Monday, April 14, 2014

Birch Brewing

We ended up with about 2 gallons of maple syrup.  As quickly as the season came, it went.  As you know, I like to try new things.  So, rather than put the equipment away, I tapped a birch tree for the first time.

Birches flow differently than maples.  I am not sure what temperature range they like, but as soon as I tapped the tree, the sap poured out.  In fact, in 24 hours, we had collected 5 gallons of sap.  If we were to boil this down to syrup, it would take 100 gallons of sap to make a gallon of the sweet stuff.

So, true to my nature, willing to stumble along and make mistakes, I decided to try brewing it. 

Tonight, I made 3 gallons of birch beer using a traditional recipe from Stephen Buhner's book, Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers (well mostly).  After which point, I made 1 gallon of Mugwort-infused birch beer.  And, just for fun, I made 1/2 gallon of birch, freezer berry wine (11%) and 1/2 gallon of birch, freezer berry mead (10%). 

The last were made following (sort of) the recipe I posted here.  I boiled 1 quart of berries in birch sap and let it cool.  Then, I added sugar to half and honey to the other half.  Presto!

Here's hoping that some of this turns out good!  Regardless, I have learned something new ... and isn't that the point of these MooseBoots excursions?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The End Of Winter

As I wend along this MooseBoots path, I find a comforting rhythm.  The seasons ebb and flow into one another with slightly different nuances at each passing.  It has seemed like a very long Winter at the expense of the Spring.

We tapped the maples back in February, the sap flowed for a few days.  The weather turned cold, the sap stopped.  It has dripped in fits and starts.  We have finally achieved having both enough sap and time for a boil.  Thus far, we have only 3 pints of syrup put up for the year.  We still have ~60 gallons of sap left to boil, but the buds on the trees are getting bigger (my primary gauge) and the weatherman (my backup data) is forecasting increasingly warmer days.  I fear the season is all but over.  It is strange collecting sap and not boiling until April.  In spite of it all, we are so grateful for the abundant offering nature gives.  We gladly accept.

Last year was a year for the bees.  We spent a bit more effort with them.  We purchased a package again to put in one of the hives. We caught a swarm at a friend's home and installed them in a hive that I built.  And, we caught a swarm at our home and put them in a hastily purchased hive.  Each Spring, around this time, we check to see if the hive(s) survived.  We figured our odds were better this Winter because we started out with three hives instead of one. 

We watched with excitement in February as the bees from one hive took a purging flight (they hold their excrement all Winter until it is warm enough to leave the hive).  We continued to watch each hive for signs of life.  The Yellow hive, which contained bees purchased from Tennessee or Georgia, show no signs of life.  The Gray hive bubble with bees on that warm day and have continued to show signs of life each warm day since.  The Green hive, the swarm we caught here at home, shows signs of life, but we only ever saw one or two bees.  We weren't sure it survived.

Last week, we unwrapped the Yellow hive and removed most of the remaining honey.  We left some for the bees in the Gray hive to come and take.  Yesterday, I unwrapped the other two.  I did not open the Gray hive, which is obviously alive and well, but I was curious about the Green hive, which we were unsure of.  I slowly removed bar after bar finding only empty comb and dead bees, until ... I decided to take a look at the other end of the hive, where I had put the swarm into the hive.  I started lifting a bar and saw movement.  Of course, I took a better second look and decided to leave it ...  THEY ARE ALIVE, too!

We have noted over the past few days that the two, of three, hives that survived were started with bees (swarms) from Maine, while the one that died, was not.  Perhaps there is nothing to it, but the strongest hive last Fall was the Yellow hive, which had the longest time for preparation for Winter.  The Green hive had only from July until the cold to build comb, store honey, and seal the hive.  Yellow hive had a full 2 months longer.

I am not sure of the strength of the Gray hive, but the Green colony is very small.  Of course, they should be able to fill the rest of the hive given that we should see pollen soon.  The maples will flower and the pines will release their pollen.

There is so much to learn.  And, Nature seems to be so willing to teach, if only we take the time to slow down.  In the words of Dan Tyminski and  Avicii, " ... there are endless roads to re-discover ...".

May you feet find the path your hearts seeks!