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Birch syrup cookie bars

The different types of sugars in birch sap compared to maple sap make birch syrup a little trickier to boil down. It's imperative not to allow the developing syrup to get above 200 degrees Fahrenheit with birch sap unless you want the sugars to caramelize, darkening the color and impacting the flavor. In addition, it's a bit trickier to know when birch syrup is done since it doesn't get as thick as maple syrup, so you'll need to make your best guess, then weigh the finished product to determine how close you are to the optimal 11 pounds per gallon.

Boiling down birch syrupLuckily, our birch tree started running hard when the warm weather came around, and several days in a row of 1.75-gallon yields gave me enough condensed sap to try my hand at syrup making. I ended up with about a quarter of a cup of syrup from three gallons of sap, at a weight of 3.3 ounces for the final product, which means I actually cooked the liquid down a bit further than is optimal (even though the syrup still looked pretty runny, even when cool). This equates to about 192 gallons of sap per gallon of syrup, requiring half again as much boiling down as even the box-elder sap we experimented with last month and three times as much boiling as our sugar maple sap.

With a larger supply of syrup on hand, we were able to try out a more in-depth tasting, this time substituting birch syrup for the sorghum molasses in our favorite oatmeal cookie bar recipe. The result was delectable! I'll include the recipe in my upcoming ebook, Farmstead Feast: Spring, due out in March, but if you'd like some farm-friendly recipes while you wait, Farmstead Feast: Winter is still for sale for only 99 cents. Enjoy!

Posted Sat Mar 28 07:18:44 2015 Tags:
Lucy riding in the car

Lucy went on a trip today to visit our nice vet in the big city.

She got a clean bill of health and multiple compliments on her beauty.

Posted Fri Mar 27 17:38:35 2015 Tags:
Grafting workshop

Kayla and I enjoyed a girl's day out Thursday --- we attended the annual grafting workshop at the Gate City extension office. I've been to nearly half a dozen grafting workshops now, and this one was by far my favorite. Not only was it held at 2 pm so we could get home before dark, but the selection of scionwood was astounding. I came in the door with nine pieces of scionwood I'd brought from winter trades, planning to just graft what I had...but I walked out with sixteen apple trees. (Good thing they were willing to sell me extra rootstock for a dollar a pop.)

Types of grafts

In addition to the copious scionwood choices, the organizers had three apple books on hand, so I could look up each variety to see whether it would hit the spot. Yes, I did spend an hour paging through the books to determine which types of apples were worth a try. Even though the pages were simply text, I found the most complete book was Fruit, Berry, & Nut Inventory --- I may have to get a copy for future variety selection.

As a side note, I should mention that half of the instruction and most of the scionwood came courtesy of Kelly's Old Time Apple Trees, whose website is rather sparse but who sells both scionwood and full apple trees to ship across the country. Our wedding apple trees came from Kelly's and the fruits are superb! If you don't want to go through the hassle of swapping for scionwood, then Kelly's may be your one stop shopping outlet.

Whip and tongue graft

But the positive points of this workshop went far beyond excellent scionwood selection and a good time of day. The instructors were also pros who helped me learn safer and more effective methods of making the classic whip-and-tongue graft. First, start with their "rule of thumb" --- grasp the rootstock where the top roots branch off, then cut off the top where the tip of your thumb reaches. (I figured my thumb was a little shorter than the digits on their male hands, so cut just a little higher.)

Next (top right photo), hold your knife in your right hand so the beveled edge is up and don't move that hand. It feels awkward at first, but you'll soon learn how to hold the rootstock in your left hand with the roots facing away from your body so you can pull the rootstock away from you against the stationary knife. This is much safer and makes a much straighter cut than the whittling method I'd been using.

Finally, for the tongue, brace the thumb of your knife hand against your other hand (which, again, feels quite awkward at first), and gently pull the knife into the wood by sawing it back and forth. Once the knife is seated, finish the cut by rocking the knife rather than pulling it down. Then slide the two pieces of wood together, seal them well with grafting tape, cut down to two buds on the scionwood, dab some sealer on the cut end, and you're done!

I'm still far from perfect, but after sixteen trees, I was starting to feel pretty proficient. Good thing too since I suspect this will be my last grafting workshop for a while --- I'm finally running out of spots to put new trees. Kayla and I are going to have to think of a new girl's day out plan for next year.

Posted Fri Mar 27 07:18:38 2015 Tags:
lock down to prevent future goat escape

Why did I secure a chicken door with pipe strapping in the goat barn?

Because one of our goats figured out how to pop the latch and open the door.

Posted Thu Mar 26 16:02:23 2015 Tags:

If you've sent me an email or given me a call recently and I've been extremely slow to answer...blame it on the sun. This bout of stunningly gorgeous weather means that our usual schedule of half a day working inside and half a day working outside went right out the window. Instead, Mark and I have been catching up on all of the fun garden tasks that got put off when snow was on the ground, barely coming inside for meals and then collapsing at the end of a long, glorious day. I promise to be a better correspondent once the cold, wet weather returns this weekend.

Specifically, I've been weeding and mulching garlic and strawberries, pruning perennials, transplanting cabbage seedlings, and direct seeding carrots, parsley, and mangels this week. As I plant, I'm experimenting with the broadfork, fluffing up half of each bed while simply raking topdressed manure into the top inch of the other half. It's easy to see the broadfork's effects right away, with manure filtering down into the looser soil in the broadforked areas while the fluffed up soil sits higher above the aisles. I'll keep you posted about germination, growth, and yields of the roots in the broadforked vs. unbroadforked beds as the results come in.

Posted Thu Mar 26 07:41:40 2015 Tags:
tethering foot bridge over swamp

A short section of nylon rope should keep our foot bridge from floating too far during the next big flood.

Posted Wed Mar 25 16:09:03 2015 Tags:
Walking goats

It's been a long time since I took our goats out to play. First, the honeysuckle started to give out, then the snow fell and completely covered everything edible. But now our grass is just barely starting to grow in the sunniest part of the yard, so I decided it was high time I started reconditioning our herd's gut bacteria. Five minutes longer nibbling on grass each day means that our goats' digestive system will stay happy on the fresh greenery, and I figure within a week or two the ruminants will be safe to graze lush grass at will. Abigail thinks this plan is the ultimate in human stupidity...but I hold the leash.

Pulling goat

Well, I try to hold the leash. I'd meant to walk our little herd to the other side of our core homestead where sun is really making the grass grow, but as soon as Abby saw the tall rye coming up in the front garden, she decided it was time to dine. Rye held little to no appeal this past winter, but I guess the lush new growth tastes sweeter now --- the leaves even smell sweeter as I stand by and watch our doe chew. She also went for tiny new clover leaves barely pushing a quarter of an inch above the ground, in search of protein to go in her milk, I suspect. Those alfalfa pellets we bought are being eaten avidly, but who wants dried when they can have fresh?

Three goats

Abigail has a voracious appetite --- making milk uses up lots of calories. In contrast, Artemesia is just learning to walk on a leash, so our smaller goat spent much more time figuring out how not to get her feet tangled than she did eating. As for Lamb Chop, he apparently thinks dirt is tastier than grass. And who really needs to eat solid food when the milk bar is open?


At the moment, Lamb Chop is also too young to need a leash. Which is a good thing since I'm not sure I could handle three goats in my two hands. On the other hand, our buckling is much braver at two weeks old than Artemesia was at six months old. When Mark came out for our photo shoot, Lamb Chop kept trying to follow my husband across the yard rather than staying with the goat herd. Maybe our buckling has realized that he's one of very few males on our farm and figures the guys need to hang together?

Posted Wed Mar 25 07:29:47 2015 Tags:
Huckleberry showing off on mushroom day

We finished up our new mushroom logs today.

16 logs total with 3 different varieties of shitake plugs.

Posted Tue Mar 24 15:55:47 2015 Tags:

Plugging a maple holeAre you pulling out your maple taps and plugging the holes? Maybe it's time to tap a birch!

Birch trees begin running around when sugar maples let up, making them a good second crop for people who have already invested in the equipment for the former and want to extend their syruping season. But birch syrup isn't the same as maple syrup, of course. For one thing, the former sells for a lot more --- maple syrup tends to go for thirty-something dollars per gallon, while birch syrup sells for (by some estimates) ten times that much.

What's with the excessively high price? I think some of the appeal is simply that birch syrup is a niche product, added to which you have to boil down about three times as much birch sap as maple sap to make syrup. Birch syrup is also reputed to be a bit trickier to produce since you have to be more careful to keep the sap from scorching, which likely adds to the price tag. On the plus side, birch syrup is supposed to have a lower glycemic index than maple syrup and table sugar, being closer to the value of honey and sorghum molasses. In addition, birch syrup is often treated as a healthful tonic, perhaps because the extra boiling means that you're concentrating more minerals in each spoonful of syrup.

Birch sap

Mark and I aren't interested in selling birch syrup, but since our maples stopped running last week, we figured we might as well tap a birch tree and see what all the fuss is about. I have to admit that I've only boiled down the barest smidgen of syrup (made from about three pints of sap), but I can tell that birch syrup is very different from maple syrup. For one thing, the former is much darker, even in the sap stage. The photo above shows condensed sap that began life as one gallon of liquid and will still need to be boiled down considerably before it becomes true syrup. As you can see, the condensed sap is already much darker than the box-elder syrup beside it.

Tapping a birch

Another difference between maple and birch syrup is flavor, although this factor will vary depending on which species of birch you're tapping. Most birch syrup sold in the U.S. is made from Paper Birch or Alaska Birch grown in (you guessed it) Alaska, but our much more southern clime means that Black Birch is our common species. Although Black Birch twigs taste strongly of wintergreen, I didn't notice any wintergreen flavor in the syrup we sampled. Instead, the dark liquid reminded me of sorghum molasses, and I'd likely use my birch syrup in the same recipes I use with that southern staple sweetener.

I'd be curious to hear from folks who have tapped birch trees and made their own syrup. What did you think of the flavor and how did you use it in the kitchen?

Posted Tue Mar 24 07:13:46 2015 Tags:
new swamp bridge location

We cut our swamp bridge in half and moved it to a new location.

The new path will avoid a spot that was going to need a bridge soon.

Thanks for all the useful comments on how to avoid losing our bridge the next time it floods. Next up is to tether a rope to the bridge and tie it off on the medium Willow next to it.

Posted Mon Mar 23 16:04:37 2015 Tags:

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