Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Today Is Leap Day ... Where Is Your Leap?

Today is Leap Day!  There is something a bit more uncommon that has occurred here lately ... the girls have library books due on February 30th.  Does this mean they are giving us the books?  Obviously, this day will never arrive.

Today has, however, and that means I need to draw a name for "A Field Guide To Medicinal Plants."  And the winner (drum roll, please) is Kate who posted:

"I was told over the past weekend that a Pennsylvania tapper who normally starts his taps at the end of February had already begun tapping for the year. So that would have been the end of January or the very beginning of February - at least a full month early. This weather is just so creepy! I really, really don't like it. Winter is too important to lose.

Please count me in for a chance at the book. It would be a great addition to our library. And thanks for doing another giveaway."

Kate, comment moderation is on, so please leave a message with your mailing address.  Congratulations, I hope it helps you on your own journey.

For those who entered, but did not win, please feel free to check the book out.  It does make a great addition to your library and learning.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Maple Sugaring 2012, Weekend 2

The sap flow has been growing stronger over the last few weeks.  It is probably not at full flow yet, but we had enough to boil down again today.  Last Monday, we boiled down the first of the season.  The first one was very experimental ... my engineers hat came out and I bought a new pan and an aluminum grate to put under the two pans.  Now, my engineering hat has wires on it ... I am an electrical guy.  It does not have gears and such (mechanical).  I can typically hold my own, but sometimes ... like last Monday.  Aluminum is not the metal of choice to use over a hot fire with nearly 100 lbs (45 kg) of pan and sap on it.  Here is the result.

Luckily, I did not lose 20 gallons (76 liters) of sap into my fire.  I moved the fire away from the center and continued to boil until I got reasonably far along.  Then, I let things cool off and reconfigure the boiling rig.

Of course, I was not terribly satisfied, but it got me through the process until I could bring things inside to finish it off.  The problems were two fold.  First, as you can see, the rig is only 16 inches (40 cm) tall with the pan hanging down into it.  This left about 10 inches (25 cm) of space to feed wood and to build the fire.  Clearly, it was too little space.  Additionally, I left a space between the pans for a chimney and fed the fire from both ends.  It was not ideal.  So, I reconfigured the rig before the burn today.  I added another layer of blocks and closed off one end leaving a space to act as a chimney.  I did use the chimney and a small roasting pan to pre-heat the sap before putting it into the big boiling pans.

When I bought my second pan, I estimated that I could boil off 5 gallons (19 liters) per hour.  With the new setup, which incidentally is a mock up of the outdoor kitchen that Wendy has been asking me to build, I was able to boil off an average 6 gallons (22.8 liters) per hour.  And, that was with only one pan really boiling well.  I estimate the rolling boil was evaporating about 1.5 time the other pan.  With that in mind, I think if I can get them both to boil, I can boil down 1 gallon (3.8 liters) of syrup in about 5 hours.  Today, the result will be about 3 quarts of syrup in the same 5 hours.

So, our total for the two burns will be just over 6 quarts, or 1.5 gallons (5.7 liters).  Oh, the syrup is a lovely dark amber color, not black like last year.  I got rid of the cast iron pre-boil pan.  It left a funny taste and color.  Take note of the maple sugar that has settled on the bottom of the jar.  This always happens in our process.  I know that I could, if I wanted, let the syrup cool and settle, filter it, re-heat it to just under boiling and then bottle it to eliminate it.  But, I like to scoop it out  and eat it when the jar is empty.

I look back and laugh at my mistakes over all of these years of experimentation on this MooseBoots path.  But, for the most part, the results have been sweet.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

And The Winner Of The Maple Sugaring Kit Is ... Re-Drawn

I heave not heard from BigSis.  As I mentioned in the original post, I would like to give the winner an opportunity to use the kit this year.  So, after a week of waiting, I drew a new name.  Without further adieu, the new winner is ... Stephanie, who commented on Feburary 5th at 11:48 AM.

I would love to try this! I've only had real Maple Syrup a few times and it really is delicious.

Stephanie, the clock is ticking.  Please leave me a comment on this post with your US mailing address.  If I do not hear from you by Feburary 29th, I will have to draw again.

Please remember, friends, that I have another give-away happening right now for "A Field Guide To Medicinal Plants".  Be sure to comment for a chance to win.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

And The Winner Of The Maple Sugaring Starter Kit Is .... Updated

On the first day of the give away, I wondered how much interest there would be.  I hoped that Joe,, would be satisfied with the number of entries.  It turns out that record, at least for my blog, numbers of you turned out and commented to enter.  I hope you will all continue to visit and share in my humble, bumbing journey down this MooseBoots path.

Also on that day, BigSis posted, this:

"This would be a great way to get started.we decided to tap our maples this year too.a friend introduced us to maple syrup last year.i cant wait"

This simple entry won her the starter kit!  Congratulations!  BigSis, post a comment on this post with your US shipping address.  I have turned on comment moderation for this.  Rest assured, I will not publish your comment.

Don't forget that on Leap Day, February 29th, I will be drawing the winner of Wendy's Uncle Arnold and Aunt Connie Krochmal's book A Field Guide To Medicinal Plants.  So, be sure to leave your comments, if you haven't done it yet.

Thank you all so much.

UPDATE:  I have not received a response from Bigsis.  In the interest of allowing the winner the opportunity to use the kit this season, if I have not heard from her by Tuesday, February 21 (one week from the drawing), I will draw a new winner.  If anyone knows her, let her know to get in touch soon.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Season Extension?

Today, I started my gardening.  Conventional wisdom dictates that I am way too early, even with the updated hardiness zone maps.  Perhaps I am, but it didn't stop me.  I guess I actually started a couple of weeks ago. 

Our indigenous ancestors here in the US, Europe, Africa, or wherever, lived where the food was.  Here in Maine, migrated with the seasons.  They live at the sea in the summer where shellfish were plentiful.  They lived further inland where large game animals herded together for the winter.  They frequented the shores of the rivers when the fish were spawning.  Perhaps, they too carried their food with them.  I am attempting a similar tactic - growing some food in our living space.  This is not really a first for us, we've grown jalapenos in the back window and Wendy is currently growing herbs, beet greens, and arugula in front of the back, south facing door and windows.

Three weeks ago, I attended a mushroom workshop with Gar, my mother.  At the workshop, we "seeded", inoculated really, bags of straw with blue oyster mushrooms.  We were told to let them sit in a cool dark place for a couple of weeks and then put them in an open sunny place to fruit.  It has been my intent to try and hang the bag in the window at the appropriate time.  Of course, this evening I did not have the correct things with which to accomplish the task.  As I was thinking and looking, Wendy and the girls were talking about competition tripods to hang costumes.  Perhaps their discussion planted its own seed in my brain.  I gathered some beaver sticks and a garden stake and a piece of barn rope to fashion a tripod.  I have made this type of thing before to hang pots over the fire in the front yard.  So, here is a picture of the bag and the finished product with the bag hanging.

The challenge, I find, in all of this is not necessarily how to go about solving the problems, but more about taking the time to find simple solutions to the tasks at hand.  My mind is quick to jump to modern technology when simple, handy solutions can more easily provide workable answers.  Ah, yet another lesson has been given on my amazing travels down this MooseBoots path.

Reminder:  Don't forget to enter for both of the give-aways if you haven't yet. 
The Maple Syrup Starter Kit (sorry, US addresses only), donated by will be drawn on Tuesday, Valentine's Day, February 14th. 
The "Field Guide To Medicinal Plants", written by Wendy's Aunt Connie and Uncle Arnold Krochmal, will be drawn on Leap Day, February 29th.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sugaring Update - And A New Give Away!

I had a reminder this week on my MooseBoots path that we, humans, do not really understand everything and certainly can not always predict what Mother Nature will throw at us.  While the sap did flow a bit over the week, it turns out that the meteorologists incorrectly predicted the temperatures, for the most part.  The temperatures slid back to more seasonal readings and so, the sap did not flow buckets (a bit of maple sugaring humor).  My sense of things is certainly off because of the abnormal weather this Winter.  It seems that I have succeeded, then, in tapping early in the season with very slow flow.  At least, I know I won't miss part of the season.

The forecast for the next 10 days again seems to indicate that the weather will be right for sap to flow.  We'll see.  In my limited experience, every season is a bit different.  Two years ago, the season was short.  Last year was longer, lasting about 5 weeks. 

Last year, Wendy and I inspired a few families to try their hands at back yard sugaring.  When I posted the book give away last week, I was contacted by Joe from  Joe has offered, in addition to answering any questions any of you may have about sugaring, to give away a starter kit.  The only restriction is that is ships to a US address because of the cost of shipping.  So, here is a chance for some of you to get started, or expand your operation.  To enter, please leave a comment.  Share this and get your friends to enter, too.  This is a very generous offer from  The winner will be selected on February 14th, generally accepted as a very sweet day, so that the winner can get started this season.

This is what the kit contains.
I am eager to begin collecting and boiling.   In spite of the fact that the Winter has been strange and short, this is such an incredible time of year, when Nature wakes up from her rest.  I am always amazed at how the universe provides everything we need, and a good deal of what we want, if we simply ask and appreciate the gifts that are given.