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2013 Maple

A bumper crop! After a string of years that were too hot or too cold, this spring gave us a nice long run of drippy thawing days and freezing nights. We had a couple of fun family sap collecting days! (Darwin nobly took care of most of the rest of the days by himself–thanks dad!) After collecting the sap in buckets and bringing it back up to the yard, we store it in a stock tank until the next cooking session. You can see the chunks of ice floating in the sap in the photo above. It takes about 40 gallons of sap and many hours of tending a fire under a shallow pan to make 1 gallon of syrup.

The cast of characters pictured above are my parents Carol and Darwin, my brother Mark in the blue coat, Mark’s kids (aka the coolest niece and nephew in the world!), my new husband David in black, and me (Chris) in orange.

 

While we have all enjoyed the sudden return of warm sunny days, the quick thaw means a shorter maple syruping season. Around here we are still hoping for more days with highs of 40 and lows of 20. Top left is Chris, top right is Darwin and Carol.

The vibrant green of young leaves -- delicate yet amazingly resilient! We have enjoyed our first bites of fresh parsley (top right), and are excited to see the perennial bunching onions starting to poke through with new growth (bottom left). Bottom right, Chris walks next to the Big Oak with Luna, our beekeeper's dog. Just a few weeks ago we walked the same area with snow up to our knees!

Mom, Dad, and I went down to LaCrosse last weekend for the annual Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference.  It is always a good time full of excellent food, informative workshops, and meeting up with other farmers.  I personally find it inspiring to see the diversity of people involved with organic farming:  young and old, rural and urban, red and blue, dreadlocked and beer-bellied, talkative and stoic, community organizers and self-sufficient livers.  Sustainable farming is good for the land, providing us with healthy food and a more robust local economy.  By keeping your food dollar circulating within the local community, you are directly helping to create a healthier food system and higher quality of life for all of us — you the eater and us the growers, but also the non-local food eaters who still benefit by having cleaner water, more wildlife habitat, and more resilient rural and urban economies.  I think part of the reason that sustainable farmers are a diverse crew is that a vibrant local economy is something that people from all walks of life can agree is a good thing.

This year we had a few things in mind to focus on, so we went to sessions about pastured poultry, hoophouse season extension, and permaculture orchard design.  There was also a really nice panel discussion of and for CSA farmers.  Partly because of that discussion, there have been some new collaboration and support initiatives for CSA farmers that deliver to the Twin Cities, such as peer-mentoring options and potlucks for farmers.  A few of us are also hoping that we could hold a CSA-specific conference in LaCrosse the day before the usual annual conference begins.

I love being a farmer in Minnesota, and having the winter to rest, dream, study, plan, organize, and collaborate.  I honestly don’t know how they do it year-round in warmer places.  The annual organic conference is one of the signs that spring is right around the corner.  We are tapping maple trees right now, and getting ready to start the onion seeds next weekend.  Another growing season is upon us, and as the days get longer and longer we too are feeling more energized and excited.  Here we go again for another trip around the sun!

Looking forward to sharing the growing season with you,
Chris.

      We lit the fire under the maple sap pan on Friday, and after three days of cooking our first 200 gallons of sap have now been reduced to ~4 gallons of syrup.  We still have at least one more cooking session ahead of us, but the weather will determine how much more sap we can collect.
     We also planted some of the brassica family on Saturday night (Broccoli, Cauliflower, Kale, and Cabbage).  The brassicas will grow in flats a few weeks and then be planted in the garden at the same time as the onions.
      The rhythm of these annual events provides a deep sense of comfort and meaning.  That is not to say, of course, that the whole process is romanticized.  There is nothing romantic about splitting wood and stoking the fire when you are cold and tired.  Or planting flats of seeds after your dinner guests have said goodbye and your eyes are drooping.  The meaning comes not from a romanticized view of these tasks, but in being present with the daily and yearly rhythm of performing them.  The comfort comes from seeing both the details of the moment and where it fits in to the overarching flow of things.  And also, there is something deeply satisfying about a piece of wood that splits perfectly into what we like to call “chair legs.”

Darwin and Chris out collecting sap   The sap pan over the fire.   Darwin and Carol cooking sap.

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