Thursday, March 28, 2019

Maple syrup season 2019!

It's that time again.  It's Maple Syrup Season!

I spent the last couple weeks gathering sap from our Box Elder trees again this year.  I was very curious as to whether this year's batch would taste any different from last year's batch.  My gut was telling me there would be a slight variation simple because it's natural.  And natural things often vary due to a multitude of variables.

The weather was perfect for sap flow from the 3rd week of February through the 2nd week of March.  For sap to flow...temperatures need to go below freezing at night and then rise back up to around 40 degrees during the day.  Which is exactly what happened during the dates listed above...and hence why also you can't make maple syrup year round.  It's a Spring also a Native American inspired phenomena.  Native Americans used to make maple syrup as a source of sugar.  Brilliant!!

Honey on the other hand was a European thing.  Honey bees are not native to America...but I'll get into that in another post.

So after starting with ten plus five gallon food grade buckets like this....

(Which by the way, hauling five gallon buckets full of sap is no easy chore.  I can't imagine the heavy lifting required at those MONSTER maple syrup farms up north in Michigan.)
And just in case you were wondering, sap looks just like water...but if you taste's slightly sweet...sort of like a sugar water.

Last year I started the boiling process with around 25 gallons of sap.  Ended up with twelve 8 ounce jars of syrup.  This year I started with around 50 gallons of sap and yep you guessed it, ended up with twenty-four 8 ounce jars of syrup.

It took about 12 hours of outdoor boil time to get things down to syrup consistency and then about 2 more hours indoors to finish the process.  Lots of wood, lots of patience and a love of the outdoors and the smell of wood burning goes a looong way in this process! 

 The indoors process...the final hour of boiling. When the sap reaches 219 degrees you're done!

Interestingly, because I use sap from the Box Elder tree and not a Silver Maple, my finished syrup doesn't really have a mapley flavor...but rather more of a sugar syrup flavor with maybe a mild sorghum like taste to it.  The BEST part to me's all natural syrup!!  No unknown crap added.  Just straight up, boiled down Box Elder tree sap.

I'm not sure it's really worth all the effort and energy and time to do all this...but...the process of it all is pretty cool.  And yet another hobby farm skill I have going for me now.  I know how to make my own maple syrup!!

Two years in a row...and surprisingly...this year's batch tastes JUST like last year's batch!  Who knew!


Cluttery mess inspired creation!

Like many people....our clothes washer and dryer are in the basement. most basements, not a lot of functional in no useful shelving or user friendly functionality.  So, the norm has been piles of dirty laundry on the floor awaiting a good wash and dry, fold and put-away.

I got tired of the mess and started looking for possible solutions.  And I came across this!!

Pinterest is my general "go-to" for inspirational ideas...and naturally I love to adapt these ideas to solve the various conundrums that surface in my daily life.  (I have also learned that just because it looks cool on Pinterest doesn't mean it actually works as described.)

So I took this idea (note the type of laundry basket in the pic above...too small of baskets for my taste...and viola...wal-mart to the rescue...turns out they now make a taller version of this same basket.  PERFECT!) and ran with it.

I also wanted to build something to somewhat custom fit into the space we had next to our washer and dryer.  (If it wasn't going to fit the space why bother? ya know!)

A visit to Lowe's for some lumber...and an afternoon free to build and POOF!  My solution to no more piles of clothes on the basement floor. YEAH!!

Time will tell whether my idea is utilized as envisioned.  But regardless I'm super stoked as to how this turned out!!!

I get so tired of "working space that doesn't really work" onward and upward to solutions that work!!!  Hurray Pinterest for another fantastic inspirational idea!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Ode to Jinx, rest in peace my little friend.

I'm very sorry to have to relay this here and include this post.  Have been stalling because I don't really want to write this.

But Jinx (my black and white cat buddy) passed away recently.  What a "legacy" Jinx left behind!  Full of spunk and spit and brimstone that one was. 

From day one when I found Jinx as a the very end of her days...she was hard-headed and loaded with personality.  When she was young and full of energy you never knew what she was gonna do next.  In fact, I had to sleep with a spray bottle next to me because she took great pleasure in jumping on my chest when I was sound asleep.  I'd fly up out of the bed, yell her name and blast her with water.  It was a BIG GAME to her!

When I first got took me quite a while to settle on a name for her.  Then I came across this GI Joe action figure...a female ninja.  This was the card description and fit her to the T:

"Jinx studied and competed in three forms of martial arts from the time she was seven until she graduated from Bryn Mawr. Upon arriving in Japan for a vacation, she discovered that her family had been ninjas for generations and she was officially initiated into the clan. Jinx was recruited for the Joe team by Snake-Eyes.
Don't underestimate Jinx. She has been to the Secret Mountain and studied the Seven Silent Forms with the Blind Master. She has the Eye That Pierces, the Iron Hand and the Heart That Waits. She can see through your deception, batter aside your defenses and dazzle you with the strength of her will."

No, DO NOT underestimate this cat! And she most certainly would dazzle you with the strength of her will!  That was the T.  So Jinx became her name.

As Jinx got a little older she developed a fetish with water.  And earned herself the nickname "lily dipper" depicted in this photo.  Any glass of water left unattended became her drink before too long.

Other nicknames she had were "darkness" and "jinkee."  (Our newest cat addition in the house was named after her..."darkness junior" or "DJ.  He is VERY much like Jinx was when she was younger. I'll talk about him later).

When in Tennessee she LOVED to mess with lizards.  One day I forgot to close the door that led downstairs to the garage and came home to this...tail-less little fella.  He was still alive but when I picked him up and put him outside....I said...."Now that you've experienced a little bit of what can happen to you when you come inside...I suggest you run and never return."  Seemed to work...I never saw him again.

She also loved to hang out on my computer monitor...literally.   I think it was another way to "intrude" and "impede" upon what I was doing in order to get a rise out of me...but in time I just left her be and she'd actually fall asleep in this position.  I imagine it was warm up there too.

Like every cat...Jinx loved boxes.  She loved to just lay in a box.  One day, the kids made her this box and she slept in it for hours and hours. 

You could always count on Jinx messing with stuff you didn't want her messing with.  So one day...we tested this theory.  Had some scrabble tiles laying around and take a look at what happened next.  Yep, caught in the act!! JINXEE!!!!  Apparently she could READ!!

She was never really a fan of any other cat.  Sort of a punk.  Didn't really make friends...but was pretty much the jerk (hence the nickname "Darkness"....she certainly had a dark streak).  Here's an example.  Here she is ninja-chopping it with Lito.  Jinx wasn't very nice...I guess that was the ninja in her. Hah!

Needless to say...Jinx definitely made a name for herself. She was a good buddy for me when I lived in Tennessee and so we've opted not to bury her here in Ohio....but rather had her cremated so she can be taken back to Tennessee.

Here's one of the last pictures taken of Jinx. She was always good for a selfie!

Rest in Peace Jinx.  You are missed!!

Jinx Dickson, 2008-2019

Monday, March 25, 2019

One great idea...always leads to the next problem to solve

I've mentioned here before that we live in the middle of wild-kingdom.  What do I mean by that?  Well last summer and fall through a process ...I started with a hunting camera in the barn to "discover" what all predatory animals were coming around trying to take out my chickens.

I have countless photos of various possum and raccoon and the occasional wild cat that milled in and around the barn each night. (I was leaving the barn door open at night primarily for air flow/circulation).

So...I came up with a plan to live-trap these various predators and ....eliminate the problem.  (I'm not going to say here what the specific plan for elimination I don't incriminate myself...but it was successful)

I think I caught no less than 4 possum and the biggest raccoon I've ever seen!  (took both hands to carry to trap with that buggar in it...I bet he weighed 40 pounds)

But after removing something like 5 or 6 of these camera was still capturing photos of MORE.  So apparently...if you have chickens...the rodents will sniff them out...and there is a unlimited supply of these said visitors. 

I realized at this point...I was fighting a futile battle.  um duh!  Why not close the barn up at night?  Wouldn't THAT solve the problem??

Well yes it did...for a while....

stay tuned for the rest of the story


Operation Mouse Removal!
So here's the problem with closing your barn off at night.  Yes in fact it does eliminate the problem of rodents killing your chickens at night.  But....nothing can hunt the mice in the barn either.

Huh...who knew? Wild cats... raccoons and possum do help with keeping the mice population under control.  Close up the barn...and POW...out-of-control-mice-O-RAMA!

The fix of one problem seems to always lead to another problem that you don't see coming.

So...enter...Operation Mice Witness Relocation program.

I've killed many-a-wild-thing in my life...and it's not really fun...regardless the reason.  I needed to come up with a way to catch LOTS of mice all at one time.  One at a time wasn't going to cut it.

There is a five gallon bucket method that is quite successful but I'm not really interested (at least for now) in drowning these little pests.

So I found some metal box type live traps.  Cost me $12 bucks on amazon.  (figures I've since found the same exact thing at wal-mart for $7 bucks.)

Mice running into the woods upon release
I bought 2 of these traps.  Figured...the more the merrier.  I put 2 saltine crackers in each one loaded with peanut butter and place against a wall in the barn.  So far I've probably caught 30 mice over a period of 6 days.  Relocated them to a somewhat nearby woods.  Have at-em hawks and fox and such!!!


The barn definitely feels different with less mice crawling around to leave their diseases lurking for my chickens.

Hip Hip HURRAY less mice around today!!!!

zippity bippity boppity POO!

It's official. Zippy isn't a hen. I realized this last October...and yes in the spirit of catching up the blog here on all things groovy and what's been going down....I thought I'd just start where I left off.

Zippy is a full grown adult male rooster! He's beautiful...and yet...there's much ruckus in the barnyard on a daily basis because Black-beard (his daddy) is the boss of the town.  Roosters as a rule don't get along...per the competition of course.  But fortunately Zippy is fast and is a runner! This will fare well for Zippy living...Black-beard killed the last rooster we had.

After my disappointment of my one-and-only hatched egg from my incubator turning out to be a male...I decided...maybe...if something happens to Black-beard...that Zippy will be a good replacement.  So I guess he's become the backup rooster. The plan B.

After all...we live in the middle of wild kingdom...and thus far Black-beard has proved to be a great "watch-dog" for the hens when it comes to predators.  I'm hoping that Zippy will learn this trait of "watch-dogging" and might could be a solid stand in were Black-beard to die for one-reason-or-another. as a hobby farmer.