March 2012

I just found this quote. I wish I knew who said it first. It’s a keeper

We’re just about through with the boiling. We put up 2 gallon of syrup for personal use. The rest is going in pint jars. We’ll be giving some to the neighbors who let us tap their trees and my kids will each get a jar. It took 120 gallons of sap, hand gathered, to get this syrup. The whole process brought up an interesting discussion for Bruce and me.

Small works for us. I sometimes get calls from wanna-be-someday farmers who want to come by and see how we do things. I always tell them they will be mighty disappointed. Farm doesn’t define us. We are more gardeners with a lot of hobbies. We do a lot but none of it in volume. Most of what we make or raise is just enough for personal consumption or a bit of barter for what we don’t grow. A friend just dropped off some parsnips last night. I’ll be giving her some potatoes in exchange. I swapped some tomato sauce for a hand-made tote.

Small is good. I spent most of yesterday in the summer kitchen. There was a round of work. I would empty one of the sap buckets into the holding tank, transfer sap from the pre-heater to the evaporator and from the holding tank to the pre-heater then return the bucket to the tree. Run in the house and toss some clothes in the washer and empty the dishwasher, scoot back out to the yard and grab another bucket. As the sap thickened I brought it inside to finish and started a new pan of preheated syrup. Jars had to be washed, meals prepared and there is always something to tidy up. In between I started onion and leak seeds and also got the greens started that will fill the green house in a few weeks. Bruce got home and took over outside while I helped Phoebe with a school project and put away laundry. He did supper dishes while I ran over to a select board meeting. I got home and finished more syrup while he boiled outside. It was an exhausting process. Full sap buckets are very heavy, especially when you’re slogging through slush. The rewards would not be worth it if you were counting the value of our labor. For under $100.00 I could have bought this much fine syrup. The point however is not about making or even saving money. The point is to know how to do it ourselves and to make good use of our land and resources. Time I have. Money-not so much. If I was trying to do this on a commercial level, I would hate it. The work is sticky and messy. The big guys boil and collect round the clock. They tap heavily. We only put one tap on each tree. We quit when we get tired. There are a couple of hard days but few enough that we aren’t sick of it at the end.

I could anticipate a time when a neighborhood could get together and put up a small sugar shack. They could tap neighborhood trees, work together and share the bounty. It would work like our communal cider press. Shared labor, shared cost and shared fun. Small works.

Looks like we dodged a bullet on the latest solar storm. Storms don’t peak for another year and I’m guessing that people will get sick of hearing about them but I think the natural world bears watching. We worry so much about things like economics and politics, war and rumors of wars but it pays to remember what Guy McPhearson says. Nature bats last.


My granddaughter’s advanced placement English class performed Our Town last night. We were there in force to cheer her on and had a wonderful time. There was one thing that I found extremely annoying. The use of I-phones was really distracting. The child behind us kept up a constant stream of beeps and flashing lights while she played games rather than watch the play. This was not an antsy three-year-old. The little girl was at least ten. There were plenty of adults checking in on their phones as well. I find it difficult to believe they were all people waiting for life and death messages. Most likely, they were just rude. Ah well. I guess I’m turning into one those crusty old ladies, bemoaning technology and complaining about how the old days were better.

Yesterday was one of those days for getting out-of-sorts. I received a call letting me know that the old homestead where I purchased the nifty book had a dumpster in place and anything left behind was getting tossed. I ran up and did a quick walk-through. I took a van-full of sheets (those lovely, heavy cotton sheets that I remember from my childhood), blankets and heavy comforters home with me. These weren’t the cheap, department store comforters but really heavy and well-made. I also took a box of wash cloths and towels, lots of curtains and a big box of cleaning supplies. Much was left behind. It’s so sad to see the flotsam and jetsam of a person’s life reduced to garbage. I don’t need the bedcloths but I couldn’t bear to see them go to the landfill. Someone, sometime will be happy to have them. I am always aware that should something major happen, my kids and grandkids will all end up here. I can sleep a lot of people in a pinch and an extra set of sheets could come in handy.

Seeing that dumpster put me in the mood to clean. I emptied out and washed several kitchen drawers and then took down my curtains They’re a bit frilly actually and I realized that I had brought home a set that would look much better. It was a good drying day so I got them washed and hung up and I think they look much lighter and fresh for spring.

The boiling is going well but it’s very time intensive. The sap should run like gang-busters today. I’m planning to go to work for a couple of hours, then run home to empty buckets. My DIL asked if they could come on Saturday morning for a French toast and maple syrup breakfast. That sounds like such fun.

I’ll be light on posting for a week or two. I have two big food preservation classes to teach this month and I need to get them organized. My equipment needs to get polished up and I have to update my supply list. Both are new venues for me and I want to make a good impression. I was so disappointed in the NOFA conference and I want to make sure there is never a repeat performance.

I’m up very early this morning watching the international news. It’s not good. I don’t remember a time when resource depletion has been so front and center in the main stream news. There are a number of big events on the horizon that make me very happy to have a deep pantry and a way to heat my house. But back to our regularly scheduled programing.

We had a double birthday party here yesterday and after cake, ice cream and presents the talk turned to gardens. Ben and Maggie want to put in a small kitchen garden this spring. Without hesitation I began to plan out how they could get real bang for their space buck in a typical suburban back yard. It didn’t take long to decide where to put the asparagus and the strawberries. Potatoes and squash could be container grown. Three dwarf fruit trees would replace the one huge tree that is there now. The front yard could have plots that held gorgeous rainbow chard, towering kale and a border of beets. The back fence should be used as the support for tomatoes and string beans and lettuce would keep the ground mulched. There is a corner that would do just fine as a walking onion patch and I think garlic would do well in a patch by the shed. I could go on about some backyard chickens but I think they were really just talking about a couple of tomato plants. I do get ahead of myself.

In checking out a youtube video this week I found a series on wartime kitchens and gardens. It was wonderful although I could only find a few of the ones I wanted. If any of you have any idea where I could purchase the series I would be eternally grateful. It may seem a bit silly to. While others are watching videos of cats playing the piano or children singing inappropriate songs, I’m watching demonstrations on how to butcher a rabbit and learning how women stretched ration coupons. Here’s what I believe. When you think about something over and over you create a path. The longer your walk that path, the deeper and more worn it becomes. Before long, it’s a lane, then a road. That road is your choice. You can choose a life of consumption or one of frugality. You can choose to eat fast food or good food. You can choose to grow food or buy plastic lawn ornaments. Just be aware that your decisions, large and small, become your life path.

The surgaring season is going better than expected. We are still collecting sap and will probably boil all week. I need to get into the summer kitchen to do some candle making in preparation for two conference I’m presenting at later this month so I’ll be glad when we wrap the sugaring up. I’ll be selling candles, books, honey and t-shirts at both conferences but I don’t have enough candles right now. I don’t make much money when I present food preservation workshops. The decision to have Bruce and the girls man a vendor’s table did not come easily to me but with gas so expensive and the time away from home I need to figure out how to make presenting work for me financially. The vendor’s table will help.

I’ve been amused by the reaction of people to the Nat Geo segment. I have gotten (and deleted) a number of comments on how I’m a target and how men plan to come steal my food. Where are people’s minds when they would rather plan to steal applesauce from unarmed women and children than put aside some food for themselves? I would be ashamed of myself but the shame bar is apparently set pretty low. The other response has been an under-the-breath admission from some that they too are worried about our economic or environmental future and have been putting aside a bit for a while. What is odd is that more people are embarrassed to be prepping for an uncertain future than are embarrassed to be planning to be a thief. Crazy.

A half dozen of us braved the icy roads last night. We met in the Sustainabilty Library over the Creamery to discuss the how’s and why’s of seed saving. We spent some time discussing our goals both large and small. The overarching reason for committing to yet another task, another night out, is to provide a seed bank, stocked with vegetable varieties we know will grow here. We want to have seed redundancy so that if we have a bad year there will always be enough seed to start over. We want our seed saving to be an insurance policy against an uncertain future. We see saving open-pollinated seeds as a statement of self-reliance. I also see it as a political statement. Others may occupy Wall Street but I want to occupy my home and hearth, my land and community and controlling my food is the best way for me to do it. I’ll be starting with squash. I have the seed of the Oregon Sweet Meat Homestead, the Delicata and the Bennings Green Tint ready to go. I’ll be planting early and covering with the Wall’O Waters and taping blossoms so I can hand pollinate at the right time.It’s redundant but I don’t want to take a chance. Part of the process will be record keeping and standard storage procedure. There is much to learn and not much time.

We have boiled almost a gallon of syrup. The first batch is too thick although it’s a simple matter to thin it with some boiling water. There is something a bit like seed saving in the syrup production. It would be far easier to just plunk down the money and buy my syrup from the guy up the street. I could even make a cheap syrup alternative from sugar, water and maple flavoring. I could even forget the whole thing and buy some sweet, kind of syrup-like substance at the market for a couple of bucks a bottle. But, to me, getting involved in the process matters. I want to know how. I want to make mistakes now while I can afford to make them. I want to vote with my food dollars. And I like good food. There is just nothing that quite matches the flavor of real maple syrup, real butter and a perfect waffle with a side of bacon from last year’s pig.

The snow is thick on the ground today. The air has a blue quality, a trick of diffused light and shadow. It’s quite beautiful, so much so that I can forgive the appearance of winter when I had just about given up on it and begun to anticipate spring. I’m heading off to work today, then meeting with staff from Greenfield Community College to discuss the reskilling program I’m teaching at this summer. I feel something. Even people who are very mainstream are talking about it. It doesn’t feel like a fad. It feels like a shift. This food and skills stuff has an immediacy to it. If you have been thinking about growing some food or learning to do something new, if you have been considering some edible landscaping or a neighborhood buying club this might be the time to take the plunge. Occupy your life.

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