The maple syrup season here in Maine is underway. Well, some people actually tapped their trees as early as the end of January, early February this year. It has been a very different winter throughout the country and we are no exception. We never had any really cold temperatures. There were a few nights below zero but those came and went rather quickly.
So, I looked at the forecast and it looked like we were in for a streak of below freezing temperatures at night and 40-50 during the day. This is perfect sap weather. I came home from work and tapped the trees. By the time I was finished I was using the headlamp to see but you have to do things when you can.
My dear husband was off work the next day and he got the cooker set up. Right now we are using a propane outdoor cook stove that we got on sale at Cabala's a couple years ago. Eventually I want to build a rocket stove system to do this. We have so much small twigs and other wood scraps around here that I could boil the sap without paying for fuel. For now though this is the easiest for us to manage.
I get the sap boiled down to almost ready to put up and then I bring it into the house to finish. We are not a fancy operation and I don't have a hydrometer (measures the amount of water in the sap) but I probably should invest in one. I just go on the color and taste to determine if the syrup is ready to bottle. We don't actually like it too think or too dark so ours is probably bottled a little earlier than the big guys who try to be very consistent with their product. Ours is only for our personal use and it is what we like. The biggest reason we like it a little thinner is that it soaks into the waffles and pancakes much better. We also get more since we are not boiling it down as much.
I have a total of 11 taps in this year. This is the most that I have done but having the outdoor cooker will make this possible. I could have tapped many more due to the fact that there is no snow on the ground. This makes it much easier to get to the maple trees that are around the house. Every tap that we have is out and I guess I need to buy some more. We do it the old fashioned way with taps and jugs hanging on the taps. Many producers use a tubing system which works really well and if set up correctly will direct all the sap into one very large collection container which makes picking up the sap for transport back to the sugar house very easy for them. Some small producers use the tubing in a different way. They tap and just run a length of tubing from the tap into a five gallon bucket that sits at the base of the tree. Since I use one gallon jugs it means that I need to collect at least twice a day when the sap is really running so that my jugs aren't overflowing and the precious sap is landing on the ground. Having a five gallon collection bucket allows for once a day collection. I have a lot of gallon jugs and not many five gallon ones so for now we will continue to collect twice a day.
Making maple syrup is not hard work but you cannot neglect it. The season is relatively short and like most things on the homestead, it is so worth it.
Well, you know spring is in the air, even if it is 10 degrees outside, when the hatchery catalog arrives. We order our layers and meat birds as day old chicks from Hoover's Hatchery in Iowa. They are mailed to us the day that they are hatched and arrive a couple of days later. There is nothing like getting the phone call from the post office at around 6:30 in the morning asking you to come pick up your peeping box.
Chicks are hatched with reserve nutrition stores so they don't have any problem surviving for a day or two without food. The first thing though is to get them a drink of water after their trip. I do this by dipping each chicks beak into the water when I am putting them into the brooder from their travel box. We get the brooder ready the week before they are due to arrive. The brooder is a simulation of what the momma chicken would do for the chicks. The biggest part being keeping them warm. Chicks need a very warm environment for the first few weeks. We accomplish this with a closed box and heat lamps. The new babies actually like it 90-95 degrees for their first week. You can lower the temperature at the floor by 5 degrees each week until is is around 75 degrees. This is accomplished by raising the light farther from the chicks.
We do provide the chicks with a starter food that is medicated. This is the only time we give any medicated food to our chickens. We have chosen to do this due to the stress of travel and the fact that we want to keep all disease off our homestead if at all possible. It also helps to start the chicks out with a little boost. After that we feed nothing medicated.
After the chicks develop their regular feathers they are put down on the floor of the barn. For about a week or so we still provide them with the heat lamp if they feel they want to get warm they will gather under the light.
The arrival time of the chicks is based on a couple of things. Since we have our baby layers and broilers arrive together part of the timing is when we want to butcher. Since we have started raising the Red Rangers it takes 10-12 weeks until they are ready for butchering so that is taken into consideration. We like to have them in the freezer before summer is done. Layers also take 20-24 weeks before they start laying. This will mean that they will have a couple of months before the cold starts to set in to get the laying routine down. You need to plan all this also since it takes around 21 days for chicks to hatch so that you give enough lead time to the hatchery to be able to have chicks hatched when you want them.
This year I have ordered two breeds of laying hens that I haven't ever had before, the Golden Lace Wyandotte and the Silver Laced Wyandotte. Both are supposed to be very cold hardy and that is important where we live. I'll have pictures for you when they arrive in early May.
Raising chickens is fun and very rewarding in both eggs and meat. We like to know what we are eating and when we are able to know what our birds are eating and how they are processed it makes all the difference in the world. It is not too difficult to get started and so worth it.