I’d Like to Tap That


As we prepare to tap our sugar maples for this spring’s sap harvest, I reviewed last year’s post for information. Thought I’d be SUPER lazy and reblog it, rather than write a new one. For once in my life, I didn’t have something to add.

Originally posted on applewood farm:

IMG_2755 Hmm… could be anything, really.

Back at the end of September, I wrote about our time spent marking the sugar maples on our property.  It was a stroke of genius on our part, since it is REALLY difficult to determine tree types when they are completely devoid of leaves.

In the spring, identification would be impossible for us, but in the autumn, all we had to do was walk around with some twine and our eyes and look for the telltale sugar maple leaf.

Once located, we would measure the circumfrence of each tree to determine whether it was a candidate for tapping.

IMG_0472 Sinatra-loving timber

We looked for trees that were around 20″ in diameter (preferably larger) that had a well-exposed south-facing spot to hang a bucket.

There are some basic rules of thumb about which trees to use and how large they should be.  These rules vary wildly based…

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Goats, Beautiful Goats

There was a beautiful, sunny day last week.

I left work to let the dogs out and check on the other animals and was immediately struck by how lovely everything looked.

Something about the angle of the sun and the stillness of the day made everything (and everyone) look exceptionally photogenic.

So, I ran back inside for my camera.

DSC_0013Now, the pigs were sleeping and not getting up, and the chickens were largely hunkered down in the garage, but the goats… well… the goats were posing like it was a shoot for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover (livestock issue).

Especially our stinky, borrowed buck.  He was working the camera with everything he had.

All that was missing was a wind machine.


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My Bees are Freezing!

Last year, one of my hives didn’t survive the winter.

The hive. And the other hive.

The hive.
And the other hive.

The long, cold days took their toll on the inhabitants of that hive so, over the summer, I made a split from the remaining hive.

Everything was going along fine, but now, we find ourselves enduring another brutally cold and exceptionally windy winter.

Windchill temperatures have plummeted well below zero for days at a time, week after week, with only brief breaks in between.

Oddly, these in-between breaks have been unusually warm.

During the cold spells, the sun would be more of an ineffectual bright light in the sky than anything else. During the warm-weather breaks, temperatures could skyrocket into the high 20s or even (gasp!) the low 30s.

I realize this doesn’t sound particularly toasty.

But, when you’re talking about an increase of 40-50 degrees, it feels like nothing short of a heat wave.

Venture forth and freeze!

Go forth and freeze!

Add to this the warming effects of a shining sun on a cloudless day, and you’ll find yourself with beehives whose occupants are being fooled into thinking spring has sprung.

And so they venture out.

And then they freeze and die.

I have found dozens of frozen bees scattered in the snow around the hives.


I was told there would be nectar. This is not nectar.

I realize that the hives are still buzzing and that there are many thousands still alive and well, but I find these inadvertent suicides troubling.

Perhaps, soon, it will be warm for real and we can let bees be bees once again.

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I Can’t Hold a Candle to You

Clean, rinsed, lovely wax

After spinning out our honey, we had what appeared to be a great deal of beeswax left over.

We soaked it in water overnight to loosen up any residual dirt and then rinsed it several times to get it as clean as possible.

At this point, we added about two inches of water to a pot that we never, ever intend to use for anything other than wax ever again, and to that we added the cleaned wax.



Over a frustratingly low heat, we waited for the wax-water to boil.  This took several lifetimes, but was preferable to the alternative high-heat method wherein the wax either scorches or hits its flash point and erupts in a terrifying indoor fireworks display of eyelash-melting proportion.

Better to take it slow and avoid all the potential unpleasantness.

It took over an hour, but the wax finally started bubbling nicely.  At this point, we poured the hot wax through cheesecloth into plastic quart containers.

Super wastey.

Super wastey.

If I had it to do over again, I would never have wasted the cheesecloth in this reckless and wanton manner.  Cheesecloth is precious, for Pete’s sake!  It’s expensive!  It is not a single-use item!  Folks have used everything from an old t-shirt to pantyhose to strain their wax.  Use what you like, just avoid high-ticket items such as cheesecloth and $100 bills (although both of these will work just fine).

Not beer.

Not beer.

Once all the wax was filtered, we had four beautiful quart containers filled with the most promising amber-brown liquid I’d ever seen.

I started feeling really elated.  I couldn’t believe we’d gotten such an enormous yield on our first-ever attempt! While waiting for the wax to cool, I started thinking about candle-making.

Then, I started planning all the wonderful things we could make.

Then, I started noticing how the wax and water were separating in the containers.

Then, I realized that the VERY THIN BAND of lighter colored material at the top of each container was the wax and EVERYTHING ELSE was brown water.

No. 2 pencil for scale

No. 2 pencil for scale

So, in the end, we got about a 6-ounce piece of wax.  But, boy-oh-boy! is it ever pretty!

Maybe we’ll make candles next year.

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Sticky Fingers

At the end of the summer, I pulled honey frames from my two bee hives.

As long as the bees are left with at least 70 pounds of honey to get them through the winter, the beekeeper can take any surplus.  I like to err on the side of caution and leave more than 70 pounds (what if the winter is longer than usual? what if they get hungry in the middle of the night? what if there’s one really piggy bee who eats more than her share?), but this year’s yield was still quite impressive.

A box full of promise.

A box full of promise.

The honey frames were stored in the garage in clear, Rubbermaid-style bins since the fall.

Since I had no way to spin the honey myself, I figured I would just keep it safe from moths, bees, mice, and bears until I could use one of my friends’ extractors.

So the honey frames sat in the boxes through the fall and most of the winter.

And the honey froze.

And, inside the house, we ran out of honey.

And that seemed ridiculous.

So, for my birthday, Dave bought me my very own extractor!  And yesterday was Get-the-Honey-Day.

I’d taken a total of nine small frames and six large frames from the two hives.  Largely, the frames came from my original hive.  The second hive was a fairly recent split, and I didn’t want to take much from them; I wanted to ensure that the split would survive the winter.

DSC_0046 DSC_0034Interestingly, when uncapping the frames, we found that some of them were filled with really dark, brown honey and others with light, golden honey.

In some of the frames (as you can see in the top picture), there was even a combination of light and dark in side-by-side cells.

Because the color of honey depends on its nectar source, it is safe to assume that the nectar collected to produce both the light and dark honey were from very different types of flowers.

The time of collection can also be a factor as early spring honey is lighter than honey collected in fall.

While lighter honey is said to be milder than darker honey (because, as we’ve been telling our kids every time we give them properly cooked food, COLOR IS FLAVOR), our method of spinning combined the light and dark and gave us an end-product somewhere in the middle.

Honey dripping through the first filter before being pushed through the fine mesh sieve.

Honey dripping through the first filter before being pushed through the fine mesh sieve.

After a sweaty, sticky day of spinning near the wood stove (to keep things warm and flowing), we filtered the honey twice.

The first filtering took out the large pieces of wax, propolis, and unlucky bees.

The second filtering clarified the honey and gave us our finished product.

At the day’s end, almost everything we owned had at least a little honey on it.

We were tired and sticky and hot and sticky and sticky.

But, we yielded over three-and-a-half gallons (more than last year!) and are going to try harvesting the wax next.

Thanks, bees.

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The F***ing Starlings

Starlings are the worst.

And they are absolutely EVERYWHERE these days.

I mean, HOW?!?!

How do you poop on a wall?? I mean, HOW?!?!

They are eating more of the chicken feed than the chickens, whatever pig feed might be left in the troughs, and we are finding starling poop on surfaces that defy the laws of gravity and logic.

A chicken coop isn’t the cleanest place in the world on the best of days.  Since The Great Starling Invasion of 2015, however, the coop is but one of many spots on the farm that have been befouled by starling stool.


Fire the pastry chef.

The chicken waterer, for example, was decorated like some horrible metal cake at feeding time tonight.

When I went in the coop tonight to check for eggs and to see how the chickens were doing on food and water, at least 20 starlings were nestled in the corners.

Side by side with the hens.

They’re not even TRYING to be sneaky.

Anything you read about starlings in New York, or the United States in general, will tell you that they tend to compete for habitat with native birds and are considered to be an invasive species.

I am here to report that truer words have never been printed.

Abstract Expressionism?

Abstract Expressionism?

These pointy-beaked, omnivorous, Super-Shitters are wiping us out of bird feed daily and all they offer in return is to make it look like Jackson Pollack visited the farm and tried out bird crap as his medium.

So, what can we do about it?

The answer, as far as we can tell, is nothing.

Dave tried to fashion a Starling Blockade of sorts by hanging chicken wire from the top of the coop entrance and attaching sticky-outty wires to the sides.

Mostly, the starlings just flew around or under it and then got trapped INSIDE when we’d show up and scare them.

So, one might be led to wonder what on earth is the point?! of an invasive bird species which does no good, only creates havoc, and provides nothing of value.

I know I did.

And then, driving home one day, I saw a murmuration.  I didn’t realize that these were specific to starlings, nor did I understand how or why they happened.

If you’ve never seen a murmuration, I urge you to click on the above link.

If you’ve seen many murmurations, I won’t need to urge you to click, you’ll already have done so.

I am an asshole.

I am an asshole.

So, because of this extraordinarily beautiful and magical thing these rotton jerks can do, I reckon we’ll continue to put up with them and their shitty ways.

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Making Goat Milk Yogurt

DSC_0096Thanks to our friend Tagan, we have found a fabulous way to make beautiful yogurt with our abundance of goat milk on applewood farm.

Up until now, we’ve made chèvre (it was fine) and ricotta (good, but with limited uses), but our attempts at yogurt just weren’t successful.

We started sending all of our goat milk, every week, down to our Brooklyn restaurant, applewood, where Chef Sam and his team of culinary wizards did beautiful things with it… think goat milk ice cream and clarified goat milk cocktails, to name just two.

But when Tagan posted her Super Easy-No Fuss yogurt recipe that (for us) would provide unlimited, free yogurt, we couldn’t resist trying our hands at it.

We’ve done it twice now, and it’s turned out perfectly both times.  Here’s what you do:

DSC_01081. Milk your goat (cow/sheep/pig/cat… whatever’s handy) and collect the milk until you have at least 1/2 gallon.

2. Over high heat, bring your milk up to 180 degrees.

3. Move the pot of milk off the heat and set it aside to cool down to 110 degrees.

4. While the milk is cooling, bring a pot of water to boil and sterilize your jars and lids.

5. Boil some more water and fill two or three quart-sized glass jars with the boiling water.  Secure lids onto these.

DSC_01146. Line a cooler with bath towels and place the hot water jars inside.  Close the lid.

7. When the milk has cooled to 100 degrees, mix in 1/2 cup of plain yogurt (once you’ve made one batch, you should reserve at least 1/2 cup to use for your next batch).

8. Pour the milk-yogurt mixture into sterilized jars, secure with tight-fitting lids, and place into the towel-lined cooler with the hot water jars.

9. Wrap everything with the towels, close the lid, and let sit for 8-12 hours.

Chris… enjoying.

Chris… enjoying.

10. Cool for 12-24 hours (the longer it cools, the better the consistency) and enjoy!

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