Up The Back Hill



Common Horsetail


A Den

DSCN9566 mossy_stone


And so it begins….

DSCN9408 DSCN9385 DSCN9411 DSCN9409 DSCN9405 DSCN9364Finally, the sun is shining and we’re out working in the garden!

The garlic bulbs we planted last fall are sending up their green shoots, and the leeks and spring onions I left mulched are quickly reviving themselves after an icy slumber. Interestingly, three kale plants down at the end also made it through. These are a nice head start to having fresh greens but I don’t think I should plan on having it happen every year.

Mostly I’m digging out dandelions and pulling small weeds the wind blew in as seed last fall. A few sections are planted: peas, lettuce, carrots, turnips, cabbage, broccoli, leek (seeds for next year and about 50 transplanted for this year), celery, swiss chard, arugula, radishes,parsley and (finally I just did it) planted a bed of asparagus from seed. It’s the three-year plan.

Soon I’ll plant a few more things, do second plantings and (after the last frost) warm weather things like beans, cucumbers, sweet corn etc.


We also expanded the lower garden area and Struggling_along fenced it all in (very nicely I might add).

As for the cold frame, this year I’m going to try growing watermelon in there. Hopefully, this will keep them warm enough and will give them a head start. I’ve also noticed a few tiny celery plants have sprouted in there!

And so it begins…we tuck a few tiny seeds in the ground and wait.





Using the Past to Plan the Future


A bit too much snow still…..

I have finally added up last year’s garden totals. Spring is officially here- not that it looks or feels like Spring- and it’s time to start planning next year’s garden in earnest. Last year was the first time I kept track of the weight of (almost) everything that came out of the garden. As you may recall, we had to replant the garden last year because we lost some things (like the majority of the potatoes) to, mainly, the chickens. This year, all the fences are in place (and we have no goats) so hopefully losses will be kept to a minimum! Nonetheless, we didn’t do too bad and a few things did phenomenally. Still, I hope to plant more of most of the following things this year.

*to keep it simple I’ll just add a * to signify that at least a pound of this item was not weighed before we ate or gave away it – not counting snacking in the garden.

Radish- 1.5lb

Kale- 13lb*

Lettuce- 7.5lb

Spinach/Swiss Chard – 3.5lb*

Beet- thinnings only -1.25lb

Peas (sugar snap)- 2.25lb

Peas (shell peas in pod)- 6.87lb

Parsley- 1.68lb*

Basil- .5lb+

Onion- thinnings only- 1.25lb

Red Onions- 6

Pac Choy- 10oz*


Beets- 7 bunches

Broccoli- 1lb 10oz*

Arugula- 9oz*

Thyme- lots

Turnip- 5lb

Green Beans- 3lb

Patty Pan Squash-2lb

Cucumber- 5-6

Tomatoes- 2- 5 gal. pails

Potatoes- milk crate sized box full

Pumpkins- 50+

Celeriac- 4 large & 2- gal ziplock bags of small ones

Cauliflower- 7 heads

Cabbage- 3 or 4 medium heads

It would be interesting to figure out how much it would actually cost to buy all that!

Changes for next year:

Cucumbers just didn’t have enough time so starting some indoors this year, along with cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli, if I can find the room for them.

Do an earlier 2nd planting of broccoli, green beans, peas, and pac choy.

Carrots got us through half the year so double on those. More potatoes, onions and winter squash. Fall turnips, pac choy.

Try growing sweet potatoes. Finally get asparagus crowns, maybe raspberry canes?

Had trouble with flea beetles last year so planning on planting some mustard as a decoy crop.



Birds, and a few of Ezra’s Projects

As you can see the older boys are exploring birds. I never knew you could create Lego birds but, as you can see, you can! Etty bitty pieces, of all colors, are being collected for bills, crests, wings, bodies, tails etc., from these pieces Noah and Ezra build their birds. They take care to be accurate in their portrayals paying special attention to what color the crests are in comparison to the body and wings. We have quite the range of species represented: a cardinal, a pigeon, a crow, a duck, a penguin, just to name a few. They have made a few other types of animals too, like the dog, also pictured, but birds are where it’s at right now. You can even snip them on to branches!

Ezra has been getting into carving. I got him started on a few bars of soap but he’s moved onto wood. You can see the start to a few of his skewers (next to the crochet hook I made). I was lucky enough to be gifted one and it works great to check baked goods coming out of the oven. He’s currently working on a wooden duck and a barn. Up next, campfire sticks?!



The best thing about taking a nature walk (besides the obvious: you’re outdoors and taking a walk) is the ample opportunity for observation. Observing is a skill. Like any skill, observing takes practice to learn. We have to take the time to slow down and really look; make ourselves familiar with whatever it is that we’re observing. A nature walk  provides a plethora of opportunities to observe: leaves, flowers, feathers hidden off in the grass, rocks, trees, insects, animals, weather…. The more we observe the more we may notice: patterns, behaviors, where to look for a certain plant or for turkey feathers. As a keen observer we notice changes, ask questions and answer them.

Every season offers plenty of wonderful things to observe but fall is my favorite season. The cooler weather is inviting and reminds us of the harsher conditions soon to come.

Get out and enjoy it while you can!


Ezra observes a spider during a walk back in September.


Last Autumn Hike Photos

A few days before we started having snow flurries we took a hike around the field. The field is about 7 acres. It provides a decent hike without even entering the woods, which can be a long and arduous hike for short legs. Autumn is on it’s way out. I’m glad to have gotten in another hike before the biting winds persuade us to stick close to home.






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Over the Weekend

Last week Struggling_along brought me home a surprise – a stack of metal syruping buckets with lids and spiles! It was like Christmas. I had resigned myself long ago that metal buckets were too expensive. Luckily Struggling_along just happened to be at the feed store at the right moment (ordering this year’s chicks) and he was able to snatch up the last of these previously used buckets sold by a man getting out of the business. Score!

And it was perfectly timed too as this weekend it finally warmed up, and even rained!

We went from this:


To this:

DSCN9841It’s finally starting to look like spring is on it’s away around here.

DSCN9868So the boys and I went around identifying our maples and fighting over who got to drill which tree and whether the person who drilled also got to use the hammer to tap the spile in. There was also much sap sampling- straight from the tap of course.

DSCN9869Since then I can’t count the number of times we’ve crossed the field to check on the sap levels. We have 4 buckets on each side of the field. It’s quite the journey across because it’s a ways, plus, every step has to be taken with caution. Sometimes the crust holds us up, or we may sink an inch or two, but the next step may send us suddenly lurching forward, sinking us down past  our knees and potentially onto our faces, or alternatively, stuck like a turtle on our backs. It’s all good fun though.

DSCN9874So yesterday Ishi and I went around and collected the sap.

DSCN9878The first buckets didn’t have too much sap yet. I use my own methods to boil the sap down; it takes a while, so I don’t want build up too much in sap storage.


DSCN9848The trees on the other side of the field held a surprise for us-

DSCN9890our first full bucket. Those buckets are deceptive – they hold a lot! It just about filled my 5 gallon pail and with the little bit from the other buckets I had a slow return journey trying not to slosh sap over the sides of the pail.

DSCN9891Boiling it down has begun. Here’s to a great season- and syrup on waffles!

Here are some links to last year’s sap collecting posts back in Maine, using our previous collection method. An informational how to: Sap to Syrup  and photos: Tapping the Trees: A Short Photo Essay.


Foraging Blossom Jelly

The boys are constantly picking flowers in that enthusiastic way little kids have. Amongst the plethora of flowers I started thinking maybe we should take advantage of this and make something….then I saw a post showing how violets start out as a dark blue infusion but the infusion “magically” transforms into a brilliant purple when lemon juice is added. Sounds like fun and even if the jelly wasn’t a hit at least we’d have a little experiment to do. Hence this:

turned into this:

The process is simple- cover the petals in an equal amount of boiled water and let sit for several hours or in the fridge overnight. I used a cup of petals for the violet and apple jellies and a half of a cup of petals for the dandelion. Strain and add lemon or lime juice, sugar and pectin. Cook as you would for any jelly/ follow your pectin’s instructions. I used Pomona pectin.Basically use the petal water/infusion as if it were juice.

My gift bearers/ helpers turned into eager taste testers. They wanted to eat the whole thing like a bowl of jello (BTW-that’s actually a second jar that was only partly filled).

It was so good ( delicate and decidedly floral) I started pondering “what other blossoms could we try and will they look and taste as awesome?” Two obvious potentials were dandelions and apple blossoms. I had made some really good apple peel jelly before but blossoms would be even easier and they’re free.

I was hoping the dandelion jelly would be a brilliant yellow but once I started the infusion I stopped worrying about the color and started just hoping it wouldn’t taste awful. Even though I cut the green part off the dandelion blossoms started smelling like cooked spinach the second the boiling water hit them.I almost didn’t even try it out but I figured a half mini batch wouldn’t be too big a waste and at least we’d have tried it. It was actually really good.

The apple blossoms smelled wonderful- almost rose like. The petals turned, unsurprisingly, brown. It tastes like apple jelly but just a touch flowery too. Here they are lined up left to right: dandelion, violet, and apple blossom.

Hmm I wonder how hibiscus jelly would taste….


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Sap to Syrup

This was our first year tapping our maple trees and what fun it has been! Sadly (for sap collecting) this winter has been mild and thus the sap has not been flowing as it normally does, or so I hear. Sap can be collected from maple, birch as well as walnut trees. I’m not sure what birch or walnut sap is used for but I do know that maple sap makes some deliciously sweet syrup!

If you’re interested in tapping some trees yourself or if you’re just curious about the process here is what we did:

First we identified our maple trees. There are different types of maple trees, most commonly sugar maples are tapped but we only have swamp maples and they work too. Once the daytime temperature is above freezing we tap the trees. This requires a 7/16 drill bit and my favorite tool- the cordless screwdriver/drill. Now you can tap a tree more than once if it is large enough but I only had 8 taps so I placed them around the property- one per tree. Some trees were more productive than others-especially those with more sunlight exposure. So we drilled  2 1/2 inches in- about 3 feet off the ground, on the south side, and when possible over a large root or under a large branch. We tapped the spile in and hooked our jugs on. We used clean milk and water jugs with a hole for the spile to drip the sap into the jug and another hole for the hook to grab on to keeping our bucket on the tree. We made these holes as close to the handle as possible as the plastic is strongest there and as high as we could so the jug could hold more before starting to leak all that precious sap on to the ground. If the tree starts flowing right away  it’s not really a steady drizzle but it’s also more than an occasional drip. Now we wait for the sap to accumulate. Once there’s enough (how long this takes depends on the temperature) we pour it into a 5 gallon bucket and since we are a small operation we start boiling it down a little at a time. You can store it longer either outside if it is cold enough or in the fridge or freezer.


You can also drink the sap straight or use it pretty much like water. It tastes like water with a very slight sweetness to it. It’s good! The boys request sap regularly and even run down to steal a swig or two when they can. It takes A LOT of sap to make syrup- it’s a 40:1 ratio. As in 40 gallons of sap makes 1 gallon of syrup or for a smaller visual  40oz of sap makes 1 oz syrup (that’s a shot glass).


So far this year we’ve made a little over a quart of finished maple syrup. How you boil it down is up to you- however do it outside as vast amounts of evaporated water is too much for indoors (unless you’re trying to remove wallpaper). Wood heat is common and cheap and commercial evaporators are expensive I decided to use my electric pressure cooker (lidless) set to keep the sap boiling. As the sap cooks down it turns a light amber hue. Keep adding sap and cooking it down. Eventually you’ll have a smaller amount you can finish off on the stove top. How do you know when it’s done? Use a thermometer. Syrup boils at 7 degrees above boiling water. At my elevation water boils at 212F so the syrup is ready at 219F. Then filter, bottle and enjoy!

When temperatures remain above freezing and buds start to form tapping season is over- remove the spiles and remember to leave 6 inches when drilling next year. Over time the previously drilled holes will heal-over.

Hopefully that was through but if I did forget something ask away. I got a lot of my info from tapmytrees.com they also sell tapping supplies but struggling_along brought the spiles at our local hardware store and the jugs I saved as we used them.

To see photos of this process see my recent post Tapping the Trees- A Short Photo Essay.