Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The sap is running......

We almost thought the sap run would never get here. Now we're finally getting a pretty good run. Not as good as some years but, enough to get some syrup. Making it by quarts now instead of pints. Pictured are some of our recent jars of maple syrup made. There's a gallon of syrup in the picture here. The total so far that we've made is around 2, 1/2 gallons. Judging by the weather forecast we should have ideal conditions for the next 7 days. Even if we didn't get anymore, what we have is plenty to last us until next year. But, we'll see how much more we can get. We should get at least 2 quarts of maple syrup from today's boil.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Finishing Maple Syrup On The Stove

Here's a short video I took of how we finish our syrup on the stove. I wanted to show how once it gets down to syrup it begins to boil over. For the video I actually took it off the burner then set it back on it again so that you can see how it rises up in the pan once the temperature starts going up. As the sap cooks down it gets more dense which creates more heat.

How we usually determine the finished product is by using a thermometer. When the temp gets to 7 degrees above the boiling point of water you have syrup. But, first you should check the boiling point of water that day because they say it can change a little due to the barometric pressure. This year however, our thermometer is broken so we just went by looks and taste. After 12 years of doing this most years I guess we can do that.

The real way to test it is to use a hydrometer which tells you the percentage of water that is still left in it. We've never used one so I think that is how it goes. In any rate making maple syrup is pretty easy. If you can boil water you can make syrup.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Making Maple Syrup

The sap is running better but, not great yet. Yesterday we boiled down another 8 gallons to get one quart of excellent syrup. The two previous times the syrup was very dark. But, yesterdays was a nice amber color.

This is the finished product. Sweet like honey! Hmm, Good!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Snow melting fast, sap running slow

Roughly 90% of our snow is gone now. Feels a little different to walk on the bare earth once again. Yesterday when I first stepped outside you could smell the damp newly exposed ground. Today I went walking around and checked on a few things for the first time since the snow came and went.

I checked our bee hive. The bees did not survive the winter. They did leave some honey though, which I will leave for the new bees that we'll get in April.

I checked on our spring fed pond which was pretty full with the spring thaw. There was only a little ice left floating on top.

We got some of our maple trees tapped back on March 4th. Been very little sap running with night time temperatures often above freezing.

We set up an area up by the cabin where we are boiling what little sap we've been getting.

So far we have boiled sap on three different occasions. The first time we boiled down 12 or 13 gallons and got one quart of dark rich syrup. The darkest by far we've ever had. Plus I cooked it a little too long and it is really thick. We had some on pancakes the other day and had to spread it with a butter knife rather than pour it like we usually do. Is was really good though.

The second time we boiled we only had 2 1/2 gallons of sap. Some neighbors brought over some of their sap, about the same amount and we boiled both. After about an hour and a half it was ready to take in and finish. We gave it to them to take home. It was fun just sitting around the fire visiting. They wound up with about a pint of syrup. Lighter in color than the first batch.

Today we had about 6 gallons of sap so this afternoon I began to boil it. Once it boiled down I took it out of the big pan and put it in a smaller kettle. I'm finishing it on the stove right now. Looks like we will get a little over a pint of finished syrup.

As you might can tell from the pictures we don't have anything fancy for boiling sap. It's just a stainless steal pan I had a local guy make for us. He put a drain tube on it and I have yet to get around to installing a spigot. So all I do is drive in a wooden cork. When we want to drain the pan I slip in a long rod from inside and hit the end of the cork with a hammer which drives it out. It's simple but, it works. And the pan it's self sits on 4 metal stakes that I drive into the ground. The pan is stiff enough that I can do that without it warping. It's quick and easy to set up and quick and easy to take down. Then we have pieces of metal sheeting that I sometimes lean up against the sides which seems to help concentrate the heat right under the pan.

Many people put up a smoke stack but, we just let the smoke go which ever way it wants. We don't mind a little bit of a smokey taste.

We are hoping the sap will start running better than this. The long range weather forecast called for colder night time temperatures by next weekend so we are hoping that will help.

Until Next Time

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Spring is coming...

Well, spring is almost here in the Northwoods. We have our trees tapped and buckets hanging in anticipation of the sap run. Temperatures have been close to 40 in the day time and freezing at night. The sap is slowly starting to run now but, it is just a trickle at present. We kind of thought we'd be boiling sap this weekend but, we aren't getting enough to bother with yet. Possibly in the coming week we will be boiling.

It's just as well that it isn't running much yet because I've had some mechanical work to do. For one, on our garbage truck we've been having a problem of blowing out hydraulic filters on the compactor. Finally the the filter housing itself broke. The threaded part where the filter screws on broke right off. Until the new part came in we simply by-passed the filter altogether. The new part, a high capacity unit, came last week so installing that was one of the things I had to do. Also there are a couple other minor things to look at that I hope to finish up today.

However, before I could even get to the garbage truck the wheel bearing on our 97 Jeep Grand Cherokee had to be replaced. Ordinarily I'd just take it to the mechanics and have them do it but, this time of the year is our leanest time financially. We have little farm income and during the winter many of our garbage customers go south. So I decided to tear it apart and see if it was something I could fix myself. It was the right rear wheel bearing.

The thing had been squealing all last week and I was hoping it was just a brake pad getting down to the wear sensor. But, after pulling off the wheel it was obvious that the pads were fine. Upon investigating I saw there was a lot of play at the axle hub indicating a bad wheel bearing.

I've never changed a wheel bearing on a Jeep before so I did an Internet search to see if I could get an idea of what to do. I knew I had to pull the axle out, but I didn't know how to at that point. I didn't find much information on the web but, I found enough to indicate that there was two different axle designs with two different ways of removal. They said if there where bolts under the hub then you had to remove those bolts and that is what held in the axle. And if there wasn't any bolts then you had to remove the differential cover and there was a "C-CLIP" to take out which held in the axle. They said you could use a magnet to remove the C-CLIP which didn't make sense to me. If you could pull it out with a magnet what kept it in place, I wondered.

Ours didn't have bolts so I took off the cover.

Just looking at the gears inside the differential there was no clip to be seen. Fortunately my Dad was available and he was able to help me figure out how to get to the "C-CLIP".

Where the two drive shafts meet in the middle there was a series of 4 gears inside a roundish looking housing. These gears are there to connect the two shafts. In the middle between the two drive shafts was a small shaft which two of the four gears rode on, at either end. We had to remove the shaft in order to get to the C-CLIP. There was one small bolt which held the small shaft. Once I slid out the small shaft you could push in the the drive shaft exposing the C-CLIP. And just as I read on the Internet you actually could pull the clip out with a magnet. None of this other stuff was talked about on the forums I went to. They only said to pull the clip out with a magnet. But, unless a person is familiar with how these things work you'd have no idea where to look for the clip. Actually, I personally wouldn't even call it a clip really. It works more like a key. It just rides in a grove at almost the end of the drive shaft, floating freely. The only thing that holds it in is that when the drive shaft is in the running position, when the small gear shaft is in place the "clip" rides inside the gear. It actually makes me shudder to think that, that is all that keeps the whole works, the drive shaft and wheel and everything from falling off. But, I guess it is a good design as millions of vehicles are made that way. Actually if you get technical, the brake assembly would keep it all together but, it still gives me shivers thinking about it!

Anyway, we were able to get the wheel bearing and seal replaced and the Jeep is back on the road again. It has over 180,000 miles on it so it is just a matter of time until something else is going to have to be fixed. We just got this Grand Cherokee less than two years ago. Paid $2500 for it. But, not long after we got it we put in another $2000 in repairs. Fixing the wheel bearing myself saved hundreds of dollars in labor. Replacing the bearing and seal only cost $30, including new gear oil.

We also have a 94 Jeep Cherokee Sport that we bought new in 1994. It has been a great running and reliable machine all these years. But, it is rusting away now. The engine and drive train are fine it's just that before long there won't be any body left. This 97 Grand Cherokee is just the opposite. The body is in fine shape, but on this one it's the drive train that is falling apart. Oh, well.

We always wanted a Grand Cherokee but, have been disappointed with this one. It was a really nice vehicle in it's day being completely loaded with all the latest gizmo's. Electric everything! Sunroof, heated seats, even leather seats, the works. But, all that stuff is failing now. You'd better not open the sun roof if it looks like it could rain because you never know when you can get it closed again. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I don't know why they don't make simple cars anymore. Everything has to be all high tech now and computer controlled. I'll take reliability and easy to work on over bells and whistles any day!

I'm still looking into getting a livestock guardian dog to watch over our place. The kind I'd really like to get is a rare breed, which has some down sides. Since they are rare there is kind of an exclusive club you have to be in in order to acquire one. And they are expensive. And they require real good fencing. And lots of training. Being so rare and hard to come by makes them almost precious. I mean a lot can happen to an animal living out of doors and out in the elements. To have so much invested in one creature seems like a pretty big gamble. So I still hesitate at the rare breed though I think they are awesome dogs, just because of all the "what ifs" and possible things that can happen.

And one thing that does kind of makes me scratch my head about this kind of guardian dog is that the breeders all insist on good fencing. I'm not quite fully understanding. If the dogs are prone to roam then what makes them such good guardians if they are out away from the flock roaming the countryside? As with most of the breeds I've looked at they say they are independent animals, not like many of the other working breeds which are happiest being with people. The livestock guardian dogs don't necessarily come when you call them, they say. There is still a lot to think about. We do want to get our fences up to snuff however. For years we've been wanting to rebuild our perimeter fence. There is an existing one but, it has been in disrepair for many years. It was already weak when we got this place 20 years ago. Fixing it is going to be a big project with over a mile of ground to cover.

I've been kind of obsessed with getting another dog since our Siberian Husky died last year. I went out one morning and there he was laying in his usual napping spot but, this time he didn't get up to greet me. In his older age even the times he didn't get up he'd at least raise his head to acknowledge me. It looked like he just died in his sleep, which as far as that goes, I was glad for. I can't help but think that if he would have still been out there, the coyotes might not have been so bold last year when we lost all those chickens and turkeys.

I'll probably write more about my livestock guardian dog search later and get into more detail about the breeds. Probably after I actually acquire a dog since I don't like to speculate and write about a bunch of stuff I don't know about yet.

But, back to the topic of spring, it is nice to have the warmer days. Makes you feel like doing more outside. If it wasn't so nice out I probably wouldn't have fixed my Jeep myself. When it's cold out your fingers just freeze doing that kind of work.

However, I will miss the snow going away since I've been doing some snow shoeing this winter. I love trucking around out in the cedar bog. Being on snow shoes in the winter is the easiest way to get around out in the swampy area's. It's pretty wild out there and I really enjoy being out in it and exploring. There's still plenty of ground on our own property that I've never even set foot on.

Well, talking about the nice weather makes me wonder why in the world I'm inside right now on this silly computer. So on that note, I'll sign off here and head back outside.

Until Next Time