Spring Homesteading Plans, 2021

We had six inches of snow by late morning, Friday 4/16.  Most melted by Saturday; it was all gone by Sunday morning.

It is the time of year that if and when it does snow, it melts readily, at least in these New England parts.

It is the time of year that the chicken hens become prolific egg-layers again.

It is the time of year that bursts of yellow arise from forsythia bushes and from daffodils – although mine own of the latter are still waiting as buds.

It is the time of year when ticks start making their presence known again – fortunately mine had only begun to try to burrow into my arm, and it was a dog, not a deer, tick.

Quail

A few select quail.

POULTRY HOMESTEADING PLANS

I am incubating quail eggs that should be hatching later this week.  I need to set up their new brooder in the basement – since if everything hatches (not actually likely) I will have 56 baby quail on my hands.  There will be a post about the new brooder in a month – after I see how it works out.  Suffice it to say for now that the base is a small plastic horse trough.

Starting a week after my quail (supposedly) hatch, I will start incubating a dozen chicken eggs.  Six or seven from the barred Plymouth rock colony.  Two or three each from the main chicken house, and from the tractor house.  I figure half will be male, half will be female.  Two of the females will go to a neighbor friend.  The males will all (maybe I will save one in case one full-fledge rooster bites the dust) go to Freezer Camp.  The rest of the females will help ease rooster-pressure on some of the existing hens.  I want to have four to five (maybe six) hens per rooster.  RIght now, it is two to four. I lost two hens (apparently, predation) from the Main Coop (the Ovalicious Coop) just a couple or so weeks ago, so now there remain just two hens in that coop.  I’d like that rooster to have five or six hens.  The coop is large enough, and I’m certain the remaining ladies would agree that their rooster’s stud-liness needs more volunteers.  The tractor coop is large enough as is – four hens, one rooster, and not space for more.

chickens, Australorpe, barred Plymouth rock

Yin, the oldest hen here (the only surviving original chicken & a black Australorpe. Roo, a Plymouth barred rock rooster. They are currently housed with Chickpea.

At any rate, my quail should be out of the brooder and out in the back yard before my baby chickens will need said brooder.

In August, I will be getting a few Cornish Cross strictly for meat purposes.  

Hen, hicken

Chickpea, a silverlaced Wyandotte x buff Orpington F1 cross. She was hatched on site from an egg laid on site, and raised by one of the black Australorpes. (Yin or the late Yasukai.) She is the only surviving chicken hatched and reared in such a manner. (Her half-brother, Lentil, got eaten by a fox spring 2020.) She is mostly white with black flecks on her neck and in her tail feathers.

I plan to improve the chicken watering systems.  This won’t help for winter (I will continue to backpack water down to supplement the ice, during that season).  But it will make life easier for both them and myself.

As for other livestock:  that’s on hold for now, for a couple of reasons, one of which I will mention way down below. 

daffodils, spring

VEGETATIVE HOMESTEADING PLANS

Wild foraging:  Dandelion (hey, everywhere.  Plantain.  My high bush blueberries in the way back (Blueberry Grove) were possibly never planted, although I have done some pruning on them over time.  These taste as good as lowbush blueberries (which is what you usually find at stores or at roadside stands/farmers’ markets.  These are just a lot smaller.)  I know there are more wild things to forage out there, and I am hoping this is the year for that!  A friend of mine has found Japanese knotwood she harvests for tasty springtime meals, but it is actually quite good I haven’t seen any signs of this true invasive on my property.

saffron, crocus, homesteading

Coming back from 2020 (or earlier):  Saffron (saffron is a type of crocus and it is only extremely pricy because it is really difficult to harvest efficiently on a large scale), rhubarb, onions, garlic, woodruff (right now just for pretty but once it expands I may try to harvest for consumption – blooms in May, so typically May Wine is made from this latter), Lady’s mantle (just for pretty), wormwood (for bruises, NOT for internal consumption).  I am expecting some Jerusalem artichokes/sunchokes, and probably some oregano.  Still early.  Some other perennial herbs may also re-appear.  Horseradish.  Hasn’t poked up yet, but it WILL.  Horseradish does that.  I also see some kale re-emerging! (Raised Bed 4 c, a middle two rows) 

plan-rhubarb-

Saplings:  Elderberry and dogwood do not look to have survived.  They will be pulled and replaced, although I’ll give them another week or so to redeem themselves.  The elderberry is very disappointing – this survived the previous winter, but flunked the job the current one.  I should be able to find local dogwood, but probably not elderberry bushes.  So I plan to skip elderberry this year (I really want some elderberry for its serious health benefits, but…  somewhere else next year.  DO NOT PLANT elderberry anywhere near where you want to park a car, or have an outdoor seating area – if the bush/tree thrives, it will drop staining elderberries down atop anything you might hold in other ways, valuable!) and simply replace with more dogwood.  Dogwood of course is just for pretty. My apple seems fine.  

I have ordered more apples, and some plums – mini dwarf bundles from Raintreenursery.com.  They’ll arrive in a few weeks.  

I have ordered two Asian pears, same source. 

The foundation landscaping plants (and overall area) needs some serious work.  Alas, the soil remains rock-hard here!  I do have a plan of attack, see the LANDSCAPING portion of this post.  

willow budding

A miniature and ornamental variety of Willow, suitable for DISTANT foundation planting. Do not plant near actual foundation or any water lines (as with any willow)

Indoor seed starts:   Tomatoes (Cherokee purple), Hybrid Asian Eggplant (both from Johnny’s Seeds).  Okra will be started next week, again via Johnny’s seeds.  

Seeds to start outdoors:  I hope to plant the Snow Peas (Avalanche) later today, based on having the inoculant to hand. There will also be “rhubarb” Swiss chard, hybrid turnips, and mustard greens.  There will be two varieties of basil (Thai and tulsi).  Cucumbers and a couple varieties of winter squash.  I also need to revamp my overall herb bed.  

;Seedlings and tubers:  I’ve already planted red cabbage and spinach, both plants that can deal with cold weather starts.  The cabbage is intended to go through the season (Raised Bed 2c, first row).  The spinach will be ready soon, and will be replaced with seeds for more spinach, albeit of a different variety, and will occupy more space than so depicted. (Raised Bed 2 c, 2nd / 3rd row).  This part of the raised bed this year is a small one.  I would prefer to start veggies from seeds, but this is to get something going!

Red cabbage, spinach, homesteading

I will be planting many Yukon gold seed potatoes.  They have been a wonderful crop these past two years.  Some will come from my leftover stock of potatoes that went to seed, the others will come from the local farm supply store.  

LANDSCAPING & INFRASTRUCTURE PLANS

 

I need to look into a snowmobile or ATV for wintertime trekking out back.  Snow maneuvering on foot is getting more difficult physically for me, although I do have a setup that works most of the time for the chickens, and the quail are right outside my back door.  (This is one of the reasons no new livestock for now.  I fell in the back yard right after we had a 20 inch snowstorm that landed upon a pre-existing batch of snow – I was unhurt, but I could NOT get up on my feet.  I ended up backstroking down to Ovalicious Coop, and pulling myself up by the door handle.  Brutally cold, too!)  Some sort of protective covering for such a vehicle is going to be essential – and room for a regular (small) tractor would be good as well.  It is too windy here on occasion to rely on tarps.  I also really need to sit down and figure out how best to house sheep, goats or alpaca so that they’d have a winter’s full supply of forage, too.  Oh, I also want to go in and get fitted for snow shoes next autumn.

rooster, Plymouth barred rock

Roo, again.

I have some outdoor wood staining work to do.  And wood preserving, afterwards.  There are also patches on the sunny side of the house that can stand a refurbishment.  

The firepit stones need to be manhandled into position.  Since I won’t have a tractor immediately, I need to wait until the soil leading downwards back behind my house is not mushy any more – so I can load rocks into my SUV and drive them towards their destination.  Although while the ground is still somewhat mushy, it may be easier to crowbar them out of the space where the general contractor pushed them back in 2017.  I will still have to port them part-way, as I don’t want to drive on the leeching field back there.  This is stuff that would have happened LAST year, but for some reason I got into a space where I failed at the sufficient motivation.

Next winter I hope to be tapping about 20 trees for syrup.  I need to plan (and build) for a more appropriate boil-down setup before winter hits (as well as marking more trees come October).  A few of these will be birch, no need to mark as their bark is extremely definitive.  

homesteading, maple syrup

Items I’ve purchased for use this year, so far:  A broadfork.  I really need to loosen some soil around here.  I do believe in no-till gardening, but my soil is being hard-as-rock-obstreperous in certain places, I need to do what my back can tolerate.  And some perennial weeds have taken advantage of this to be real pains in the posterior to remove.  Material for making a low tunnel or two for autumn season extension.  A manual post digger – well, for posts, naturally, but may also help me start holes for inserting larger plants.  

The homesteading farm will have a Farm Name and a website domain by the end of this month.  I won’t be ready to sell anything other than eggs until later this year (hoping for potatoes to add to the above).  No, this will NOT be called Of Goats and Greens Farm – I don’t have ANY goats yet, and no idea when or if they will arrive.  Next winter there should almost certainly be maple syrup.  Barring a horrendous winter!

THE LAY OF THE LAND

homesteading, farm, plans

This is a map of the property.  Actually, not all of the property.  I own the woodlands to the right (east) on this diagram, and that’s where most of the maple trees are.  For the quarter acre property and house adjacent to the road that I don’t own, I do own to the right of that, as well (some earlier owner deeded that spot to a relative back in the early 1900s).  At any rate, most of my syruping activity will take place IN the woods.  Only two maple trees are marked on my diagram.  

My neighbor to the west (left) is the Nature Conservancy.  My neighbor to the south (bottom) is also the Nature Conservancy.  They are markedly very quiet!  No hassle at all!  (I do want to do them a favor and do my best to rid my own property of that repulsive and invasive Japanese barberry, as I can.)

This diagram is not REMOTELY to scale.  There’s a very gradual downslope from the road to my house.  Where there is suddenly a bigger slow (hence a back yard walk-out basement).  The house is NOT a true rectangle, although for the purposes of describing what I’m doing, this works fine.  Behind the garage is another garden space, which I did not depict, as it is primarily for some fun ornamentals, some of which should attract hummingbirds – and because it is the garage that makes this place not a rectangle.  I also didn’t draw in the deck – the quail housing is actually under the deck.  

backyard, homesteading

April 16th, morning. Back yard.  Yes, we still get snow, but apparently it mostly melts fast.

Landscape is flat for a small bit longer going south, then another dip (not as severe, but a dip I notice in winter none the less…).  Then we are down to the region of the solar panels and the chicken coops and the patio/pavilion.  A good wide platform for current and future endeavors.  At the very back on this map is Blueberry Grove, at the bottom of the final dip.  Soil here is moist (which supports the highbush blueberries with little maintenance).  

wormwood, homesteading, herbs

Wormwood – an herb recommended for external use, only.

The driveway is a circular affair.  Most convenient for guests who want to leave before later guests without disrupting those guests who suddenly decide since they are in their cars to make space for those first ones to leave, they’ll go leave, too.  Even if they hadn’t planned on it. (I like guests.  I only invite ones I want to see.)  That was the plan, anyway.  2020 threw a spanner into that, but I did get some use out of the circular driveway prior.  Also handy for delivery folk.  And especially for the snow plow guy.  

At any rate the uneven squiggles with arrows done in light brown/butterscotch are ways one can drive off-road here with ease, if not too wet.  I can usually do these in my SUV.  

The upper ? is where I hope to house my future combo tractor/ATV/potting shed.  The lower one is my ideal place for putting the mammalian livestock barn, although I am open to alternatives.  (Might be in the middle of the typed legend!)  

homesteading, woodruff, herb

You’ll notice a patch of land to the right (east) of the garage.  That is to be mostly herbs, although currently some strawberries are here by default.  I’ve also done kale and lettuce here.  But the goal is to be primarily herbs and herbal-like vegetation.  I’ve put in some perennials transplanted from my old home – which is how Jerusalem artichokes will also be a part of this landscape.  That’s okay.  The house itself will provide their wind-break  

herb, lady's mantle, homesteading

The pink square below the patio/pavilion – a fire pit, with a place to the side for a future smoker.  

I am looking forward to doing a lot of good things around here in 2021.  Hoping everyone has a healthy year, and the perfect weather for crops you might be growing!  

 

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Tuna Carpaccio, Fusion Style

Contains: Fish.  Is:  Gluten-free, quick and easy.

We are taking some good ideas from an Italian approach and a Japanese approach.  I made this as a small luncheon plate rather than a full-blown main dish.

tuna, carpaccio, yellowfin, recipe, salad

Use sushi-grade yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares).  Bluefin tuna (T. maccoyii, T. thynnus, T. orientalis) are endangered; and white “tuna” is really all too often a fish known as escolar (Lepidocybium flavobrunneum), and NOT remotely a tuna fish at all.  This latter does taste really good if properly sourced, but it may play havoc on many digestive systems (including mine) no matter how sourced.  Honestly, not fun at all.  According to Wikipedia, this has often been termed “the Ex-Lax fish”.  Some people suggest you can eat a few ounces with no ill effect – not me!  At any rate, if you can find sushi grade albacore (T. alalunga), that’s probably the least problematic tuna to use for this dish, environmentally speaking, but at least where I live, it is seldom found.  .

tuna, carpaccio, yellowfin, recipe, salad

I combined East and West in this interpretation.  This made for an enjoyable dish.

Do enjoy, or riff off on this, as you have the opportunity.

Tuna Carpaccio Salad, Fusion Style

INGREDIENTS

  • A good handful of pea shoots, or watercress.  Whichever is available to you.
  • Cucumber.  If it is large and especially if it is waxy, I’d peel the skin.  This one was small and from a local greenhouse farm.  Use about 4-6 ounces, and slice thin.
  • One hard boiled chicken egg.  (Mine was pickled previously in 1:1 red wine vinegar to water, for five days.   This is not essential.)  
  • Approximately 6 ounces sushi-grade yellowtail tuna.  Slice thin, best done when still partially frozen.  
  • IF you are not using a pickled egg (you probably aren’t) use about 2 teaspoons of rice vinegar.  
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon balsamic reduction (white or dark).  
  • 1/4 -1/2 teaspoon sesame oil (hot or regular as you choose)
  • Heaping quarter teaspoon of black roasted sesame seeds.  

METHOD

Lay the greens down on a small plate (one plate per person listed in the recipe).

Lay down the cucumber slices.

Slice the egg on the bias, and lay those sections down on the plate.

Lay down the slices of tuna.

If your egg isn’t pickled, splash around rice vinegar.  In any case, follow this by spritzing some of the balsamic reduction.  And then a swipe of the sesame oil.

Finalize with the sesame seeds.

tuna, carpaccio, yellowfin, recipe, salad

This recipe is linked at:

Fiesta Friday, this week’s co-host Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook.  

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Butterscotch Bread Pudding with English Muffin, Apple & Nutmeg

Contains:  Gluten, wheat, dairy, added sugar.  Is:  Vegetarian, a dessert.

recipe, sweet, bread pudding, english muffin, butterscotch, apple, dessert

I adapted the recipe below, but halved it.  I also made some other significant changes due to 1) this being made for an online competition using burger buns (or as I was allowed, English muffins), and 2) the addition of apple, because I simply felt like it.  (I had apples in the house begging for me to use them, please, they pleaded!)  And, since there were apples in the mix, I dashed in a bit of nutmeg.  You could use instead the same amount of cinnamon or allspice, ,or skip this entirely.  

I also used less sugar.  3/4ths a cup rather than a full one.  In this case, I ran out – and I’m very happy not indulging the sweet tooth I don’t really have.  

recipe, sweet, bread pudding, english muffin, butterscotch, apple, dessert

UNFORTUNATELY from my standpoint, this bread pudding ended up too sweet (FOR ME, I must note) and I have adaptation suggestions at the end of this.  This is indeed far sweeter than any bread pudding I’ve eaten to date.  I mean – it is good, and if you want an all-out dessert, this dish will fill the bill.  

Butterscotch Bread Pudding Recipe | Allrecipes

recipe, sweet, bread pudding, english muffin, butterscotch, apple, dessert

NOTE: Since the pans were filled to the top, do add a baking tray underneath. As you can see, there was some syrupy overflow!

Prep Time:  30 minutes.
Cook Time:  1 hour.
Rest Time:  Either serve warm, or chill for later.
Serves: 6-8.
Cuisine:  Is a Noodle-Scratcher?  Dunno, but suspect English.
Leftovers: YES!

Butterscotch Bread Pudding with English Muffin, Apple & Nutmeg

INGREDIENTS:

  • Three quality English muffins (about 5.25 ounces), 2 or three days old, and dry to the touch.  Open them, and shred or cut them coarsely. 

METHOD:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F / 175 degrees C.   

Butter or oil a 9×13 inch baking dish, or in this case, a small meatloaf pan sized one, plus a pie dish.  

Combine all ingredients into a suitable bowl. Let soak about 15 minutes.  Mix by hand.  The mixture will look quite a bit liquid.. Pour into greased pan.  

Bake for 1 hour, until nearly set.   Smaller pans may be ready in 55 minutes.  The bread pudding should retain some wiggle, it shouldn’t be solid, although a little crisp/crunch is welcome atop.  You can serve warm or cold.  Optionally you can top AFTER COOKING with a dollop of whipped cream and/or a sprinkle of ground nutmeg, allspice, or cinnamon.  Or, extra slices of apple.

NOTES FOR THE FUTURE:  This is for someone who, like me, hardly eats sweets at all:  

  • Use 1/2 cup brown sugar. 
  • Go even tart-er with the apple.
  • Use 1/3 cup butterscotch drops.  

I am freezing the rest of this dish in small aliquots.  I do enjoy the flavors, and the nutmeg kicked things up a notch for me. 

 


Some background info:  I have always loved bread pudding from childhood on, especially if I was at a locale where I could carefully (and reasonably-politely, perhaps unknowingly…) pick out any unwarranted or invading raisins.  The latter ruins a good dish which is already going to be tasty in its own right.  I added the apples because I don’t mind fresh fruit, just not dehydrated and gummy-textured foods.  (Note, however, even the source recipe for this dessert didn’t use raisins, either!)  Seriously, grapes are far better eaten fresh just as they are, or perhaps made into wines. In Vino Veritas!  

recipe, sweet, bread pudding, english muffin, butterscotch, apple, dessert

This recipe is linked at:  

Fiesta Friday, this week’s co-host Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook.  

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Slow-Cooker Pork Loin Roast with Tomato, Onion, and BBQ Seasonings

Contains:  Nightshades, added sugar (which was in my rub).  Is:   Gluten-free. 

recipe, crock pot, slow cooker, pork loin roast, gluten-free

A yummy dinner.

Last March, I posted a sous vide recipe for pork loin roast, using an apple-mustard sauce.  And then I posted a oven-braised recipe for Mexican pork loin roast in August.  While I cooked this current one back in 2020, for whatever reason, it’s not getting posted until now.   So, yes, today I’m posting a recipe for a slow cooker variant, and I’m using a different flavor profile. 

potatoes, recipe, crock pot, slow cooker, pork loin roast, gluten-free

Slice up a couple of potatoes for the slow cooker.

All three of these bone-in roasts came from the same half of a farm-share pig I picked up October 2019.

Slow-Cooker Pork Loin Roast with Tomato, Onion, and BBQ Seasonings

Use the BBQ rub of your choice, let sit for 30 minutes, then sear on ALL sides.

I haven’t been removing the silver-skin.  Seriously, it doesn’t annoy me.  Cooked long enough, there’s no problems with eating it.  There is also so much meat on the tips of these bones that I refuse to waste the meat by Frenching the bones.   This is one of those times a rough and ready rural lass thinks “presentation” can be over-rated.   If you wish to do so…. go ahead!  

Slow-Cooker Pork Loin Roast with Tomato, Onion, and BBQ Seasonings

Yes, I used a pre-made BBQ blend. Like most BBQ blends, it does contain sugar.

Use any BBQ dry rub you like, or make your own.  (I will be experimenting with my own dry rubs shortly.)  Note this is NOT a true barbeque!  Just a rub that is multi-purpose.  The goal with this recipe was to provide a quick prep time (along with a hands-off session of actual cooking).  

Slow-Cooker Pork Loin Roast with Tomato, Onion, and BBQ Seasonings

The heat is off! Ready to consider dining.

Prep Time:  35 minutes, including a rest with rub.
Cook Time:  Approximately 4.5 – 5 hours.
Rest Time:  Not essential.
Serves: 3-4.
Cuisine:  Slow-cookery.
Leftovers:  Certainly.

Slow-Cooker Pork Loin Roast with Tomato, Onion, and BBQ Seasonings

  • One 3-4 pound / 1.4 – 1.8 pork loin roast, bone in.
  • 1 large yellow or white onion, peeled and quartered.
  • One approximately 28 ounce / 790 grams can of whole stewed tomatoes, coarsely chopped.
  • Either water or home made pork stock to cover.  
  • About a pound or so of potatoes (0.5 kg or so) – I use Yukon gold, and I don’t peel them.  Your option! Chop into 0.5 – 0.75 inch / 1.25 – 2.0 cm slices.    
  • 1 tablespoon of your favorite dry rub BBQ blend.  
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Season the pork roast with your BBQ rub.  Let sit about 30 minutes.  Then, sear in a skillet for about 4 minutes per side, starting with the fat cap side first (if so, you may not need to add cooking oil).  

To your crock pot / slow cooker, add the pork, onion, tomatoes and liquids.  Add a little salt now – you’ll adjust for taste later, so don’t overdo.  

On the low setting, set for 4.5 hours.  

About 40 minutes before the roast is due to be ready, add the potatoes.  Also add ground pepper at this time.  

When the 4.5 minutes are up, test your roast for tenderness with a fork.  If you need to, add an additional 30 minutes to the timing.  (Also, balance out your salt by tasting the juices at this point.)  

The pork should cut apart nicely for serving.  You will also have a nice bowl of extra liquids, which I’d recommend refrigerating and scooping out the fat layer the next day – and saving for future endeavors – or even for adding portions to any leftover pork roast you might have!  

recipe, crock pot, slow cooker, pork loin roast, gluten-free

The extra au jus. I put it in the refrigerator overnight, and skimmed off the solidified fat atop, in the morning. Can be used with the leftover roast, or can be used as a tasty soup base.

crock pot pork extra

Extra roast, taters and tomato set into the fridge for the enjoyment of, over the next two or three days.

Slow-Cooker Pork Loin Roast with Tomato, Onion, and BBQ Seasonings

A great serving suggestion:  a tasty crisp apple salad with arugula and fennel, drizzled with a creamy salad dressing.  

The link parties:  

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Open Face Vegetarian English Muffin Cheese Melt, with Egg, Sauerkraut, and Sharp Cheddar

Contains:  Wheat (gluten), dairy. Is: Vegetarian, quick and easy.

You can consider this a vegetarian Good Friday dish, as you will.

recipe, English muffin, egg, sauerkraut, cheddar, melt

More with the English muffin theme.   Do find a good quality English muffin, you’ll be glad for the taste.  This open-faced melt can be served as a breakfast or brunch, but is still fine for lunch, too.

recipe, English muffin, egg, sauerkraut, cheddar, melt

Layering on the muffin toppings. The egg with onion is first.

While I didn’t do it this time, this dish will also be great with a dash or two of your favorite hot sauce – add to the very top!  Actually, next time, I may sub out the sauerkraut for a medium-spicy kimchi!

recipe, English muffin, egg, sauerkraut, cheddar, melt

Prep Time:  5 minutes.
Cook Time: 20 minutes.
Rest Time:  Not needed.
Serves:  1 or 2.
Leftovers:  Either serve cold or re-heat in oven. 

Open Face Vegetarian English Muffin Cheese Melt, with Egg, Sauerkraut, and Sharp Cheddar

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 English muffin, split in half.
  • 2 teaspoons cooking oil (I used avocado)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1-2 ounces sliced white or yellow onion.
  • 1 egg.
  • About 2-3 ounces shredded sauerkraut (canned or home made)
  • About 2 ounces sharp cheddar, sliced.
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste.

METHOD:

Get everything ready.

In a skillet, add a little cooking oil, and then pan fry the two halves of  the English muffin, about two minutes per side.  Remove, set aside.  Add the oregano divided between the two halves.

Add the onions to the skillet, sauté for about three minutes, then pour in beaten egg.  Lightly scramble in with the onion.  When just about cooked to your preference, plate atop the muffin halves.

Add the sauerkraut to the skillet, and stir briefly until just warm.  Top the muffins with sauerkraut.

Layer the cheddar over the muffins, then sprinkle on the pepper.  (At this point you can also add a dab or so of your favorite hot sauce.)

Place in a 350 F / 175 C oven, and bake for ten minutes, allowing the cheese to melt thoroughly.

Remove and serve, preferably while hot.

recipe, English muffin, egg, sauerkraut, cheddar, melt

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Open Face English Muffin Cheese Melt, with Seared Tuna, Avocado, Pickled Ginger, and Brie Cheese

Contains: Seafood (fish), wheat (gluten), dairy. Is: Quick and easy.

This one is Japanese-inspired, but fusion with my take on this.

recipe, english muffin, tuna, avocado, ginger, brie

You can consider this a Good Friday dish.

english muffin, recipe, avocado, tuna, pickled ginger, cheese, brie, open face,

Assembly: Lightly & partially seared tuna, topped with ginger and avocado. The Brie will go on next.

Yes, the pickled ginger was leftover from a Japanese-restaurant take-out. Note, Only use sushi-grade tuna for this! As bluefin tuna is endangered, I won’t use that.

Open Face English Muffin Cheese Melt, with Seared Tuna and Brie Cheese

​INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 store-bought English muffin, split in half.
  • About a tablespoon of cooking oil – I used avocado oil.
  • 1 sushi grade *important* yellowfin tuna steak, 4 ounces, about 1 inch or so thick (3 cm thick). Slice in half, best to do this while partially frozen.
  • Several thin-sliced pickled ginger slices.
  • 1/2 avocado, sliced and divided.
  • approximately 3 ounces Brie cheese, sliced.
  • 1 green onion/scallion, chopped.

Toast the two halves of an English muffin. You can use a regular toaster or toaster oven; I opted to do this in a skillet on medium-high heat on my range. I added the oil on the opened side, toasted first on the outer side, then flipped both halves to continue the job – about 5-6 minutes total. They don’t have to be charred – your preference.

Remove the muffin halves and immediately sear the tuna half-steaks. About 1 minute to 1.5 per side.

Remove and place each one of these halves of tuna on the muffin halves.

Top with the ginger slivers, between each muffin half.

Top that with slices of avocado, to total a bit more than a quarter of the whole fruit.

Atop this, layer down the Brie slices, to cover each muffin half.

Place in a pre-heated 350 F oven for 10 minutes (I used my toaster oven).

Remove and serve, topping with a scattering of green onion, and laying the rest of the avocado half to the side – two halves (one full muffin) serves one person.

Above: Assembly prior to cheese and visiting the oven.

Above: the platter, cooked.

Definitely a lunch to be made again!

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Braised Korean Tofu (Vegan): Dubu Jorim

Contains:  Soy. legumes, nightshades.  Is: Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free (if using tamari), quick and easy.

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The entire recipe. I only ate a few of these hot, reserved the rest for chilling. (That’s a pound of tofu there!)

This dish is not always vegetarian, but this rendition is, and I had all the ingredients (other than the tofu which I ran off to buy, easy enough).  :Dubu” is Korean for “tofu”.  Anyhow, I had meant to make this in February for my “Asian Month”, but here we go, anyway.

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Generally served as a banchan (side), you can also make this as a main protein dish, which is what I did today.

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Browning the tofu.

Gochugaru is the usual Korean red pepper used, but some days you have to go with what you can find!

Dubu Jorim (Braised tofu) Recipe – Korean Bapsang

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Prep Time:  10 minutes.   
Cook Time:  15 minutes.  
Rest Time: Serve immediately warm, or let chill in fridge until desired.  
Serves: If banchan, a lot of servings.  As a main, about 3-4. 
Cuisine:  Korean.
Leftovers:  Yes.

Korean Dubu Jorim

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 about 16-18-oz pack firm tofu
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 3 tablespoons low sodium tamari for gluten-free; or soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Korean red pepper flakes, preferably Gochugaru
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds (I used 1/2 teaspoon white and 1/2 teaspoon toasted black).
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped 

Cut tofu into 1/2 inch thick rectangular slices (about 1.25 cm thick).  Pat dry.

Mix the sauce together – everything EXCEPT the tofu and the cooking oil.

In a large skillet, preferably non-stick, heat the cooking oil until hot enough to sizzle with a drop of water.  Gently add the tofu in one layer (if you need to cook divided batches, do that).  Allow them to get lightly browned on both sides, about 3-4 minutes on medium or medium high heat per side..

While still in the skillet, spoon the sauce over the tofu / dubu, raised up individual pieces to let some sauce circulate under the pieces.  Simmer this at  a lower temperature (medium-low heat) for another 3-4 minutes.  Flip pieces, simmer another minute or so, scooping any sauce back over the tofu.

Serve, either immediately and warm, or chill and serve later, cold.  Traditionally, serve with rice, a main, and other banchan.   I chose to treat this as a main for the portion I served hot, and as banchan for what turned out to be two remaining portions.

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Vegetarian Focaccia “Pizza” with Mushrooms

Contains:  Dairy, gluten, nightshades.  Is:  Vegetarian, quick & easy.

This is a quick and easy recipe, and not meant to be considered genuine continental Italian, but something to make on a busy workday evening, or the like.  I used a good quality focaccia from a local bakery.  I will note I thought I had mozzarella in the house, but no – so I ended up with ricotta.  Not driving 35 minutes in one direction for ONE ingredient!  (Not really a quick and easy idea…)

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I intend to make a pull-out-all-the-stops pizza by the end of summer.  At that point, expect home-made dough, long-term simmered tomato sauce from (presumably) successfully home-grown tomatoes and basil — and so forth.  Everything but the bona fide wood-fired pizza oven – as I don’t have one, and don’t plan on getting one.  Even though my “stimulus check” arrived yesterday.  

Meanwhile:

Prep Time:  10 minutes.
Cook Time (for the quicker variant):  12-15 minutes.
Rest Time:  Just long enough not to burn fingers.
Servings:  Two.

Cuisine:  Italian-inspired.
Leftovers:  Yes.  Recommended to re-heat in oven, NOT in the microwave.

Vegetarian Focaccia “Pizza” with Mushrooms

INGREDIENTS:

  • One good slab of focaccia, about 14 inches x 8 inches.  Mine was frozen; thaw it.
  • 1 can (15 ounces) of diced tomatoes, drained (save the liquid for something else).
  • 1-2 tablespoons dried oregano.
  • 1/3 teaspoon ground black pepper.
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder.
  • 1./4 teaspoon salt.
  • About 3 ounces ricotta cheese, the dry parts. Or, sub with dry mozzarella, sliced.
  •  3-4 slices of Pepper Jack cheese.  You can sub with cheddar, or other.
  • 2-3 baby Bella mushrooms, depending on size, sliced. (Sub with button or shiitake.)
  • AND/OR any other toppings of your choice.
  • A little olive oil. 

METHOD:

Pre-heat oven to 450 F.

On a rack in a pan, lay down the focaccia.

In a bowl, mix the diced tomato chunks with the seasonings, keeping this chunky.  Set aside. Alternatively, you can cook this in a small cooktop pot, for about 20 minutes so the tomatoes and spices may meld (in which case you may wish to add back some of the tomato juice you strained off, to keep this from drying out).  I keep it chunky rather than making it a smooth tomato sauce.  Your choice.

Layer the tomato and seasoning mixture out over the focaccia.   I pushed it as close to the edge as possible.  You don’t have to – I just don’t care much for pizza “bones”, those bare bits of crust on the outside of most pizzas. Tradition or not, I simply prefer to enjoy everything I cook to eat! 

Layer the cheeses down, tearing up the sliced parts, and dotting around the surface of the tomato topping.

Add the mushrooms and any other toppings you desire.  (If you use shiitake, sauté them briefly for 5 minutes or so first, in a little olive oil – and remove their stems).  

Bake on a top rack for 12-15 minutes, or until the cheese melts, and some light browning occurs.

Remove, cut in half for two servings, and serve immediately.

You may additionally top with more oregano, with red pepper flakes, grated Parmigiano.-Reggiano, etc.  (Yes, even though this a quick recipe, DO use real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, if at all remotely possible!)

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Maple Syrup Time – Stage 2, Sap into Syrup for Beginners & Small Scale Tapping

During this first year, I’ve learned most maple syrup folks decide to boil down their sap outdoors, or in dedicated sugar houses/huts.  This should be done at the outset – the humidity released is not really good at these levels inside one’s home.

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I used a combination of outdoor on an induction plate, and late on, indoor for final work, as I didn’t have a good wood burning setup for syrup this year, and wasn’t expecting to get as much as I did (from four trees).  I knew if I were to expand in future years (which I most certainly WILL), that I would indeed need an outdoor setup.

WHY?  Because boiling large quantities of what is mostly water will send humidity skyrocketing, and water vapor will eventually condense and drip down your walls and ruin woodwork and probably sheetrock.  Yes, I make bone broth in my kitchen, but that’s a lesser volume, and most of the time that pot is at a simmer.  A robust simmer, but a simmer…

I will write about outdoor sugaring in 2022!

Is this your trial year… two to five trees, maybe five gallons of collected sap?

What you will need:

        • Collecting bucket – you pour excess sap from your trees into at least one of these.  I opted for a five-gallon food-safe bucket.  You can find them at your local feed supply and at the big box hardware stores (although I note when I got my food safe five gallon bucket for my chickens at Home Depot, the guy I talked to there had absolutely no clue what I was talking about!)  Sorry, I don’t want to give water to my chickens from a bad bucket.  This is not going to be what you will boil down the sap in, in most cases.  Just large storage – with lids.   Wash it / them out.
        • A food thermometer that can read in liquid.  Most can, but check.  Candy thermometers should always work, and meat thermometers usually can.  The WiFI enabled ones are less useful for this purpose, I suspect, since they are meant to be set into a solid object and left there to send you readouts.  It’s not like you can insert them in the sap/syrup and read anything… But I would go digital on this purchase, read via the old-fangled eyeball rather than your phone or something silly like that.
        • A maple syrup hydrometer that reads in Brix.  This tells you the proper sugar content when you can stop.
        • Filter paper.  And a strainer.
        • A good heat source so you can boil down the sap into syrup.  NEXT YEAR I’ll have a formal outdoor setup.  This post is really only for a trial first year…. but some principles can be retained for larger scale operations.
        • Pans for holding the sap as you boil that stuff down.  Online, I see a lot of stainless steel food service buffet trays being put to use.   I’ll do that next year.  Their wide-open surface areas will help water boil off more quickly than the pots I ended up using. 
        • Filter paper for later-stage straining..
        • Final collection containers for storage.  As fancy or as utilitarian as you like.  Sealable lids or caps.  

1:  MORE COLLECTION NOTES:

Periodically collect sap you’ve obtained.  You need to watch the weather – you can continue tapping that tree, but not desirable to have the bucket overflow (duh).  Stop tapping by the time buds begin to open!   I am given to understand that the sap will 1) not flow as fast; and 2) will impart a bitter taste.  Decided not to test this theory.  

Also – ice in the buckets – if just some and not nearly the entire container, save the sap, evaporate off some of the outer water on the remaining mini-iceberg, and discard the rest of the chuck of ice, which will be containing hardly any maple sugar at all, as pure water will freeze before sugared water.  Of course, if nearly all of your bucket is filled with ice, eventually the water containing the sap will ALSO freeze.  So… let that melt down!

For storing the sap prior to boiling:  put in refrigerator.  OR, leave outdoors in a covered bucket surrounded by snow or ice.  OR, if the weather is 40 F or under, put it out of the sun and leave it out doors, not worrying about packing around it with snow/ice.  (This is what I did this year.  The fridge was rather full with other things.)

Be prepared to work in batches.  

PS: Your initial sap, prior to processing, will taste more or less, like WATER.  Good clean water, but water! 

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That short term stain is from a raw maple sap slop spill. So even if it doesn’t taste sweet at the outset, there’s still sugar in there.

2:  CLEAN your boiling pot (and other tools) well.  

3:  STRAIN THE SAP PRIOR TO BEGINING THE BOIL. I used a regular kitchen strainer with a layer of paper towel in the strainer to catch finer stuff.  I usually strained into the boiling pot, but pick what is appropriate.  

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4:  BOIL THE SAP, checking occasionally at the outset, more frequently as the sap cooks down.  You don’t want to overcook, and towards the bottom, water will evaporate off faster.   You can skim any foam off the top that appears.  (Some people will add a few drops of a good cooking oil to prevent foam – I opted not to this year, in order to have “pure maple syrup”.) Since I was using a relatively small pot, when the first batch was nearly all the way cooked, I added in a second batch, and continued cooking down.  At that point, it was nearly dark (I got started around noon that first day, as there were errands earlier), so I poured this off into a smaller cooktop pot and set aside overnight.   This was getting close to “ready” but not there yet.  The next morning immediately after the temps got above freezing, I resumed filtering and boiling with the original (re-cleaned) larger pot, as per the first day.  (I left the first day’s semi-final collection alone, until again at the end of the day it was time to add this day’s boiled down syrup to the prior’s.)  

This process took three days – I was still tapping one final tree until the third morning, plus I was working with one induction plate and a not-very-large pot.  

PS;  For a first time user who opts to go with a small propane plate outdoors – you will be going through a LOT of rather expensive and small propane canisters.  I’d come up with a setup using a full scale propane grill with the larger propane container, if you wish to go that route.  

PSS:  Follow all safety and operating guidances that come with your specific induction or propane unit!!!  For instance, my induction plate won’t run more than two hours at a time on the “boil” setting – but a fifteen minute plate cooldown (with the sap still remaining hot) seems to work with mine.  I did actually run it in one hour increments with a 5 – 10 minute plate cooldown between each run.  Which is fine – I really wanted to check every hour (and more frequently as the sap turned into syrup)!

PSSS:  At the end of each boiling session (each of three day’s accumulation), I taste-tested the syrup I intended to add to the final collecting pot.  If one were to taste OFF, I would have collected that separately from the initial collection pot.  Why make a batch you know is already going to taste good, even if it would need a bit more work to be fully syrup, mixed with a bitter or off batch?  

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4:  LAST SYRUPING STAGES.

Things may proceed very fast in the last stages of evaporation.  TBH, mine did.  I’ll know better next year – but I was able to save this.  

Towards the end, keep checking your syrup temperature as it boils.  Ideally, you want to filter out any cloudy stuff when the syrup temperature reaches 216 F, and again at the finishing temperature of 219 F.  Note that those temperatures are based on the boiling temperature of pure water at sea level – 212 F or 100 C respectively to units you may use.  You will adjust downwards depending on how high you are in elevation above sea level – for instance, I am living at 1600 feet above sea level these days.  Filter the inevitable cloudiness through something akin to a really large  coffee filter.  Maple Tapper supplied me with a one (reusable on a limited basis if cleaned immediately with hot water and NO soap)  in the tapping kit I bought.  Note, you won’t be able to filter much of anything as temperatures reduce down towards ambient.  Syrup obviously will get more thick as temperatures decline, hence filtering should be done at higher temperatures.  Filtering makes the final product more professionally salable.

To do the Brix – a density measurement readout – get yourself a Hydrometer and follow their specific directions.  The one I purchased came from Brewing America, comes with complete instructions for measuring Brix density for syrup.  And gives you a good chart for reading what  the optimal density is for any temperature from 211 F to 50 F.  You’ll know if you need to continue boiling or not.  You can find it on Amazon (which is where I got mine) or more directly at:  American-Made Syrup Hydrometer Density Meter for Sugar and Maple Syrup – Brewing America.  (I will be purchasing directly from them if I have future needs.)  

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I really figured considering after over-boiling mine, I probably didn’t need to do the Brix, but for the sake of this blog post, I did.  I waited until the syrup went down to room temperature (68 F these days, measured via a very accurate in-house weather station, as long as I don’t rely on that gadget to PREDICT anything), to measure the Brix.  Extrapolating from a Brix of 66.4 at 70 F, I hoped for something like 66.5 Brix at 68 F.  (Yes, the warmer a syrup is, the less density…)  My Brix was at 66.7.  I called it a day.  

PS:  the new food thermometer I just bought kept fluctuating up, down and all around.  Which is why I didn’t measure at a higher temperature, but waited for room temperature.  I wish I could FIND the two food thermometers I KNOW I have here in-house someday! 

A level of density that is appropriate for maple syrup will help you keep your syrup healthy for eating, even if the final containers are not always in the refrigerator.  (Back in 2011, when I was subject to three long term power outages – one being Hurricane Irene – it was nice to know that the maple syrup I had in the fridge then was not going to go bad over the period of a week of no electric.)  Much of this shelf-stability depends on sugar concentration.  As contradictory as this may seem, a high level of sugar is actually food-protective.   

5:  FIXING MY MAPLE SYRUP. 

Can’t guarantee this “repair” will always work.  I had a small batch of nearly-cooked syrup from the first night, and I combined it with the last somewhat-over-cooked-and-trying-to-be-solid last batch.  Heated it to medium low on my indoor cooktop, and mixed it, using two larger spoons to blend the harder syrup into the older.  Yes, I ran the risk of losing my original batch, but as this is a trial operation, In for a gander, in for a lark… I went forward.  Eventually, with attention, the harder syrup dissolved into the other batch.    

6:  GRADES OF MAPLE SYRUP.  

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I was aiming for Grade A Dark, the old Grade B.  I think one reason the nomenclature changed is that “grade B” sounds second-rate, and most aficionados do prefer the flavor of a little darker.   This year’s syrup here is likely “Dark”, but verges towards the “Very Dark” designation.  But… quite good.  I am as usual more interested in overall flavor than in sweetness, so I am happy to work with the darker end of the syrup spectrum this year.  

ms complete 2


Maple Tapper sent along some maple syrup recipes. 

Here is the list:

    • Apple Cranberry Crostini with Maple Glaze. (Looks good.  May switch the cranberries out for currants.  Currants are small enough that the dried-fruit texture would mostly disappear…)
    • Maple Apple Raisin Baked Oatmeal. (I would personally ditch the raisins into the compost.)
    • Maple Glazed Pork Tenderloin.  (Looks good, but might want to adapt to sous vide for the pork?  Since pork tenderloin is finicky towards dryness?)
    • Roasted Root Vegetables with Maple-Turmeric Glaze.  (Looks awesome!).
    • Maple Glazed Bacon Wrapped Sage Apricots.  (If only the apricots weren’t dried!!  Possibly these could be chopped down so there would not be that overwhelming dried fruit texture/sweetness?  I may experiment with fresh.)

As noted, I will be upscaling my operation next year.  I may even tap a few birch trees.   The latter will yield less syrup per volume of sap than the maples, but I’m eager to experiment!  

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Maple Syrup Time – Stage 1, Collecting Sap

Yes, the sap is running!   (And yes, for some of you in lower latitudes and elevations, the sap has finished running this year.)

This is a first-year experience for me – I did try on one tree last year but that wasn’t my finest moment of glory, shall we say?   It didn’t ooze out much, for sure!  This is also apparently a better sap-collecting year by various accounts.  And this post is for individual trees collecting via gravity into their own buckets, not for inter-connected lines.  For one, two of the trees are at quite a distance from each other, and for the three nestled together, it makes little sense for just three!

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A view of my largest sugar maple that is easily accessible. If you squint, you can see the sap harvesting equipment (blue tubing line).  I could have put in a second tap.  I am standing in my driveway, facing east.

1: Your first task is to identify which of your trees are sugar maples.  While you can identify them in winter, note that the bark of a sugar maple will change as it ages.   Plus it is easy to mistake a red maple for a sugar maple.  Red maples also have sap, but they have a lot less sugar per a given volume of sap than do sugar maples.  (In the future I plan to tap my birches, whose bark is easy to distinguish all year long – they also have a lot less sugar per a given volume of sap than do sugar maples, but their flavor profile will vary.)  

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Sugar maple leaves, prior to autumn. Wikipedia, cc x 2.0.

But back to topic – I identify my sugar maples back in October when leaf color changes.  The red leaf color will be, ahem, redder than the sugar maples, and leaf shape is somewhat different.  Where I need to, I mark them by tying ribbons loosely to the appropriate trees.  

2:  Time to tap – look at weather forecasts.  Some years will be earlier or later than others, depending on your specific locale.  Ideally, you want a series of days where it warms above freezing during the day, but sinks below 32 F / 0 C at night.  I ended up a few days late, but I am using this as proof-of-principle this year.  (Besides, I was having enough knee issues getting back to my chickens (a priority!), much less starting a new path over hard-frozen snowpack, I really decided to wait for things to mush down a bit first.  I do wear crampons, but my hiking poles weren’t going to indent into the snow to carry me immediately to my trees this year.)

At any rate, you will find best tapping times between late February into early April, depending on locale and a given year’s weather patterns.  

3:  Tap.  Tap.  Tap.  As this is an actual first year (and two of my trees that I opted to tap were a fair distance from the rest), I didn’t set up a vacuum line to port a bunch of sap into a central collecting area.  TBH, I know nothing about the dynamics of that.  This is for first time tappers, who want to learn small, before deciding to grow large.  So, each tree gets its own individual bucket.  

You will need a set of maple syrup tapping tools.  Some suppliers are:  Maple Tapper, or Tap My Trees.  They come with actual taps (“spiles, in the lingo”), UV-resistant tubing which appears to be about 2.5 feet long (generally a translucent blue), hooks for supporting some types of bucket, instructions, and in the case of the former, both filters and recipes for maple syrup use.  

mayple syrup tapping

Before you go out, attach each tubing to each of the spiles on the drainage side.  TBH, I found this to be an ultimate challenge, even with the hot water recommended to soften the tubing end so it could slip over that “ridge” at the drainage end.  I ended up deciding to nick the tubing with a knife so I could accomplish the necessary task.  Hey, you do what you gotta do!

Also, have a collection container to hand.  Maple sap collection buckets (aluminum) are sold online, or you can use a used gallon water container.  For the wider-topped collection buckets, you’ll want either dedicated maple syrup lids (with a hole to permit the sap to enter the bucket) or aluminum foil.  I’ve used both.  Last thing you want to find is excess debris in your bucket, or worse yet (I’d dump that bucket), a dead mouse that failed to do the backstroke to find its way out.  (Haven’t seen that in my maple sap, but I did see it in my rainwater catchment system for my chicken drinking water.)  

You will also need a cordless drill, to pre-drill.  (Most sugar maples are not going to be within range of your electric drill, after alll…)  These days most spiles are 5/16th inch, so that’s the drill bit size you need.  This combines optimum sap flow with minimal tree damage.  You’ll notice that the spiles are about 1.5 inches long on the side that goes into the tree.  You don’t want to drill into the heartwood, if you respect your sap-giving tree!  On many trees, as in the youngest, you don’t even need to go in that 1.5 inch depth!  The “feel” of the wood as you pre-drill will tell you when you can stop.

Drill on the side of a tree that faces either South, Southwest, or West.  Drill 2 – 4 feet off the ground, preferably over a root or below a large branch.  You want where most of the sun will hit the tree and warm it, hoping that sap will run better here.  Drill at a very slight upwards angle – you want gravity to work FOR you.  

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Insertion. Sometimes you really don’t need to drill in an inch and a half. Let your tree tell you.

Insert the spile, and set up the bucket or other clean container, and make sure it is secured either to the tree or onto the ground.  I piled up a few rocks around the one.  Make sure the tubing runs into the container.  Cover as appropriate.  

Large trees, over a foot or so in diameter, can have two taps.  The tree depicted below could potentially have three.  Don’t tap anything less than 10 inches in diameter.  

4:  Check every few days.  At first, every other day – you don’t want the sap to overflow your container, losing you some…. Have some sort of storage vessel available for your maple sap as it reaches close to the top of your container.  (You will need to keep this chilled.  A fridge?  Set into a snow pack out of the sun?)  

I was surprised (I should not have been) when I saw a large ice chuck floating on a bucket.  Freezing sap is mostly water – you can try to save the outside portions which may have sugar adhering to it, but the frozen parts are pretty much pure water – saves you on some of the boiling time if you get rid of it… or you may need that ice hunk to keep your sap chill, if you don’t have fridge space, and you are not quite ready to start distilling the sap down to final product.  

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Hopefully, I’ll have enough of my act together to make a second post on sugaring in a couple of weeks!   PS, my other three trees this year are not depicted. They are further back in the woods – less light and much more awkward to access with a camera around my neck. 

Facebook group: Backyard Maple Syrup Maker

Maple Tapper

maple post raised beds march 2021

My raised beds,, as of March 15th. Lots of surrounding snow, nothing left in them. (Snow fall season is not necessarily over, however.)

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