St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Syrup Barch 2 and Margo prepares for Surgery

Scott and I took off batch 2 of the maple syrup season --about 6 gallons this time.  Added to the 4 gallons of the first batch, we are officially 1/2 of a normal syrup season, even though the trees never have run very heavy yet.  

With only 75 buckets out this year (we are retrenching as Margo has back surgery the 2nd of April and we are likely to be hovering around Rochester Mayo for a week or so), and the normal bucket yield of 1 quart per tap hole, we should get about 19 gallons in a normal year.  So the 10 gallons means we are at least 1/2 way there.  

I use an old Cub Cadet for hauling wood at the lake when the Ford tractor is tied up with the sap tank.  Got it out and hauled a load yesterday and noticed the front right tire was showing tube.  Now, showing boob can be a good thing even appreciated by old guys, but showing a little tube is not good.   
The 40 year old tires have gotten rotten and started to split.  So it is off to the store sometime to get a new 4.80/4.00-8 set of front tires.  These have tubes in them even though originally they are labelled "tubeless."   

Spring and fall are the favorite times to cut wood on the farm as the temps are not too warm or cold and we can get around in the woods fine.  We plan to use part wood heat on the farm if we winter here next season.  

Margo spent Thursday having pre-surgery checks and all is OK for Tuesday, April 2, surgery on her upper back/neck.  The plan is to put in a metal scaffold to straighten, spread and strengthen the backbone so it doesn't deteriorate more and no longer pinches the spinal cord causing intense pain all of the time.  They also will take bone from her hip to add to the existing structure to firm things up.  

The operation is much like what one does to a building, like a barn, with a sagging roof (yes, I am still working on getting the barn back in shape--but slowly).  

The plan:  Margo has surgery Thursday, stays in St Mary's hospital in Rochester until Monday, we take her to Barron hospital for a couple of weeks of rehab and then she will be home later in April for up to a year of recovery.  The biggest hope is that this second operation (first was to fix the lower back) will relive the constant pain and let her get back to living normally again.   Barron is part of the Mayo system and as I spent most of my life as a Mayo employee, our Mayo supplemental health insurance pays better if we stay in the Mayo system.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Syrup in the Bottle, One Day Old

The first small batch of syrup -- light colored, pleasant flavor and only 4 gallons (1 gallon to our crew member Dave)

The lake, in an effort to set an early opening record, is about 1/3 open this morning.  I think the earliest before was about March 30th with normal about April 15th 

Sometimes the snow catches us before we have put things away.

A new spring snow often stimulates maples to drip overnight.  This morning, about 1/4 of this bucket was filled after the 5 pm emptying and it was dripping already at 7 am when I first checked.

On the soybean stubble, a pair of Sandhill Cranes does some spooning. 

The deer just checked me out from their corn stubble breakfast.
Marv -- see the big down oak in the back of the field across from  your farm.

The spring snows are still pretty even though they are annoying to folks who have come through the winter and are thinking about gardening rather than shoveling snow. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

First Maple Syrup of the Season

We tapped some of the maple trees early this year -- the 10th and 11th we put out about 75 buckets or so as it got so warm that we were sure the trees would run.  Now 10 days later, we finally cooked down a small batch of about 4 gallons of syrup. 

As the rain sprinkled down this afternoon (the first day of Spring), we are wondering if this will be one of those seasons that get too warm too soon and make maple syrup production a bust.  However, the last two years most of our production was in the last 2 weeks of April, so we haven't given up, and unlike our helper, Dave, we haven't put away the snowplow for the season yet. 

 No snow in the woods left

Robins, redwings, bluebirds, grackles, ducks, geese, swans, sandhills and other birds are back and making a cheerful noise each morning 

Turkey males have started gobbling and displaying

The first day of spring the sun came up directly in the east

My 6:30am firing and tank filling is not quite in the dark

The first 10 days of warm weather haven't really run much sap yet.  The forecast for the next 10 days looks ideal.

Margo goes for a pre-surgery check next Thursday and then has surgery on her neck and upper back on April 2nd.  The schedule is to be in the hospital until Monday the 6th and then head to Barron WI (a hospital rehab bed) for a couple of weeks.  She will wear a neck brace for 3 months.  She is hopeful this will get rid of the constant pain that stops her from doing most anything.  A pain in the neck is not so funny for the person who has it.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Nevers Dam on the St Croix this Morning

My son, Scott, stopped at Nevers Dam on the St Croix this morning and walked out to the edge of the berm where the dam began on the Wisconsin side to try and photograph the bald eagle's nest on the island below. 

The close up photos are taken with the Nikon p510 with a 42x zoom plus digital zoom 

Normal view down river without zoom.  This is just below Nevers Dam site. 

Looking up river --the ice breaker rock piles that protected the dam show

Monday, March 16, 2015

St Croix River opens

The warm temps let much of the St Croix River above St Croix Falls begin to open up with the ice going out.  Scott took a tour along the river today and took a few photos -- the bald eagles are on an island in the river near Nevers Dam. 

A little opening in the lake attracted a pair of trumpeter swans

Not much sap to cook yet

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Walking in the Woods

Written March 10th as the warm spell that melted all the snow began to take hold.  
Up to 62F this afternoon in the maple sugar woods.  We put out a few more test buckets here and there across the 70 acres to make sure we are ready when the sap drips faster.  

The first test bucket was dripping one drop per 3 seconds which converts into 1/50th of a gallon per hour or if it ran for about 8 hours that would a pint and a half of sap, when cooked down at 40 to 1 we would end up with a tablespoon of maple syrup.   So not really running very much yet!

Couldn't resist raking a little in the yard around the front of the house to prepare for spring cleaning.  A little too muddy, but fun anyway. 

No robins here yet, although they are in Eau Claire and Baraboo WI.  The snow is almost gone in the open areas and getting thin in the woods.  Very small trickling runoff as not much snow. 

Sunday Scott grills out on the farm. The snow in this photo is all gone two days later. 

Maple Syruping Lull

We put out about 75 buckets so far -- quite early but the warm temperatures are right for sap running.  We decided to wait on putting out more until they really are running.  Too much chance of the 5 - week hole viability period finishing before the sap run finishes.  Tap too early and the holes dry up and you miss late runs.  

We gathered about 1/2 gallon per tree (some had 1 gallon and others none) in the 5 days the buckets have been out, so we probably should have waited a little longer. 

Our sap shed improvements for this year include a new stovepipe that goes straight up instead of out the side--for better draft, and heat shields around the fire box to keep more heat directed at the pan.  Brought the 40 gallons of sap up to a boil to sterilize it so it will keep for a few days until we get another 100 gallons to begin cooking the first batch. 

With temperatures in the 50s and 60s, we couldn't resist planting a few peas and lettuce in the sand garden.  March 14th is surely the earliest we have ever tried it.  In 2012, Mom planted peas on March 30th and they grew fine.  The sand is not muddy and probably the ground is thawed below, although I haven't seen any fresh gopher mounds yet.  

Strawberries came through the winter green under the snow