Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Syrup Season?

We took a walk at dusk on Sunday.  I was hoping to get some sunset photos, but I did not go up high enough to catch it.  I did get some nice shots though.

Way up on one hill on our farm there is an old pump station. I understand it once ran at least 4 oil wells.  It is all this old iron machinery with wheels and cables and belts sitting in the weedsIts kind of neat.  Here is one of the huge wheels.

Grover is near what I call "the big tree".  It is the biggest tree on our place.  I imagine it would take 4 to 5 people fingertip to fingertip to encircle it.  One of these days I will test that theory.  Meanwhile, I will just admire its majesty.

We should be in the thick of maple syrup season.  We have trees tapped and have run 2 batches, but the sugar content is low, resulting in a low yield of finished syrup.  Now it has gotten too cold for the sap to run.  Ideally we need sunny days above freezing with sub-freezing temps at night.  This whole week is forecast to be well below freezing during the day with single digits to low teens at night.  

We invested in a nice new syrup pan this year and so far we have not used it enough to figure out the best system with it.  It should cook down more sap in less time.  I am afraid we will go from these cold days this week right into spring.  While I will certainly welcome that for the warmer weather, I think it will make for a grim year for syrup production.  But that's farm life.

We chose not to pay an extra $600 for our new Honda Pioneer to have the hood in camouflage.  We have camouflaged it already in true farm camo:  mud!

And speaking of ups and downs of farm life, I did get into my bee hive on Saturday when it was warm and my fears were justified.  The bees obviously froze to death.  They still had plenty of honey close by.  The cold was just too much for them.
 The bees were all clustered together on a couple of adjacent frames.  In this photo I have circled the queen.  She has a blue spot on her back.  This spot was put on her so that she could be more easily found in the hive.  Over to the left of the cluster is capped honey.  Within inches of them, but they were too cold to move to it.

Here's more of the cluster.  They were either on the other side of the same frame as the queen or on the frame right next to the queen.  Again, honey was so close.  

I attended a local beekeeper's meeting on Monday and it seems about 75% of the group members' hives had not survived.  I had ordered a new package of bees last month when I feared my bees had died, so in April, I will start over.  

 I've done some spinning lately, and also some knitting.  I am on a sweater kick these days and have several I plan to knit in the near future.  This one is a top down cardigan done in a commercial wool/alpaca/tweed blend.  

I am also almost done with the 2 rugs I have on my loom.  I hope to finish and get them off the loom today.  I have about  20" left to do on the 6' runner.  Very happy with them so far, but we'll see when they come off.

Here's how my world looked early Sunday morning from my back door.



Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Grover has excellent snowy woods camo.  Can you find him?

As I write this today, the sun is shining and the sound of dripping running water is everywhere.  We are experiencing a February thaw and anywhere from 8 to 12 inches of accumulated snow and ice is melting.  I love seeing the sunshine and warmer temperatures, but it sure is messy.  I was awakened at about 3:30 this morning by hail or sleet hitting the house accompanied by a couple of big crashes of thunder.  Crazy weather.  This past Saturday, we got another 2 to 3 inches of snow.  
And then it warmed up above freezing on Sunday (just barely) and for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to go hiking up over our hill and onto Wayne National Forest, which I have not done in weeks because of all the snow.  I don't mind walking in 3 to 4 inches of snow, but much above that and it becomes a lot of work.  I really don't know what I was thinking.  It was such hard walking, I wore myself out.  Rowdy followed along in my tracks and of course Grover was unaffected by any of it.  My jeans were soaked almost to my knees by the time I got home.

Another wonderful side-effect of the thaw is barn clean-up.  The alpacas poop in piles.  They all go in the same piles.  So with as cold as it has been, the poop has frozen in layers.  I tried to scrape off the top layers on a daily basis, but I'm not big on scraping up frozen poop.  Well now those many days worth of layers are thawing.  What a mess.  And I must say I am NOT looking forward to the chicken coop thawing out. My chickens have never been inside for such a long period of time.  Yuck.  They actually came outside for the first time in weeks yesterday.  I shoveled an area right in front of their little door down to the icy bottom layer and spread some bread crumbs and egg shells and a little dry dog food out there for them.  I imagine today they may head for the grassy spot under the big pine tree in the yard.  

Also with the thaw, we tapped our maple trees.  Just last night at dusk.  It helped that yesterday we finally got our Christmas present to each other.  We got a nice new Honda Pioneer side-by-side!  It has been dog approved.  Sam says it will fit 8 sap buckets in the bed snugly enough not to have to tie them down.  Last night we took it up to the top of the ridge in the melting foot of snow to tap trees and made Grover run since only 3 of us fit on the seat.  He was such a muddy mess.  We also got a brand new evaporator pan which Sam is getting ready to run our first batch of sap in.  I am afraid that with as late as we are starting, the weather will get too warm too quickly for a good syrup season.  Ultimately we want sunny days above freezing (like today), and nights that drop back into the upper 20's or at least freezing.  We are 10 days behind last year.  It's hard to not want it to get warm, though.

We have also decided to sell off some trees.  Timber companies are paying big money for walnut right now, so Sam had a guy come in and cut some bigger walnut trees.  We also still have trees that came down in the derecho storm in June 2012 that need to be hauled out.  Our property has not been timbered in many years and we will only selectively cut, not like many of the properties surrounding us.  This is all walnut.

I finished up some socks I started right before the trip to Florida.  I finished one while I was there.  I need to throw them in the washer and see if they will shrink a little.  I like them, but they are a little too big.  If they don't shrink, I will gift them to someone with bigger feet than I have.

I also finished warping my loom yesterday and have a rug about 1/2  woven.  I am weaving a 2' X 3' rug and then a matching 6' runner.  Mostly chocolate brown with some stripes on the ends.  

So until next week, here is how my world looked at 8:30 this morning.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Winter Continues!

These guys don't mind the snow at all.  And it is a good thing.  Our pattern seems to have been about 3 to 6 inches on Sundays.  And it has never really melted in between.  We have had partial thaws, which only make the bottom layers of snow dense and hard to walk in, and then new snow on top.  And as for our road, the partial thaws turn to slush and then freeze solid overnight, creating inches of ice with rough areas caused by the tread of tires.  Walking on the road became downright dangerous last week, until this past Sunday's unexpected snowfall which was heavy enough to provide traction on the ice underneath.  
 They called for an inch or less on Sunday and we got at least 3 or 4 inches.  It just kept coming down.

   I did not post last week.  I was in Florida and got back late Tuesday and just did nto have any photos except ones I took in Florida and none of them were really post-worthy.  But while I was in Florida, the pipes in the house all thawed and burst.  As did the main water line into our office building.  Poor Sam spent Friday and Saturday replacing pipes.  Now our temperatures at night have been below zero again the last two nights and we had one frozen pipe in the kitchen, but it thawed yesterday afternoon with no breakage.  Thankfully.  However, our drain from the kitchen and downstairs bathtub and sink is frozen and so we cannot use those until we get a good thaw.  Sam rigged up the kitchen sink so that it is draining into a bucket under the sink and we just rotate buckets out as they fill up and dump them out the back door.  Spring can't come soon enough!

Oh wait, we need to have syrup season.  We had already run our first batch of syrup a year ago today in 50 degree daytime temps.  We tapped on Feb 9th, ran sap for the first time on the 11th.  We will be at least a week behind this year.  We'll see.

My poor chickens have now been "cooped" up for about 4 weeks straight.  Even with being shut inside with a heat lamp, the rooster has suffered frostbite to his comb and it turned white and now is turning black.  I had heard of chickens getting frostbite on their combs, but I guess it was never cold enough since I've had chickens for this to happen.  I feel bad for him, but there's not much I can do.  The damage is done.  A couple of the hens have some white tips on their combs as well.  I have been making them scrambled eggs with the shells in them to give them something other than dry layer ration to eat.  They have a heated water bowl as well.  Funny, there are a couple of mice living UNDER the heated water bowl.  They scurry away every morning when I pick up the bowl to empty it and refill it.  Must be warm under there.  Those mice best not let the chickens catch them!

Still no way to know how the bees have fared.  I am not optimistic.  I ordered another package of bees which will arrive in April.  If my hive survives, I will start another.  

 The dogs and I and sometimes Sam as well still manage to get out for our daily hikes.  Last weekend we came upon this sad sight.  It's hard to tell form the photo, but this is an area just adjoining our property line where they have started to cut timber.  It is right along the path we take up to our pond and we knew they were going to timber, but it is such a mess and it used to be so pretty.  They will leave all the tree tops and mess behind.  Once the leaves come out it will be less visible, but it makes me so sad.  

 I love to sit at my dining room table and knit and watch the birds at the feeder.  Here are just a few.   

And here are some more waiting their turn

 The other day the feeders were full of birds and there were jays and towhees and doves on the ground picking up scattered seeds as usual.  As I watched, a hawk swooped in and landed on a tree limb just on the other side of the creek.  Every last bird disappeared in a matter of seconds.  I don't know where they hid, but they were goneOnce the hawk flew off they started to reappear as if by magic.

  Speaking of knitting, look what I finished.  Isn't that gorgeous?!  It is not alpaca, but a blend of merino wool and silk.  I purchased the fiber already dyed and ready to spin a little over a year ago and spun it last January.  I needed the right project to showcase the fabulous gradient dye job and I was a little disappointed that this did not use up all the colors in the yarn.  I still have about 130 yards left that goes into a kind of teal color.  But I love it.  This was dyed by 
Fiber Optic Dyeworks   I took a dye class from her in 2012 at the Great Lakes Fiber Show.  This shawl probably has a wingspan of over 5'.  A yardstick fits inside the curve easily without touching either side.

 I also did 2" of knitting on the first pair of socks I got in our sock Round Robin that I am participating in through the KnitSpinFarm podcast  I will mail these off today to the next person and I should get another pair to work on in the mail soon.

I could go on and on.  I took 130 photos this past week and have been having fun editing them.  I took a short photography class last summer at SSK (a knitting retreat) and one of the things the instructor said that I really liked was "pixels are free".  I am taking advantage of that!

Here are our 5 male alpacas enjoying the sunny but cold weather.