Life at Sweet Wind Farm

Follow along with me as we venture into different seasons and activities going on at our farm.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sweet Times are Here Again

Yes, it's that time of year again. Some people refer to it as "mud season" but for us it's maple sugaring season. Usually the weather favors February to begin sugaring here in CT. We need to have freezing nights and thawing days for the sap to flow inside the trunk of a maple tree. It's only during these temperature conditions that we can collect sap from all the trees we tap. Arlow taps over 3,000 taps during February and March. The only time we can actually get sap to collect is when the trees freeze at night, and sufficiently thaw out during the daytime. This creates pressure inside the tree, which forces the sap to flow. If the conditions aren't right, there is no movement of sap, therefore no sap comes out of the tap holes. Last season didn't give us very many of these sap runs, hence it was a horrible crop. We certainly hope this year is better. A lot of people ask us "how do you think this season will be?" to which we reply, "we don't know until it's all over". It could possibly last into April, which we remember well the year we had a bumper crop (2007) and it lasted until the second week of April. As soon as warmer temperatures either force the leaf buds to pop on the trees, or we don't get any more freezing nights, maple sugaring season will be over.
Arlow is still busy tapping trees, as this endeavor takes up much of his time. He taps all over the area, including trees in the towns of Hartland (where we are), Barkhamsted, Granby, East Granby, Simsbury, and also Granville and Blandford,MA. Even though we have made some syrup already, he still goes out and taps almost until the end of the season. Tapping does not hurt a tree! It would be akin to you pricking your finger tip with a pin, and a few drops come out, and then it heals over. The same goes for a tree. The small hole will yield a tiny bit of sap which we collect, then when warmer weather comes and the sap flow stops, the tree will heal over the hole. Each year a new tap hole must be drilled, it cannot be drilled in the same spot. The tremendous amount of snow that fell on us this winter gave a thick deep snow pack, which made it harder to get out to the trees and tap. Arlow had to actually wear snow shoes much of the time!
We are getting ready for our 5th Annual Maple Festival which will be held here on Saturday March 12 from 10-4. New this year will be pony rides brought to you by Fiddlehead Farm in Granby. Bring the kids for this fun filled day. Weather permitting we will also have a bouncy house. There will be all kinds of classes, tours, and demonstrations throughout the day. Check out our schedule of events at our website I have been very busy making all kinds of maple products like sugar candy, maple jelly, maple cream, maple lollipops, and more to supply the sales counter. Friends and family will be helping us out to put on this event, which is the biggest happening at our farm all year. (Actually, considering the small size of Hartland, it's probably one of the biggest events in this town). If you can't make it to the festival this year, you can always come to one of our open house days on Saturdays in March. You can come smell the steam and watch us produce syrup. I give classes and tours to groups also. I have several scheduled for homeschoolers, scouts, schools and more. We are probably one of the few sugarhouses in the area that offers classes on maple sugaring. I honestly didn't know much of anything about sugaring at all until I met Arlow. After years of helping out, I now give the classes! The only thing I can remember about maple sugaring before I met Arlow was when I went on a field trip with my Girl Scout troop to some sugarhouse, where we drank sap out of the sap buckets, and had pancakes and sugar-on-snow. Now we offer the same type of experience to kids all around. As a kid growing up, we didn't get to eat real maple syrup, it was Aunt Jemima or something. Now I have it all the time and the thought of using thickened gooey corn syrup with artificial flavorings on my pancakes is gross.
I have to say though, I AM looking forward to warmer weather soon. It has been one looooonnnng winter. I want to see GREEN, not white and brown anymore. While I don't want Spring to rush in and land another horrible sugaring season in our laps, I DO want to see coats left inside, feel sun on my face, and not have to warm up the car before I get in. If you live around here, you KNOW what I mean. Happy Spring to all!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Sweet Summer

I love summer. It's always been my favorite time of year. Even when I was a kid, I relished summer with it's lazy days, unfilled time slots to ponder and daydream, and creative play. The beach, swimming, bonfires, camping, hanging out with friends, I loved it all. Now summer has become more of a work time, with the gardens to tend, harvest to pick, markets to go to, but in between it all I sure hope we can find enough time to do all of the things I loved doing as kid. I wish we had a pool in our backyard, but now when the urge to swim comes we head out to West Hartland and go to the town beach at the "pond" which is really almost big enough to be a lake, but it's called a pond. (When does a pond become a lake anyways?) As I type this entry the gardens are straining to find moisture, it's hot and dry and I don't want to be outside weeding. I'd rather be inside to make jam or sugar, and just go outside to recreate. I love to have fires in our outdoor fireplace, have the kids play with sparklers and make s'mores, stare at the flames and be mesmerized. Or have a backyard picnic for supper, or read the Sunday paper in the sunshine, or take a walk in the woods. Sometimes I will occasionally take the time to pick a bouquet for the house rather than one to sell, and enjoy the fruits of my own labor. I love being able to go out the back door and pick dinner. I love the amount of daylight, and how it helps the houseplants set outside peak into beauty. Summer goes too fast for me, when it gets cold again and the days get shorter, a kind of melancholy sets in, where I think of all the summer days are again over until a whole year goes by. I fancy the song by Seals and Crofts.... "Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, going through the jasmine in my mind". Enjoy the summer while it is here. Take the time to do something special (like head on over to Sweet Wind Farm and go blueberry picking). Toast a marshmallow and save one for me!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Adventures of Spring

Spring has sprung, as they say. I love the warm weather, the color of green appearing, and the flowers and trees in bloom. I must say though, the pollen I am allergic to gives me great headaches. Eventually the allergic reaction will wear off, after the pollen clears out and the plants settle into their "routine". The sap buckets, tubing, and tanks are still presently being taken out of the woods, washed and put away. It is a tiresome chore that unfortunately doesn't generate any income, but must be done. Arlow gets impatient about trying to get this all done, so he can move onto other projects. The greenhouse is still awaiting the beginning of spring planting. I hesitate to start too many seedlings, as it requires a fastidious steward all of the time. With homeschooling back into my schedule, I don't seem to have as much to time to complete everything.
Speaking of such, we've been having great adventures together with homeschooling. Now that it is warmer out, we like taking little walks outside and call them our "nature study" portion of our school day. Last Fall we collected some black swallowtail caterpillars that were on the parsley plants and put them in a glass vase. They promptly turned into chrysallises, and we looked at them that way, stuck on sticks, all Winter. One day recently, Luke noticed that one had popped out. Then another, then another. We had fun watching one break out, dry its wings, then we let it go outside on a nice warm day. That was education in action! We also enjoyed a recent trip to a local park that has a pond, that was absolutely teeming with life! The toads were all there mating, I had never seen so many in one spot. There were turtles, tadpoles and polliwogs, Koi fish and smaller fish. There were frog eggs and salamander eggs in a vernal pool in the woods. The kids had a blast trying to catch all manner of pond life. Our own pond here is full of salamanders, frogs, tadpoles, and frog eggs. We used to have some bass fish in our pond, but one day awhile ago now,they all suddenly disappeared. It has been a mystery as to how it happened, there could be many causes. But when they were there, it seemed like they ate all of the eggs and tadpoles.
Our next farming adventure/homeschool project is to go to Tractor Supply and purchase a few baby chickens. Years ago we had up to 25 chickens and used to sell the eggs. We got rid of them when the hens were getting too old to lay well, Winter was approaching, and nobody seemed to want to take care of them. It's been awhile since we've had hens, but I think it would be good to at least have a few for the fresh eggs, and for the kids to have a real farm experience outside of sugaring and growing crops. I'm just hoping we don't end up with a bunch of roosters. Luke asked me why are roosters bad, and I basically said because: 1. They don't lay eggs 2. They tend to fight and peck others, and 3. They are loud and obnoxious. Of course he immediately replied that we couldn't have fertilized eggs for baby chickens without one! Oh well. I'll let you know how this next adventure formulates.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

March Madness

I was all set to start writing an article entitled "Arlow and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Sap Season", or something like "Short but Sweet", thinking that this was the shortest sugaring season ever. With the Spring-like weather that popped up flowers and made people wear shorts, we thought it could be all over. The buds started popping on the swamp maples, the pussy willows were out, and we even heard peep frogs chorusing their mating call. We took the Mustang out for a drive on one of those warm nights, thinking we'd catch dinner at The Summer House in Southwick, but when we got there it seemed like the whole population of 20 miles around was there too, with a huge line hanging out the door. Everyone had Spring fever in March ! Well, as we should know in New England, the weather is always changing, especially in March. I think it was Mark Twain who said something to this effect "If you don't like the weather, just wait 5 minutes". There is a freeze forecast for this weekend, and since the warm spell wasn't quite enough to pop the buds on the sugar maples, Arlow is intending to capitalize on it. He is out tapping some more, and re-tapping the first tapped holes so they will continue to run. He actually ran out of tubing and any new taps will have to put on buckets.
I remember the days of bucket collecting when I first met him: Pick up the heavy pails off the hook carefully so you don't spill any sap, dump it into a collecting pail, hang the bucket back up, carry the pail to the collecting tank, and do this for each and every tap hole. Much more labor intensive than collecting a tank by sucking it all up with a pump. Luke will probably like collecting this way, as he is so excited about sugaring. How much sap we get on this next run remains to be seen of course, we can never count our jugs before they are canned. If we do get another provision of sap, we can continue to host our Open Houses on Saturdays. Once the buckets and tubing are washed and put away, and all the tanks are put in storage in the 2nd floor of the sugarhouse, we will move on to the greenhouse work.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Kitchen

When we first designed the sugarhouse, we knew we wanted a kitchen to be put in. Most of the square footage of the building is comprised of the maple producing area and its equipment: the evaporator, the RO, the finisher, the canner, sinks and work space. The upstairs is mostly storage for all of the tanks, tubing, buckets, supplies, and the tank holding room where we keep a large stainless steel tank for holding the sap and keeping it cold until we are ready to boil it. There is one half of the downstairs we call the "classroom" because it is presently used as a classroom area for presenting educational classes on maple sugaring to groups. When we designed the sugarhouse, we had it built with a front porch. Originally this porch was to span the whole length of the front of the building. As we were building, we realized we needed more space for putting a kitchen in, so we decided to have a portion of the porch walled in and made as part of the inside. This little space was always called the "kitchen" even though it wasn't one until very recently. We bought a large 3 bay sink at an auction a long time ago with anticipation of installing it in our kitchen. We also bought a glass cooler, a glass covered chest freezer, a vent hood, a grill, stainless steel tables, and more at auctions. They came from either a chinese restaurant and a Wendy's that was going out of business, or an auction we went to for a farm going out of business. We also were given a 6 burner Garland range with 2 ovens, that was originally donated to the fire department to put in their kitchen remodel. Well, they ended with something nicer and didn't want it, so it sat in pieces inside our sugarhouse for almost 3 years.
We kept all of these things in storage, until Arlow got motivated to have it all up and running in time for this last Maple Festival. All of a sudden things started to come together. We first had floor heat installed. (I wish we had floor heat in the whole downstairs, as the blower to the heater is wicked noisy) We spent a good part of a Sunday afternoon at Home Depot picking out flooring, and ended up with getting some porcelain tiles that were on clearance. The radiant floor heat went in, the tiles on top of that, new plugs put in, the walls and ceiling were covered! Next the sinks were installed with new plumbing, the stove put back together over a period of a few nights work with the help of a neighbor, and lo and behold, a kitchen! It's still a bit small, with no cupboards and not much counter space, but it's a beginning. I hope we can add on with extending the square footage so we can have enough space for sugar making too. That needs a lot of counter space. Just the candy making machine alone takes up a lot of space. In fact, this piece of equipment is sitting on top of the player piano in the classroom collecting dust. I still make candy by hand, and put the sugar in a funnel and pour it from there. I still haven't tried out the candy maker even though we've owned it for over 2 years now! We also have a maple cream maker, which is in the house sitting on the dining room floor. Ugh. I don't really want it there, it belongs out in the sugarhouse kitchen but the kitchen is too small. Well, we hope that we don't have much more to do in order to get a commercial kitchen license for selling other products, like maple granola, maple coated nuts, maple cookies, breads, pies, pickles, relish,
and more. We hope that we can sell these types of specialty food products at the farmers' markets we attend. We'd love to have a maple soft serve ice cream maker, a maple cotton candy maker, a snow shaver for doing sugar-on-snow, and maple kettle corn would be fun too! Well, one thing at a time, for now we'll stick with pancakes.

Too warm!

Okay, I know that everybody out there is looking forward to these warm temperatures and Spring like weather, but it is killing the maple sugaring! I love Spring as much, if not more, than all of you, but when it comes too soon, maple sugaring season gets killed. We were hoping to make around 1,000 gallons this year, but those hopes are getting dashed with this soaring temps in the 60's. The tap holes on the trees will start to heal up and stop giving sap, and then worse of all the buds start to pop on the trees. Once the buds pop, if we do get any more sap it will taste bad. Let's hope the temps go back below freezing at night soon!
We are hosting an Open House this Saturday, March 20 from 10 till 4. We hopefully will have some sap to boil, and you can come over and watch, smell the steam, and have a taste sample. We won't do as much as we did for the Maple Festival for a schedule, but we will have either a video or slide show going up on the screen, give tours, and offer pancakes, coffee and more to our visitors. We hope to repeat this event the following Saturday, March 27th. If you missed out on the Maple Festival, this is a perfect time to come over and visit us.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sugaring Season

It is considered to be in the middle of sugaring season by most accounts. Typically maple syrup season starts in mid-February here in CT, and lasts up to the first week of April. But that doesn't always hold true. It could start sooner or later, or end sooner or later. You see it depends on the weather patterns and temperatures. You need to have freezing nights, and warm thawing days, in order for the sap to run in the maple tree. Even though it is sugaring season now, we don't get a sap run every day. The weather forecast doesn't look too promising for the coming days, for the weather experts are predicting no freezing nights in the near future. Not so good for us. When we have an extended period of warm days with no freezing happening, the tapped holes start to heal up and the buds start to pop on the trees, effectively ending sugaring season. All we can hope for is some more freezes coming up and making this season last a bit longer. It started later than we had hoped for, as it stayed too cold in February for it to begin "on time". Oh well, such is the life of farming. We depend on the weather, and we can't control it.
We had a successful 4th Annual Maple Festival on March 13th this year. It was raining the whole day, but not bad enough to keep everyone away. Of course, if it were nice out we would have had a bigger crowd, but we were happily impressed with the amount of people that showed up anyways. A lot of family showed up, many to help out with all the work. We served up pancakes and more, gave classes and tours, had a sugar-on-snow eat, did a recipe cooking class, story time for kids, and more. It was a busy day! We are planning on hosting a few more "Open Houses" on Saturdays for the rest of the month. We won't have a full schedule like we did for the Maple Fest, but visitors can come and watch us boil, have a tour, watch a slide show or video, and sample some maple treats!
I am still hosting many classes and tours for groups for the rest of March and a few into April as well. A lot of homeschoolers come, as well as public school classes, boy and girl scouts, and other adult or senior club groups. It's fun for all ages. There are a few available spots left on my calendar, but it is pretty full. I believe we are one of the very few sugarhouses around this area that does a complete educational class on maple sugaring. There's a bit of history, science, mathematics, business, and home-ec all thrown into one package!
Well, let's hope for some more sap to run, even though we are all craving for the warmth of Spring!