We are in the midst of our maple sugaring season at Ahimsa homestead and its been a strange one! Maple sugaring season generally runs from late February to mid-to-late March in our part of the world (Central Pennsylvania) however this year’s been different. We tapped when we always do – late February. It was a nice, sunny winter day and the flow was good. Then it got cold, very cold – highs below freezing – for a couple weeks. The taps stopped cold literally! The weather has been erratic ever since – mostly too cold for good flows. So we’ve been boiling whenever we get enough to make a few quarts (the ratio is approximately 40:1 – 40 gals of sap = 1 gal. of syrup). We usually wait until we have enough to make a couple gallons before firing up our small maple arch.
The process is a pretty simple one. Basically it involves tapping the trees, hanging buckets, gathering the sap daily. Once we get enough to do a boil we fire up our small maple arch (we use dead pine wood), get a good rolling boil going, and boiling it down until its close to syrup. We take it off and finish it in the kitchen (in our opinion its too risky to boil it down to syrup in the pan – we’ve lost a couple batches trying to do this). We have a lot more control in the kitchen. We use a maple hydrometer to test the density of the syrup (66% sugar content). When its done we take it off and can it.
Boiling sap in our maple arch.
Every year we are always happy to have people come out and help with the process!
Check out our Maple Sugaring 2014 photo album.
During the long, cold winter months a great deal of our time is taken up by cutting, splitting, moving, and stacking firewood. We heat our home with a large Kitchen Queen Amish Cookstove. Working with wood is our primary outdoor activity from December until the end of February when the maple sugaring season starts (which actually involves working with a lot of firewood as well!). We often feel like staying indoors next to the warm cookstove however the rewards of the winter landscape are many and varied. It is actually one of my favorite seasons for enjoying the beauty of nature. The quiet and stillness of winter is simply awesome, unrivaled by any other season. I feel a special joy in working outside on a cold, sunny, windless winter day. I love breathing the clean and crisp winter air and feeling the warmth of the sun on my hands and face.
This is our Kitchen Queen Cookstove hard at work keeping us warm.
I generally enjoy all aspects of “wood work” save one: felling dead trees. Even though I’ve done it many, many times, each time is still nerve wracking. I’ll study the tree for quite sometime to determine which way I think its leaning. The problem is that in the woods, on a slop, it can often be difficult to determine which way the tree is leaning (if at all). I’ll then notch it on the “leaning” side and make a second cut at an angel from the other side towards the notch. Theoretically this will prevent the tree from falling on you. The idea is that your saw will bind up in the upper cut and stop the saw before the tree falls. This has always been the case for me. The problem is that you now have a doubly challenging situation: the notch on the wrong side and your saw bound up. I’ve had this happen before which requires a harried and dangerous recut (the opposite way) with a second chainsaw.
Wood storage area #1
We cut all our firewood using a Stihl Farmboss chainsaw. In a prior lifetime (when we were much younger) we cut all our wood using crosscut and bow saws. Although there is definitely environmental, health, and noise benefits to cutting wood with people powered tools there is the time constraint to consider. Given that we no longer homestead full-time (we both have other work in the “outside” world) and have multiple other responsibilities on the homestead we reluctantly gave up that practice many years ago. We definitely miss the days of being able to have a conversation over cutting firewood and hearing the gentle song of the crosscut making its cut and the sounds of nature. However the chainsaw is such a huge time saver plus it allows one to harvest wood much more efficiently. The problem with a crosscut saw is that your wood cutting space needs to be arranged just right in order to effectively cut firewood. I remember many times being in too tight a space or not have the log’s weight properly balanced so that the blade would bind. We have made peace with the carbon footprint trade off because we can gather so much more wood so much faster and use wood that we never would have been able to cut with the crosscut.
Wood storage area #2
We split and stack all our wood in an open lean-to style woodshed (for maximum air flow) and try to get a year’s worth of wood in advance. There’s nothing worse than burning wood high in moisture content. Its bad for you, the environment, and causes rapid creosote build up. My wife Kelle does almost all the splitting. She actually really enjoys the work and is really good at it. It’s part of her winter exercise routine! We have three storage areas (see pictures) that we try to fill up. We go through most of it in a winter…Amish cookstoves are not very efficient!
Wood storage area #3.
One of the primary goals of our vegan homesteading effort is local food self-sufficiency. Specifically, the goal is to eat “off the land” as much as possible. Many have asserted that a year-round locally-based vegan diet is not possible in a northern climate. People say, “maybe (a year-round, local vegan diet) is possible in Hawaii or Florida but definitely not in Pennsylvania” claiming that instead meat (from domestic or wild animals) is the only way to sustain a local diet during the long winter season. It is definitely more challenging to be eating a “local vegan” diet in a northern climate than a southern one where plants and fruits grow year round. However it is far from impossible. During the winter we regularly eat from our garden using our squash, potatoes, carrots, and beets from the root cellar; our cucumbers and tomatoes from the canning shelves; our corn and beans stored in jars; and lots of frozen produce.
We actually eat pretty well in the winter. We regularly make soups and various casseroles using our own stored produce as the base. Another luxury we have is eating our frozen fruits and ginger as smoothies all winter long. Here’s one of our winter staples that incorporates a lot of food that we grow (* marked with an asterick):
6 Cups Black Beans* (soaked overnight)
1 Gallon Water
4-5 Cups Onions* (chopped)
1-2 Cups Carrots* (chopped)
2-3 Large Sweet Potatoes* (chopped)
Handful of Crushed Basil* and Oregano*
6-7 Gloves Garlic* (chopped)
1/2 Cup Maple Syrup*
2 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
1/2 Cup Tamari
Soak beans overnight, boil till soft, drain and discard water. Put all chopped vegetables and beans into 1 gallon of water, bring to low boil, turn down, let simmer until everything is tender. Add seasonings. Simmer for another 20-30 minutes. Tastes even better the second day.
We make a large amount to last the week or freeze for later.
Lots of rain today, a good day to do some writing indoors. We already feel overwhelmed with the gardens! We’ve been pondering why do vegan homesteading? Basically it boils down to the fact that we feel its the best way for us to respond to the unfolding environmental, economic, and energy crisis that we are in the midst of. When we feel overwhelmed by the work or lack of interest in what we are doing we ask ourselves: “well, what else should we be doing?” And, our answer, (so far) has always been the same: this feels right to be doing. The most important work we feel to be engaged in these challenging times is helping build a local food system. Food, of course, is life when it becomes scarce everything else in our lives diminishes and our focus turns entirely to food. Our view is that a locally-based vegan food system is the most direct, most practical, and most humane food system in the world, not to mention the fact that its the least energy intensive. Of course we are referring to a small, home-based agricultural system that mimics nature as much as practically possible – in our system we try to minimize tilling and maximize mulching and gardening by hand. We plant things close together and interplant different vegetables, herbs, and flowers. We supplement our soil with compost and grass mulch and use drip irrigation.
Vegan homesteading is the practice of homesteading without exploiting animals.
This blog will share random thoughts and things we come across that are relevant to vegan homesteading.