. Today, the horses slogged through the mud in the warm temperatures. They sweated due to their heavy winter coats. We went slow to go easy on the horses and to prolong the season…well, that is why I went slow.

As always, it has been a family affair. All of our children giving some of their time and help to make this season all come together. My cousin has been with me almost every day, helping in many ways. Friends have stepped up and I have reached deep inside to keep going when my body said it was time to rest.

So, tonight, I write this blog, tired, happy, grateful and optimistic, but I am pretty sure our maple season is over. The next few days will tell the story. Tonight, I sat and watched the fire die down. I listened to the spring peepers and thought about climate change. The warmest February on record, is not good for syrup producers, grape growers or orchard growers. The buds will break, a freeze will come and the plants will suffer.

I don’t know if our syrup season is over, but I do know that climate change will effect every single one of us. It is a small world. Every single country needs to do their part…even the ones with developing economies. And China…well they should be ashamed of themselves.



Crazy Busy and Recess!

pigrecess17

January 31, 2017

My piggies were playing outside. As I snapped this picture, one of them fell on his side and slid about ten feet. They love playing in the snow. This part of their daily recess. They get to play twice a day. They drink all they want, then bark, run and play. They race and chase like children playing tag. It is a “hoot” to watch. Things like this brighten my day, make me laugh and drive stress out of my body.

It has been a crazy, busy month. We have been going almost non-stop getting work done and things ready for the upcoming maple season. My off farm job has been demanding extra time too. We have repaired an electrical problem, added a needed light and outlet on a necessary project. I have been training the new filly, getting her ready to hitch with the boys. Her maiden voyage will occur this week.

Hoss, Knight and I are on the cover of the current issue of Rural Heritage magazine. I have a couple of articles inside as well. We were also featured in last week’s Farm and Dairy newspaper. I have a book signing this coming Thursday night from 5 to 7 pm at the Kingsville Library. We have another book signing on February 18th, at the White House Fruit Farm in Salem, Ohio from noon until closing.

We have corporate approval to do book signings at our local Tractor Supply Stores, more info coming soon. Rural Heritage will be coming this spring to film more farming episodes for RFD-TV, so as I said, It’s been crazy busy! I guess I need some recess time like the pigs!

Really, I am about to do just that. The maple season will be upon us very soon. It is my most favorite time of year. I managed to get almost the whole month of March off for vacation. I will be making maple syrup, plowing for next years crops and working in the woods too. These things are some of my favorite things. It simply doesn’t get much better than that!

Hey, Check us out at WWW.RuralHeritage.com Take a look!



Mentoring

MeTeach

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

6xyum

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.