Little Creek Maple Farm

Our adventures around the homestead.

A Splash of Color in the Sugarbush

Last fall as a test run for planting fall bulbs, I planted a whole bunch of clearance bulbs on the North Side of the Sugarbush.  This area is heavily wooded and being on the Northern edge gets limited sun.  I was hoping the sun would have enough time to make these bulbs pop before the trees had enough leaves to block out the sun and it looks like I lucked out.

Spring BulbsSpring Bulbs

The only bad news is that I have no idea what these varieties are…

Spring Bulbs

Oh well, this fall I will need to pay a little more attention, and stick some markers in the ground for spring identification purposes.

Spring Bulbs

May 5, 2014 Posted by | Gardening | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sugaring 2014 – Re-Filtering Last Year’s Syrup

Little Creek Maple Farm Syrup

Prior to running this years syrup (2014) I figured I would run what I had left over of last years (2013) syrup though Daryl Sheets Filter Press.  I probably had a little more than a gallon of syrup that I had real issues filtering last year.  Some of the frustration I now know was finishing the syrup to heavy, which made it harder to run through the gravity filters and I am sure I may have pushed some of the sugar sand through.  This made for an unsightly layer of sugar sand in the bottom of my 8 oz. and 12 oz. glass bottles.  So these bottles sat for a year and we would use them as we needed more syrup.  This unsightly product prompted me to get a filter press.  Probably overkill for our small scale operation but if I am going to do something I want to do it right.

The first steps involved in setting up the press can be found in my previous post about The Dry Run with Daryl’s Press.  So, after opening all the old small bottles of syrup and dumping them with all the settled sugar sand into a double boiler, I began re-heating the syrup up to 185F so I could run the syrup though the maple syrup filter press made by Daryl Sheets.  I used three cake plates as you can see below and cycled the heated syrup with diatomaceous earth (DE) through the press and filled up some glass quarts.

Below I removed the end waffle plate from the filter bank.  The filter papers stayed on after removing the waffle on the end and I was surprised to see what looked like some brown syrup or sediment trapped in the bottom left corner of the cake plate.  To describe the process of what happens simply.  Hot syrup with DE is allowed to flow freely into the cake plate via the hole on the bottom right.  The DE collects on the surface of the filter paper inside the cake plate and the syrup pushes through the DE and filter paper to the waffle plate where filtered syrup leaves the waffle plate via the holes that you can see in the bottom left of the waffle plate in the left image.  The filtered syrup than travels out of the bank via the hole on the bottom left of the filter bank.

Back plate removedMaple Syrup Filter Press

Removal of the last cake plate from the press, it came off easily with filter papers on both side of the cake plate stuck on as you see below.

Daryl Sheet's Filter Press in OperationDaryl Sheet's Filter Press in Operation

After setting the cake plate on a real dinner plate, it was time to reveal what was behind the filter paper.  There was a layer about 1/8” thick of DE on the inside of the cake plate, with the brown sediment concentrated down at the outlet of where the syrup would pass from the cake plate to the waffle plate to leave the press.

Daryl Sheet's Filter Press in OperationDaryl Sheet's Filter Press in Operation

More of the same as I removed each plate.  Each side of the filter paper had a nice cake of DE that was about 1/8” in thickness.

Daryl Sheet's Filter Press in Operation

The final result was 5+ quarts of crystal clear syrup.  I had to keep checking this batch up to the light for at least a week because I could hardly believe the clarity.  I know a lot of people have success with gravity filtering, and the press is not cheap, but in my mind Daryl’s filter press is worth every penny, based on the results that I observed.

Homemade Maple Syrup

May 4, 2014 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sugaring 2014 – Filter Press, Dry Run

So we hooked up the new filter press form Daryl Sheets two weekends ago.  Prior to running syrup though I did this one set up where we ran hot water with filters & diatomaceous earth (DE) though the press to make sure everything was clean and rinsed out real well.  This was the trial run for us to see how everything would work with water.  As you can see below in the series of photos the press consists of a bunch of machined waffle plates, cake plates, and the filter paper.  Because we were only doing a gallon and a half of syrup I arbitrarily decided on using 3 cake plates. Below is the first waffle plate, which is fixed in position at the beginning of the filter press.

Daryl Sheets Filter Press

After the first plate I place on of the filter papers in front of the waffle being sure to line up the inlet & outlet holes of the filter paper with those on the waffle plate.

Daryl Sheets Filter Press

Next, I place one of the cake plates on the other side of the filter paper.  The cake plates are going catch all of the DE and the impurities in the syrup when you are using the press.

Daryl Sheets Filter Press

Once I had a cake plates and waffle plates that I was going to use in place along with the end plate, I found that it would have been impossible to wind the wing nuts onto the threaded rod on the side closest to the hand pump, so I took the remaining unused plates and stacked them up behind the end plate.  These plates filled the gap and allowed me to tighten the wing nuts as if I had been using all of the plates on the press.

Daryl Sheets Filter Press

I used some 1/2” plastic 90-degree fittings (these will be upgraded next year to quick-connects) and some RV-style water hose that I picked up at the local big box store.  The hose did get soft running boiling liquid through it but did not collapse too bad so we were able to use it for filtering syrup.  Because we are trying to figure this process out I went with two 8’ lengths of hose, which was a paint for the long length but a blessing because we could spread out.  We put a little more than a gallon of water on the stove and brought it to a boil. Then we circulated the boiling hot water with nothing in it through the press, just to see how this thing would work.  The spring clamps from Harbor Freight are a must have for any sugaring operation…

Hooking up the Hoses

After circulating the hot water through, the boss added the DE to the hot water.  We had to keep stirring the DE in hot water to keep it suspended in solution.

Adding DE to the Water

If you look closely in the photo below you can see the bottom hose is milky-white as it sucks up the DE and water solution, and if you look at the top hose you can see that it is clear with crystal clear liquid coming out of the hose.  So, basically the filter papers in the press are catching all of the DE.

Pre-heating the Filter Press

After locking up the hand pump (we used to much DE) and not being able to pump any more water through we decided to stop and see what the press looks like on the inside.  Below you can see how we removed the last end cap waffle plate and you can see the white DE behind the filter paper.  There was also a little bit of drippage in the drain pan.

Removing the end plate

I remove each cake plate and both filter paper were sticking well to each side.

Filter Press Cake Plate with DE

Peeling back the filter paper revealed the cake plate filled with DE.

Filter Press Cake Plate with DE

After this dry run with hot water, we rinsed and cleaned everything, so now it was time to see how well this process would work with some of last years syrup that we had a heck of a time filtering with gravity methods.  Stay tuned for the results.

April 13, 2014 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tree Down!

Well we awoke Saturday morning to a surprisingly sunny, and mild day.  The weather forecast was for the entire weekend to be a washout, so the lack of rain was a huge bonus.  We gathered the kids and some buckets and went down to check the sap flow.  Just before we were to check the first buckets I saw that the tree in the center of the picture below has fallen on one of our lines.  The tree was obviously one of the many standing dead trees that I have yet to take down.  We had some high winds on Friday that probably contributed to it’s demise.

Falled Tree On Maple Line

Lucky for me, I had the chainsaw in the garage ready to go, and the tree was nice enough to fall in right over a ditch that made cutting a breeze.

Husqvarna MapleYellow or Black Birch

After I finished cutting all my helpers were lined up to shuttle firewood up to the house.

Cutting up Fallen TreeFirewood Chain

Once the wood was brought up and split we collected the buckets for an afternoon boil before the rain!

Maple Sap in 5 Gallon Buckets

March 30, 2014 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , | Leave a comment

Sugaring 2014 – Impromptu Blower

Partially Fronzen Sap into Filter

Even with yesterday’s 50F degree day we still had some buckets with a little bit of ice skin on the top of the sap.  I am too stingy to discard this ice for fear that I am throwing out even the tiniest bit of maple sap, despite what I have read about this ice containing virtually no sugar at all.  After filtering out the maple sap I got my oldest to stack some of the fire wood I split into our garden dump wagon.  The wagon helped to keep it off the ground.  I have confirmed that wrist sized pieces really do work best, and I use a mix of hardwood and softwood off cuts from the wood shop.

Firewood for the Evaporator

After reading a lot of posts about adding blowers to evaporators to increase your boil, last year and this year on the Mapletrader Forum, I figured I would see if a little Air Under Fire, AUF would actually work.  I read about people adding fans in front of their ash door and last summer I picked up this Lasko fan for the house.  The height seemed right and it was adjustable, so I could set it on the ground and aim the air straight into the ash pan of my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator.  Now Bill Mason does have an add-on option for a blower that you can to most of his evaporators and hindsight being 20/20, I should have ordered one set up for my particular evaporator, but I was unaware of the benefit until I saw it first hand yesterday.

Portable Blower for Mason Evaporator

So below is my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator, boiling outside with the temperature around 40F and a slight wind from the West.  This was my normal set-up the pan boiled and I had steam and I want so say I was probably in the 5-6 gallon range on evaporation rates but I did not see the billowy steam that you would see at larger sugarhouses.  I had written my lack of steam off to just boiling outside.

WF Mason 2x3 Hobby Evaporator No blower

Below is a photo of my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator with the Lasko fan set at it’s lowest speed and aimed into the ash pan of my evaporator.  I propped the ash pan door open with a small board.  As you can see the amount of thick steam coming off the pan was noticeably different than the photo above.  I was shocked!  Now because I was melting a lot of ice during this boil I did not have a good way to measure the evaporation rate, but the thicker plume of steam coming off my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator made me feel awesome.

WF Mason 2x3 Hobby Evaporator With Blower Fan

When the wind blew strong enough to disperse the quick column of steam you can get a feel for the rapid boil that was in my stainless steel syrup pan.

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Even as I was melting frozen sap, the column of steam I was seeing was intense.  At the end of the day I boiled of many buckets worth of liquid sap and frozen sap that I swear would have taken me two 4-hour boils and I was wrapping up shutting things down in under 4-hours because I ran out of sap.  Hopefully during the next run, I will be able to time and watch the evaporation rate using the blower with a little more accuracy than I have so far, but this will definitely improve things for me as long as I have the sap to run my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator with the blower fan.  Two words of caution to anyone planning on doing this.  First shut off or point the fan away from the ash door when you are ready to reload more wood.  If you keep the fan on you will below coals out the wood door when you load.  Second you have to be mindful of a few hot coals blowing out the ash door as you turn the blower on/off or point it in the ash door.  This was not a big concern for me as I boil outside on pavement that is typically wet with snow melt.

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March 16, 2014 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sugaring 2014 – Maple Sap Filtering Set-up

Our latest sugaring device.  This little set-up has made filtering large quantities of maple sap a breeze.  I cut the bottom off of a 5 gallon bucket.  I took 4 small spring clamps that I had laying around from last year and used them to clamp filter material on the top of the bucket.

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Use then set the cut bucket inside the regular bucket and pour your sap through the filter into the clean sap bucket below.  This worked awesome!

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Our end result was clean clear sap from with no debris from the woods.  Cheap and effective.

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March 15, 2014 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , | 2 Comments

Putting on the Foil Coach

At the suggestion of Judy who blogs at Grandparentsplus2, I snagged one of those extra foil space blankets that I had in an old hunting pouch and re-purposed it for my seed starting rack.  Now I am not sure that I will ever be able to get this thing back in it’s tiny pouch after this but we will see if this helps reflect more light onto the seedlings.

Seed starting rack

Below the Peas are starting to get tall.

Pea Plant Seedlings

The onions are starting to get bigger, and I must admit I sprinkled the rest of the seed packet into the peat pots in hopes of increasing my onion density.

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The Cilantro has started to poke out of the pots.

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Below the Pansy’s have sprouted.

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Below in the orange tray the Black Eyed Susan’s have sprouted as well as some Lupine and Echinacea seedlings.

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I have held off a little on starting more plants until we see if winter is almost down.  Despite a warm up this week we still have a deep snow pack and tall snow banks here.  Depending how this weekends boiling goes, I may start some more plants with the kids, but we will have to wait and see…

March 14, 2014 Posted by | Gardening | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sugaring 2014 – First Boil

2x3 WF Mason Evaporator

Luckily for me, I had last Friday off to prep the evaporator for our first maple sap boil last weekend.  There were 2 major project on deck that needed to be completed.  First was to modify my poly 35 gallon leg tank to make it a little more user friendly.  For anyone familiar with these tanks they give you a small 4-5””” diameter hole at the top of the tank (sorry no before photo) which makes it nearly impossible for you to clean the inside of the tank and makes it a major chore to install the bulkhead style fitting on the outlet of the leg tank.  I read on the internet last year about how people were modifying these tanks to accept a 5-gallon bucket, and basically cutting a big hole on top.  Unfortunately I did not have the gumption to cut this tank last year.  After the pain that was to clean I figured I would go for it this year.  The first thing I did was to cut the bottom 3” off of one of my food grade buckets with a saber saw equipped with a fine cutting wood blade.  The saw made quick work of the bucket, and because the 5-gallons buckets are tapered I knew I could trace the outline of the bucket on top of the tank to give me the hole size for the top of the 35-gallon tank.

This was not as easy as I thought, because I did a flat cut on the bucket when I should have used more of a radius to follow the curve of the tank.  This is hard to explain in words and I have a lack of photos but anyone that does this modification will understand.  After I roughly traced the outline on the tank, I drilled a starter hole the size of the saber saw blade and made my initial cut.  I found myself having to go back and widen by initial cut at the two sides in order to fit the bucket into the tank.  I made a couple small cuts and would check the fit until it was snug.  Once you can fit the bucket in the tank you just push the bucket further down into the tank to tighten the fit.

Modified 35 gallon leg tank for maple syrupIMG_8975

As you can see form the photos below you end up with a pretty tight fit.

Modified 35 gallon leg tank for maple syrup with bucketModified 35 gallon leg tank for maple syrup with bucket

With my sap storage tank ready to go.  It was time to focus on the stack for my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator.  I unwrapped the tarp off the steel section of my evaporator and installed a new 6” diameter, 24” long base section on top last years elbow.  For anyone who has not used lock seem stove pipe it is a paint in the butt.  First make sure you wear gloves when working with stove pipe. Its easy to get cut if your are not careful.  I did read a trick last year that I figured I would pass along.  If you push the two seams together while pushing them down you change the circular shape of the pipe into more of a heart shape that makes it easier to start the lock seam of the stove pipe.

WF Mason 2x3 evaporator stack

Next I cheated and slapped last years section of stove pipe on the newer section.  As you can see there is a noticeable difference in just one year of the stove pipe being exposed to the weather.  I have a total of 6’ of stove pipe on this outdoor rig.  The rule of thumb I read was 2’ of pipe in height for every 1’ of pan length so in my case my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator has a 3’ long pan so 6’ seems to work fine creating plenty of draft.  In the background you can see my Garden Bean Trellis serving double duty as support for the smoke stack.  I basically have two 6’ section of lightweight conduit attached to the trellis at what end and attached to the smoke stack with some wire.  Pretty basic, but serves the purpose until we get a sugar shack.

IMG_8981

All that remains is to set the pans and fill with sap.  Saturday we boiled during the day for 4-hours or so.  We had about 40 or so gallons of maple sap previously frozen solid by the polar vortex that we were able to slightly thaw overnight in the house by Saturday morning.

WF Mason Rapid Boil

We stoked the fire got a rapid boil going and then slowly added large block of maple ice.

WF Mason Evaporator boiling ice

Thawing that much ice forced me to keep a good eye on our stack temp and the sap in the pans so I could maintain a rapid boil.

Inferno magentic stack gage

Sunday I started late thanks to daylight savings time and got in my first night boil.

Night boiling on a 2x3 evaporator

There is something special about boiling at night.  Its hard to describe but there seems to be more steam rising in the moonlight and the wood in the firebox seems to glow just a little bit brighter and feel a little bit warmer.

WF Mason 2x3 Evaporator Fire Box

I was not quite sure how well we did where everything was frozen, and we had some additional sap run last weekend but I be we went through between 50 or so gallons of sap over 4 hours each day so we probably had an evaporation rate of 6 gallons per hour despite melting ice.  It was a good weekend that left us with about 4 gallons of sweet.

March 13, 2014 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

More seed starting!

Pea sprouts

Well I screwed up the onions, and my pea plants may be growing a little too quickly for the amount of snow we have piled up outside!  Anyhow, since I last planted my onions I have learned that you really want to plant onions in a flat so that they grow almost tight together like grass. When you are read to transplant you then pull each little onion start out of the flat.  Its painstaking work but supposedly good.  We will see and I may have to get some sets as well, just incase.  My older seeds of parsley and pansy’s never germinated, so I emptied those pots and figured I would replant something else in them.

Yellow of Parma Onion Seedlings

So above you can see that I have all these tiny little onion plants, basically one offs in each peat pot.  They have lots of room to grow I guess.

I made it out to the store yesterday and picked up a couple more seed trays and some green plastic pots so I can plant the next round of plants.  On tap for tonight we planted a new seed packet of pansy’s, lupine, black eyed Susan’s, Echinacea, some cabbage, and some slow bolting cilantro.    We will have to see how my next round of seedling starts take off.  Due to the polar vortex and deep snow pack I pushed all my seedling start times off a week.  Let’s see if it helps!  The next round of seedlings.

SSeedling Trays

March 2, 2014 Posted by | Gardening | , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Sugaring 2014 – The Polar Vortex

Frozen Sap

Well the photo above kind of sums up this past week of sugaring!  Nothing has ran since last Sunday February 23rd, 2014.  We have been in the freezing tundra of New Hampshire or caught in some kind of polar vortex.  Despite the last couple years of unpredictable warm-ups, it is looking like this year will be more of a typical winter and sugaring season.  So, I sit here wondering yet again for the 3rd season in a row if we may have tapped our trees to early?  Only time will tell, but the reality is tapping last weekend made so much sense, given the warm weather and timing.  It’s always easier to put the taps in on the weekend then during the week. We will just have to wait and see, but the freeze up provided for some pretty good photos as we walked the sugar bush this afternoon.

image

The 10 day, puts any worthwhile sugaring another week away with the first glimpse of sugaring weather occurring on Friday March 7th!  It will probably take at least a couple days to thaw us out too!

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The sap is frozen like water in the lines and in the buckets.  I would estimate 15 or so gallons frozen in the buckets with more in the tubing.

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All of the tees are iced up solid from each drop line…

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To each end line ring where the tubing terminates into a 5 gallon bucket.

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And a drip frozen in time, just before it hits the pool of frozen sap in the bottom of the bucket.  Truly wild!

March 1, 2014 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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