Boiling!

We’ve been collecting sap from our trees for a week now and have quite a bit.  Sap is largely water, so it take an enormous amount of sap to make a small amount on syrup.  Forty gallons of sap will boil down to make about one gallon of syrup.  That’s a lot of water to boil off!

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Needless to say, boiling sap creates a ton of steam.  For this reason, we boil the sap outside.  I started boiling on a little propane burner, but it’s proving to be a very slow process.  Not to mention, we are tearing through the propane.  Yikes! $$

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Andrew decided to boil it over the open fire and that has been productive (and fun!).  He built a big fire in our fire pit and the sap has been boiling away quite quickly.

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My white canning pot has been charred black!  I think it will clean, but if you’re fussy about things such as this, use a black pot!

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Once some of the sap had boiled down a bit, we used it to make our french press coffee.  The decadence!  It was quite delish, with a slight hit of sweetness.  If you are normally a froo-froo starbucks “coffee” drinker, this might not seem delightful, but to a cream-only-coffee drinker, it was a treat!  (Full disclosure, I love me an occasional starbucks coffee-with-my-sugar!)

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Tree Tapping Good Time

When I checked the weather forecast late last week, it showed freezing nights and nice warm (40*-50*) days.  That’s a perfect forecast for running sap!  We were all set and ready to tap our first five trees this weekend, with plans to watch the weather and tap the other five later in the season.  It’s all about learning, at this point.

By the time our gorgeous Saturday came, the forecast had taken a dip.  We ignored it and tapped anyway!  We will see how it all goes, but thus far, the sap seems to be running fairly well in the trees with the southern exposure.

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Tree tapping is a family affair around here.  The kids love the drilling, watching that first bit of sap start flowing, and traipsing wild-like through the woods.

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We mark our trees in the fall, when the leaves a clear indicators of the trees identity.  We buy clean buckets and lids from the local bakery, grab our stainless steel spiles and drill with 7/16 bit and head out to find those marked trees.

The hole needs to be drilled at a slight, upward angle.  We’ve found that shrugging your shoulders, setting the drill, and then dropping your shoulders before drilling gives the perfect angle.

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Now we just watch those buckets fill, so we can boils our sap into syrup!

Beekeeping Primer – Through the Summer

(This is part II of a series, see part I here)

Once you bring your bees home, make sure to set the hive in its permanent place.  Bee’s get confused if they fly off for the flower garden and come back to find their home moved!  We placed ours on cinder blocks, with an ever-so-slight downward angle to assist in an drainage that might be needed.  And for a time, that’s all you need to do!  As spring moves forward and the foliage begins to bloom, those bees will be busy building their honey stores and laying brood.

Choosing the location for your hive is very important.  You’ll want it in a place where the sun can warm it in the winter, but it won’t be too hot in the summer.  A place away from the children was important to us, as well.  I feared a rogue ball or flying catcher would smash into it!  In the end, we tucked our hive just inside our woods.  It’s right on the southern facing edge, shaded in the summer time, but exposed to the winter sunshine.  It is easily accessible, but shielded from wild children!

About a month after we established our hive, we added another box of frames onto the hive.  You can’t add all of the boxes at once, as bees prefer to work up instead of out and sometimes need a little coaxing to fill the frames on the outer part of the box.

Because I wasn’t sure how successful this little endeavor was going to be, I hesitated to dump a bunch of money into various pieces of equipment.  Therefore, we’ve done the barebones version of beekeeping.  I did purchase a veil and smoker locally, as they are pretty much necessities.  I was able to make a rather crude second veil and then we wear jeans and heavy boots, long sleeved shirts and work gloves when we work with the bees.  We also work quickly and perhaps squeal more than we should.  I have been stung twice, but once was because I was sneaking around with my camera and was just wearing a dress.

As summer wears on, you can add a queen excluder and super to the top of your hive.  The excluder keeps the queen from accessing the comb, so only honey will be filling these boxes.  We did add a super last year, but since our hive was new and small, these combs were never filled.  We weren’t able to collect any honey last season, but that was to be expected.  I was able to snatch one tiny bit of comb and honey before closing the hive for winter, and it was amazing.

We were very hands-off last season, so this is pretty much all we did!  I know some people are much more fussy with their hives, but we prefer to let nature do its own thing as much as possible.  Next post, I’ll let you know what we did to help our hive make it through the cold winter.

Beekeeping Primer – Getting Set Up

When we ventured into beekeeping last spring, my biggest fear was losing the bees during a hard Indiana winter.  This winter hasn’t been particularly rough, but we have had a good number of deep freezes.  Enough to worry a newbie beekeeper, anyway!  This past Saturday was a glorious winter day, giving hints of the spring to come.  I took advantage of the high temperature and ventured out to check on the bees.  To my delighted surprise, they were buzzing happily about!

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Bees are necessary for pollinating our flowers and gardens!

Beekeeping is one of those homestead additions that comes with a spectrum of warnings and encouragements.  It comes with endorsements like “Take the plunge, but be warned…” or “Beekeeping is great, but so very expensive!”  I tend to take a hands off approach to beekeeping and, like everything we do, I sniffed out the best deals and cheapest way to approach it.  With that in mind, I think beekeeping is a wonderful addition to any homestead.  Here’s my “primer” for the average homesteader to become a beekeeper.

The first step to beekeeping is acquiring a hive.  We have a tradition movable frame hive with two “deeps”, which are the box in which the bees with build comb, store honey, and lay brood.  You can purchase a complete set up from a company like Dadant&Sons, but I highly recommend checking your local craigslist or beekeeping group to see if you can find a used set up.  We were able to buy our complete hive from a neighbor for only $100.  Late winter is the perfect time to acquire a hive and have it ready to go come spring.

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Since  we bought our hive used, it needed a little elbow grease.  But don’t worry if you can’t get it squeaky clean – the bees will do the rest!

The best time to bring your bees to their new home is early spring.  They need as much time as possible to build their hive population and their honey stores before winter settles in.  Last year. we picked up our bees on May 25, but you may be able to do it earlier in a warmer climate.  There are options to mail order bees, but like any mail ordered livestock, they arrive stressed and need that much more time to recover.  We found a honeybee farm about an hours drive from our house and were very pleased with our experience.

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Our local beekeeper swapping our empty frames for new ones filled with bees, brood, honey, and a healthy queen

There are a number of advantages to buying bees face-to-face.  When you buy a nuc from a bee farmer, you bring the bottom deep of your hive, filled with frames, to the farm.  They offer you tips and advice on establishing your new hive.  They will remove four empty frames from your hive and replace them with honey, brood, and bee filled frames from their hive.  They ensure that you have a healthy queen and plenty of brood to establish a healthy hive of your own.  They also make sure that the hive is securely closed before sending you off, trapped in your car with a swarm of angry bees!  (Everyone else picking up bees that evening arrived in a pick up truck.  We were in our little VW and stuck those bees in the trunk!  Don’t be like us!)

This is getting long!  For fear of becoming boring, I’ll break this up into a series.  Part II coming soon!  Feel free to ask questions in the comments.  Or give suggestions for part II.

Blustery day

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It was a little windy today!  But the chickens were thrilled to get out to forage in the warm sunshine.  It was pretty entertaining to watch them fight the fierce winds.
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Sugaring Time

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I’m sure we aren’t unusual in our experience of reading the Little House books and wanting to try all of the fun things that the Ingalls family did!  When we read “Little House on the Prairie” a couple years ago, Bella was determined to try her hand at making maple syrup.

In the fall we walked around our woods and marked a few maple trees.  Sugar maples are easy to identify, with their firey fall foliage!  As the weather warmed that spring, we tapped five trees.  Trees should be tapped during that brief spring weather when the days are warm, but the nights stillfreeze.  It really is amazing to watch that sap drip out of the trees!  Once the tree begins to develop buds, it’s time to pull your spiles out and let the tree continue to bloom.

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Our attempt at sugaring last year went well and yielded some lovely pints of sweet maple syrup.  We did have some mishaps, such as forgetting about the boiling pot and letting an entire batch burn!  Or failing to collect the sap promptly, and losing it to bug infestations.  Yuk!

This fall, we marked ten trees and have ordered a second batch of spiles.  We are hoping for a nice yield.

February on the Homestead

Remember when there were leaves on the trees and the soil was warm?  These February days seem to drag on, the warm sunshine a distant memory.  One of my favorite things about living closer to the land is that winter seems to have more purpose.  We need a break for the gardening, a time to step back from mistakes and make plans to start anew.  February on the homestead is a time of seed boxes brought by mailmen, window shelves being prepped to hold seedlings, and gardens drawn and mapped out.  February isn’t quite as dreary, when there are plans to be made.

The mailman should be bringing my seeds today.  After some rough years, I am determined to be successful in the garden this season!  This is my year!  We had some major weed issues last year, which we plan to eradicate by burning before planting this year.  I’m hoping it’s as effective in reality as it is in my brain!

We’ve seen an uptick in egg production in the last few days, as well.  Warmer days are in the forecast and, while I don’t expect them to last, I’m sure the hens will be happy with the reprieve.  And tapping season is just around the corner!  I have spiles to order and buckets to collect.  Bella marked over ten trees last fall, so we are hopeful for success!