What a difference a few warm days have made this week for my fall plantings last year.
Below is a photo from April 6th, 2013 of this year. I learned my lesson from the 2011-12 garlic season and cleared off my shredded leaf mulch as soon as the weather started to warm in early April and the snow melted off of my raised beds.
Below is a picture from today April 17th, 2013. Things are definitely starting to sprout up!
So if you recall the planting map below.
If you ignore the poor evening lighting and over exposure of the photo this is the top-most garden bed. This was also the bed that was covered in snow the longest and we have a lot of good sprouting. This bed was mostly Russian Red Garlic with the biggest French Gray Shallots around the Perimeter.
The bed below is the middle bed which consisted entirely of German Red Garlic with the exception of a half dozen Soft Neck Garlic at the very top of the bed in the photo. The soft neck really seems to be taking off.
Below is the lower most bed. This bed consisted of 50/50 split of Soft Neck Garlic and French Gray Shallots. Once again the Soft Neck Garlic in the top of the photo really appears to be taking off. The shallots are just starting to wake up.
Just another cool sprouting photo. Temps have been getting into the 60’s and hopefully they will stay that way. I hit all of the garlic beds with a couple gallons of water that had some oh so sweet smelling fish emulsion mixed in. Supposedly this will give the garlic and shallots a nice spring wake up call, or so I have read.
We also did some plantings today and have been doing some landscape edging, and even started replacing a rustic stone wall with a more streamlined concrete block retaining wall, but that is a post for another time.
Last weekend I finally got around to taking our last batch of maple sap concentrate and reducing it to syrup. An hour or so of boiling and we were ready to filter.
This go around I wanted to use a jelly bag filter that I had read about online and ordered from Amazon. It was kind of a let down when I opened the package and discovered how cheap it was. I am hoping the bulk of the cost is in the cloth filter and not the frame… Anyhow I clipped the frame to one of our stainless steel bowls wrapped the cloth filter around the frame and lined it with some of my pre-filter material. It seemed to work well.
Later that night I put the filtered syrup onto a pot with about 3” of water in it. Essentially creating a double boiler. At the same time I am re-heating the syrup to 185F for bottling I also put about 3” of water into my West Bend 32 cup coffee urn to pre-heat.
When the syrup hits 185F and the Coffee Urn runs through its brew cycle we are ready to bottle. With the help of the wife she dumps the water in the urn into the sink and quickly sets the urn back down so I can dump the hot syrup from the bowl into the urn. All this is done in a matter of seconds while the urn remains plugged in. This being our 3rd time performing this juggling act we have it pretty well dialed in. Next Wen begins to bottle while I cap the full bottles and set them on their sides. The whole process takes a couple minutes per gallon of syrup. Two important points when doing this. Make sure you have all of your caps and bottles ready to go before heating anything up and make sure you keep an eye on the level of syrup in the urn, because when the level of syrup in the urn gets low you need to unplug the urn so you don’t overheat the syrup or burnout the element in the urn.
We found out the hard way that a cloth or glove is needed for the 12oz jars. For some reason the additional fill time of the 12 oz. jars causes the jars to heat up a lot more in your hand than the smaller 8 oz. jars we had been using previously. We also ran out of the cool black plastic safety cap and had to got with the ghetto red metal caps on a couple of bottles. Another 108 ounces of syrup to this year’s tally.
I finally got some time to boil. It’s a good thing too! We had maybe close to 40 gallons of sap that needed boiling right away. I had done my best to keep the 5-gallon pails buried in the snow bank, but after a string of warm spring days with temperatures well into the 50’s, my stockpile of snow was shrinking. Heck, I was starting to see some shoots pop on one of my raised beds!
I had a few errands to run in the morning, so I got started boiling late morning around 11:00AM and loaded the last pieces of wood closer to 6:00PM. This latest stretch of warm weather had left the buckets dry all week, and all the snow in the woods had disappeared. The majority of this sap was collected towards the beginning of the week and because it’s so late in the season I am hoping for some Grade B syrup. The really dark maple-ly stuff that can be used for cooking or beer.
It was a little windy Saturday so this was my best steam cloud picture. I had to time it just right when the wind had stalled.
Towards the end of the boil the wife and kids decided they wanted to have some roasted marshmallows! I figured what the heck, and told them we could roast them if they could find the camping forks. The kids had roasted marshmallows and hot dogs for dinner. At the end of the night I ended up with a little more than 4 gallons of concentrated sap, which provided I have time on Easter, I will boil down to almost syrup, and eventually bottle sometime during the week. I am only expecting 1/2 gallon of syrup, so we will have to wait and see how it turns out…
Late Saturday afternoon, much to my surprise, the sap was running. It was warm out, maybe upper 30’s, but it was cool with a stiff breeze, and I wasn’t expecting much. However, when we went to hit the dump, we were shocked to see the buckets overflowing!
We had to rush to the dump before they closed and hurry home to empty the buckets before we lost anymore sap on the ground. We were truly shocked!
Things were thawing and the “Little Creek” was running. The boys had a blast splashing in the water, thank goodness for boots and snow pants!
It took us a good while to empty all of the buckets and bucket brigade them to the driveway where we took a quick break and paused for another photo shoot after all this was probably going to be our best run of the season.
After getting the buckets up to the top of the driveway reality set in and I was reminded about the other 16 gallons of sap we collected the previous night! Not to mention we still had 4 more trees to collect sap from behind the house…
As the sun was setting reality was about to set in – 50 gallons of sap! Looks like we are boiling all day Sunday.
We were surprised this Saturday by my folks. Lucky for them we chose today to make maple peanuts, and finish out a batch of syrup.
The recipe for maple nuts is simple, and I have posted the recipe previously here. Basically, you heat 6 ounces of syrup to 240F and add it to some preheated nuts, stir until the syrup sugars, and the pour the sugared peanuts onto a cookie sheet to rest. Then wait 30 minutes until cool to eat, if you can wait that long!
With the maple nuts ready, I turned my attention to finishing our syrup. We had about two gallons of “almost syrup” that I had brought to about 50 on the Brix Scale and had placed in the fridge. To finish the “almost syrup”, I did two batches on our stove, boiling each batch until they reached at least 59 on the Brix scale when hot.
As you can see, the first batch of syrup was a little heavy at 62 Brix so I brought the second batch to exactly 59 Brix, so they would be a little heavier than they needed to be when blended together. I filtered all the syrup through several synthetic filters and one Orlon filter, and into a stainless steel bowl. I then put this bowl on top of my stainless steel pot that had 2” of water in it that I had brought to a boil while filtering the syrup. The idea here is to create a double boiler and bring the filtered syrup up to 185-190F so I can hot pack my syrup in glass bottles.
I decided to give the West Bend 30 cup coffee urn another shot at bottling the syrup this year. I already had an epic failure on the last batch I made, and I was determined to make this thing work, because bottling has been a pain.
While I was finishing the syrup, I put a couple inches of water in the coffee urn and turned it on. It took a while to go through the “brew cycle” and when it was done and in “warming mode” signaled by the little orange light glowing, I left it as is with the hot water in it. After I brought the filtered syrup up to 190F in the double boiler, I quickly had the wife empty the hot water in the coffee urn into the sink and I poured the syrup into the coffee urn. This was quite the scene and I am sure my parents enjoyed watching the show! Now with hot syrup in the urn, we could bottle fast and easy from the urn’s spigot. I did have to teach Wen how to pour the syrup. Apparently, someone had never poured a beer from a tap before, so her first bottle of syrup was a little bubbly to say the least!
The coffee urn is definitely a huge time saver when bottling! We went through 22 glass bottles and 2 mini plastic bottles super fast. For anyone trying to bottle with a coffee urn – when you get within a couple inches of the bottom you need to unplug the coffee urn so you don’t burn out the element before you bottle your last couple of bottles.
I love seeing the finished product jarred like this. Kudos to Wen for getting this awesome shot. After everything cooled down, the syrup graded out as Medium Amber! Fun times!
Grammy in Florida has been busy this sugaring season! The boys got their own official sugaring gear this week complete with fancy maple leaves.
I am partial to the blaze orange shirt myself and Wen likes the blue shirt the best, but both will look equally awesome on the kids. Very professional and many thanks to Grammy in Florida for all of her hard work!
This most recent snowstorm is bittersweet. Ten inches of wet snow is now fun! On one hand this storm will help extend the sugaring season on the other the snow banks are getting pretty deep and will put a hamper on my Spring gardening.
Perhaps what I am really yearning for is a little more consistency or timeliness of the seasons. With any luck the weather will cooperate and I will get two more weeks of sugaring with one or two big runs of maple sap and then we will have a nice warm up that will cause my snow banks to recede and signal he start of spring gardening.
Well as you can see from the picture above things have been cold here. Most of the lines have been frozen solid. The weather today did poke above freezing for a bit, but not long enough to get the sap rolling.
We did go and check the buckets all last weekend and you can see we had quite a bit of snow melt until our most recent storm yesterday. Unfortunately the buckets were dry!
I have been slowly taking our couple of gallons of maple sap concentrate and reducing it to almost syrup on the stove. I am down to about three gallons of very sweet almost syrup. Possibly bottling some more maple syrup either the end of the week or this weekend.
The kids have been having a blast on all the snow bridges and breaking the creek ice, however that has all changed with yesterday’s snow. Hopefully it will stick around until this weekend.
Well I had a slight technical difficulty with our last batch of syrup. As you can see in the photo above I have about a 1/4″ of sugar sand that settle out in last weeks batch of syrup.
This has caused be a fair amount of stress trying to figure out the cause of the build up. We have filtered the same way we always had since we started last season and I had checked the syrup density prior to bottling so I was stumped. We noticed within an hour or so of bottling these jars that there was a hint of cloudiness. Additionally the syrup was not filtering as easily as prior batches. What was odd was the lack of filtering was not due to clogged filters with niter or sugar sand, but what appeared to be syrup. This was odd because I had the syrup fairly hot to filter.
I should have known to stop and recheck the density of the syrup but it was late and I wanted the satisfaction of bottling the 1/2 gallon we just made. I had a slight foam up after I checked I the density the first time which appears to have been the culprit. Basically the syrup I checked with a density of 61 Brix became more dense when left on the heat and foamed up.
I finally got to confirm my suspicions this morning over some Green Waffles! My darling wife decided to surprise the kids and I with some awesome waffles. I figured what better to confirm the density of last weeks syrup than to crack open a bottle and check the cold density.
I got out my trusty stainless steel hydrometer cup and hydrometer and checked the cold density at approximately 68F. Now the syrup should be testing out at 65.6 Brix in order to be syrup. Any less than this value and its not legally syrup, any more and I am way too dense and I can expect cloudy syrup and settlement of the suspended minerals over time, both of which I was already experiencing.
I could tell as I was pouring the syrup from the small 8 ounce bottle that the syrup was indeed much thicker than any of my previous bottles. I put the hydrometer in the syrup and my suspicions were confirmed at almost 71 Brix in density. The syrup was way to dense! Other than the in appealing sediment at the bottom of the jar the jar the syrup was awesome and definitely thicker than we were accustomed to.
For my oldest to actually taste it and then pour more onto his waffle, we had confirmation that the syrup was good! So I am on the fence…do I keep these bottles as is and reserve for personal use or do I un cap, add some more less dense concentrate and re-bottle…
Only time will tell.
Believe it or not Friday’s snow storm appears to have been great for sap! I did not empty the buckets last night and some of the single tree buckets are almost half full this morning.
I had 44 gallons of sap on hand in the snow bank that I needed to boil down.
I started early yesterday bringing the evaporator up to a boil by 7 AM. Not bad for a Saturday morning.
I boiled most of the morning slowing down around lunch to go collect more sap with the wife and kids. Everything was flowing so well we were concerned one or two of the buckets would overflow if not emptied. Temperatures hit 54F here.
Only to start refilling the bucket holes in the sap storage snow bank with 5 more buckets. We found its easier to handle them by filling up to the 4-gallon mark and its also easier to measure how much you have. So our collection at noon netted us another 20 gallons.