RicelandMeadows


Its a Wrap! 2021 Maple Season is Done
March 27, 2021, 10:48 am
Filed under: March 2021 | Tags: , , , ,

March 27, 2021

Our maple season came to an end last Monday. We gathered the last of the sap and “untapped” the trees as we went. It took a little longer to gather the sap that way, but at the end of the day we were all done with both jobs. Last Tuesday, I boiled maple sap the entire day. I was feeding the fire, changing filters and drawing off syrup for almost 14 hours. Thank goodness my dear wife was there to help me! It was an unseasonably warm day in the mid-seventies. The inside of the sugarhouse was very warm. I, dressed in my long sleeved flannel shirt, heavy jeans, leather apron, leather gloves and a hat, clothes all needed to allow me to push the fire as hard as possible, made me one very hot man! I drank water like a steel mill worker and kept the fire burning hot and the steam rolling out of the syrup.

Our season lasted three weeks this year. We boiled just over 10,000 gallons of sap that yielded 167.5 gallons of maple syrup. Our ratio was 60:1, due mostly to the soft maples in our woodland maple mix. The syrup stayed light most of the year and has our distinctive “buttery” taste. We had friends and family help us with the process and quite a few visitors. It is a wonderful time of year for me, but I have to say, I am glad that it is over…until next year!

I had an idea this year to try and collect condensate water from the boiling steam. I made a sort of plate that sat above the boiling sap. I thought water would condense on the plate and I could collect it to use for a source of hot water in the sugarhouse. My idea did work, but it didn’t collect enough water to be a stand alone system. I took water back each day and filled a stainless steel tank. The condensate water added to this amount, that helped quite a bit. I will need to improve on this idea, because there is promise in my efforts.

The plate and stainless steel eave trough that leads to the holding tank. It will all work out one day…I mean hey! the Wright Brothers started at Kitty Hawk and look where we are now.



March Madness!
March 15, 2021, 8:26 pm
Filed under: March 2021 | Tags: , , , ,

March 15, 2021

We have been busy in the sugarhouse making maple syrup. It is a sweet time of year, but very busy too. The maple takes up many days, but the rest of the farm work must be done too. Our weather has been unseasonably dry for us. The temperature has been above average many days, but thankfully the nights have been cold, so the sap keeps running.

We also hosted the 2021 A-Tech senior class Horticulture students for a sap gathering farm field day last week. The horses were ambassadors who worked very hard. The kids all had a great time and I think they may have even learned a little.

We benefited from some willing workers as the class learned about forestry, small farming and all things maple!

So March Madness isn’t just found on basketball courts…it can be found in most any maple woods in spring. Here on this farm the “sap” runs… He also does animal chores, farm planning and other jobs around the farm!

Spring plowing will be underway soon, but first the maple madness continues…oh yeah…a baby horse should make the blog soon (about 30 days)…mama is starting to waddle a little when she walks.



Sap Weather Returns 2021
March 4, 2021, 11:37 am
Filed under: March 2021 | Tags: , , , ,

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
Filed under: February 2021 | Tags: , , , , ,

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!



Cold Starts, Warm Feelings
February 12, 2021, 12:40 pm
Filed under: February 2021 | Tags: , , ,

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!



The Road to Maple 2021
January 28, 2021, 1:36 pm
Filed under: January 2021 | Tags: , , ,

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.



Logs to Slumber
July 27, 2020, 7:06 am
Filed under: July 2020 | Tags: , , ,

split1

July 27, 2020

Most folks take logs and saw them into lumber. We split a bunch of logs on a very hot day last Saturday. That equated for me…slumber! We started early in the morning and finished at noon. I showered, ate and took a nap!

split2

The two photos show the total wood for our efforts. I will confess that I employed the use of a wood processor for a trial run. It still required much effort and hand work to keep the machine running. I thought it might be a good alternative to splitting with our woodsplitter one piece at a time.

The machine worked fairly well, but can only make 22″ pieces. That length is a bit short for the maple syrup arch, but I will adjust for this amount. I usually employ 4 or 5 boys and we just make a day of splitting. I believe this method is what we will stick with. Using men and boys makes for a much more fun day.  I actually think manpower, my woodsplitter and some planning, leads to more wood, the correct length split and stacked at the end of the day.

Sweat soaked our clothes and dripped from our heads. The machine droned on, often needing us to adjust a piece of wood and load another log. If the logs would have all been of the same dimension, free of knots and good length, the machine may have out performed good old-fashioned manpower. However, the short, mixed sized, tangled log and pole pile we had, made for a lot of “grunt” work. I discovered that “grunt” work is much more tiring in my 60’s than it was in my 20’s!

The good news is that we have enough wood split to boil all of next year’s maple sap. We even have a very good start on the wood we will need in 2022!  We still have to stack it all. The woodshed is 3/4 full, so even that job is well started. I can say the old adage is true…wood does warm you twice!  It will take me a while to get used to this whole new “slumber” thing, but what a great feeling to have this work behind us.



2020 Maple Season is History
March 21, 2020, 11:10 am
Filed under: March 2020 | Tags: , , , ,

boils2020

March 21, 2020

Our maple season came to a close last Tuesday. It was a short, yet wonderful season. We made plenty of nice syrup. We sold our darkest syrup (in the right of the picture) to some candy makers.

I love this time of year. The late winter cold mixed with the promise of spring stirs my soul. Perhaps it is my childhood memories of my parents and grandparents making maple syrup that stirs me? Whatever it is, it is born into me. I will do this sweet job as long as the good Lord allows.

lasthitchKH2020

This picture was taken on the last day that I gathered sap in 2020. It is a bittersweet photo, because it was also the last time that I hitched Knight and Hoss. They have moved to their new home. I spent the next day brushing and grooming them. We shared conversation and I shed a few tears, as I told my big boys goodbye.

Ateam

I used the new Suffolk mares to pull the sled while we untapped the trees. They drove well and will pick up where my boys left off.

untap2020

The taps and bags have all been removed. The evaporator pans have been disassembled for final cleaning. There is much to do to clean, store and organize until next year, but we are off to a great start. I should finish that job in a couple days.

I continue to work with the new Suffolk horses. I even allow myself some playtime for just riding around hooked to the forecart or wagon. It’s good for the new red horses and me to continue to get comfortable with each other.

hank3212020

Hank, our yearling stallion prospect, continues to grow and learn. He is a good little guy. His training continues daily. We work on manners and all sorts of ground skills. I also keep introducing him to “scary” things. I do it in a safe place for him. He takes it all in stride, knowing that I will keep him safe.

hankpressurewash

Here I am showing Hank that the pressure washer is nothing to fear. He took it all in, without any panic. He almost quit eating hay while I hosed him, but showed no fear or discomfort. This breed of horse has a very good mind. He is used to me introducing him to “boggymen”. Generally, he pays me no mind. Once in a while he shows me some white eye, but calms down quickly as I speak to him. I am enjoying these horses more than any I have ever owned.

There are some exciting and interesting times ahead for us here at Riceland Meadows. Stay tuned for our exploits and adventures!



New Phone Learning Curve
March 10, 2020, 11:57 am
Filed under: March 2020 | Tags: , , , ,

Ameeabbyweek7

March 10, 2020

Oh my gosh! I had to get a new phone. Then I had to unlearn and relearn everything that I thought I knew. The long story made much shorter is to say that I couldn’t figure out how to send photos to my blog! I hate to “date” myself, but sometimes I feel very old! My daughter-in-law helped me learn all sorts of things about my new phone. So, I’m Back!

Abby and Amee, our new Suffolk horses are doing very well. We are all adjusting to each other. They are doing very well, but haven’t done much all winter. Abby is due to foal in April, so they are getting the 2020 maple syrup season off. Knight and Hoss are powering the operation one last time. They head to their new home in a few days.

evap2020

The season is in full swing. We have made some very nice syrup. It is looking like the end is near for this year. These last few days have been very long as we boil late and get up early balancing farm chores and the maple operation. It is a busy, wonderful, sweet time of year…even with that new phone!



March..ing On

KAH2019

March 30, 2019

Our 2019 maple syrup season has come to a close. We had a cold start to the season and a warm end. It was almost hot (51 F) on the last day we gathered sap. I put our filly Abby in to help the geldings. The sled pulled hard on the dry ground, but three horses pulled it easily.

KAH20192

Abby did a wonderful job. This was her second time hitched in a 3-horse hitch, where we actually did some work. She was alert, attentive, calm and willing. The plastic sap bags, shiny and fluttering caused her no issue at all. The banging of sled, tank and bucket didn’t shake her at all. She knew that as long as the boys and I were there, everything would be okay. She preformed like a champ. Her training and my invested time with her paid off in a big way.

KAH20193

The season was much like this hitch, a tough job, made easy by friends and family. More than once I realized, just as Abby had, that everything would be okay as long as “they” were all there. So, thank you to everyone for the help, the company, the meals…some very late at night, as we harvested the season’s maple crop.

Evap#3

Now, the big job of clean up begins. It takes awhile, but well worth the effort. The woodshed will need re-filled, all tanks and such will get pressure washed and put away. Then in late winter, just before the next season, the clean up gets repeated as we get ready for the 2020 season.

Next however, will be the fun, satisfying job of spring plowing. Abby and the boys will get a work out, as we head towards summer and the work that farming brings. I love this farming life. I see God in the new born babies, the emerging crops and in the sweet, golden, reward that is maple syrup. I am thankful for the knowledge and where with all to make it happen. I am thankful for folks teaching and sharing with me like my grandparents and others who saw in me a light…I hope it shines for the world to see.

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