Friday, March 26, 2010

Nancy's Bicycle Tool Bag

I made this last night for Nancy. What you can't tell from the photos is that it's divided into three smaller pouches where it folds into thirds.

My inspiration came a couple of days ago when Nancy and I were getting ready to ride to work (I ride halfway with her and then loop home, while she continues on) and it was apparent that she didn't have a tool kit, so I decided I needed to rectify the situation.

This little tool bag is step one.

Next up is collecting the proper tools and a spare tube.

See more of the bags I've made here.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

2 1/4 Gallons of Gold

Today we finished off the syrup from the sap we'd been boiling for the last few days. Its a little bit of a process because we actually lift the stainless steel pan off the sugaring arch (the barrel stove) and then empty the near-syrup into pots which we bring inside to boil the last few degrees.

The temperature at which the boiled sap becomes maple syurp is 217 (at our elevation) and just as the syrup is nearing its finish point it characteristically goes into a frothing boil of millions of tiny golden bubbles, which can be calmed by waving a wooden spoon with a little butter on it through the foam. As soon as we hit 217 we then pour the hot syrup through a double filter, consisting of a synthetic changeable filter and a wool hanging filter. There is a sand-like substance called niter which needs to be removed in this process along with any other debris that might have made into the syrup. We hang the filter from one of the roof cables in the yurt and I stand on a chair and do the pouring. The filters fill up quickly, so for the first minute or two the syrup pours through quickly, but it slows down as the niter builds up.

I wasn't really paying attention to how much sap we'd collected, so I wasn't really sure how much syrup we'd end up with. To my delight, we finished off with a little more the 2 1/4 gallons. That means we boiled somewhere in the neighborhood of 80-100 gallons of sap, collected from roughly 30 taps.

The weather has been a little too warm over the weekend for much sap to be flowing, but we're hoping for some cold nights to get things moving again.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Today I had irons in a couple of fires. I finished setting up the sugaring arch, fired it up, and tended it all throughout the day. Meanwhile I was in the house trying to make headway with insulating the basement.

The day went well, and as I write at almost 10:00pm we're still boiling away, though we've stopped feeding the fire. I'll tend it for a while longer and then fill the pan as full as I can with cold sap and it'll simmer overnight. We'll fire it up again in the morning

I love sugaring. Love it.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sugaring Time

Nothing gets my heart racing like walking into the woods, tapping a maple, hanging a bucket, and watching the sap start to flow on a warm spring day in early March.

In past years we've done a bunch of sugaring, but passed on it last year due to... I don't quite recall. There was the sense we were too busy, so we skipped it. Well, were busy this year too, but I don't want to let another year go by without doing some sugaring.

This afternoon I loaded up my pack basket with a cordless drill, a 7/16" bit, a pile of taps, a stack of buckets, a hammer, and some lids. As soon I saw the first drops of sap start flowing from my first tap, my sense of excitement just soared. Sugaring is sort of like gardening; you work with nature to create a food, gathering the raw material that gets transformed into the divine sweetener known as maple syrup. Its magic, its exciting, and a really fun process to take part in.
Sugaring also connects me to a long regional history. Sugaring was done by native Americans and has continued over the centuries. There is something so cozy and special about the warmth of a sugar house with the pan steaming like crazy and the warmth of the arch warding off the outside cold.

When I was a kid, maybe 13 or so, I decided I wanted to try making maple syrup. I tapped a couple of trees and gathered a few gallons of sap. I then set up a couple of cinder blocks on which to place a large pot over the little fire I got going. I remember laying next to my set up, soaking in the smell of the fire and the spring earth, anticipating that this big pot of sap was actually going to turn into syrup. It was a special experience. As it turned out, the fire was not nearly strong enough to make much boiling happen, and eventually we brought the pot inside and boiled it off on the electric stove. I think maybe I made a quart, but that experience instilled a love for this process that still alights in me today.

In past years we've tapped upwards of 40 taps and made close to 8 gallons of syrup. We tapped a bunch of trees on my aunt and uncle's land in Fayston in addition to trees nearby where we live, but this year we're just tapping close by; it saves a bunch of complication and driving across the Valley in the middle of mud season.

One of the things Nancy and I let people know we wanted for wedding gifts was sugaring buckets, and one family in particular, the Conly's --who are backyard sugaring devotee's themselves-- came through with a pile of supplies. At this point we are well equipped.

Over the next few days I'll set up our sugaring arch and storage barrel so we'll be ready to boil when we've got enough sap. I'm grateful that I get to take part in this springtime ritual.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My Mud and Snow Milk Bike

I acquired this lovely bike a couple of years ago as a frame with just a front wheel and some otherwise respectable parts. Its a Panasonic mountain bike frame and was a garish green and yellow with something like "Montpelier Parks" hand painted across the top tube.

Since then I gave it a cheap but effective paint job, switched out the handlebars and break levers, added a rear wheel and installed a respectable Brooks saddle. Oh yeah, I also added a nice set of SKS fenders to round out the effort. The bike is currently wearing a set of studded Nokian tires for rides on snowy nights.

If for some reason you've followed this blog over the months you'll know that biking around the corner to the nearby farm to get milk for making yogurt is one of my favorite activities. In the past I would hook my bike trailer up and then strap the 2 gallon milk bucket to the trailer. That worked, but I thought I'd be cool to come up with something a little easier and maybe more streamlined. To answer that need I created a small wooden rack that mounts over the rear bike rack I have in place on the bike. The bucket fits neatly in the circular opening and I just run a strap over it to insure it stays in place and it all works quite well.

I've since decided that this rack is actually rather clunky and overbuilt, so I've schemed out a much more elegant and minimal version. I've cut the parts and they are just sitting there in the house. I just need to assemble it. Version two will be a significantly more elegant solution.

I love this bike. It's reminiscent of a three-speed in feel with mountain bike gearing to haul up steep hills. The one change I need to make is installing a slightly taller stem to raise the bars up just a little more.