Monday, April 15, 2013

Blue Slate turkey poults at the Little Farm

After a winter that continues to cling tightly with below freezing nights, snow and ice storms, signs of spring are finally starting to emerge.

All the spring birds have returned including our pair of Eastern Bluebirds and Mourning Doves, not to mention a host of other birds like Red-winged Blackbirds, American Robins and Sandhill Cranes. The morning air is awash with birdsong and it fills the heart with joy.

The grapevine shoots we snipped off in Feb. and stuck in water until we could plant them outside are growing leaves.  We can't wait to have more of this wonderful, 50-year old grapevine popping out clusters of juicy purple Concord-tasting grapes.

Grapevine and apple shoots

The maple sap has nearly finished running and the trees are budding out.  So far we've boiled about 10 gallons of sap down to 2.5 pints of syrup. And somehow it tastes even sweeter knowing it came from our own trees.

The apple seeds we planted are sprouting (yes yes, we know specific apple varieties don't grow from seeds, they grow from grafts... but we're willing to take a chance - all the best applesauce and cider apples used to be planted from seeds - aka Johnny Appleseed-style).

And to top it all off, my first batch of turkey eggs are hatching!!

Blue Slate turkey eggs hatching

And yes, I can already see the resemblance to my breeding pairs of Blue Slate Turkeys, although we can expect a mixture of colors to come out of our slate-to-slate pairs including black, slate and self blue.

Of course I will love them all no matter what color they are.

Blue Slate turkey poults at the Little Farm

My heritage turkeys can breed naturally, unlike 99.9% of the turkeys in this country, the Broad-Breasted Whites that grace most dinner tables during the holidays. 

I feel honored to be witness to this miraculous event, the looping 'round of the circle of life, right beneath my eyes.

Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl blog

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Sweet little Jenny Blue Slate turkey hen

I almost titled this "the things we do to avoid doing our taxes," but  my mother-in-law might read this and then we'd be in trouble.  Because she's our accountant.

In fact, if you're my mother-in-law, you might want to skip this post and just imagine us diligently working on our taxes.

I also want to warn you that if you're following my blog by RSS or e-mail, this is a post from April that I never posted.  I'm posting it now and back-dating it, mostly because I want my on-line journal to reflect what I was doing back when I was actually doing it, so when next year I scratch my head and think, "When did we order those heritage turkeys?" I don't have to check my June posts for something that happened in April.

I know I've not been posting very much so far this year. There is a good reason. And it's not that I've been too busy preparing my taxes.  I've been neck-deep in a 5-month certification testing process for my job. It has quite frankly sucked all the free-time and creative-writing-energy right out of me.  Not to mention, all my time - day and evening.

But I'm almost done certifying now. Light at the end of the tunnel and all that.


I don't study on the weekends, since that is sacred time to spend with Papa Bear and all the farm chores that get put off during the week. So here's a snippet of some of the stuff that's been happening around here lately {and by "lately" I mean last April} when I'm not studying {and we're not doing our taxes}.

Playing with the turkeys. My original batch of turkeys are still alive and well. All four of them. They escaped Christmas dinner. They escaped Easter dinner. My females have been laying fertilized eggs since January, and there are a dozen turkey eggs in our incubator about a week away from hatching.


Blue Slate turkey eggs in an incubator

Or rather, {CHEEP!}

We keep meaning to eat some of them (the adults, not the incubating eggs), but my females keep jumping in my lap to snooze and cuddle, and my boys are so tame and sweet that unless they suddenly turn nasty on us, it looks like they may stick around for awhile. 

I also ordered about 15 heritage turkey poults from Porter's Rare Heritage Turkeys last week, and I have a local source for some Midget Whites that also might be showing up some time in May.

Yes, I know this puts me at risk for being labeled "the turkey lady." I'm OK with that. 

Have you seen a baby turkey before?  Have you heard their little peep peeps and trills?  It is nothing like a chicken, and I think baby chickens are freakishly cute, too. It's like a little flock of tree frogs.

But much much quieter and sweeter. 

{mostly quieter}

Blue Slate turkey poult from Cackle Hatchery

It snowed up through the first week of April and is still threatening to snow again.  My friends at The Big Farm nearly got their tractor stuck in our pasture trying to move some large round bales out of Molly's Haymow.  In April.  Which was a darn good excuse for PB to put off doing taxes for the entire day, "helping them out." 

And then we found a dead racoon in the machine shed.  Just lyin' there frozen stiff, back leg all busted up. Kind of creepy, I'm glad PB found it instead of me, and I'm glad he found it before it thawed.

The coon's buddy however is alive and well - we discovered him (her?) hanging off the gutter of the house one night reaching for our bird feeder and later snoozing in the haymow with a dead opossum lying next to him.  I am guessing the opossum was there first and the 'coon didn't want to share.

Or the opossum is just really good at playing dead. He joined the dead raccoon out in the hay field.

You can barter hay for just about anything after a bad year for rain.  We bartered some of ours for pigs and lambs this year.  We're hoping for more rain this summer so nobody has to send their herds to auction just because they don't have enough hay to feed them.

Kali on a bale last fall

The local auctioneer drove down my driveway last week to personally tell me he had some sheep in the auction the next day that I should come and take a look at. And bid on.

We sat in the back row, behind the young Amish farmers bidding on cows. I almost bid on a Brown Swiss steer yearling. 


I didn't bid on the lambs. They were vaccinated and conventionally grown {read: GMO grain-fed} and me and my customers want GMO-free, grass-fed.
We boiled down about 8 gallons of Maple sap into nearly 2 pints of maple syrup. It took 1.5 days on the stove in the kitchen.  Which means we have 7.75 gallons of maple water in the air in our house now.  And it gave us 1.5 days not to work on our taxes.

Only a little maple syrup went into our mouths...

Zoey decided she can climb the big white pine by the house.  Kali is extremely jealous of Zoey's front claws.

Zoey the amazing tree climbing cat

Mojo followed us all the way out to the back pasture.  He's never done that before.  He did spend the entire jaunt complaining.  I think he was saying, "You're going too far!  Come back to the safety of the house! 

{Come baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaccckkkk!!!!"}
Mojo aka Mountain Lion

Big News - we've renamed our farm.  But I haven't had the time or energy to fix the website I'm creating for it. So you'll have to stay tuned for the grand opening celebration.

There will be door prizes and lots of clapping.

Cheers - 

Gypsy Farmgirl

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Maple tree on the little farm

I remember visiting a sugar bush once when I was a child. It was a family event, traipsing out into the snowy March woods.  I don't remember the tapping or the collecting.  All I remember is I had to pee really badly and we were a long, long way from a bathroom so I had to wait a really long time.

And when you're little, a really long time seems to take a lifetime. 

Then when we lived in Duluth I volunteered with the Outdoor Program at UMD. One of the programs we offered was tapping maple trees with elementary students from the local schools.  With a hand drill we took groups of kids out, showed them how to identify leafless maples, place taps and hang the buckets, told them stories about the way the Native Americans had collected sap, then made them snow cones with finished syrup on top.

So naturally with all of this memory and experience behind me, I wanted to tap our maple trees this year.

Here is our short list of things you will need for this project:

Maple Trees
Free buckets with lids {try your local cafeterias, grocery stores, etc.}
Taps & tubing {or old fashioned metal taps and metal sap buckets if you have them or can borrow}
A cordless drill with a battery that still holds a charge, with a drill bit size 11/64 or an antique hand drill
An old, clean shirt
A large stock pot
Canning jars and lids
A heat source - preferably outside

Last fall in all my wisdom I decided we should traipse up and down the ridge flagging all our maples with pink tape so I could still identify them when the leaves all fell off.

After all the traipsing we had identified exactly four maple trees on the property.  

That didn't deter us from continuing with our plans.

We get a lot of free buckets from the food co-op and cafeteria in the building where Papa Bear works. We use these buckets for everything.

I've been told you can't farm without a skid steer, but I think rather you can't farm without free buckets.

We borrowed some new-fangled plastic taps & tubing from our friends at The Big Farm.  They're modern and plastic and work really great in that the buckets can keep their lids on with this setup and keep out most of the rain water and bugs.  And you don't have to hang the buckets on the tree, you can keep them on the ground.  Papa Bear drilled small holes in the side of the buckets big enough to thread the tubing through.

This task required buying a whole new drill, because the rechargeable battery for his old drill wasn't made anymore.  So I guess it's not really "free" maple syrup, because Papa Bear bought a drill.  But he did buy it with his own allowance money, so I guess it was free for the rest of the family.

{Thanks Papa!}

diy free maple syrup

Our spring was so odd this year, with daytime and nighttime temps below zero for so long, then jumping up to day and night temps above zero, that for the first several days we collected absolutely zero sap.  The sap runs best when the nights are below freezing but the days are above.

At the end of the first week I checked the bucket on the tree near the house and was startled to find it half full. After traipsing up and down along the ridge (next year we're running the tubing down from the trees to a level spot) we had collected a whopping total of about 8 gallons of sap.

I know that's almost nothing but it felt like quite the haul to us.

We brought one bucket in the house and poured the sap through a clean shirt into the largest stockpot we had.

Filtering maple sap

We put the pot on the burner on high and kept it boiling all day. We added a little fan to help the evaporation process.

Boiling maple sap

We added more filtered sap as the day progressed, but by night we had not finished it, so we turned off the stove and went to bed.

The next morning we resumed boiling. It took about another 4 hours or so until it had reached the right consistency.

Lacking a syrup hydrometer we used the "spoon test," watching for "sheeting."

We kept disagreeing at this point as to whether or not the syrup was done.  (I didn't think it was done yet, PB did).

We got out our store-bought bottle of syrup and compared the way the syrup dripped off a spoon. We watched several YouTube videos. Then suddenly the syrup changed the way it was boiling and indeed when it dripped off the spoon now, a little bit clung in a peak after the last drip.

It was done!

Before this point we had sterilized our glass jars & lids so there was nothing left to do but pour the syrup into the hot jars and screw on the lids.

pouring maple syrup into canning jars

And taste a little.

There's just nothing sweeter than syrup you've made yourself, from your own trees, for {nearly} free.

Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl brings you DIY Maple Syrup

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