February 2021 = Maple Syrup Prep!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Well, it’s the best we can do while it’s freezing cold and snow’s covering everything because… we tapped our sugar maple trees. Yep, walked around and lightly struck each tree. Maple syrup coming soon: by which I mean in a month.
Nothing moves quickly out here, which I am on board with, as everyone who has ever emailed me can attest (shout out to the readers who emailed me in August and received a reply last week… oh, I’m killing it).
If you’ve ever purchased a bottle of “Real Vermont Maple Syrup” and wondered why it cost $500, I will tell you: it takes 79 discrete steps and 24 hours of work to produce a single quart of maple syrup. I exaggerate… or do I?
The sap of sugar maple trees–what genuine syrup’s made from–only flows when it’s above freezing during the day and below freezing at night. You have to hit this temperature vector just right in order to get sap from your trees. It warmed up enough in late February to merit tapping and away we went.
To start the process, Mr. FW and Kidwoods pulled out the tap line and inserted it into the sap collection tank, then drilled small holes and hammered teensy taps into 24 of our sugar maples. Propelled by the best free labor there is—gravity—the sap flows down the blue tubes into our sap collection tank where it sits until…. we have time to pump it into a barrel, cart it over to our Vermont Evaporator Company evaporator and boil it into sweet, sweet syrup. Not pictured: Littlewoods, who was enjoying a tantrum in the sled and did NOT want to be part of tree tapping day. That is, until we walked back home and she piped up, “So we have pancakes now?”
Tubing vs. Buckets: A Maple Sap Debate
Tubing is the less glamorous, less picturesque, more efficient way to collect sap. All ye olde images of sugaring include iconic metal buckets hanging ‘neath taps on trees, with a ye olde horse pulling a cart in the middle distance.
That is all very historical and lovely, but it’s also a lot more work. You have to go check your buckets daily to ensure no squirrels have fallen in and then you have to empty the buckets into your tank by hand.
Although far less ye olde and photo-worthy, tubing works well for us since we’re blessed with sugar maples on a slope. Hence, gravity does the work for us. Always a fan of making gravity pull its weight.
Now we wait for our sap collection tank to fill. We haven’t had many runs yet–technical terminology for when the sap flows–as its been too cold.
Craving more maple syrup content? Apparently I got really excited about it a few years ago and went overboard. Enjoy:
- Drink Whiskey, Look at Stars, Make Maple Syrup
- How We’re Preparing To Make Maple Syrup
- This Month On The Homestead: Maple Trees, Maple Sap, Maple…
Welcome to my series documenting life on our 66-acre Vermont homestead, which we moved to in May 2016 from urban Cambridge, MA. Wondering about the financial aspects of rural life? Check out: City vs. Country: Which Is Cheaper? The Ultimate Cost Of Living Showdown as well as my monthly expense reports. Contemplating going rural? Here ya go: Want To Move To The Country? 15 Things To Consider.
It’s Ok To Be Grumpy
My days sometimes drip down between floorboards of repetition. How many times can I wipe the same countertops? How many times do I have to do the same laundry?
The pandemic lurched us into a loop of making avocado sandwiches, serving avocado sandwiches, sweeping up the crumbs, washing the avocado-soaked clothes, then buying more avocados. There are glimmers of difference in our days–like the other day when I nearly impaled myself while loosing an icicle from the barn roof to pacify my children.
There are moments of splendor–like my daily solo hike and evening cocktail with my husband. There are instances of hilarity–like when I was upstairs working the other morning and heard Kidwoods complain to Mr. FW that her sister, “hit me like I usually hit her!” It’s a wondrous, exhausting experience and I can be both things.
I can be grateful for my awesome kids, my husband who splits the wood and the household labor with me, my health, where we live. And I can also be tired and bored of the nonstop sameness that very much is parenting and very much is the isolation of a pandemic.
I refuse to be all one or the other. No one is all one or the other. We are all a nuanced mix. So let’s find the splendor in the sameness and feel the gratitude of the nonstop avocados. And also acknowledge that IT IS OK to be frustrated and grumpy and annoyed. It is all ok.
Mr. FW executed a wood reload last month. This entails loading the tractor bucket with wood from the wood shed, driving it up to the porch, and stacking it on the porch wood rack.
From the porch, this firewood–harvested and split by Mr. FW–travels into the house, where it keeps us warm. We appear on target to burn circa three cords this winter, which is our average. This has been your wood movement update.
A Good (?) Activity
If you live in a snowy climate and do not have a garage, a great activity is to have your small children try to clear snow off of your cars.
This takes a long time, shovels are involved and you might even accomplish something by the end of it.
Self-Care: NO PROBLEM
I want you to know I’ve got self-care on lock. Here I am with one niblet snuggled into my cardigan (pro tip: buy a size too big so at least one kid can fit in there with you), while the other niblet scales the chair she and her sister have managed to pick apart over the last five years.
We considered repairing this chair, looked down at our kids and agreed, “maybe when they’re ten.” But what bliss: me on a Sunday afternoon in February, reading my book, drinking a beer, eating chips and snuggling a child. Yes, the crumb situation was dire and yes, I had to re-read the same paragraph 17 times, but let’s be honest, I did that all through grad school anyway.
My life is not a pastel-hued glamour shot. My hair hasn’t been cut in two years and when it was cut? My husband was my hairdresser. Every stick of furniture you see was either free from the side of the road or bought used off Craigslist. And to be honest? I probably should’ve gotten a larger cardigan since the other child moved in shortly after this picture was taken. Telling parents to “take time for yourself,” and “remember to relax,” and “calm down, people have been parenting forever” is some straight-up toxic positivity.
Yes, I would love to recline on a couch solo with a book. Also, bathing alone would be lovely. So no, I’m not here to tell you to “remember self care,” because you would do it if you could. Instead, I’m here with my imperfect, hole-ridden life to salute you in whatever state you find yourself.
What Was Your Best 15 Minutes?
The best 15 minutes of my day: helping Kidwoods build this ridiculously complicated marble run, then dropping a million marbles down it all at once, which (predictably) caused it to break apart and us to fall apart giggling.
Not pictured: the little sister who earned a time-out after shredding the marble run instruction booklet.
When confronted with the booklet (which kinda looked like someone had chewed on it?) her response was, “hello!” What was your best 15 minutes today?
After moving here, we had solar panels mounted on our barn roof. My full write-up on the panels is here and I include a solar update in this series. This is the only way for me to remember that: a) I have solar; b) you all would like to be updated on it.
In February, we generated 61 kWh, which is typical for this time of year. For context, in January 2021 our panels generated 95 kWh and in July 2020 we raked in 816 kWh.
Since our electric company offers net metering, we’re able to bank our summer and fall sunshine for use in the winter, which keeps our electric bill low year-round, even when the sun isn’t shining.
This has been your solar production update. You’re welcome.
Want More Fotos?!
While I only document homestead life once a month here on the blog, I post photos to Instagram (almost every day!) and updates to Facebook with much greater regularity. Join me there if you want more of our frugal woods.