Little Creek Maple Farm

Our adventures around the homestead.

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.

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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.

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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

Sugaring 2014 – First Taps of the Season

Maple Bucket Brigade

Well we got started on our maple sugaring season yesterday, with 40+ degree weather yesterday, it was time to get the taps in.  Thankfully I had lots of  energetic help.  The boys rounded up the buckets and helped blaze trails through the snowpack!

Maple Sugaring Tools

On our way to tap the first tree with the kids, notice that I no longer need to carry any tools, just an iced coffee for me this year.

Shoveling out snow to get to the maple tap

Our first tree required a little shoveling of the driveway snow banks before we could reach it, but the warm weather made for easy shoveling.

Kids Maple Tree Tap

As you can see the snow got a little deep once you stepped off the well packed down trail to the tree.  Lucky for me, I was just the supervisor and all my assistants had the tools we needed to tap this maple tree.

Maple Tap

My oldest got to drill his first tap into this maple tree.  It’s a little challenging when you have two people driving, but we managed to get it done.

Hammering in a Seasonal Maple Tap

Not to be outdone, it was no time for the younger son, to hammer in the plastic tap.  Watch the fingers!

Maple Tap on Tubing

After attaching the tubing to the tap, this red maple is now on the lateral line and dripping sap.  Only 40 plus taps left to go…

Sugaring season wouldn’t be complete with out my oldest looking to taste the sap as it flows out of the trees.  He is always amazed by how it runs out of the trees and how it tastes.  This boy loves the sweet taste of the maple sap, but not pure maple syrup, go figure.

Tasting Maple Sap

This year we had so much snow it was fun watching the kids try and navigate the deep snowpack.  I found myself just watching them trying to walk around and it was hard not to giggle a bit when they got stuck.  It was a good day yesterday, and hopefully today we can dig out the evaporator and finish up the last couple taps that will be on buckets this year.

Maple Bucket Lids

This year with the deep snow, I found it helpful to have one of these bins to haul around in the woods that contained everything we needed to tap our trees.

Maple Tool Tote

February 23, 2014 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , | 4 Comments

Garage Work Shop Storage – Drawers

Base Cabinets with Drawers

I went with a slightly different drawer box assembly technique on this set of drawers.  Not sure of the exact name of this joint it’s a combination of a dado in the side of the drawers and a rabbet in the front.  This joint will provide more glue surface area and should hopefully be stronger than a rabbet joint alone with glue and nails that I used on the Miter Saw Stand.  I was using up some scrap 1/2” plywood for these boxes so I had some variations that made perfect set-up of the dado and rabbet a little challenging so I opted to get close knowing that I may need to knock down the sides that protrude beyond the fronts with a sander and some 60-grit paper.  The drawers have the same 1/4” dado in the bottom to accept some 1/4” hardboard for the drawer bottoms.

Lock RabbetAssembled Drawers

The technique for installing drawer slides is straight forward.  The slides were installed in the cabinets in my earlier post using a piece of 1/2” plywood as a spacer.  Now that I am ready to install the drawers, I switched over to a 1/4” thick piece of hardboard.  This will space the drawer perfectly when I go to attach the drawer to the slides.  A quick pencil mark to account for the added thickness of the solid wood edging and I was ready to attach the slides to the drawer slides.

Drawer 1/4" thick spacersAttaching Drawer Slides to Drawers

Repeat the process four times and the drawers are installed.  If I can sneak it in, I will try and finish the drawer fronts and cabinets doors, but I may be switching gears for sugaring, soon.

Finished Drawers

February 18, 2014 Posted by | Woodworking | , , , , | 2 Comments

Garage Work Shop Storage – Counter Tops!

Miter Station Base Cabinets

Saturday I tackled some solid wood edging on the base cabinets and today focused on getting some counter tops on the cabinets.  I wanted some smooth, that was replaceable if damaged, and cheap.  Now this counter is pretty impractical in its use of materials, but I was looking to add height and use up some materials.

I started with a 2×4 frame, this would give some thickness I needed as well as stiffen up the cabinets.  No frills here, just some biscuits, glue and clamping.

2x4 With Biscuits

The completed frame below really stiffened up the cabinets after it was screwed down to them.

2x4 Counter Top Frame

I had some left over 3/4” particleboard that I used as the sub top.  I really wanted something to add some wait to this assembly and 3/4” thick particleboard was the answer.  I installed the first piece flush to the outside edge and overhang the front and the left side on purpose.  I came along after and the particle board was screwed down and hit it with a flush trimming router bit.

Particle Board Sub TopParticle Board Sub Top

Below is a good shot of the counter top assembly showing the 2×4 frame, the 3/4” particle board, and the 1/4” hardboard top.  Once again, I screwed down the hardboard leaving it to overhang the particle board so I could come along after with my flush cut bit in my router.

Chop Saw Counter Top

Now my garage floor was so out of level in this area that I ended up shimming the cabinets a lot more than I would have thought to get my cabinets level.  as a result I needed a little more height on my chop saw.  I insert a couple of plywood strips and fine tuned the adjustment with these handy metal shims I picked up at Harbor Freight Last year when I was leveling my evaporator.

Metal Shims on Chop Saw

This was probably the best $5-$10 bucks I have spent at Harbor Freight and I probably got 20% off too!  I have used these quite a bit since I found them.

Harbor Freight Shim Pack

The whole assembly leveled and in place, next up some drawer boxes for the cabinets, followed by some finished poplar drawer fronts and doors.

Miter Saw Station

February 17, 2014 Posted by | Woodworking | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Six Steps to Awesome Driveway Sledding!

Step 1 – Have lots of snow!

Snow Bank Sledding

Step 2 – Pile all of your snow in the same spot to create a snow bank that is at least 4’-0” higher than the surrounding areas.  Don’t forget to shape the snow bank into a gradual ramp.

Snow Bank Staircase

Step 3 – Have a long driveway on a hill where you can create bumpers for the kids, so they won’t end up in the “willy-wacks”!

Driveway Sledding Bumpers

Step 4 – Lose the battle with mother nature, resulting in a crusty mess of a driveway perfect for sledding.  (Don’t forget to teach the kids how to bail out, by the last red maple tree we tap on the right…)

Driveway Sledding

Step 5 – Insert two young children with energy to burn, who are tired of being cooped up inside due to winter weather.

The long hike up the sledding Hill

Step 6 – Have no fear and smile!

Sledding

Now that is some serious downhill sledding!

Angry Bird Sledding

February 16, 2014 Posted by | Outdoors | , , , | 2 Comments

Garage Work Shop Storage – Solid Wood Edging

Sledding Down the Driveway

Today was one of those days…  I had to spend some time on clean-up duty, last Thursday’s snowstorm changed overnight to a slushy, wet, mix of precipitation, and it was just cold enough to freeze it all into a solid, crusty mess.  My driveway which I struggled so hard all winter to keep black with pavement was now a mess!  I had to hit the dump for some sand and salt to try and help break-up the crusty mess, especially with another storm forecasted to hit us this afternoon into the evening hours.  Even though I was disappointed with the condition of the driveway, the boys were loving it.  They were able to sled for quite a ways before turning the sled into the snow banks lining the drive way.

After my morning chores were complete I had some free time to do a little woodworking.  In the last installment, I was contemplating how to edge band the base cabinets and whether I was going to use some birch veneer edge banding I had on hand, or whether I was going to use some solid wood edge banding.

As you can see below, I ended up agreeing with Homestead Dad, who commented on the post, and chose solid wood edge banding.  While I was out picking up sand and salt at the dump I had picked up a 1×6 poplar board that matched the color of the cabinets that I had built pretty well.  I decided to rip the strips to 3/8” depth, because I would be gluing and nailing these to the edge of the cabinets.  I was nervous that if I went to thin, I would split the narrow strips with the 3/4” long brads I was using to attached the edging to the cabinets.

Solid Wood Edging

I ripped enough strips so I would have enough left for the drawers and doors that I will eventually be doing as well.  Installation was straight forward, I would would apply glue on the back of each piece of edging, clamp it in place, and attached it with 18 gauge, 3/4” long brads.  The solid wood edging was a little bit wider than the thickness of the plywood, so I lined the edging up flush with the inside face of the cabinet.  I figured if I needed to knock down and edge with a sander it would be easier to do it outside of the cabinet rather than inside of each cabinet.

Wood Edging Applied to Plywood Cabinet

This was a last minute change so I may need to accommodate for this added thickness when I attached the drawer slides to the drawers.  I figure it will be easier to do that than to unscrew and re attach the drawer slides to the cabinets, but we will see.

Wood Edging Applied to Base Cabinet

Hard to tell from the photo below, but I think it really cleans up that outside plywood edge and I am glad I went with the solid wood edging.  Hopefully I will be able to spend some time on the counter top tomorrow after the snow storm clean-up.

Custom Shop Base Cabinet

February 15, 2014 Posted by | Woodworking | , , , , | 3 Comments

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