Posts Tagged ‘Maple Syrup’

Hey everyone!  A big heads up to anyone who is in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin or other upper Midwest locations.  Some dear friends of mine are putting on a great event called the Gathering of the Guilds.  It is a chance for people to get together and talk gardening, permaculture, food justice and many more things. Please refer to the info below for details.  Hope to see you there!!  Peace & Cheers …..

Gathering of the Guilds – 3 Days of Permaculture Skill-shares, Workshops and Networking

September 14-16, 2012

At Harmony Park Music Garden (79503 298th St., Clarks Grove, MN 56016) Open Map

Gates open at Noon on Friday – Come early to set up your camp and help us create the event.


We will provide the infrastructure and logistical planning-YOU provide the knowledge. ALL SKILL LEVELS ENCOURAGED. This gathering will offer local permaculturists, farmers, gardeners, activists, and others a chance to spend a weekend sharing skills, making connections, and learning.

WE NEED YOU to facilitate a workshop or share a skill. Some ideas include:

  • Sheet Mulching
  • Animals in Permaculture
  • Hugelkulture
  • Composting
  • Urban Permaculture
  • Bees and Pollinators
  • Mushroom Cultivation
  • Vermiculture (Worms eat my garbage)
  • Seed Saving
  • Freezing, Canning and Drying
  • Fruit Tree Grafting
  • Humanure
  • Tree Pruning for Tree Health
  • Wild Edibles Walk
  • Grey Water Systems
  • Rainwater Catchment, Storage and Use
  • Seed and Plant Swap (Bring your extras and bring home some new additions)

This is a family friendly, drug and alcohol free event. There is onsite tent and RV camping, a Community Kitchen to provide 6 meals (bring your garden surplus to contribute), a kids space with ongoing activities.

We request a $20 donation to cover toilets, kitchen staples, and site rental.



For questions or to R.S.V.P please email:



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In the back are all the tomatoes and peppers. Up front are the rooting gooseberries and currants, and on the right are the figs!!

Happy spring equinox everyone! Although it feels more like the summer solstice with the weather we have been having, it is only March 20. Snow in Flagstaff, Arizona, and 80 degrees in Minnesota, how unreal!!?? Something seems amiss, and not altogether right, but honestly I love it. The predictions are saying that this weather is here to stay for the season, so it seems that we will be getting an early start on the gardens this year up here in Minnesota. Luckily I have already started a bunch of seedlings – tomatoes, peppers, collards, kale, onions, leeks, some flowers, and a few fairly exotic novelties for Minnesota, figs being one of them! I will save the juicy details about figs for another post, but for right now I will just say that recently it has been raining plant genetics onto me. The creation of The North American Scion Exchange (originally the Upper-Midwest Scion Exchange) started out as a way for local fruit tree growers to connect, and because of a few grafting comrades – Steven Edholm in California and Little John in Wisconsin, it has grown into a national network for fruit tree enthusiasts!! So far this season I have received about 40 varieties of apples (some of which I have passed on to other apple lovers!), 3 varieties of cherries, about 6 or 7 varieties of plums, some pears, and Reliance Peach. Along with all the tree fruit, I have also received red and yellow Hanomaki gooseberries, black and white currants, Orus 8 josta berries (a cross between gooseberries and currants), and three varieties of figs – Brown Turkey, Desert King, and Osbourne’s Prolific. The North American Scion Exchange is still in it’s infancy; as this year’s grafting season winds down, we expect many more people to find out about us and we are planning for even more members this same time next year. I want to give a shout out to Bill up in Pine City, Dorothy in BC, Kurt in Oregon, and Steven and Little John – thanks for all the awesome genetics!!

In other news, the maple syrup season was more or less a bust this year. We tapped the same three trees, and only got about ten gallons of sap, last year we collected over 100 gallons of sap from the three same trees. We still ended up with just shy of half a gallon of finished syrup, but last year we finished with two and a half gallons, so it is kind of a disappointment!! This leads me back to the weather. This winter/spring is truly one for the record books. Without actually finding links to the statistics, I know here in Minnesota we have broken a bunch of records for high temps in March. I have been drinking beer in a short sleeve t-shirt outside for the last two weeks…WTF!! If climate change deniers need anymore proof, well here it is, the tulips are coming up, I will be eating a dandelion salad tomorrow with dinner, and most likely start planting parts of the garden this coming weekend!! The greenhouse is set up, and the brassicas are already out there hardening off, and we are getting ready for some big garden expansions. Hopefully in the next few weeks we will unveil our new website for our Urban Farm and have dates posted for the grand opening of the farm stand. It will be small to start with – salad mix, rhubarb, chives, and radishes, but it is a start! It is a very exciting time for us, and hopefully this is the year that we can truly start sharing our bounty with our friends, family, and community!! Cheers!


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I have lived my whole life in Minnesota, and being a dedicated Minnesotan, the weather is always something we talk about. If it ain’t 90 degrees and humid with mosquitoes buzzing in your face, it is 10 below zero and you had a near miss with frost bite on your toes while shoveling the side walk. Now anybody who has spent as much time as I have up here in the great white and wooded north, knows we have had winters where we have not received much in terms of snow fall, but nothing compares to the winter we are experiencing right now. Since the autumn equinox through now, we have had the most mild, and temperature – record setting winter to date. We have been breaking records for high temps almost weekly. Tonight as I write, it is the ninth of January, and depending on where you were earlier in the day here in the Twin Cities, it was almost 50 degrees!! 50 degrees on January 9!! We spent the afternoon outside in our backyard watching the chickens, enjoying the warming rays of the sun in just sweat shirts, and wondering to ourselves what the hell is going on with the weather.

Collard greens that have never quite died!! We were still picking off of them up until about a month ago!

We are not the only ones wondering what is going on with the weather right now either. The plants are also starting to get confused. Here is one article about a maple sugar producer whose trees are starting to have their sap flow. This would be great if it were March, but right now it is a little too soon. Being new to maple sugaring, I don’t know how this will impact the sugar season, I am not sure if anyone does at this point. Another example, a friend of mine who is only a few miles from my house told me that his irises and tulips are starting to pop up. Seasonally, irises and tulips are always some of the first things to green up and come back to life, do they know something we don’t or are they as clueless as the rest of us. Another concern of mine, due to the extremely nice temperatures we have been getting, and the almost non-existent snow, how are certain perennials and fall sown plants going to fair this winter. Because of the constant freezes and thaws and no snow to insulate the ground, will bulbs like garlic or potato onions be harmed or not? How about the hop and rhubarb rhizomes? How about the larvae of my arch enemy, the Japanese beetle. Those little bastards over winter in the ground and if we never get a huge ground freeze like we should, are they going to strike with a vengeance this coming summer? There are a lot of questions I have right now about the weather, and not just here in Minnesota.

Look at all that snow!!

2011 set a record for extreme weather events, events and storms that cost over a billion dollars each in destruction and other economic losses. This past year there were at least twelve of them. Gigantic snowstorms and record snow falls here in Minnesota and elsewhere, tornados, floods, wildfires, and huge droughts. The kicker, these extreme weather events are not isolated to just America. This is a world wide predicament that in my humble opinion is all the evidence we need to prove human influenced climate change, or as I once heard it put, not global warming, but global weirding! As much as a 50 degree day in January is nice and comfortable to be in, it also scares me a bit. Are we seeing the beginnings of a rapid climate shift? In my life time am I going to see a more temperate or Mediterranean climate here in Minnesota? Whose water tables are going to permanently dry up and see the rest of their topsoil blow away? Whose forests and wild areas are constantly going to be jeopardized by over harvesting of resources and wildfires? I don’t have the answers to any of these questions, but I do know one thing. It is all the more reason to be prepared for the unexpected. Having a wide variety of seeds to plant is always a good idea. Variety equals success! When one thing dies because it can not handle drought, having another one already planted that can survive a dry spell will insure some kind of harvest. Something I have learned this year is that having some way to extend your season (cold frames, large and/or small hoop houses, and greenhouses) is a great option to have ready. If I would have been more prepared and could have known about the mild winter we have had so far, I would still be pulling salad mix, spinach, and other greens from the garden! Maybe next year! Well, I hope everyone gets through the rest of the winter with a little bit of normality, I for one would love to see some real snow and at least be able to pretend that things are still somewhat normal! Cheers!

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Here is the Maple Hog and it's operator, the beverage being consumed is a mix of spiced rum and sweet boiling sap. I guess that makes us Maple Pirates!!

Wow, what a month it has been.  Back in March we started our maple sugarin’ for the year, and what a year we had!  As previously mentioned, we tapped three trees this year, and in about two and a half weeks we collected around 80 gallons of sap.  Due to the fact that we smoked out a few of our neighbors last year, we moved our boiling operation to my in-laws place (they have a little bit of acreage!)  The first weekend we went out there with thirty gallons of sap and finished with about a gallon of syrup.  The next weekend we started with fifty gallons and ended up with another gallon and a half.  That second weekend of boiling was a real test of dedication.  The Maple Hog (aka – the syrup evaporator) was pushed to its limits and so were we.  We started the fire at about nine in the morning and didn’t get to sleep until about mid night.  I know that doesn’t sound real late, but I am used to going to bed around nine on most nights, so that got to be a long day.  After the success of this year, we are hoping to expand our operation going into the future.  We have talked about tapping anywhere from ten to fifteen trees and also building another in ground evaporator.  At this level it would no longer be just a hobby, but also a small bussiness venture.  I will keep you updated on the details as they get sweeter!

Four grafted apple trees!

Up next is my trip down to the Seed Saver’s Exchange farm  located just outside of Decorah, Iowa.  I drove down there last weekend and attended a workshop on whip and tongue apple tree grafting.  Dan Bussey, who taught the workshop, is an expert tree grafter who has an orchard in Wisconsin that contains close to three hundred varities of heirloom apples.  Without going into great detail on the actual grafting process, just let me say it is incredibily easy and I will never be buying another apple tree again.  For those of you who do want to go into more detail on whip and tongue grafting,  a reader and e-mail correspondant of mine, Steven who writes the blog Turkey Song, has a great article with lots of pictures that will show you everything you need to know about grafting (Also check out his Frankentree – It is Awesome)!!  Try it, it is lots of fun!!  In the future I hope to start producing clonal rootstock and a few other experiments with apple trees (and grafting) and their genetics – stay tuned!! 

Here is one of the Rhode Island Reds, isn't she cute!!

Last but not least is the new addition to our family.  We have six new mouths to feed and DAMN are they cute!  We finally got chickens.  This last Tuesday we picked up our order of six baby chicks – 2 Australorps, 2 Buff Orpingtons, and 2 Rhode Island Reds.  This is a step I have been wanting to take on our urban homestead for a long time and we finally went through with it.  We eat a lot of eggs, so come mid summer our birds will help us out with that.  Composting is also going to change for us; no more throwing the garden weeds and scraps into the the compost bin, they will now be food for the birds!!  There will be plenty of posts coming up in the future about our new residents, their coop, and the chicken tractor.  I hope everyone is having a fabulous spring – good luck with the gardens and planting!!  Cheers!

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The first, sweet drips of spring!!!

Well, it is that time of year again. Today after getting home from work we went out and tapped a few maple trees. This year we tapped three trees, our maple on the boulevard in front of our house and the two gigantic maples at my parents house. These are the same trees that we have tapped the past two years, and they have always produced very well for us. It was fun being outside performing this ritual again. This is our third year tapping maples and I think it is becoming a family tradition.

How does that bark taste!!??

In Minnesota, our winters can get quite long, and sometimes kind of depressing, so it is nice having something to look forward to at the end of the cold and dark winter. It is a way for us to usher in spring, and start anew. We are really not doing much different from last year. The one new piece of equipment that I got for this is the proper bit to use when tapping the trees. Last year I was using a spade bit, this year I am using an auger bit and it works so much better. The spade bit would dull easily, and it also left a lot of debris inside the hole. By nature, the auger bit spits out the debris as you are drilling the hole. One other note and difference from last year is the spiles, or taps that I am using. Last year I made my own out of stainless steel pipe, this year I am using prefabricated maple spiles made out of cast aluminum that I received from a friend. The homemade spiles worked just fine, although they were a bit harder to remove from the tree after the sugaring season was done. Other than that everything is the same, we are using tubing and five gallon buckets to collect the sap, and the DIY maple syrup evaporator (aka-The Maple Hog) is ready to go. The articles I wrote last year concerning backyard maple sugarin’ are by far the most popular posts to date on this site; here are the links to all of them if you want a quick reference…Part 1Part 2Part 3….and Part 4. They cover building a maple syrup evaporator, tapping trees and making spiles, boiling down the sap, and the finished, sweet end result. Good luck to everyone out there sugarin’, and if ya’ all have any questions or comments you can leave your remarks here or email me at autonomyacres@gmail.com. Cheers!

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Here is our finished Grade A Maple Syrup. We made over a gallon this year, and our pancakes will now taste a little bit sweeter!

Our maple syrup season has finally finished up.  As of this last Sunday, we ended up with over a gallon of finished Grade A maple syrup.  I am blown away with our success, and we ended up with much more than I thought we would!  The season started out slow and very unproductive, but last week made up for all of it.  We had beautiful days and nice cold nights, just what the maple trees need to make the sweetest sap.

On Sunday we started with close to 9 gallons of sap and had the DIY syrup evaporator working to its full capacity.  Once again I had the sap to a rolling boil within a half an hour, and it took about four hours to cook it down to where we needed it.  At about the three-hour point, I added the first batch of syrup ( two quarts), back into the boiling, soon to be syrup.  A new step we added to the process this time was the addition of a candy thermometer.  Maple sap becomes syrup at 219 degrees fahrenheit, seven degrees above boiling water.  We left this step out the first time and this is why the syrup was a little thin.  We finished the syrup on the stove and filtered it the same way as in Part 3 of this series.

Over all, we had a very positive experience this year.  Obviously the syrup speaks for it self .  We tried a lot of new techniques and ideas this year and learned a lot from this season of backyard sugarin’.  Probably the coolest, most fun, and succesful experiment was the designing, building, and use of the DIY syrup evaporator.  This was so much fun and will be used for years to come.  Second, the homemade spiles (or spouts), worked fairly well, but they have been very hard to get out of the trees.  I have a year to solve this problem and if any readers have ideas on how to remedy this problem, please let me know.  The tubing and buckets for sap collection was wonderful.  Our two main trees for sap production are at my parent’s house.  Using the bigger buckets allowed us extra time between visits to collect sap.   

I am glad the syrup season is done for me this year.  It is a bit of work and a decent chunk of weekend time was spent around a very hot evaporator.  I do enjoy the process and the finished product, but it is now spring and I have transplants, greenhouses, and gardens to start thinking about.  We are building our first chicken coop this year, expanding the gardens again, and still have house repairs and projects to work on.  I love spring and summer, but I always forget how busy they get.  Hopefully we will find sometime to relax, and eat some french toast with butter and maple syrup! Cheers!

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Close to four gallons of sap, collected from just three trees!


I have been getting worried.  I started this project about a month ago and thought I would see results much sooner than I have.  We had a major warming spell with nights that were not cold enough to make the sap really run.  But alas, the last couple days have been perfect for the maple sap to start running, sunny warm days and nights below freezing.  From my three main trees, we collected close to four gallons.  Not a lot compared to big shot maple sugarers, but enough for me to get started.  I collected up kindling, and scrap wood and got a good fire going in the Home-made DIY syrup evaporator.  I then poured the sap into the two hotel pans.  They came up to a rolling boil in under a half hour.  I was pretty impressed by that.  Most of the wood that was used today was random pieces of pine lumber, which burns very hot.  Total boiling time on the evaporator was probably a little over two hours. 

As the sap cooked down, I did combine the two hotel pans into one for about twenty minutes.  After that the boiled down sap was drained into a stock pot to be finished inside on the stove.  Due to the intense heat created in the evaporator, the thickening, soon to be syrup can be easily scorched, so finishing it on a stove to control the temps is advised. 

On the left is the still cold sap. On the right is boiling sap.


Another photo of the boiling sap, and on the right finishing up the syrup, inside on the stove.


Filtering directly into the jar did not work so well. Not enough filter surface area to not get clogged up.

When the syrup is finished it is time to filter.  My first attempt used a mason jar with a thick cloth towel acting as the filter.  I ladled in syrup and it did work, but there was not enough filter surface area to be effective and timely.  At this point I got out a stock pot, found another thick cloth towel, and used that for filtering.  This worked out much better.  Most of the syrup was poured into the filter in one shot and proceeded through with no problems.  Not until the very end did I have to help it along.  Using a normal soup spoon, I gently moved the syrup and debris around until it was all filtered. 


Here is the final stock pot filtering. On the right you can see how much dirt and debris was filtered out of the syrup.

Finished syrup, well almost finished syrup!

We ended up collecting just shy of two quarts of syrup.  As it cooled I realized the syrup could have been cooked down a little more.  I hope to collect even more sap this week and cook again next weekend.  Assuming that happens, this first batch of syrup will be added to the final stove top boiling next weekend and brought down to the proper consistency.  This project has been fun to do and to document.  There are always things and techniques to be improved on and new ideas to try.  Lets keep learning together! Cheers!

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On the left is two, one foot long stainless steel pipes. They are 7/16 of an inch in diameter, and each one cut into four, three inch sections (pictured in the middle). On the right is a manufactured spile.

My timing was slightly off this year.  I thought I had a little more time before tapping season would start, but I was wrong.  My good friend Charles, and also my mentor and motivation for getting started with backyard sugarin’, informed me that I should get busy this weekend.  Starting today and through the next week for sure, we can expect day time temperatures in the mid thirties and below freezing at night, the perfect climate to make the maple sap run.

We are trying a few new techniques this year.  First is home-made spiles, or spouts.  Second, rather than using small buckets hung on the hook of a manufactured spile, we are running tubing to much bigger buckets.  This allows us to collect more sap without it overflowing (hopefully!)  The home-made spiles were made out of 7/16 diameter stainless steel piping.  Each one is about three inches long with a forty-five degree angle cut on each end.

Using the brace and bit to drill a hole.

The first step in tapping a maple tree is drilling the hole.  I like to use the old-fashioned hand powered drill, also known as a brace and bit.  It feels a little more authentic but a power drill on a low setting will work just fine.  I use a 3/8 of an inch spade bit to drill out the hole and shoot for about an inch and a half  to two-inch depth on the hole.  The hole should also be at a very slight upward angle.  Once the hole is finished and cleaned out, either with the drill bit or a screwdriver, lightly pound in the spile.

A home-made spile hammered into the tree.

The second step, if  using a homemade spile, is connecting a length of tubing to the spile and then running it down to the bucket.  I use 1/2 inch diameter tube and that has a nice tight fit over the spile.  In the top of the bucket lid, use a 3/4 inch spade bit to drill out a hole for the tube to go through.  If you are using a manufactured spile with a hook, hang a gallon bucket on the hook to collect your sap.  If  using this method you may want to rig up some kind of cover for the bucket so dirt and other foreign objects can’t get mixed in with the sap.  As mentioned in Backyard Maple Sugarin’ Part 1, I highly recommend Backyard Sugarin’ by Rink Mann.  He has a lot more information to add to this discussion and some great DIY ideas other than what I am talking about here.

The tubes and bucket finish the picture. Now we just need sap!

The third step in this process is patience.  For now there is not much else that can be done.  We have our boulevard tree tapped, one  at our neighbors, two giant old maples at my folks house, and maybe one more at another neighbors tomorrow.  If the weather cooperates, the sap will start really flowing this week, and next weekend we will start cooking it down.  There is more to come! Cheers.

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Four gallon, food grade buckets and jerry cans that will be used for backyard maple sugarin'!

It has been a good week for finding some free, useful stuff.   First off, relating to my last post, Backyard Maple Sugarn’, we came across some great food grade buckets that will be used in about a month for collecting maple sap.  One contained sweet and condensed milk, one had Bavarian cream filling, and the last one had organic peanut butter in it.  A little soap and water will take care of any residual odors and flavors.  Also we found two food grade plastic  jerry cans at the local food co-op. They are about three and a half or four gallons and will be great for storing our sap in as we empty out full buckets.  The icing on the cake (or should I say honey), is one of the plastic  jerry cans still had about three-quarters of a quart of organic honey in it.  My morning tea just got a little sweeter.

Nothin' is sweeter than free organic honey!

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Here is a steel 55 gallon drum that I have been holding onto for about four years. I finally found a use for it.

To give credit where credit is due, the title of this post is basically stolen from Rink Mann’s, Backyard Sugarin’.  I came across this book last summer already having one year of  backyard sugarin’ under my belt.  We had tapped our boulevard maple tree and two old, giant maple trees at my parents’ house.  Off  those three trees we collected at least 20 gallons of sap and cooked that down to about half a gallon of syrup.  We learned a lot of lessons.  First, don’t try and remodel a bathroom yourself and try to make maple syrup at the same time.  Second, don’t use a deep stock  pot and propane gas to cook your syrup.  I wish I had seen Rink Mann’s book prior to ever trying to cook down maple syrup.  For anyone trying this old time craft, I highly recomend reading Back Yard Sugarin‘ first so you don’t make the same mistakes we made the first time we tried cooking down syrup.  The following pictures document the construction of our new syrup evaporator, constructed out of all dumpstered and found materials.  Enjoy!

Here is the same barrel with holes cut out to fit six inch deep hotel pans.

On the left you see the stand for the evaporator. It is constructed out of an old outdoor rocking chair. On the right you can see the hole cut out for the evaporator door. All cuts made on the barrel were made with an electric jigsaw using a blade for thin metal.

Here are two pictures showing the first fire in our new evaporator. The steam is coming from water in the pans. The fire is basically curing the barrel and removing any nasty residue from previous use.

Here is a nice picture that shows the whole set up. You can see the stove pipe and how the whole thing looks from a distance.

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