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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

February is Coming to a Close

Grover likes to do what Rowdy does....
Yes, I knew it would happen before too long.  The end of February means we are one step closer to spring and lots of outdoor time.  It won't be long now before the spring peepers start singing up in the frog pond in the evening.  But for now, we still have some cold, dreary weather ahead.  We are fortunate not to have had the severe winter storms that have plagued the central states and the northeast.  We have had more of a winter than we had last year, though and spring will be welcome.  Isn't it always?

We have boiled down sap for syrup 5 times so far this season, and Sam is doing the 6th run today.  We run about 35 gallons of sap each time and end up with approximately 3 to 3 1/2 quarts of finished syrup.  I hope to get a few more  boils in before the trees bud and the sap stops running.  We'll see.  I think our last boil last year was March 6 and it was a poor year.  In this photo, the quart jar is some of our honey and I had just poured it into a smaller container and loved the color of the honey coating the inside of the jar in the sunshine.  The pint jar is syrup from this year.





 On Monday we had a beautiful sunny day with a high temp around 50 and everyone was out enjoying the sunshine



The chickens seem especially happy for sunny warmer weather and are out looking for bugs and worms in the yard.  Their egg production has increased a little and we are getting about 1/2 a dozen eggs a day now.  I am wondering if there is a hidden nest somewhere.  

The dogs and I got out for a nice walk in the sunshine.







Look how blue that sky was.  Nothing like today's grey overcast or yesterday's steady downpours.  Days like Monday make it possible to get past the gloomy days.

Grover is probably keeping an eye out for Elvis the rooster


The next time the weather warms up I need to get into my beehives and start feeding them sugar water to help them build up their numbers to get ready for their busy pollinating and nectar collecting/honey making season.  I attended a very good meeting last night and learned more about my top bar hive.  I feel I have so much to learn still about the bees and I want to do things right.  I would love to have a good honey harvest in a few months.

Now that March is right around the corner, literally, I have to start dyeing the yarn I picked up from the processor in December.  I will be a vendor at the Knitter's Fantasy in Youngstown in just about 5 weeks, so I have to get everything ready.  I really need to order a new banner as well, smaller and easier to display.  Still need to book a hotel room, too.  Maybe next week I will have yarn photos to share.  

This week, I don't really have anything new  fiber-wise to share.  Same shawl and socks as last week.  I am into the home stretch on the shawl, though, with only about 10 rounds to go.  But each round takes at least 1/2 an hour with 600 stitches, so progress is slow.  This is the shawl made with my hand dyed, hand carded, hand blended, hand spun alpaca/bamboo yarn.



I can't imagine these alpacas are wondering if the weather is nice enough to leave the shelter of the barn.  Maybe it was actually a bit too warm for their thick fiber coats.  Shearing season is still 2 months away!





Star and Buck are keeping a watchful eye on the alpacas as they are allowed a day out on the pasture in the sunshine.  Even the winter grass is a treat when one has been on a steady diet of hay, hay and more hay.  They will be ecstatic when the grass begins to green up.  Won't be long now!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

It's Sap Season

Rowdy and GroverCarter spent all day Monday up at the pond keeping me company while I boiled the first maple sap of 2013.
 
On Friday I scrubbed buckets.  Lots of buckets, but as it turned out, not enough buckets.  We never have enough buckets.

Most of those are 3 1/2 gallon buckets and they come with nice tight fitting lids.  Excellent for many uses, especially sap collection.

Saturday was cold, but fairly sunny, and Sunday was forecast to be much warmer.  So Sam and the dogs and I went up by the pond where we have a lot of sugar maples and we set 28 taps.

setting taps

In bigger trees, we will set 2 taps and run both lines into one bucket.  When the sap is running really well, you can get 2 gallons per tap in a 24 hour period, so the buckets need to be checked daily.

 



For optimal sap run, days should be above freezing and hopefully sunny while nights need to dip below freezing.  





tree with 2 taps going into 1 bucket
Sunday was clear and sunny for the most part.  At about 4:30, I went to collect sap and haul it down to the evaporator to boil off the next day.  I ran out of buckets.  I had 7 empty buckets and I filled them all. We also have 2 stainless steel milk cans, but I had not yet cleaned those out.  So in the morning on Monday, as soon as I got the evaporator going and emptied 2 buckets into the pans, I collected 2 1/2 more buckets of sap plus a milk can full.  So I had approximately 40 gallons of sap to cook off.  It was warm, around 50 degrees and very sunny but incredibly windy.  Wow was it windy!  I did a lot of Sudoku puzzles and quite a bit of knitting on my shawl.  Wood has to be added to the fire every 20 minutes or so and the sap pans have to be kept full as well until all the sap has been emptied into the pans, so it is a full time occupation.  I started the fire at 8:40 am and got back to the house to finish the syrup on the stove at about 6:30.  Long day.  But I have 3 1/2 quarts of 100% maple syrup to show for it.

 
 As I said, it was very windy Monday and I did not even want to go into the woods, the trees were moving so much.  Here is a huge limb from one of the maple trees in our yard that came down during the day.  It is so far into the ground that I was unable to pull it out!  It looks like a fence post.  The rest of the limb is in pieces on the ground to the right.  I'm glad I was not under that when it came down.

With the warm weather, all that snow that was on the ground is gone and there is lots of mud to deal with.  The road up to the pond is a rutted muddy mess.  I really wish I had snapped a photo of Grover after he followed the 4-wheeler up the road.  I had to put both dogs in the tub Monday night and rinse the mud off them.  I was too tired to give them a full bath, so it was just a warm water rinse.

Last week I had finished a hat for my son, Ian.  It has been mailed off to him and here it is on me:
 

 He wanted it in the Oregon State colors, so I dyed up some handspun alpaca/wool yarn I had in my stash and kind of made up a slouchy stripey pattern.  I hope he likes it. He should receive it soon.

Today I leave for a trip to Florida.  Yikes!  I feel bad leaving Sam with so much to do.  But he is pretty capable and will do fine.  I am all packed and will leave from work to drive to my brother's in western Ohio.  Then bright and early his wife, my sister-in-law Jill, and I will hit the road tomorrow morning.  We will drive to Manasota Key where my mother and her sister have again rented a house for the month of February and meet them and my cousin, Tracey, there for a long girls' weekend.  Should be a lot of fun!
 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Bee Expo, More Snow, Thinking About Tapping

With the grey, snowy weather outside, I have been sitting at the dining room table watching birds at the feeder and knitting or spinning.  GroverCarter likes to sit with me.

We have had a week of grey days and snowy skies.  I almost didn't attend the Bee Expo in Parkersburg on Saturday because they were forecasting snow all day, but only about 2".  It is an hour + drive each way and most of it on 2 lane rural highway and country roads, so it was really no problem and I am glad I attended.  I took several classes (well short hour long seminars) and spent money on items I need to extract honey.  We had already ordered a 2 frame honey extractor on line the day before, but I needed lots of other items and I was able to get them all in this one place.  Then my extractor arrived by UPS yesterday.  This is a view looking down inside it from the top.  I have placed two frames in it.  It is basically a stainless steel "can" with a revolving basket inside.  Two frames are placed into the basket once the wax caps are removed from the honey cells, the lid is placed on the extractor and you crank the handle (which you can see on the right side of the photo).  This spins the frames and the centrifugal force flings the honey out of the frames.  It collects in the bottom of the extractor where there is an opening with a "honey gate" .  Once the extractor is full of honey, you place a 5 gallon bucket with a filter in it under the honey gate and let the honey flow into the bucket, from which you can then bottle the honey.  Pretty simple, right?  I hope to find out in June.

So Saturday's snow fall was really only a couple inches, but we probably got another 3" on Sunday and then 2 more on Monday.  The temps have hovered right around the freezing mark during the day though, so the snow has been thick and heavy.  The dogs and I have managed to get out for our walks every day and I even ventured up the hill into the woods a couple days.  It is hard going in heavy wet snow, especially uphill.  But it is good for all of us.

Pileated Woodpecker
I mentioned sitting at the table in the dining room watching the birds.   I have bird feeders on a big maple tree just off the deck.  We get lots of cardinals, nuthatches, tufted titmice, downy woodpeckers  and red-bellied woodpeckers, as well as the occasional blue-jay.  This year, I have twice seen a bird I have never observed at the feeder, though there are many of them in our woods, a pileated woodpecker!  I was so surprised the first time I saw this guy sitting under the feeder eating seed off the ground.  I was unable to get his photo since my camera was across the room and I was sure he would see me through the glass door and fly away as soon as I moved (which he did).  But the other day he was back!  And my camera was near to hand so I was able to get his photo.  While he was under the tree all the other little birds who sit under the feeder made themselves scarce.  It was great seeing this fellow so close up.  Usually they are in flight when I see them.  They have a very distinctive way of flying.  

By Sunday, the forecast is calling for warmer temps, so we are thinking of setting out some maple taps this Saturday.  If we get a good run of sap on Sunday, I can boil down the first batch of the season on Monday.  It would be nice to have some fresh maple syrup to take to Florida with me next week.  I hope we have better weather for syrup season this year than last year.  We need a long spell of cold nights and days above freezing and some sunshine would help as well.  Tomorrow I need to clean everything that has been stored away since last year, buckets, pans, utensils, etc.  The batteries for the cordless drills are already on the chargers to drill the tap holes.  

As for fiber pursuits, I finished a hat I was knitting and will post a photo of it once I have sent it off to the recipient.  I have also spun up some of my hand dyed alpaca/wool roving that I dyed last spring.  It is in purples, blues and teal and I love it.  I spun up 2 ounces and decided to spin another 2 ounces so I can knit myself a hat.  I wasn't sure I could make do with the144 yards I got from the first 2 ounces.  It really is a nice yarn.  Photo next time.  I still have a shawl on my needles and a just-started sock.  I will likely take the socks with me to work on in Florida next week.  Something that does not require a lot of concentration.

Rowdy enjoys a nice cool spot.