Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Very Early Spring 2014 - Sugaring! Part II of Tapping the Sugar Maples!

Geri and Nancy being sappy!
After two weeks of collecting more sap than we had anticipated, approximately 100 gallons from thirteen trees (7.7 gallons/tap), we desperately needed to process at least some of the sap to make room for more. The "rule of thumb" is 10 gallons of sap per tap, per season, if the tree is in a forest, so just two weeks into a four to six-week season we are well ahead of pace.  We managed to process approximately 21 gallons on a Saturday, and 27 gallons that Sunday and into Monday.  The weather has been below freezing since we started evaporating, so we have gained some ground on the trees ability to produce.  Our current capacity to store sap stands at 100 gallons more or less, and about half of that depends on having snow on the ground sufficient to maintain containerized sap at low enough temperatures to prevent fermentation and souring of the sap.

According to a 2003 survey of Wisconsin producers, the evaporation process that removes 42 gallons of water from every 43 gallons of sap, leaving 1 gallon of syrup (assuming 2% sugar concentration in the sap, see Figure 1),
Figure 1: Rule of 86
is typically powered by fuel oil (49%), wood (45%), natural gas (4%), or propane (2%). [1]  In terms of cost, wood from our own forest would have been the least expensive choice, in dollars, unfortunately I was not ready to use wood as a fuel.  The use of wood as a fuel requires some sort of wood-fired outdoor cook stove, which I had not put in place.  Geri had a couple of big propane burners of the type used for a seafood boil, or for cooking a turkey in oil, together with two big "stock pots," so we decided to use the propane burners in the evaporation process.  Saturday I set up shop on the west side of the garage, and decided to move shop on Sunday to the south side of the garage, more protected from the wind.  I set up originally on the west side because there is a concrete pad in front of the garage, providing a stable location for the evaporators; my worst nightmare was that having boiled off 42 gallons I would spill the precious one gallon of syrup onto the ground!  The wind on the west side though was problematic, and seemed to make the burners much less efficient.  So, on Sunday I laid down two or three layers of heavy cardboard south of the garage, and moved the burners to the new location.

Calculation of container volumes
On one burner we set a tall pot with a capacity of about 6.3 gallons, if about 2 inches of "freeboard" was left to ensure that we did not boil over. On the other burner we set a 24 in. (L) x 24 in. (W) x 8 in. (Depth) open pan evaporator, equipped with a 3/4 inch drain and ball valve; this container, also allowing for 2 inches of freeboard, has a capacity of approximately 15 gallons.  We poured sap into the tall pot and into the open pan evaporator through cheese cloth.  The plan was to start both burners at the same time, and then to transfer liquid from the tall pot to the open pan evaporator when the level in the tall pot was reduced to 2 or 3 in. from the original 14 in., and finally, when sap in the evaporator was reduced to a depth of about 1 inch (2.5 gallons), to transfer from the evaporator to a 16 qt./4 gal. stock pot, and move to the kitchen to finish the syrup under more controlled and comfortable conditions.

On Saturday, by the time all preparations had been made, the burners were lit at about 11 a.m.  It took about 40 minutes to bring the tall pot to a boil, the open pan evaporator a little longer.  As planned, we transferred liquid from the tall pot to the open pan evaporator, and at about 7 p.m., we transferred the remaining liquid, about 14 quarts, from the evaporator, by way of the ball valve, through a fine filter to a 16 quart stock pot, and then shut down the burners and moved the process into the kitchen.  In the house, we could not help but to occasionally hover over the pot, taking in the ever-intensifying aroma of maple, and of course taste-testing the syrup!  Also, we kept an eagle-eye on the thermometer, as we had targeted a temperature of 219 degrees F as indicating
Figure 2: Rule of 86 solved
for % Sugar in Sap
that the syrup state had been achieved.  Surprisingly, in the kitchen it took another 5 hours before the sap/syrup had reached a boiling point of 218 degrees F.  In an abundance of caution, to avoid somehow ruining the batch, we decided at midnight to filter once more and decant the 
syrup.  Our yield was 12 cups (3/4, or 0.75 gallon) of syrup from that first 21.3 gallons of sap; which would indicate that the sugar content of the sap was approximately 3.03% (see Figure 2).  This syrup tastes absolutely fantastic, and we thought that on our next batch we would see if we could evaporate a little longer to thicken the syrup.

I put boots on the ground much earlier on Sunday, and had the burner lit under the open pan evaporator at 7:10 am, and the burner lit under the tall pot by 7:25 am.  One change to the process for the second batch, was that after transferring the liquid from the tall pot at the same point in the process as on Saturday, the pot was refilled with another 6 gallons of sap; this additional 6 gallons was then reduced to 2-3 inches in the bottom of the pot and transferred to the open pan evaporator.  So on Sunday (and into Monday), we processed approximately 27 gallons of sap, versus the 21 gallons processed on Saturday.  A second change was that
at about 9 pm on Sunday, with approximately 8 quarts of liquid remaining, we chose to "pause" the process
Geri, Chuck and Nancy decanting the syrup at midnight
on Saturday.  Beautiful color and clarity...wait, am I
discussing a gem?  Indeed I am!
and get some sleep.  We turned off the burner, covered the pot, and put the pot on the front porch where it was cold enough to prevent fermentation.  On Monday Geri resumed the process, and ultimately bottled 13.5 cups of syrup, having halted the evaporation process at 220 deg F., which would indicate that the sugar content of the sap processed was approximately 3.7%.  Again, prior to decanting, she passed the syrup through the filter to remove the "sugar sand." [2]  The taste was, as now expected, intense and superb!

Sunday night, while we were processing the second batch, we tried some of our first batch of maple syrup over Geri's homemade apple pie a la mode.  Wow!  What a flavor combination, and the intensity of our maple syrup's flavor put store-bought substitutes to shame!
The intrepid sugarers, Chuck, Nancy, Geri, John and Dennis

My advice is, that if you have access to maple trees, take on the production of maple syrup!  It is somewhat labor and energy intensive, and it is also more than equally rewarding.  The process can be set up with a very low investment, using milk jugs and tubing from your local hardware store, your camp stove or outdoor range, appropriately sized pots and pans, some cheese cloth and felt for filtering, and a candy thermometer.  Go for it!

As always, your comments and criticisms, your inputs and acknowledgements, are welcomed, and will help me to improve my posts.  Please "follow" the blog.

-- John, 26 March 2014

West side of the garage on Saturday.  Open pan evaporator on the left, cardboard wind break to the left of the pan and burner; tall pot on burner to right, surrounded again by cardboard wind break, under the watchful eyes of John and Chuck.  Tarp rigged up to prevent leaves, bugs and other detritus from falling into the evaporators.  It took a little more than two full 20 lb. propane canisters for each batch.
[1] "Maple Syrup Production," University of Wisconsin - Madison, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Web, Retrieved 25 March 2014 from

[2] Sugar sand, n.d. In Wikipedia. Retrieved 26 March 2014 from

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Thoughts on the “permacultureVOICES Conference March 2014,” aka, PV1

Diego giving his inspirational message, "take on your
impossible," to open the conference
Right at the top, I must tip my hat to Diego Footer, the founder and organizer of the conference; he said that the preparation consumed a year of his life, and I can believe it. Diego has a full-time job, and together with his family, put permacultureVOICES together in his “spare” time; it must have required Herculean effort. I cannot recall a single significant glitch in the event organization, and with over 600 participants and a Who’s Who of permaculture in attendance, the success of the conference represents an amazing accomplishment. In his closing remarks, Geoff Lawton offered that in his 30 years in “this movement,” he has never attended a better conference. That is saying something. Diego has already indicated that there will be a PV2, so if you were not in attendance all is not lost!

Flew into San Diego on Wednesday the 12th for the 13-16 March conference, then obtained a rental car and drove a little over an hour up I-15 to the Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, where the conference was held. The conference agenda was four solid days, opening at 8 a.m. each morning, and closing no earlier than 8 p.m. each day. By Sunday night my brain was fully saturated. I am drafting this post after 2:00 a.m. on Monday, because there is too much going on in my mind to sleep.

Joel Salatin.  "The High Priest of the
Pasture." -- NY Times
The opening keynote address Thursday was made by Joel Salatin. The subject of his talk was his book, Fields of Farmers: Interning, Mentoring, Partnering, Germinating. He went on in a second presentation entitled “Stacking Fiefdoms,” on the same subject, later in the day Thursday. Though I had heard of Joel, I had not read any of his books, so I listened with an uncluttered mind. He was passionate in his presentation and had me and the entire audience laughing out loud on many occasions. Basically, he argued that in a thriving field, the average age of its practitioners is in the mid-30’s, while today in the United States the average age of a farmer is approaching 60. Ownership of some huge fraction of farms is expected to change hands within the next decade or so. Who will buy or operate these farms? Who are the farmers of the future? How do we get young people back on the farm? And Joel argues, we do need to get young people back on the farm; in his opinion to do so the farm must be able to generate at least two white collar salaries, otherwise it is not a business, and it is not sustainable. I fully subscribe to the proposition that two white collar salaries are necessary to sustaining the family business of farming. A key idea I picked up from Joel, and will likely leverage, is that of partnering with other entrepreneurs in a “community of complimentary enterprises” on the farm, as opposed to employing them, through the use of “memoranda of understanding.” Other key ideas: add value on the farm as opposed to competing in the business of commodities; and to keep investment low and use portable infrastructure, rather building the equity in information, management and customers. At the conference book store I bought his book, Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World, (Fields of Farmers had sold out quickly) and made my way through a third of it reading in the evenings, thoroughly enjoying myself all the while.

Jack Spirko, The Survival Podcast
Jack Spirko and his “Survival Podcast,”, were my entry point into permaculture; I still await each new podcast in eager anticipation. It seemed that there were at least 20 TSP’ers in attendance, and Jack and his wife Dorothy also made themselves available to us in the late evenings, which had to have made for some very long days for them, and which was also greatly appreciated. Jack’s address, “Building a Profitable Permaculture Business,” built seamlessly and well on Joel’s earlier presentation. The subtitle of Jack’s podcast is, “helping you live a better life, if times get tough, or even if they don’t.” From my point of view he delivers on that promise, and I greatly enjoyed finally being able to meet and talk a bit with Jack.  His wife Dorothy was perfectly gracious, infinitely patient with the masses, and a joy to talk to.

Toby Hemenway opened up Friday’s festivities with his keynote titled, “Why Agriculture Can Never Be Sustainable.” You can see a YouTube video similar to the presentation at Hemenway wrote perhaps the most popular permaculture book of all time, Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, 2nd Edition. You can find more information at his website,
Toby Hemenway While I had watched the video before the conference, I have not read Hemenway’s book. Essentially he made an argument that no civilization has survived when having relied on large-scale production of row crops for its bulk calories, and that agriculture has devastated every ecosystem it has been in contact with in the past 10,000 years. He describes foraging (hunting-gathering), horticulture, and agriculture as alternatives, the latter being unsustainable, and arrives at horticulture and permaculture design science as a possible answer to the problem of sustaining the food supply. Along this line of thought, more than one presenter cited Jared Diamond’s book, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, which is an excellent read; I might also recommend Fate of Empires, by Sir John Glubb. I have not come to the conclusion that agriculture is the sole cause of the failures of societies, though Diamond is thorough in his analysis of a number of possible causes, and most involve severe environmental degradation in combination with another factor or factors. My simple synopsis of Glubb’s work is that many empires have lasted seven generations more or less, and that the significantly longer life of an empire is unlikely; I will let you do the math as it relates to the United States.

Geoff Lawton (L) and me, John Newell
Geoff Lawton made four presentations: Reading the Landscape, The Permaculture Designers Manual in One Hour, Permaculture Earthworks, and the closing keynote, Permaculture and The Tipping Point & Closing, late Sunday evening.  I am a huge fan of Geoff, and I received my Permaculture Design Certificate at his first on-line PDC course in 2013. His videos are simply superb, and as a teacher he is without par. Of the presentations, I found the “earthworks” and “reading the landscape” presentations to be the most fun and informative. Geoff has his second online PDC open for registration beginning 29 March 2014; check at for the latest free videos and information. After one of Geoff’s presentations I was able to get about 10 minutes of his time to discuss the Southwest Michigan Homestead, and for me that was a real high-light of the conference.

Allan Savory; this man is beyond humble, his mistakes earlier in life apparently having the effect of bringing that about. His talks (the keynote: “The role of lifestock in a new agriculture that can save city-based civilization,” and the keynote: “Why management needs to be holistic to avert tragedy beyond imagination”) were on “desertification” and “holistic management.” You can find him speaking on the subject of desertification at Allan has a large web footprint (pun intended),
Allan Savory
so if you search on his name and either of the topics I just
listed, you will have more video-graphic, photographic, and written information than you would probably care to manage. As is always the case, he has his detractors; I leave you to your own research on the subjects. Allan’s recommended reading included the books The Watchman's Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse, and Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West.

Mark Shepard is a fellow Midwesterner, with his farm located in southwestern Wisconsin, roughly 30 minutes east and a little north of the Quad-Cities. He holds workshops on his farm, New Forest Farm, and wrote a beautiful book, Restoration Agriculture. Also, PJ Chmiel of Van-Kal Permaculture,, has posted a very informative video of a presentation by Mark at And check out‎, and Forest Agriculture Enterprises at Mark has been on his farm, and practicing permaculture, for the better part of 30 years; he speaks passionately, and from a deep well of personal experience.

Soils…a deep subject, and Dr. Elaine Ingham has spent her professional life as a microbiologist studying soils, as opposed to “dirt.” Dr. Ingham gave the keynote address, “Soil: It’s All About Life.” You might say that among other things she is a “consultant to the permaculture stars,” stars like Greg Judy, who spoke of her during his presentation. You can find her online at, and find an “Introduction to Soil Microbiology” at What she said rings true in me. Ever notice while you are on a round of antibiotics, prescribed to arrest whatever might be ailing you, that your guts have ceased to function properly? It stands to reason that proper digestive tract function, which relies heavily on beneficial microscopic critters, would break down when all bacteria in your body have been killed off; antibiotics do not distinguish between the good and bad in your body’s biology; the same goes for the soil as it turns out. It is as learned in an adult course of study I have more recently engaged in, “this is how the world looks when it’s working,” herbicides and pesticides result in dead soil, also known as “dirt;” why would we expect some other result? Dr. Ingham wrote the USDA's Soil Biology Primer, and also wrote books, including The Field Guide II for Compost Tea, and The Compost Tea Brewing Manual.

Other talks attended:
Pat Foreman, and Oprah Hen-Free on chickens, and I bought two of her books, City Chicks: Keeping Micro-flocks of Chickens as Garden Helpers, Compost Makers, Bio-reyclers, and Local Food Producers, and Chicken Tractor: The Permaculture Guide to Happy Hens and Healthy Soil, Homestead (3rd) Edition; find Pat at, and at
Greg Judy, on mob grazing,
David Barmon, on urban lumber; see David’s Ted talk at
• and Paul Grieve,, told the inspiring story of the start-up of Primal Pastures, and I learned from him on the subject of marketing; see Paul’s 13 tips at
Finally, I met Sarah Beth Aubrey, another fellow Midwesterner, during the book-signing event, and had a great discussion on the subject of her book, Find Grant Funding Now!: The Five-Step Prosperity Process for Entrepreneurs and Business (Wiley Nonprofit Authority). I bought the book, which is one of at least three that she has published. She also has a business, Prosperity Consulting, at

It was a great conference, and that is a significant
Jack Spirko (L), a truly prolific and
tireless podcaster at TSP
understatement. There were presentations I was unfortunately not able to attend, and presenters I was unable to meet, even after 12 hour days for 4 straight very full days. In addition to all of the great presentations, I was able to network with and learn from other permaculturists, including one Michigander, Jesse Tack, of Whole Culture Repair, LLC, ( and “Abundant Michigan,” a Ypsilanti permaculture group, found at I hope to stay in contact and exchange ideas and plans with many that I met, it is truly a fun and vibrant group of people. I do not know that I will be able to attend PV2, but I strongly encourage each of you to consider the possibility.

As always, your comments and criticisms, your inputs and acknowledgements, are welcomed, and will help me to improve my posts. Please "follow" the blog.

-- John, 18 March 2014.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Very Early Spring 2014 - Tapping the Sugar Maples!

Yes indeed, spring has sprung!  And not only because we set our clocks ahead, but more importantly because sap is flowing from our maple trees which is a more certain sign of spring!  We are very excited, especially since maple syrup will be one of the very first "products" of the homestead.  I am convinced that it will be well worth the work involved in its production.

Maple tree sap flows when daytime temperatures exceed freezing, 32 deg F, and nighttime temperatures dip below the freezing mark.  The temperatures above freezing create a "positive pressure" within the tree, forcing sap out of the tap, while temperatures below freezing create a "negative pressure" within the tree, causing more sap to be pulled up from the roots and into the sap wood. [1]  The optimum variation is said to be a high of 40 deg F and a low of 20 deg F; we tapped Sunday morning at about 9 a.m., after an overnight low of 17 deg F and leading to a daytime high of 42 deg F, and sap was flowing by noon the same day!

Sugar maple leaves and fruits (samara, also known as
"helicopters" when we were kids) 
In addition to the freeze-thaw cycle, maple trees are an obvious requirement for the production of maple syrup or sugar.  The two most productive types of maples are the appropriately named "sugar maple," and the black maple, followed by the red maple and the silver maple.  The sugar content of sugar and black maple sap is typically in the range of 2.0-5.0%. [2]  I identified seven sugar maples last summer using leaves and fruits (samara), and a further six this past Saturday; for the winter identification I relied heavily on Michigan Trees, Revised and Updated: A Guide to the Trees of the Great Lakes Region, and specifically on the presence of opposite twigs and visible (dried) male flowers. [3] In some cases I needed my binoculars to see the male flowers far up in the canopy.

Geri and I wanted to use traditional methods for collection of the maple sap.  I did not want unsightly plastic tubing running here and there, and worse yet vacuum pumps, which from my point of view make the trees look like seriously ill patients on life support.  We acknowledge that the view might look considerably different were we trying to maximize income from the trees.  For sugaring equipment I purchased two starter kits from Tap My Trees, which came with the guide "Maple Sugaring at Home," [4] by Joe McHale.  In hindsight I probably spent more than necessary, though I am also more than happy with the kits and the guide from Tap My Trees.  When we decided that we wanted to tap more than six trees, we bought additional used equipment from a local commercial "sugarer," Don Dodd of Dodd's Sugar Shack in Niles, MI, at a fraction of the price; of course that is knowing what I know now, not what I knew a few weeks ago when I bought the kits.  The general guidance I am following is to tap no tree less than 12 inches in diameter (approximately 38 inches around), tap on the south side of the tree to maximize exposure to the sun, and to tap below a larger branch or above a larger root formation.  Do avoid previous tap holes and other obvious injuries to the tree.  Also, tap the tree at a height that makes collecting the sap convenient, as production is not impacted by tapping higher or lower on the trunk.  The necessary equipment is a spile (also known as a tap, or a spout), a hook to hold the bucket, the bucket, and a bucket lid to prevent snow, rain and other contaminants from falling into the bucket.  The tools required are a 7/16 inch drill bit, a drill, and a hammer.  To tap the tree:

Using a cordless drill to place a tap hole in a Sugar maple;
the cordless drill was only just up to the task
1) Drill the tap hole 2 -3 inches deep into the sap wood, at a slight upward angle to allow the sap to flow downward from the spile into the bucket; the wood chips from the hole should be very lightly colored to white, representative of healthy sap wood
2) Clear the tap hole of wood chips
3) Hammer in the spile (with hook attached) gently but firmly, the spile needs only to support the weight of the bucket and too much force can split the bark
3) Hang the bucket from the hook
4) Attach the lid over the bucket
5) Be amazed at nature's abundance!

It does not get more beautiful than this; nature's abundance

Geri transferring sap from the 2-gallon aluminum collection
bucket to a 5-gallon food grade plastic bucket
Our trees started flowing within a few hours of tapping, quickly bringing on the next "problem," which is "what do I do with all of this sap?"  By early the morning after, just 18 hours after we had tapped the trees, we had collected a total of just over 6 gallons of sap from 12 trees!  Since it takes 43 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup (assuming the sap is 2% sugar), it takes large amounts of sap to make very modest amounts of syrup.  If the twelve trees continue to flow as they did the first 18 hours, they will generate 24 gallons of sap every three days.  Sap will "sour," making it unusable in the making of maple syrup, if it is allowed to ferment before processing.  To avoid warming and fermentation of the sap we are transferring the sap from the 2-gallon aluminum collection buckets on the tree, to 5-gallon food grade buckets, which we then store in shade on the north side of our garage, with snow piled up to the lid and completely around each bucket.  We may also freeze 5-gallon buckets of sap in a chest freezer to await processing.  We have several of the 5-gallon food grade plastic buckets, and if that is not enough, 32-gallon food grade plastic trash barrels with lids will be used, which we will surround with snow in the same manner as with the 5-gallon buckets if necessary.  Even so, we will taste each source of sap before adding its contents to the evaporator, as a small amount of soured sap can spoil a large amount of the precious syrup.

Sugar maple with spile, hook, bucket and lid installed for sap collection; stake is from summer identification of maples

We expect to process our first batch of sap into maple syrup within two weeks.  I will post our experience with the evaporation process, and hopefully the results of our taste tests!

Your comments and criticisms, your inputs and acknowledgements, are welcomed, and will help me to improve my posts.  Please "follow" the blog.

-- John, 10 March 2014

[1] "Sap Flow," Cornell Sugar Maple Research & Extension Program, Web. Retrieved 10 March 2014.
[2] Maple syrup. n.d. In Wikipedia Retrieved 10 March 2014, from
[3] Barnes, Burton V., and Warren H. Wagner, Jr. Michigan Trees, Revised and Updated: A Guide to the Trees of the Great Lakes Region. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2004. Print.
[4] McHale, Joe, Maple Sugaring at Home, U.S.A.:Reine Publishing Group, LLC, 2010. Print.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Late Winter 2013/2014 - Weekend of 1 Mar 2014

The weekends provide opportunities to take on more time-consuming projects, and this weekend was no exception. There is much forest management work to do on the property leading up to planting in the spring, and winter has also traditionally been a time when the fuel-wood stores were stocked.  And, I want to show just briefly, a plumbing repair I substantially completed this past weekend.  Later I will make a very detailed post regarding the cause(s) of the damage.
The largest of four trees, an American Beech.  Some of the four smaller trees
in the upper right corner, one of which was a Sugar Maple.

Saturday morning I spent about 4 hours working the slope just south of the house; two reasons, the first is that we needed some firewood, and secondly, I am removing dead-fall and live trees selectively to bring more light and life to the forest floor in the spring.  There is a tremendous amount of dead-fall, with many trees having been broken off by wind 20-30 ft off the ground.  I identified four trees, two with the tops broken off 30 feet or so above ground, and two others that had been damaged by the fall of the first two.  The biggest tree, an American Beech, pictured, was probably close to 10 inches in diameter; the smallest perhaps 4 inches in diameter.  A chainsaw is simply a must-have on the property.  It seems like the most respected brands are Husqvarna and Stihl; I chose Husqvarna because I can get parts and service at my local hardware store, and I chose the "460 Rancher" model because that is the hardware store's rental saw of choice.  While there are lighter and more powerful saws in the Husqvarna line-up, I took the fact that it was chosen for rental use (abuse) to be testament to its reliability and durability.  So far, I have no reason for buyer's remorse; it is a great saw.  I am new to chain saw use, so I will not offer anything close to "instruction" regarding their safe and effective use; if you are interested, and a visual learner, please consult, it is one of the many "classes" I am taking at "YouTube University."  You also might want to visit Cody at; he is very knowledgeable and devotes much of his time to all matters having to do with coniferous forest management.

Trees have been "limbed" and branches set off to the left, trunks have
been "bucked"
After felling the tree(s), the next step in the process is "limbing," which is to say removal of the branches from the stem of the tree.  The chain saw can be used for larger branches, though in this case all of the limbs were small enough that I used an axe for limbing.  I use dry branches of less than about 1-2 inches in diameter for "stick fuel," or as kindling, and will chip green branches of up to 3 inches in the spring for use on foot paths, in compost, etc.  Having "limbed" the trees, "bucking," that is cutting the main stem into usable lengths, is the next step in the process; this is work for the chain saw. [1]

About halfway to completion;  a plastic sled, is used to move
wood around in bulk
Since the bucked pieces of the trees were to be used for firewood, I then split the wood using my Gränsfors Bruk Splitting Maul.  I use a plastic sled in winter, this one picked up at a local Tractor Supply as I recall, to move the bucked sections to nearer the stack for splitting.  Of course the sled can double for snow sledding, to drag your deer out of the woods, or to haul your ice fishing equipment onto and off the ice.  Lesson learned:  Either cut the trees uphill from where you are going to stack the wood, or stack the wood downhill from where you cut the trees!  A workout is one thing, but let's not go crazy.

There are numerous schools of thought on how best to dry firewood.  Having split the wood, I stack it bark-side up to the extent possible, so that it will shed water more effectively, and then cover the stack with a tarp, or with construction plastic as in this case.  This keeps snow and rain from dropping directly onto the stack, and yet allows for airflow through the stack.  I suppose that as usual "it depends," on any number of factors, but I am planning on drying-time of 9 months before use as firewood.  For lumber (planks or posts, etc.), the rule of thumb is one year per inch of thickness.

Done.  The stack covered by construction plastic to protect it from
rain  and snow, while allowing air flow through the stack.
I can say that I am pretty happy with how much wood I was able to put away for use next fall and winter, and I made some progress in "cleaning up" the hillside.  We have put up three or four face cords this year I would estimate, in excess of all that we have used.  A face cord is defined as a stack 8 feet long by 2 feet across by 4 feet high, while a full cord would be 4 feet across.  Ultimately the wood will be used in the wood burning stove, the fireplace, the fire pit, or in an outdoor kitchen for boiling down maple sap to make maple syrup.  For your reference, a "typical dry <full> cord of wood is enough to make about 15 gallons of syrup," [2] which requires boiling off approximately 630 gallons of water from the sap. There will be much more on maple syrup production in later posts.

Now to the plumbing, briefly.  The immediately obvious cause of the damage to the plumbing supply to one bathroom in the house, was freezing water.  As mentioned at the top of the post, I will address the plumbing issue in much more detail at a later date.  Suffice it to say for now though, that it is in most cases practically impossible to prevent water piping from freezing with 100% certainty.  Unless systems are in place that allow a homestead complete independence from the power grid, if power generation or transmission goes down, and stays down long enough, and if it is cold enough for long enough, piping will freeze.  In such a situation, it is of benefit to have "freeze tolerant" piping, that is piping that will not suffer damage from freezing.  Of course the foregoing assumes that the house has not been winterized, and the water piping system drained of water.  While researching methods of repair, I came across PEX tubing, the components designed to work with PEX, and the tools necessary for installation.  This stuff is sweet!  Easy to install, no glues or soldering, flexibility that reduces the number of angled fittings required, fittings that allow for connection to existing PVC, CPVC and/or copper piping, AND it is freeze tolerant. [3] If you look closely, you might see "safety wire" on the unused manifold valves; these wires will prevent inadvertent opening of the valves.   Consider PEX as a back-up to the back-up for damage prevention in extreme cold weather conditions.
Completed installation of PEX system in utility closet adjacent to the bathroom
And I almost forgot, that on Sunday Geri and I went with friends to a "Home Maple Sugaring" course at the Kalamazoo Nature Center, just north of Kalamazoo, MI.  The course consisted of about 40 minutes in the classroom, where the end-to-end process was described, from the tree identification to the bottling of syrup, and where we sampled maple syrup and some wine made from maple syrup.  The intensity of the maple flavors was simply incomparable to store-bought maple syrup.  After the classroom portion of the course we ventured outside and Geri was picked for the demonstration of tapping a tree, so she got our first practical experience in doing that.  We had a great time, visited the gift shop after the course, and signed up as members of the KNC.  This coming weekend we will be putting our education into practice and tapping our own Sugar Maples.

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-- John, 04 March 2014.

[1] Stelzer, “Felling, Limbing and Bucking Trees,” University of Missouri, Extension,
[2] The University of Vermont Proctor Maple Research Center, “Energy Use in Maple Operations,”
[3] Burch. 2006. “Northward Market Extension For Passive Solar Water Heaters by Using Pipe Freeze Protection with Freeze-Tolerant Piping,” National Renewable Energy Laboratory,