Thursday, April 16, 2015


Captured one of our rare sunsets a few nights ago.  We have a hill to the west, so unless it lights up the whole sky we don't see it.  But we were sitting inside when there seemed to be a bright glow coming in the window.  I went out to look, and wow!

It wasn't really too dramatic at first, some patchy pinkish/orange clouds.

But as I waited patiently (shivering in the cold evening air), it spread over the entire sky, even the eastern sky.

And it was quite a mixture of colours, from pink to yellow to orange.

Linking to:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

First 'Wild' Flowers

The first 'wildflowers' here are the bright yellow Coltsfoot, and the Skunk Cabbage.  It's a little hard to label these as wildflowers though, 'cause the Coltsfoot was coming up through the driveway where we park our trailer, and the Skunk Cabbage was growing in the ditch!  And Coltsfoot can be a bit invasive in places.  But they are certainly not cultivated garden plants, and they are the first in the spring (along with Hepatica, which I haven't seen yet).

Coltsfoot sends its bright yellow flower up on a separate stalk before any leaves appear.  The leaves are quite large, appear later, and last right into the fall.

Here you can see several other flower buds just emerging from the gravel; there will be a little cluster of these in a day or two.

And down the road at the edge of a swamp is the Skunk Cabbage.  It literally comes up right through the snow, and again the reddish purple 'flower' comes first.  Here the first green leaves are showing up.  They're even larger than the Coltsfoot leaves.

Here are the actual flowers of the Skunk Cabbage, the small yellow clusters found on the spadix, inside the spathe, both of which are purple in colour.  I think I was smart this time and used a fill-in flash to light up the flowers in the interior, which are very hard to see.

Won't be long til we have lots more 'real' wildflowers.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Spring Flowers Popping Up!

Since I posted pictures of our first spring garden flower, the tiny blue Iris, a week ago today, the snow has disappeared and we've had several actually warm days.  More flowers are just popping up in the garden overnight!

We really need to splurge and get more of these early spring flowers; they're so nice to see in the otherwise brown April garden.  These Snowdrops were the next to emerge, in three different spots.

There was even a bee going from blossom to blossom as I took pictures.  I'm not one for 'manicuring' a picture, but I really should have moved that white stick out of the background!

Today the first two blooms on the Pasque flower emerged, just a little late for Easter.  Last year was the first for this plant, and it's going to have a lot more blossoms this year.

This afternoon I noticed that the first crocus had emerged, among the mulch beside the new cement patio we had built late last summer adding a bright flash of colour.

They're really worth a close look, and I think we have several other colours coming along soon.

I had to stop at a neighbour's place to get these Winter Aconite blooms.   One of the earliest of the spring flowers here, I'd like to get some for our own garden.

And I've noticed that those tiny dwarf Iris seem to have spread a lot; there are quite a few more plants than last year, still blooming brightly.

Monday, April 13, 2015

One More Maple Syrup Place

I've enjoyed your comments on my maple syrup stories. Having made maple syrup ourselves on a VERY small scale many years ago (but quite successfully), it's nice to see all the different style operations.  There was one more, a very large commercial operation, the largest I've ever seen, with over 6000 trees tapped!

At this scale, it was based of course on the tubes collecting sap from trees - from over 100 acres of Sugar Maple forest!

The tubes all came together into larger tubing, some of which ran under the farm lane, and toward the sugar shack.

 All the sap is collected here in these five pipes, into a small pump house.

This is the pump house, sunk in the ground.  It pulls the sap from the tubing, and then pumps it into large vats in the sugar shack until enough accumulates to turn on the evaporator.

This is one of two huge vats holding fresh sap, just from today's run, ready for processing.

 How do two people handle this scale of operation?  They look for ways to save time.  And this is it - their firewood supply, all chipped!  They harvest smaller trees, as you would normally thin a woodlot, and chip the entire tree.  This makes for a very efficient use of the wood, and saves an enormous amount of firewood cutting and splitting and stacking and handling time!

The chips are loaded in the red bin on the left with a front end loader, and run into the burner through the slanted pipe.

Inside they drop down this enclosed conveyor belt to an auger, which automatically loads them into the burner.  You never have to open the boiler door to toss in the firewood, again making it much more efficient.

And it ends up feeding this enormous evaporator, the largest I've ever seen.  Here the entire evaporator has an overhead hood to capture the steam, so there is no steam inside the building, and no raised roof.   The farm couple markets almost their entire production through local farm markets, attending several nearby year-round.  This operation provides a full-time income for this farm couple, so their entire farm is Sugar Maple forest.   I was impressed at the system he had worked out.

And one more evaporator, not as large as that one, but this is the first electrically heated evaporator in all of Ontario.  Costly, but enormously more efficient at evaporating and producing syrup.  According to the operator, it also provides much more consistent quality.  It's expensive to purchase, but very cheap to run per gallon.  But I'd miss the weeks in the bush cutting firewood, and the steam in the sugar shack I think.

With this week's rise in temperature (it's finally not going below freezing at night anymore), the maple syrup season is over.  I think we'll be making this tour an annual event for us.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

More Maple Syrup

We actually visited all 7 farms on the Kemble Maple Syrup Tour, so we saw a lot of different scale operations, from very small family affairs, to very large commercial operations.  Here are a few more examples of the smaller family style, so you appreciate the variety of sugar shacks and boilers!

This was the biggest of the small family operations, with a small sugar shack not as large as a garage, and an attached woodshed.  They had to bring their syrup in a bulk tank from a woodlot across the road where they tap about 300 trees.

But it was a 'real' boiler and evaporator, with the main evaporating pan to the back, the finishing pan on the front, a chimney and steam pipe, and the raised roof to let out the steam.

And of course lots of wood in the woodshed next door - for this size of stove, split very small.

Another family operation had a simpler set-up, with an old wood stove boiler, three separate flat pans on top for evaporating, and just a pipe out the back window for ventilation.  Simple, but the syrup doesn't taste any different.   This family just makes enough for their own use and for gifts for friends.

All of them use up a lot of firewood!

There was no sugar shack, just an adapted old woodstove with 3 pans on top.  As you can see, the syrup is just ladled from one pan to the next as it gets a higher sugar content and moves toward being syrup, from front to back.

This stove was built out of an old wood stove on the front, with the back taken off and a large triangular box added to extend the firebox to about 4 feet.  The top is open to the fire beneath those pans, and all the work is just done outdoors.

This is how the syrup gets 'finished'.  When nearly ready it goes in the pot on the left, over a propane burner where the heat can be controlled more carefully.  With a candy thermometer you watch very closely for the moment when the boiling spreads to rising bubbles over the entire pot, and the boiling temperature rises from 212° to about 219°.  Off it comes, and gets poured through the heavy felt strainer on the right, then into bottles.  This part of the process is basically similar on all operations, though usually indoors.

This small operation was the only one where we saw the traditional buckets hanging on the trees.  These are what means maple syrup season to me!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Kemble Maple Syrup Tour

It was a beautiful sunny spring day, if a little cool, and we headed for the Kemble Maple Syrup Tour, a fundraiser for Kemble United Church, up northwest of Owen Sound.  I took enough photos for a week's worth of posts, and we visited 7 different maple syrup operations after a delicious maple-flavoured meal at the church.  But let's start at the end of the story - the maple syrup!

We bought the 2 litre jug of maple syrup from Kemble Mountain Maple Products.  We like it so much that we buy it in larger quantities and just keep a smaller jar (left) in the fridge.  It's a little cheaper that way, so you can use more of it!

To follow its life story, you start in the sugar bush.  Nowadays most producers use tubes to gather the syrup, so the view through the bush looks really strange!  Smaller tubes go to each individual tree.

Larger tubes gather the sap and carry it back to the sugar shack, normally pumped through the tubes by a vacuum pump.  Some operators leave the tubing up all year; others take it down and clean it for storage.

This is the tiny tap that goes in a hole drilled into the tree.  It takes quite a while to retap all the trees for a larger operation every year.  The moderate size operation below has 1100 taps, but they're all on the gentle lower slopes of the Niagara Escarpment, so they flow by gravity with no pump needed.

And this is the sugar shack, a large one that provides for a lot of storage in this end.  Firewood is gathered 2 years ahead usually, so that's a big part of the work.  The architecture, with a raised roof over the evaporator, is very traditional.

Inside, the shiny modern evaporator looks like this, with chimneys for the boiler underneath, a steam pipe for the warming tank, and the open roof for steam from the finishing pans.  About 40 gallons of sap gives you one gallon of syrup, so a lot of water has to be evaporated before you get the syrup.  The upper dome here is the warming tank where the sap starts, the back pan does most of the boiling down, and the two smaller front pans are for finishing the syrup.

It burns a lot of wood!  This operator has put in a forced fresh air feed beneath the boiler, which results in a more complete burn and a hot fire.  But when finishing syrup you need to be VERY careful!  A few seconds at the end makes the difference between beautiful syrup and a black sticky mess!

I naively think of the time involved for the farmer as the 6 weeks or so they spend in the sugar shack, long days of being there at the right moment when it's ready.  But talking to the operators you realize that this is more like a 6 month job than six weeks, once you include the firewood harvest, cutting and splitting, the preparation of taps each year, and the clean-up after, to say nothing of the marketing of the syrup.

And this is an artsy picture of bubbles in the sap tubes that my wife thought was neat, and I probably never would have noticed!

Have you ever visited the sugar bush in April?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Spring Really Arrives

I'm pleased to report that we are catching up to the rest of the continent, with our snow disappearing and spring arriving!   I've been watching as the snow on the meadow out back finally vanished.

This first photo was taken exactly 10 days ago, on Apr. 1, and I decided to document the seasonal change.  After all, the final disappearance of the snow is probably the single most dramatic change in the seasons over the entire year.  The single bare patch up front is of course over our septic tank.  This is the easiest time of year to locate it if you're in any doubt.

With warmer weather here (for us that means above freezing, and sunny), after only 3 days the snow had evaporated enough to leave bare patches.

And only two days later, a lot more snow has disappeared.  The long line of remaining snow in a sort of reverse 'J' shape is over the trench where we had our geothermal heating system installed.  I suspect it leaves the ground a little colder as it draws out the heat to warm the house, though I never would have guessed that a pipe four feet down could do that!

Now the melt is really getting serious, with little snow left.  The chunks on the sidewalk in the foreground are chopped off the pile of ice on the deck and thrown out to melt in the sun.

Today, after several warm days, and yesterday a very heavy rain (the tail end of a storm that came up through the U.S.), the snow out in the open is now gone.  That little patch is in the shade of some cedars, and elsewhere there's still lots along the north side of fencerows and in the bush.  A few old snowbanks are still four feet deep.  But spring has definitely arrived!  I think I even detect a hint of green in that grass after last night's rain!