Sunday, March 28, 2010

Spring is really here...

A lazy, sunny Saturday morning.

I have to admit, you don't really work with a tractor. Dragging these trees was no work at all.

Limbing the logs with a chain saw was a little bit of work, but I quickly discovered that you can use the bucket on the tractor to plow them into a big pile.

So far we've bottle about 1-1/2 gallons of maple syrup.

This is about the best maple syrup I have ever tasted.

Jonathan practicing the score of "The Holy City". He accompanied Pastor Chuck, who sang it on Palm Sunday. It was a stirring performance, one of the best that has ever been given in our church.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The pups are almost five months old now and have a lot of energy. Fortunately they still stay quite close to us when we take them for walks.

Heini, our first girl dog. We got two beautiful daughters-in-law during the past year, so figured it was time to integrate the dog yard as well.

The snow is going early this year and our mountain biking trails will be open soon. Marja is sitting on one of hucks that our son Samuel built last summer. A huck is like a dock, except that you ride a bike off of it and there is no water below you. Now that you understand, it makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

Savu had earlier found a dead squirrel under the snow and relished every bit of it. In true husky fashion, he didn't share any of it with his sister. Of course, if Heini had found it first, she wouldn't have shared it with him either. Only humans feel guilty for taking the last piece of pie.

Marja tempting the pups with acorns. They tasted a few but weren't overly impressed.

Over the years the hundreds of tiny spruces that were growing in the field have become large trees. I decided to remove some that were shading the greenhouse, and so while I was on a roll, I took down the clump that was close to the south end of our house.

This opens the view and will also increase passive solar gain during the winter. It also just created a lot more work for me. These need to be sawed into shorter pieces and hauled off with the tractor. Some of the wood we will use for firewood, and we may square some of the logs for a future primitive savusauna (smoke sauna). The branches will be piled into large piles to be burned after the first snow next fall.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spring Skiing

Finally, after a long thaw - some hard crust to skate on.

Before sunrise, the surface is so hard that setting an edge is difficult. The skiing is best after the sun has been up for about an hour. The surface softens just enough so that your skis edge well and you feel in total control. But after an hour or two later, it is too soft to ski on. You have to catch it when its good.

This year the Great Bear Chase was almost washed out. A two week thaw was followed by a heavy rain, creating a small lake at the bottom of the sledding hill. They might as well have run the course through it - the snow was so wet that everyone's feet were soaked.

Karl W. led out the pack in the 44k, but eventually finished 2nd.

Back from serving in Iraq, Eric H did the long race also.

Mik finishing strong in the classic. No teddy bear this time. His klister was loaded with pine needles.

Jonathan (behind the guy in the red) going up the hill in the 22k skate.

Finishing strong in a drizzle.
Jeni rang her cowbell with enthusiasm but was glad to have a warm coat. There was a raw, damp wind coming out of the east at the finish line.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sugar Month

The Ojibwe Indians called March the Sugar Month. With simple tools and birch containers they gathered unbelievable amounts of maple sap which they boiled into sugar using stones heated over fires. The sugar naturally had a lot of "impurities" but seemed to be a remarkably healthy part of their diet.

My sap collecting equipment consists of a hand drill, plastic spouts and tubing, and recycled ice cream pails. Perhaps when I retire I will get a larger evaporator, tap more trees, and collect the sap through a network of interconnect tubing, but right now 10-12 trees provide about all the sap we can handle.

Like many an enjoyable hobby, you can turn it into mind numbing work and make a small fortune out of it - provided you begin with a large fortune, but so far I have resisted the temptation.

I like to drill the holes knee-high for the simple reason that I can support the end of the drill against my leg and lean on it. Cranking a hand brace requires real effort.

The auger bit goes in about 2 inches. If the tree is a good one, the peel of wood is wet and sap starts running as soon as you pull the drill out.

Tapping in the plastic spigot.

I guess this is literally tapping trees.

Nothing like good old plastic, is there?

My sugar bush are the maple trees behind my parents house. These trees were left for shade by a Finnish farmer who was exceptional in that he didn't mind having trees near his house. Seems like most of the Finnish settlers had little use for them - when you have to clear land by hand, trees probably start seeming like enemies. The house was built in 1895 or thereabouts, I believe. These trees were already big when I was a child. I climbed some of them. This knoll was also the first "hill" I ever skied down.

Maple sap flows best when the night temperatures fall to about 20 degrees and the day temperatures rise above 40 degrees. This means you need sunny days and clear nights - which is the most pleasant weather you can imagine for working outdoors - which is one of the big reasons collecting sap is so enjoyable.

Of course we are not the only ones who enjoy the sunny weather. Our honeybees have been taking advantage of the spring weather to make their cleansing flights. They are called so because each bee will drop a load before it returns to the hive. The snow around the hives is quite yellow on a day like this.

The Sullivans came over to tap a few more trees...

Of course, tapping trees wasn't the only activity of the day.

We poured the first day's sap - about 3 gallons - into a pot and fired up the evaporator

I have read that it takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce 3 gallons of syrup. I haven't boiled sap that often or kept accurate records, but that seems to be about right. I know for a fact that it takes a lot of firewood to boil even a gallon of syrup. I will refill this pot several times until I have about 2-3 inches of syrup on the bottom. You know it is syrup when it starts to bubble into a froth that rises to near the top of the pot. I then remove the pot and do the final boiling on an electric burner -which gives me a bit more control.

My patented Snuffy Smith evaporator consists of a steel box with 3 ten inch holes (apparently it once was junction box in a large air handling system) and old galvanized bucket, a length of stovepipe, and a license plate to reduce the air intake. The thing is so ugly that it is almost beautiful. In a way it reminds me some breeds of dogs that seem to have been developed for the sole purpose of looking ugly. At any rate, my evaporator is such a cobbled together deformity that it makes me laugh whenever I look at it. Suprisingly, it actually works moderately well.

A Sunny Afternoon at the Beaver Dam

Fifty degrees and sunny in March. I made a seat for myself from my snowshoes and read a bit of Thoreau. I've read Walden several times, but his views on the economy seem even more relevant than ever. He's always hilarious and thought provoking.