Monday, February 8, 2016

It's Maple Syrup season!

Have you ever wanted to make your own maple syrup or just wondered how it is done? Tapping maple trees and collecting sap is not a difficult project but, boiling that sap down is time consuming and requires a little patience which to me is worth it in the end!

Late winter and early spring is the time to tap your trees, you are looking for temperatures in the 40's during the day and the 20's at night, it is that freeze/thaw period which helps to stimulate the flow of sap and create the pressure needed to collect it. In our area that is usually late February or early march but, this year we have seen warmer than average temps and perfect weather to start now in early February!

So how do you tap a tree?

We use a 5/16" drill bit to drill a hole about 3 feet from the ground into the tree, you want a slight upward angle to a depth of 2 1/2 inches, once you have drilled your hole, insert a spile (tap) into your hole and use a hammer... we prefer a rubber mallet and lightly tap your spile to fit snug into the tree trunk, do not insert it too deeply because going too deep may result in splitting the wood around your tap and you will lose sap! did you know it takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup? So you want to collect every drop you can with out losing any of it!

After you have the tap secure in the tree you have several options to collect sap. You can simply hang a bucket on the tap itself and collect the sap, if you choose this method you will want to cover the bucket with a lid to keep rain, snow and dirt out!

The method we prefer is to use old gallon water/milk jugs, drill a hole into the lid of the jug to securely fit the end of a food grade tubing which is attached to the end of the spile, this keeps everything closed and does not allow rain, snow, dirt or insects to get into the sap! 

The gallon container sits at the base of the tree and we secure it with rocks or sticks to prevent it from being knocked over! Check your trees daily and harvest the sap regularly to prevent over filling of the containers and loss of sap! you can store the sap in a refrigerator for up to 7 days before using it! 

That's all there is to collecting the sap and when the conditions are right you should get a good flow of sap which will put you on your way to making syrup

You can tap any maple tree! red, silver, black or sugar maple but the sugar maples have a better output of sap production making them the preferred variety. I have heard you can also tap black walnut and birch trees but, we have not tried anything besides maple!

The diameter of the tree determines how many taps you can put into the tree;
Do not tap a tree less that 10" in diameter!
10" to 14" 1 tap, 15" to 19" 2 taps, 20"to 24" 3 taps.

You want to collect sap until the tree starts to bud out, after that the sap produced will make your syrup bitter and make sure to remove the taps at the end of the season, the tree will close and heal itself and claim your tap if you fail to remove it!

I will do another blog post later to show how to boil the sap down and make syrup!

Give it a try, this is a great family activity and there is nothing quite like having pancakes with syrup that you produced yourself!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Surviving a Blizzard

I am sitting here tonight watching the weather report of a blizzard headed our way for the weekend and decided to look in on face book to see what is being said out there, I have seen multiple photos being posted of store shelves emptied of milk and bread, reading statements of people being concerned that they can not stock up on what they needed or wanted, others are worried about losing power during the storm and all of this has reminded me of the many reasons we are happy living this life in which we chose, We are prepared with food, water and heat, No trips to the grocery store for us and no worries of losing power, we have a wood stove to keep us warm and cook our food, oil lamps to light the night and food that we worked hard all summer to get us through!
I baked bread today...not because of the incoming snow but, because that is where our bread comes from and today was baking day...storm or no storm!

This is the bread that I baked today

I am comforted in knowing my family will be warm and fed during this blizzard and realized, Our life will go on unaffected by this weather event but, it also makes me think a little more about, how many people are not prepared and how so many people rely on outside resources; just to survive some snow, What IF something changed about life as we know it? If store shelves are empty because the weatherman mentions snow, what would happen to those people during a real catastrophic event? How many know how to grow any type of food or find food in the wild? If you are reading this and can relate, I urge you to learn! We live in a great age for information and you can learn anything with a google search, Use it, Learn and change....even if it is just a little, at least it is something that will make you feel a little more secure! 
In the meantime, I am sitting here by the wood stove, Warm and cozy, drinking a cup of tea while planning this years garden and feeling grateful for the blessings in our life! So I urge you, go search out and learn something new, you will be glad you did in hard times! If you are in the path of this winter storm, I hope you will be safe and warm! 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Simple life... Is it Really simple?

We have been moving toward a more simple life, I guess a back to our roots way of life for some time now. We have learned many things over the course of time, We have had successes and failures along the way, We are more self sufficient now than we have ever been!
We have decreased our need for trips to the grocery store and down sized our monthly bills...No more TV! ( and no...we do not miss it!)
We have been able to move from two incomes, down to one income and feel we live very comfortably but, Is it a simple life? Well that is where it gets a little tricky! There is a ton of work to be done everyday, tending to the animals and maintaining the gardens, We bake bread about three times a week, preserve all the food we can...Vegetables and meat. We have learned not to waste anything! When we butcher an animal, we can the meat and cook the remnants for stock, if the bread gets a little stale, we dry it for croutons or bread crumbs...All our food is gathered by hard work and that keeps you motivated to not waste any part of it!
We have learned to make things like brown sugar and Mayonnaise, salsa. sauces and apple cider vinegar! What we don't process in the canner, we dehydrate, We store food in the cellar and have to keep a watchful eye, that we are using it before it starts to break down...All of this takes effort!
We haul manure for the gardens several times a week by pick up truck load and unload it by hand to use on the gardens now or in the future. We cut, split and stack fire wood for the stove...Our only source of heat! We are always trying to learn more skills that will add to self sufficiency! If something breaks, we fix it, We try not to buy anything that we do not truly need, in fact we are in the process of down sizing and learning that, what we thought we needed....we really can live with out!
On top of all those jobs, I also home school and laundry hangs to dry out side.
These are things our Grandparents and Great Grandparents learned and practiced everyday, skills and a way of life that some how got discarded in time, wisdom that should never have been forgotten, they worked out the kinks and now we have to start all over again, because we allowed that way of life to be forgotten! Living this way may not be so simple but it is fulfilling, The satisfaction you gain is worth so much. We are happier and healthier in so many ways, closer as a family and rich in the abundance we have created...Truly blessed! We live in tune with the seasons and notice more around us, Gazing at the stars in the night, watching the sun set and hearing the sounds of nature! being a producer and not a consumer, we don't have to make weekly trips to the store and keep such a fast pace in which... the little things in life are not noticed and I think that is the difference! So you see in some ways it is simple after all, for it the little things in life that mean the most and that's what is lost in the society we have in modern times today!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Spring water

We have a well but, the water from the well is full of Iron and minerals that make it undesirable, Anyone who has this issue knows how unpleasant it is to brush your teeth in the morning and the water has a rotten egg smell, oh... and white clothes are never an option, The sinks and the toilet become stained an orange color and when you boil the water it turns black....yuck! We have a filter that helps a little, but not enough!
So how do we solve this problem? One way is to collect rain water for cleaning and the other option is to find another source, which is what we have done for years now. We are fortunate enough to live near a tourist town with world renowned water and they offer it free for the taking at a spring source in the park, the problem with that location was that "we" became a tourist attraction and people would approach us asking to take our picture! We tried to go very early in the morning but there would be many other folks doing the same thing ( I am sure they have had the same experiences) but, we would still end up being an entertaining source from people who live in the City and have no idea that we were just carrying out our way of life!
A few months ago we found another great source in a cute little church camp and this place allows us the ability to obtain clean, cold, mountain spring water without being the talk at the dinner table in some fancy restaurant or tales from a trip to the country!
It is a lot of work to fill, carry, unload and store our water but, it has become a normal part of life for us and the water tastes great!
This water is coming right out of the spring underground and stays a consistent temperature all year, We use, clean and then re use our water jugs until they are too worn out to continue using them. I feel good about reusing and not adding to the land fill, some times we re purpose the worn out jugs for other uses around the garden or barn... they make great funnels, scoops and are great for plant protection in the garden!
We use old milk totes to contain the gallon jugs of water and generally fill around 100 jugs a trip, we Only need to make a water trip about every three months, depending on our usage; canning season requires more use than other months. These jugs are then stored in a cool, dry location until we need them in the kitchen. It is a lot of work to load, haul, unload and store all these jugs but, very worth it for good clean spring water!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

What is Permaculture?

By definition permaculture is the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self sufficient.

As I mentioned in my last post, we took a big leap this year from growing a typical monoculture garden to learning permaculture gardening, A monoculture garden is where you grow the same crop in a row system with pathways separating the rows...a garden like your Grandparents and maybe even your parents grew, The problem with this type of gardening, is the toll it takes, on everything from the soil to the gardeners unrelenting labor! Have you ever heard of the phrase...don't put all your eggs in one basket? Well that is sort of what you are doing in a monoculture garden, If you have pest problems, then a typical garden is just an all you can eat buffet! because the insects that like that particular veggie can just eat their way down the row but, if you adopt permaculture techniques, you are placing your veggie varieties throughout the area and companion planting with other vegetables and herbs which in turn confuses the insects and makes them work harder to find that veggie they like to munch on, all the while making those insects more vulnerable to predators who want to eat them, it becomes a balance of nature!
This is an example of our permacuture gardening. Here we have broccoli, green beans,cucumber, green peppers, jalapeno peppers, brandywine tomatoes, hillbilly tomatoes, marigolds, borage, nasturtiums and calendula planted just in this small space.

Another problem with a typical row style garden is the soil issues. When you plant the same crop in the same area of garden, the soil can then become depleted by that crop using up all the minerals and fertility to grow. some crops are heavy nitrogen feeders and others can add nitrogen to the soil, so by planting a variety of crops you can control a better balance! Row style gardens require tilling which brings beneficial organisms to the surface and ultimately kills them, tilling also brings weed seeds to the surface and allows them to sprout and grow, tilling and leaving the soil exposed allows for erosion and evaporation of water. Permaculture on the other hand alleviates the chore of tilling and ultimately allows the beneficial organisms to thrive and multiply, the soil will not become hard and compacted and weed seeds are suppressed. If you observe your landscape and build up growing mounds in your garden, you can take advantage of stopping and slowing the water runoff by directing it to your garden, after time that water will penetrate into the soil and collect underneath the garden where the plants can access it when needed. by using mulched pathways and hay or straw coverings, more moisture is preserved and weeds are further suppressed.
There is a lot of information about permaculture on the internet and it can become confusing and very hard to wrap your mind around it at least it was for me!
The wonderful thing I discovered about permaculture gardening is that it can be done on any scale and pretty much in any order, this is how we did it!
We took our garden from a traditional row system and created raised growing areas by mounding the soil and creating pathways, we took advantage of our hilly property to lay out the mounds in a way that will stop the flow of water and slow it down enough to capture it in the garden itself. We used mulch in the pathways and planted on the mounds, making sure to keep any exposed soil covered with hay or straw and sometimes grass clippings.
If you look around your area, you may be able to find tree trimming companies who are willing to let you have their unwanted wood chips often for free! We bought straw in large round bails and also found a farmer with 4 year old rotten hay, it was useless to him but, became gold to us! because it was so old and had sat all those years in plastic wrapping, all weed seeds were cooked and killed, by using this in the garden we kept moisture in, weeds suppressed and added organic matter to the soil at the same time! You can use chipped wood and leaves for the same purpose and most of this is free!
Some beds were planted with perennials and some were planted with annuals, on one acre of property we were able to grow an amazing amount of fruits and vegetables.
we have apple. pear, cherry, mulberry, plum, apricot, plucot trees, blueberries, seaberries, honey berries, elder berries and blackberries, we grew celery, cardoon, peas, green beans, noodle beans, pickling cucumbers, marketmore cucumbers, achocha or bolivian cucumber, mexican cucumber, artichoke, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, lima beans, onions, lettuce, spinach, kale, collards, carrots, cantaloupe, honey dew melon, watermelon, cabbage, zucchini, yellow squash, butternut squash, patty pan squash, brandywine tomato, hillbilly tomato, roma tomato,pozzano tomato, yellow pear tomato, turnips, radish, strawberry spinach, asparagus, sugar snap peas, swiss chard,green pepper, yellow bell pepper, cayenne pepper, poblano pepper,sweet corn, pumpkins, strawberries, sweet potato, kenebec potato, garlic and walking onions, we also grew just about any herb you can imagine for our zone! This was accomplished on one acre of property which also has a barn and our house!
How well did we produce? We preserved our bounty through canning and dehydrating, plenty of produce for fresh eating, we donated food to a local charity, gave some to friends, family and neighbors and sold a little...Not bad for a small piece of property!

Here is one of many harvests we collected throughout the season!

And this is one of our tomatoes!

I am now convinced, permaculture is the way to grow! This was our first year and it should only get better from here, If you are thinking of gardening in this way, I encourage you to take the leap and give it try, you won't look back!

I will be posting more during our fall garden clean up and what we are doing to put the garden to rest for winter, so please come back and check us out!

Permaculture and a simple life

It has been a long time since I have blogged anything about our little homestead, We are still here and moving closer to a more sustainable and simpler life. We have been very successful with the gardens this year, we took a big leap and completely changed the way we traditionally grew our gardens and tried permaculture methods, I have to say I am convinced this is a much better way to garden, we produced more food with less work and almost no weeding by adopting permaculture techniques...who wouldn't like that? We even survived the drought with out the chore of watering and this was just our first year!

here is just one area with green beans, broccoli, cucumber, jalopenos, green peppers, two different varieties of tomatoes, marigolds, nasturtiums, borage and calendula!

Here is another area which was planted closer to the house with lettuce, kale, carrots, zinnias, sorrel, lemon balm and toothache plant.

After the initial work in the spring to create the growing mounds and mulched pathways, the work to maintain the gardens was minimal, the hardest part was keeping up with the harvest! We created this over an acre of ground. The gardens this year really felt special and almost paradise like, we had people wanting to come tour our gardens and we heard comments all the time about how this felt like the garden of Eden! It was a very special place this year!

Normally by fall I am ready for the garden to go to sleep for winter but, this year, I am sad to see the season come to an end!

However, for now in zone 5b we are still harvesting tomatoes,peas, peppers, jalopenos, green beans, lettuce, beet greens and herbs, I have canned or dehydrated most of our garden surplus and we were so blessed with such a great harvest that we were able to donate food to a local charity, share with friends and neighbors and even sell a little!

We have also made changes to our life style, We no longer have television and we are home schooling. We are continuing to make changes to our lives that, although can be a lot of work, these changes have made us closer as a family and more content with our life, We are not as reliant on corporations as we once were and I can not describe the empowering feeling you get when walking through a grocery store and passing by almost every isle, We no longer buy bread, milk, eggs, cereal or produce anymore, we don't shop just to shop! in fact, we have spent time this summer minimizing and de-cluttering, we held several yard sales, which gave some extra cash to accomplish some projects around the house. We are still evaluating other areas to down size, eliminate and make life a little more calm and simple. I hope to blog more about our process and I hope you will join us on our journey as we learn to live a more sustainable life away from the rat race that once seemed normal!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Starting Seeds in a cold frame

Today, I built my first cold frame, using straw bales and an old door we had in the barn!

I set it up in an unused part of the garden and had to level the dirt under the bales to get a good solid fit that will not allow drafts to enter. The door is easily removed on warm days to allow ventilation for the plants.

Inside the cold frame I have planted Basil, Oregano, Garlic chives, Common chives, Italian parsley, Zucchini, Summer squash, Nasturtiums and Two types of Sun flowers.

I need to get my tomato and pepper seeds and I hope I will have them in the next few days!

I will try to post later on the progress since this is a new experiment for me!