It’s Maple Syrup time

Monday and Tuesday, March 2nd and 3rd, I put in 116 taps.  Here is a picture of bucket on a Maple tree and a close up of a bucket.  This is the old fashioned way to make syrup.  I have over 150 gallons of sap collected and stored in garbage cans on the ground.  Tomorrow, Friday, March 5, we will boil for the first time this year.  The sap stays fresh for 3-4 days so you have to boil when you can.  I’ll post pictures.  The first picture is our system.  It is 2 flat pans.  I put sap into the first pan and use two soft copper tubes to siphon sap into the larger pan.  This way we do not lose the boil in the big pan.

The next picture is of the wood fire that boils the sap.  We got 3 gallons of syrup on Friday.  We boiled Mnday and will boil Tuesday also.

Ice Skating – on the pond and in the woods

One of the best projects we did was putting in a pond.  We fish and swim in it in the summer and ice skate on it in the winter.  When our son was growing up I had the week between Christmas and New Years off work.  We usually ended up skating for 6 to 8 hours a day.  My wife would often come out for a couple of hours but most of the time our son and I played hockey, or at least our version of it.  We would scrape the snow off to make a rink and put our boots at the ends for goals.  When you do not skate at all and then go skate for 6 to 8 hours a day strange things happen.  After the first day putting on your skates is agony.  Your ankles are swollen and stiff.  After falling down as often as we did your whole body is sore and bruised. After about 15 minutes or so things start to get loose and off you go.  I could always skate the fastest but our son could turn better than I.  From when he was around 12 until when he left home the games were pretty competetive and by the time he was in high school they were knock down drag out battles.  It is amazing how spectacular the falls on ice can be.  One year my wife was drying my sons pants from the day before and he went to get them in his underware.  He had a entire hip bruise that was purple with a greenish hue.  Over the past 3 days he had probably fallen on it probably 20 times.  That was the end of the hockey for the year.  One time I slipped and the first thing to hit the ice was my face.  It split the skin above my eye and stunned me.  If you have ever seen blood spread in water or on ice you know a little goes a long way.  By the time I came around there was a 2 to 3 foot halo around my head and our son was getting excited.  It was shortly determined that stiches were nor required and my glasses could be bent back in shape so we finished the game.  I can only remember one time that anyone joined us.  A friend had heard me talking and he showed up one Saturday.  We were going at it and he did that thing that you can only do on ice where your entire body is suddenly 3 feet above the ice.  He sounded like a melon on concrete when he hit.  He ended crawling on his hands and knees the entire way to where his cat was parked and left.  Pond hockey is not for the faint of heart.

Part of our woods is low ground.  The trees are mostly soft maple and it has standing water for probably 8 month of the year.  Usually the water will freeze and as the water soaks into the ground there will be a suspended layer of ice about 1 inch thick.  We would have fun going back and walking on this.  You would break through.  It sounded great and on a sunny day as the ice fragments shattered and sparkled in the sunlight it was neat.  Every few years the ice would freeze 3 to 5 inches thick and then we could skate on the ice.  Ice in the woods is really different.  As the water underneath would soak into the ground the ice would sag.  Where ice on a pond is level, in the woods it would often vary by an inch or more.  There are lots of things sticking up through the ice in a woods.  Pieces of wood and objects that were floating in the water, stumps, sticks and a bunch of other things. If your skate hits one of these it usually stops and the rest of you continues on resulting in a face plant.  Where the game on the pond was hockey, in the woods the game was tag.  There are trees, bushes and little islands to dodge around all of which make tag fun.  You can be ripping along and grab a sapling.  This lets you make a right angle or better turn at top speed.  I could not go as fast as on the pond because of all the things in the way and our turning ability was evened out by grabbing on to things so the tag games were pretty close.  The trouble with grabbing on to something to turn was it took practice and that was when you were most likely to hit whatever it was that was sticking up through the ice.  There is a lot more to get hurt on when you fall in the woods.   We would walk back in our boots, build a fire – you always have to have a fire – and skate the day away.  It was so beautiful especially if it was snowing or a really sunny day that highlighted the frost on everything. I always figured it was like being inside of one of those little water domes that has a scene and fake snow in it. 

We would always keep a look out when we saw a garage or yard sale for ice skates.  We have a box of skates in the basement that go from a toddler with two blades to a size 12.  If you don’t care about color we can put you in skates.  As the grandkids get older hopefully we will be skating again.

Wood cutting and tree triming

My goal for this past week was to finish cutting the wood to heat the house next year.  I have always cut one year ahead so the wood has time to dry.  As a note it is not being in the sun that drys wood it is having wind blow over it.  I stack the wood behind the barn so it gets both sun and wind.  Wood Pile Pictured you can see one years wood and the end of another stack started behind it.  Monday I cut two loads across the road and started to bring them home.  The tractor started stalling out and I figured the battery terminals were loose.  I ended up replacing one termenal after I got the first load home.  While I was in the field bringing  the second load up the tractor died and I could not get it running.  From the way it stalled I figure there is a short or wire loose somewhere.  I plan on getting a test light and seeing if I can fix it.  I ended up getting the neighbor to tow the tractor and trailer loaded with wood home on Wednesday night.  He has a 97  Ford Bronco, which is not all that big of a vehicle so I was surprised he could do it.  My tractor is an Allis Chalmers CA made in 1957.  It is a small tractor and has about 20 housepower.  The beauty of an old tractor like that is that they are simple and even I can fix most of what goes wrong.  With the two loads I got Monday I have about 3/4 of the wood cut for next year.

Since I could not cut wood the rest of the week I trimmed trees.  We have a lot of Oak trees that are growing at the edge of the woods.  Oaks need sunlight to sprout and grow so they do best on the woods edge where they can get sunlight.  The problem is they get branches down low on the tree because there are not alot of other trees around forcing them to grow straight and tall to get sunlight.  I went around and trimmed 10 to 15 trees that were 3 to 5 inches in diameter.  I cut off all the branches except for the top 2-3 feet of the tree.  This should make it so as the tree grows it will have straight sections with no branches.  This makes the tree worth more for lumber.

Bucket list…

I was talking to a friend the other day about our bucket lists – that list of things you want to do before you die. I have done several things on my bucket list.

The first is living where we do. This is the 6th place we have lived and we have been here for 26 years. Before we lived here I would imagine what my ideal home would be like. I wanted a house and 10 acres. We bought this place at auction and originally we had 40 acres. We were able to afford it because the house, though it was sound, had not been lived in for 7 years. The last stove in the house had been a wood cook stove, the plumbing was cast iron that had frozen and split, the wiring was single strand with ceramic, there was mold an inch thick on the basement walls and some of the windows were boarded up. We lived in a 8 ft by 38 ft 1957 mobile home for 6 months while we fixed the place up. We replumbed, rewired, new heating system, all new ceilings on the first floor and refinished 600 sq ft of hardwood floors. The heating system was the result of a lot of research and will maintain a 90 degree difference between the out side and inside of the house, within a 2 degree range for 8 hours on one loading of the furnace. We were later able to buy the 50 acres across the road. We make Apple Cider in the fall and Maple Syrup in the Spring. I think we live in a wonderful place.

1st day strips

Another item on my list was a woodstrip canoe.  We had a Wild Cherry tree come down in the woods. I got two logs out of it. The first one was 20 ft long and was 29 inches at one end and 25 inches at the other. The second log was 25 inches to 19 inches and 15 ft long. We had a fella with a portable sawmill come out and cut them into boards. At that time I decided I wanted to build a wood strip canoe. Seven years later after reading several books I decided it was time. The book had offset tables for the molds. I built the strongback and made the molds, planed and cut the boards into strips. Then I planed the strips and coved and beaded them. The strips were then put on the molds and clamped and glued together. The canoe has 4 mils of fiberglass on the outside and inside. Every piece of wood in the canoe including the paddle was a tree in our woods at one time. Including making the molds to finish the project took 100 hours.dozer

Another bucket list project was the new pond. When we had been here a couple of years we had a 1/3 acre pond put in. That was a great decision as we have swam in it and skated on it for years. I watched as the pond was put in and figured that if I had a dozer I could put in a pond. 20 years later I had the chance. I bought the dozer in the picture and started in. The guy I bought the dozer from told me I would be 50 hours into the project and wonder what I was doing. He was exactly right. I had about 70 hours of time on the dozer before it started to look like a pond. The pond took 120 hours to put in. It is 1.25 acres. That is slightly larger than a football field. The only real problem – other than almost getting the dozer buried in mud once – was that I lost the seal for the cylinder that maintains hydraulic pressure for the left track. The dozer was big enough that it took a special permit to move it on the road so it was best to fix it on site. I could not find anyone that would work on it at their shop or help me fix it. I had the technical manual so I ordered the seal and went to work. I worked on the dozer out in the middle of the field by the pond. I had to crack the track and drive the dozer out of the track. I borrowed at 3/4 in. drive socket set and pulled the idler (big wheel the front of the track goes around) out of the undercarriage and then pulled the hydraulic cylinder. The cylinder was too heavy for me to lift so I borrowed an engine lift, rigged up a rope sling and jacked it out. When I weighed it up at the house the cylinder weighed 190 pounds. I replaced the seal and put it all back together. It worked just fine. It took me and around 10,000 misquitos working in the evenings after work about 3 weeks to do the repair.  After the pond was in I sold the dozer for what I bought it for. The biggest thing I had driven before this was a UHaul truck one time when I helped someone move. By the end I got pretty good with the dozer. Fuel, oil, grease and parts I have about $2,500 in the pond.

I am happy to get to post an item from my wifes bucket list.  She had always talked about a play house they had in the back yard when she was a little girl.  Last summer she and I built a play house for the granddaughters.  We had looked around and determined that any house we bought would not be what we really wanted.  All the framing for the project is Hard Maple 2x4s that came from a tree in the woods.  As you can see it fit under one of our English Walnut trees perfectly.

The most important thing about fulfilling my bucket list has been a great wife. She has been willing to live in the midst of chaos and have faith that the goal will be accomplished. How many wives would live in a 1957 mobile home that cost $300 for 6 months or let you spend a bunch of money on a huge piece of machinery?

Wood cutting…

I cut wood for the furnace last week.  We have wood as our main heat source with a high efficiency propane backup.  Last winter we used under 30 gallons of propane.  I cut just over 8 cords a year.  A cord is 4 ft. wide 4 ft. tall and 8 ft. long.  I cut my logs 20-24 inches long instead of the standard 16 inches because that is what the furnace will take.  Last Wednesday I had dropped a tree and as I was cutting it up I noticed there was a sapling that had been caught and bent over as the tree fell.  I thought to myself, I should watch that, as I cut it and it came up and hit me in the face.  When you have been outside in the cold it is hard to tell how badly you are hurt because your skin is cold.  First thing I did was yank off my glove to check if I still had all my teeth.  When I determined I had not lost any teeth I started checking for bleeding.  The sapling turned my upper lip wrong side out as it went up my face.  The inside of my upper lip ended up black and blue and my upper lip was pretty swollen.  My glasses were knocked off and I had to walk back to the house to get another pair of glasses so I could find the ones I had been wearing.  Ended up I found my glasses and finished the load.  God has always watched out for me while I have been cutting.  I don’t think you will find many people who have cut wood for as long as I have or in the quantity I have who have never had a serious incident.  I admittedly have banged myself up several times.

I went rabbit hunting…

I went rabbit hunting for the first time this year. We got 4 inches of snow last night so they were sitting tight. I missed 1 shot and the fella that came out had his gun jam twice. As he put it – If this was what we depended on we’d be hungry. We have 3 weeks of wood in the basement so we’ll be keeping warm. Let it snow. The pond I put in 3 years ago is really filling nicely. We were walking on it today. It is an acre – as big as a football field.

I have been clearing snow off the ponds to let sunlight get to the plants in the pond.  If you do not do that you risk having plants die which can result in a fish kill.  The ice under the snow is as smooth as glass.  If I had the time and energy we could have great skating.  If our son still lived at home we would be playing hockey.  We used to do that when he was younger.  The new pond would be fantastic for skating because it is so big.

Maple Syrup

We went and bought Maple Syrup supplies today.  Glass jars 8oz, plastic jugs quarts, lables and extra caps.  We will tap sometime in March.  We do about 100 taps.  It takes around 40 gallons of sap to boil down to a gallon of syrup.  Last year we made 15 gallons of syrup.  As you can see our set up is pretty basic.  What you are seeing is a flat pan.  The pan rests on angle iron on top of the cement blocks.  The fire is inside the metal sheeting under the pan.

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