Wandering Cherry Meadow

A 3 Acre Homestead Renovation Project

Month: January 2017

Boiling Maple Sap to Syrup with a Thermometer – Maple Sugaring at Home Anywhere – Part 2

This is a continuation of Maple Sugaring at Home Anywhere – Part 1 where we covered the surprisingly simple process of how to collect sap from just about any maple tree.  Now, it’s naturally time to make that sap into syrup!  Sure, you could drink it straight, but who wants to read about maple watering when you could be maple sugaring?

The way I’ve decided to do this involves boiling inside a kitchen and using a thermometer to check the temperature.  I personally use a digital meat thermometer that I find works really well, but really I’m sure any kitchen thermometer is fine.  Sure, the kitchen is my mom’s instead of mine since I don’t have a hood or downdraft at the moment in my under construction kitchen to take care of the steam problems, but a kitchen is a kitchen!

Maple sap becomes maple syrup after boiling it to about 7 degrees over the temperature water boils in your area.  Since I’m about sea level, I boil the sap until it reaches 219 degrees since water boils at 212, though this can vary depending on where you are.  If you accidentally over boil it very slightly, say to 220 degrees, all is well, just know it’s likely not going to pour out through a filter, and it will have the consistency of thin honey.  Delicious, delicious honey.  It takes roughly 3 hours to boil 1 gallon of sap down in a giant pot.  It’s a great activity to do while making complicated or extravagant dinners.  There will be humidity as a result of the boiling, but processing in smaller batches doesn’t make this much of an issue even in the Pacific Northwest, though some people prefer to process their syrup in large batches or to boil their sap down enough to put it in containers until they’re ready to boil it down to syrup with more at a time for the final processing.  I personally do it in smaller batches until they’re completed since I like eating waffles with some freshly made maple syrup.

Now, I’ve read about a number of ways to do this, and most involved expensive equipment.  Namely, a refractometer.   While this probably works amazingly well, as someone who only recently started, I wanted to make sure I liked it and that it went well before I got involved in buying any materials I can’t use for anything else.  So!  Kitchen thermometer it was!

Too long; didn’t read version:

  1. Collect sap into a boil-friendly container
  2. Boil on stove or outdoor burner (for hours) until the temperature reaches 7 degrees above the boiling point of water
  3. Skim foam off while boiling whenever you notice it getting frothy
  4. Filter (if you didn’t over boil) through a coffee filter into a container.  If over boiled, just pour in and embrace the woody flavor.

Alright, now down to the details.

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Maple Sugaring at Home Anywhere – Part 1 – Sap Collection

I recently started making my own maple syrup at home in the Pacific Northwest, and it’s surprisingly easy to do and is one of the few hobby farming activities I’ve done that should pay for itself within a couple months.

I love maple flavored anything.  I always have, and I always will.  Since I was a small kid, when others had brown sugar in their oatmeal, I wanted maple syrup.  When I made snickerdoodles in college, the coating was always maple sugar.  When I decided to make my own sugar, the answer was naturally maple.

Previously, I had mistakenly believed you had to have a sugar maple and likely be in Vermont to have much luck in this adventure, but thanks to ignoring everything I read initially on the internet, I realized it wasn’t really that hard.  If you had any maple trees that weren’t dainty little dwarfs, you were probably fine.  I believe the tree I’m currently tapping is a Pacific Northwest native, the vine maple.  The tree is quite large compared to most vine maples in the area, and I suspect it’s quite old.  It also fortunately is directly next to my parent’s pond.  I’m not sure if it’s the amount of water it has access to, the fact it’s an old tree, or what, but despite everything I’ve read it typically gives 1-2 gallons of sap a day depending on weather conditions.  Keep in mind, boiled down to syrup, 1 gallon is only about 4 ounces of syrup or half a cup.  2 gallons is about 1 cup or 8 ounces.  This varies, of course, depending on the tree you’re using.

This post aims to go over how simple it is to start collecting sap.  All you really need is a spile, a bucket, a maple tree, and weather that’s below freezing at night and over freezing during the day.  The next will cover processing the sap without buying expensive equipment to measure sugar content.  While I think the below package is probably the most economical option I’ve found if you’re interested in 3 spiles and stainless steel setups, for those wondering if it’s right for you, I personally purchased a single bucket, lid, and spile (links below in read more – though know I have no love for the included book) from the same company for starting out.  That said, it works great, and hasn’t even blown out in our recent terrible winds!

 

Too long; didn’t read version

  1. Find a maple tree, the wider the trunk the better
  2. Wait for the weather to be freezing at night, above freezing during the day (PNW winter weather!)
  3. Drill a slightly upward aimed hole to fit your spile in the tree
  4. Tap your spile into the tree gently with a hammer
  5. Hang bucket on spile
  6. Check to see if bucket is full as frequently as you like,  but at least daily
  7. Boil sap until it’s syrup, skimming off foam if you don’t want it to taste woody
  8. Pour into container and refrigerate – or consume immediately if you have no self control like yours truly!

Materials for Maple Sugaring – The Economics

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Mama Heating Pad Brooder – Brooding Chicks Without A Heating Lamp

Aussie and Blue heating in to nap under mama heating pad.

My first year of raising chicks, I naturally didn’t have a broody hen to take care of raising chicks. Instead, I raised them indoors. Since it’s almost chick days at the local feed store, I thought I’d share what I did for their heating needs instead of using a heat lamp.

My original brooder box set up in an old water heater box.

After reading a number horror stories about heat lamp fires, heat lamps falling and killing the chicks, seeing the chicks trample each other under the heat lamps in feed stores, and hearing them chirp relentlessly since they didn’t have darkness to sleep comfortably, I decided I wanted to see if there was something else I could do. After searching around backyard chickens, I heard of something called an ecoglow brooder from brinsea.  It seemed like a great product that used radiant heat to warm up chicks hiding underneath like they would their mamas, but it was so expensive for such a small one!  I would likely need the $150 version for my chicks since I had 9 chickens and 4 ducks at the time, not to mention later when I needed to swap to another heating method for the ducks when their trampling ways became a problem I would have suffered the expense again.

So I decided I needed an alternative.  After searching the net, I eventually heard rumblings of people who used heating pads as brooders.  It seemed fairly simple.  People found a heating pad worked really well as long as it didn’t have the auto off function.  I personally purchased this sunbeam extra large heating pad because it was 1 ft x 2ft, making it plenty large to brood my chicks, it was under $20, and it didn’t have an auto-off function.  It also worked well using the highest setting for the first week, then medium.  On top of that, during the winter when my chicks were chickens, I used the same heating pad to help keep my water unfrozen when weather was under 20 degrees F in my barn.

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Converting an Empty Barn Stall into a Chicken Coop Using Recycled Wood

Since chick days are nearly here again, I’ve started thinking about how we built our chicken coop by converting a barn stall.  I know when I was originally planning my coop, I really wish I had seen more pictures of people who had larger coops and other converted stalls since I needed more inspiration, so I decided to share the love.  When we bought our house, we were fortunate enough to buy a property that had an old barn.  While it was unkept, mice were definitely living in the insulation around the roofing, only a single gutter that was half way down, and there was rot around a number of areas with a completely covered, leaky roof, it had good bones.  On top of that, there was also a spot near the garage where the former owners had cut a giant hole through the siding and placed a dog run.  Given that our dog is spoiled with walks, the run wasn’t really necessary, but it did provide us with free chicken fencing.

After weeks of research, purchasing a likely excessive number of chicken books and reading adamantly, having my husband beg and plead for me to wait longer despite my gluttony for fresh, organic, free range and pasture raised chicken eggs, I finally got chicks at the local feed store near the end of March.  Saving for the fact my Ameraucana actually lays brown eggs instead of blue, they were all good egg layers, healthy (with the exception of some very sickly silkie chicks I bought from a store I won’t go to again), and docile.  They were definitely more expensive than ordering from a hatchery online, but less expensive than going to the seemingly snooty hatchery in our area.  While I hope to find breeders locally for when I attempt raising meat birds, there weren’t any that I could find originally.

To be clear, I was aware buying chickens wasn’t going to save me oodles of money.  Just the start up costs alone (~$100 for chicks, feed, feeding containers, heating pads, etc, with roughly an additional $15-20 per chick to get it to the age of laying thanks to organic feed costs), was spending the equivalent of nearly a year’s worth of eggs at $5 a dozen, and since one happened to be a rooster he turned into a slightly expensive (albeit the most delicious broth I’ve ever made) dinner when he kept attacking the hens for sweet loving and me when I entered the coop.

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Kitchen Renovation Regrets – Decreasing Waste Renovating

My husband and I bought a delightful piece of property in February of 2016.  You’ll notice this blog post is dated January of 2017.  That’s right, it’s been nearly a year, so to give you some background, let me tell you a bit about our beautiful piece of property and the unfortunate things that rested inside.

Before I get on, though, I feel like I should include some useful advice from what we’ve learned since it’s a rather long post and all useful information will be buried inside.  Mainly, I have two bits of advice since they were things we did that my former contractor father found surprising and helpful.  We were fortunate enough to know someone who is super into recycling metal for his income, so we were able to recycle hundreds of pounds of metal from the old, broken appliances as well as the giant metal sink they had in place as well as nails and other assorted things.  I also used the tresses to make my chicken’s roost in their coop.  Most areas have people who recycle metal near them, so definitely look that up if you’re doing a major remodel.  Second, thanks to craigslist, some strangers picked up all the cabinets and the questionable countertop that went with them, including the ones severely damaged from water, mice teeth, and fire.  They were mainly going to be used in people’s shops, which is a good second use for old cabinets.

I gave them away for free, but in hindsight I likely could have charged something as well.  My dad was just glad we were able to avoid taking them to the landfill, saved hundreds in dump fees not to mention the time we saved, and shocked people would want the old cabinets.  I was grateful that since I wasn’t charging anything that when people flaked out,  I left unclaimed cabinets outside under the porch without guilt and strangers came by and picked them up for me.

Now, back to our main focus!

Our house is on a lot just under 3 acres.  Where we live (the greater Seattle area), this is nearly impossible to find anymore without handing the seller your bank account access information and giving them permission to take whatever they want for the rest of your life.  We were fortunate enough to get it for a fairly reasonable price given it was a bank foreclosure after spending half a year looking for a property, offering on many, and failing to get a reasonable price every single time.  That said, we also live in one of the few remaining rural communities in our area that still has fairly easy freeway access.  While the commute is definitely less than ideal for my poor husband who has since started working in Seattle rather than the Eastside, it’s still not terrible considering we love our home.

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