Four-Wheelin’ Stone Pickers

Those of you who have read my Christian-agrarian memoir, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian may recall Chapter 30: “My Son and His Journal.” In the beginning of that chapter I explain that my son Robert really wanted a 4-wheeler of his own. The neighbor boys had 4-wheelers that their parents had bought them, but I would not buy one for my boys. They would have to work and save the money. I wrote about that back in 2005.

Here’s an updated report: Late last summer Robert did buy his own 4-wheeler. He worked and saved and looked long and hard for something halfway decent that he could afford. He ended ended up buying a used Yamaha Blaster from a friend of a friend. Robert and his two brothers blasted all over the countryside with that thing until it finally broke down in the fall.

We moved the 4-wheeler into Marlene’s mother’s garage for the winter and Robert set up shop. He studied the repair manual at length, took much of the vehicle apart, and replaced some basic parts that were worn. He bought the parts he needed on Ebay. But Robert was hesitant about getting into the engine, where the main problem was.

Earlier this spring, he took the 4-wheeler to a guy up the road who is an auto mechanic for a garage by day and does some part-time mechanic work on the side at his home. The guy did a great job of explaining and showing Robert what the problem was and the work that was needed, and he did the work for a reasonable fee. So, first thing this spring, Robert and his brothers are back riding the 4-wheeler.

I have to admit that getting the little vehicle has been a very good thing. Robert and James can now drive themselves to the nearby farm where they sometimes work. And Robert has learned a lot about small engines. He is always doing some maintenance task and is intimately familiar with every screw and part on the machine.

Last week Robert and his younger brother, James, picked stones for a diary farmer every afternoon for around four hours. They have done this for the past couple of years for three different farmers. They are experienced rock pickers. It was hot and dry here all last week and the rock pickers came home dirty but well-satisfied with themselves. Here’s a picture of James & Robert after picking rocks:


At 13-years-old James is going through a phase where he does not like to smile for the camera. Or, if he does, it is only for a split second. So we got the serious look. By the way, he’s drinking a root beer (personally, I never touch the stuff).

What do you suppose two hard-working country boys would want to do after a few hours of picking rocks in the hot sun?


Oh look.... there’s a little bit of a smile. What could be more fun that digging a few worms and going fishin' with your brother at a nearby farm pond? You can get there lickety split on your 4-wheeler. They went fishing every evening last week. The neighbor’s pond has some nice largemouth bass, as you can see.

James didn’t have a tape to measure the fish, so he held the critter along his arm to gauge the length before throwing it back in the pond.


We measured later and the fish was around 16” long. You can see a portion of the Blaster in the background.

I don’t know if they fully realize it, but my sons are blessed. To be boys, living in the country, in a Christian home, with farm work to do, a 4-wheeler to drive through the woods and fields, and fish to catch in a well-stocked pond, is about as good as it gets.

And I, for one, am very thankful to God for such blessings.

Confessions of a Wheat “Hoarder”

I’ve read numerous internet reports in recent days of people around the world hoarding food, particularly rice. My family doesn’t eat much rice. But if we did, I’d have hoarded a supply of it before now. That’s because I’ve been a food hoarder for years.

We hoard all kinds of food. We hoard wheat in plastic pails. We hoard crates of potatoes and net bags of onions. We hoard canning jars of applesauce, green beans, and dried beans. We hoard a freezer full of chickens and beef. If we eat much of something, we probably hoard it to some degree.

But we don’t call it hoarding. And we don’t condider it hoarding. We call it stocking up. It’s nothing new. It’s what rural folk have done for centuries. Traditionally speaking, stocking up just makes sense.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. It has occurred to me that I may be a food “hoarder” because of a childhood experience. When I was maybe eleven years old, my stepfather went into the hospital for surgery. He was in his middle 30s. The industrial laundromat where he had worked for several years, promptly fired him when he got sick. He came home from the hospital after a week and I was shocked to see how feeble he was. He recuperated at home and was out of work for a long time. My mother did not work outside the home. Finances were tight.

During that time, my parents came home one day with rice, powdered milk, cheese, and some other foods that thay had gotten for free from the government. They did this several times until my father got healthy and found work.

I didn’t like the government food. I didn’t like it that we were poor and needed “welfare.” I worried about it then. I worried about my parents finances for years after that.

Later, when I was in high school and had a part time job, I actually bought a supply of canned foods and stored the hoard in boxes under my bed, just in case. I guess I was traumatized for life when I was eleven years old. Maybe I should see a psychiatrist. :-)

When Marlene and I were married, we got involved in a co-op group. Bulk foods would be delivered to a local church and everyone in the co-op got together to divide it up. It was a “community thing” and a fun time. We bought all kinds of food in bulk and stored it in our two-room apartment in town. Some of it we stored in freezers at our parent’s homes. Buying in bulk was cheaper, and it was a good feeling to know we were stocked up, just in case.

When I started a chimney cleaning business, I remember cleaning the chimney of an older man who was a Mormon. He had a small home business making and selling electric grain grinders. I was fascinated. He explained to me that Mormons store grain and other food, just in case. This resonated with me. I knew enough about Mormonism that I felt it was unbiblical and wrong. But the food storage thing struck me as a very practical and wise thing to do.

And so it is that Marlene and I have always stocked up to some degree or another over the years.

Then came Y2k. Do you think we stocked up extra for Y2k? You better believe it! We got real serious about stocking up back then. A lot of people did. It was a practical and wise thing to do, just in case.

One of the things we really stocked up on back then was hard red winter wheat. I think we had over half a ton of it packed away in 5-gallon pails. The pails were stacked to the ceiling in our basement. We did that in 1998.

What does a family do with that much red wheat in the basement? Well, if you have a grain grinder, you can grind the grain into flour and make bread. That’s what Marlene has done for the past ten years. The stack of buckets has dwindled substantially. It is now more than 3/4 gone. Of course, if you have a little home bread baking business (as my wife does) that can use a lot of wheat too.

We haul the wheat, a bucket at a time, up from the basement and Marlene grinds it in an old, electric, Marathon grain mill. The mill was given to my mother by a friend and eventually handed on to us. The Marathon mill looks a lot like the grain mills that old Mormon guy made in his home. It employs stone burrs to do the grinding. The appliance gets a lot of use, has never given any problem, and does a great job. We have a hand-operated grinder for backup.

I’ve been saying to Marlene for over a year that I think we should restock some wheat in the basement. Now we’re finally getting to it. If I had restocked a year ago, I could have saved a lot of money. The current price for a 50 lb bag of “certified chemical free” hard wheat “berries” is $37. Six weeks ago, the same wheat was $26. I don’t recall how much a bag of wheat was in 1989. Probably around $13.

You might wonder about the quality of 10-year-old wheat that has been stored in my basement. Well, we took some pains to properly store the grain, and it is perfectly preserved.

What we did (and what we plan to do again very shortly) is utilize used plastic buckets (with lids) that we bought for a dollar each from a local dairy (they held ingredients for ice cream). We put a large mylar bag (20” by 30”) in each bucket, filled the bag with wheat, put in an oxygen absorber packet (500cc size), sealed the bag with a household iron, tucked it in, and put the lid on. Nothing could be easier. The oxygen absorber packet will remove the oxygen inside the bag, creating a vacuum. Stored thusly, wheat (and other grains) will keep very well for decades.

Pictures and more detail about the procedure I just explained can be found at this link: Walton Feed Mylar Food Storage Tutorial.

You can purchase mylar bags and oxygen absorbers from Walton Feed in Idaho. But, sorry to say, they have a terrible procedure for ordering. I recently tried ordering some mylar bags and O2 absorbers from them and it was frustrating.

I think Walton Feed might be a Mormon-owned company and Marlene suggested to me that maybe they don’t give good service unless you are a Mormon. I told her that they don’t know if I’m a Mormon or not. All they know is my name and address. But then it occurred to me that maybe they can tap into the massive, underground, nuclear-bomb-proof, Mormon genealogical database, and they actually did find out I’m not one of them...... Nah, on second thought, they probably have a lousy ordering system for everybody. Too bad.

Whatever the case, I’ve found another company. Sorbent Systems looks like it has everything needed and their online ordering system looks like it should be a lot faster and easier (I’ll know for sure very shortly). If someone reading this knows of another source for these items, please post a response here with the information.

Well, there you have the Confessions of a Wheat “Hoarder.” I know I'm not the only one doing this. Like I said, it's something all Mormons do and it's something that most rural people traditionally do. I'll bet most people reading this are food "hoarders."

But maybe you aren't a hoarder. And maybe what I've written here is resonating with you right now. If so, I sure do hope you will stock up, just in case. Aside from going to the store and buying extra food, I hope you’ll put a garden in. Most of what we stock up here is actually food we’ve raised in the growing season. Potatoes, squash, and onions are easy to grow, easy to store, and good food for winter eating. Marlene makes a LOT of meals around potatoes.


A further thought.....

I had some reservations about publishing this essay. I wondered if it was wise to tell the whole world that we have buckets of wheat in our basement. But, in the end, I concluded that writing this may encourage others to stock up. And if that happens, that's a good thing. At least I think it is. (Then again,, as you all know now, I was mentally "damaged" in my youth.)

Besides that, 99% of those who read this blog do not live anywhere near me. Those that do, and that I know of, are country folks who I suspect are stocked up themselves. And regardless, I’m more than willing to share what I have, as I can, with my neighbors if they are ever in need.

Beyond that, there are, of course, the worst case scenarios. You can read those on some survivalist web sites. I’m not going to entertain such hypotheticals here. That would not be productive.


And speaking of productive things, in an upcoming essay I will tell you about a couple of easy, tasty ways to prepare and eat stored whole grains (without grinding them into flour). Stay tuned.....

For A Troubled America

Dateline: 24 April 2008

This is a blog about faith, family, and livin’ the good life. My faith is Christian. I view the world through the lens of my Biblical worldview. That means I see things differently than most.

As I see it, a properly lived life is one in which Jesus Christ is acknowledged as sovereign Lord, wisdom and righteousness are pursued with humility, love and forgiveness are manifested, and the Bible is looked to as the first and final authority on all matters.

In “theory” such a statement would probably be accepted by most modern Christians. But, in practice, many who consider themselves Christians do not really believe all of that.

People who actually do believe what I stated in my second paragraph, and then act on their beliefs, are looked upon by other so-called Christians, and the predominant antichrist culture, as simpletons and fools at best, or dangerous threats to “freedom” at worst.

I know this from casual conversations about current events and religious subjects that I’ve been a part of with small groups of co-workers over the past eight years. When I voice my opinions in such groups, based on my Biblical worldview, the response ranges from dead silence, to laughter, to outright anger. People are astonished that I am so narrow-minded.

Though there are other men in the room who would categorize themselves as Christian (based, I suppose on a childhood church experience or occasional adult church attendance), not one of them actually accepts God’s word as total authority.

To speak up as a committed Christian believer in a group of worldly unbelievers about matters of morality (i.e., abortion) or religion (i.e., the inerrancy of the Bible), or any number of social issues, is an invitation to be verbally stoned by the crowd. Or maybe it is akin to Daniel in the lion’s den. Whatever the case, if you have been there, you know what I mean. It can be a real eye-opener. There is a lot of hostility in this nation towards any kind of Christianity that truly believes what Christianity teaches.

I am, by God’s grace, secure enough in my faith that I can handle the verbal slings and arrows. It is, after all, to be expected. But, frankly, there are times when I am astonished at what some people believe and defend. After numerous instances where I have been the lone crazy Christian, totally out of step with the mainstream opinion, I started to consider the biblical admonition about throwing pearls before swine.

Such confrontations of theological antithesis—man-centered theology vs Christ-centered theology—underscore something I do not like to think about, but which I nevertheless do think about...

My country is not at all what it once was.

Any honest examination of early American history will clearly reveal that America was founded on Biblical principles by people who held a Christian worldview. In other words, we were a Christian nation. That’s one of those statements that will get a group of unbelievers agitated (I know this from experience). But it is true. The preponderance of evidence is overwhelming.

Not all people who lived here in the founding years were Christians. But within the culture at large, the Bible was accepted and honored as a reliable standard of truth. And God’s law was accepted as a just foundation for American jurisprudence, even by the few founders who were not devoted Christians.

We were not a Baptist, or Methodist, or Episcopal, or Unitarian, or Presbyterian nation (though Presbyterianism was a powerful force). We were a monotheistic Christian nation. We were not a Muslim, or Hindu, or Buddhist, or Jewish, or Wiccan, or even a secular humanist nation. We were a Christian nation.

But that is no longer the case. Now we are a post-Christian nation. Christianity is acceptable as long as it doesn’t get in the way. Christians are okay as long as they conform, as long as they fall into step with the new polytheistic, secularized America.

And, thus, we who call ourselves Christians and live out our beliefs, have become strangers in a foreign land.

It is worth noting that he decline of Biblical worldview and of effective Christian witness, along with the rise of Christ-denying secularization, has paralleled the decline of agrarianism and the rise of corporate-industrial urbanization. Christian America is a thing of the past. Agrarian America is a thing of the past. This is no coincidence.

Christianity has always blossomed within the agrarian paradigm

”Where Christianity has existed in an agrarian culture, it has thrived and produced ample fruit. Where it has existed nominally in a non-agrarian culture it has proved to produce no fruit at all except apostasy. Examples abound. Christianity was born “outside the camp” in the rural areas of Israel and it found its greatest movement and growth once it scattered out of urban Jerusalem after the stoning of Stephen. It has been hunted down and persecuted by the great harlot city of Rome, while it thrived in the valleys and mountains of the Alps. It found Reformation in Germany, Switzerland, England, and Scotland only to suffocate again when it became the state religion in the great cities of those lands. It fled Europe for the wilds of Puritan America and thrived in the fertile soils of the New World, only to be choked out once again by the stony ground of northern industrialism and the growing urban state. Christianity is not just theology, and the sooner we realize and accept that, the faster we will grow into maturity.”

(excerpted from the essay, Towards a Biblical/Agrarian Culture by Michael Bunker)

As America has “freed” itself from the influences of Christianity and God’s Laws, we have become more and more like a ship with no anchor and no rudder. The map by which we can judge where we are and where we need to go has been discarded. We are adrift.

But those who run the ship assure us everything will be okay. After all, we are technologically advanced, and our scientific experts will solve the most pressing problems—just in time. Our financial experts will intervene and prevent any serious problems. Prosperity is our birthright. Our military is superior to any other. We are unbeatable. Our bloated and “benevolent” government will not only protect us from all enemies, foreign and domestic, it will also provide for We its subjects in our times of need. After all, that is part of what government is supposed to do, or so Americans have come to believe.

The “benevolence” of America extends to the entire world. We “bless” the nations of the world with our largesse. Yet we stick our noses into the affairs of other countries and we position our military forces in so many nations of the world. Most of the world hates us for it, and I don’t blame them.

We “The Haughty Empire” are a shining example of what every other nation can be if they embrace our ungodly way of life...

If the rest of the world would follow our example, they could be well-educated and materially successful heathens too. They could have WalMarts and McDonalds too. They would be able to buy more and more unnecessary stuff too. They could have big screen televisions and fancy cars too. They could have all the feculent trappings of an “advanced” civilization that has lost its bearings.

Like Esau, who squandered his birthright for a mess of pottage, America has squandered its rich and wise Christian heritage for a warped understanding of what freedom is, and what prosperity should be.

Let there be no mistake: the great ship of The Haughty Empire is doomed. Even now, deep in the bowels of the vessel, the engineers are worried. The engines are faltering. Cracks are forming in the hull. A storm is on the horizon.

No nation can turn its back on God, ignore His laws, and continue to enjoy His blessings of prosperity, safety, and peace. No nation can exalt itself against Him and survive. None. When a once-godly people depart from paths of righteousness, God will judge. And His judgment is not coming someday. It is happening now. America is in decline. The handwriting is on the wall.

But, thankfully, there is hope.

The hope isn’t that America as it is will survive and thrive for centuries to come. That option is out of the question for anyone who sees and understands the reality of who God is and how He has dealt with rebellious nations throughout history.

Rather, hope lies, first, within individuals—within those people who fear God, who understand that He is holy and they are not. Hope lies within people who understand they can never on their own meet God’s standards of righteousness and who understand that they are sinners, and who, then, by faith, embrace God’s gift of redemption and salvation through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Hope lies within those who repent (turn away) from their sins.

The holiness of God, the sinfulness of mankind, the shed blood of Christ, and repentance are unpopular topics with the masses of modern heathen Americans. And, sadly, such things are unpopular with many who call themselves Christians. They are more concerned with reality television programs, or Hollywood stars, or politics, or the stock market, or sports, or _________ (fill in the blank).

But when an individual seeks righteousness and finds it in Christ, then there is peace. There is also an eternal hope that, regardless of outward circumstances, can not be taken away. That has been my experience. That is what I know. And let me be perfectly clear here: this unearned grace, this unwarranted mercy, this unmerited salvation is available to all.

That is the beginning of hope. Even in the midst of God’s judgment, such hope can and will sustain those who trust in it. But there is another possibility for hope in the midst of judgment. It is a fresh cultural hope for the future. It is a vision for restoration of Christian culture in America.

This vision, this hope, begins first with the awareness that modern Christianity and modern Christians are too much like the ungodly culture they live in.

Far too many modern Christians have the same career-oriented, mammon-grubbing focus as the ungodly. Far too many modern Christian men are as self-absorbed and irresponsible as the ungodly. Far too many modern Christians willingly enslave themselves to the ungodly bondage of monetary debt. Far too many modern Christians immerse themselves in ungodly forms of entertainment and amusements. Far too many modern Christians give their children to the secular education system for indoctrination. Far too many Christian women willingly choose a secular job—choose to be the helpmeet of men other than their husbands—choose to put their children in daycare. I could go on. In short, there is precious little difference between modern Christians and modern heathens.

And to make matters worse, far too many modern Christians are almost totally dependent on a world system that acts contrary to God’s laws and that hates what Christianity believes.

Christianity in the midst of secular, industrialized civilization has compromised and blended with the materialistic aspirations and vain imaginings of the ungodly culture to such an extent that it has emasculated itself. Modern Christians are not a peculiar people. The salt of modern Christianity has lost its savor.

Scripture makes it perfectly clear that Christians are not to be partakers of the ungodly world system:

Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing;..."
II Corinthians 6:17

For a new hope to rise in the midst of judgment, this awareness I speak of must permeate the thinking of all Christians who take their faith seriously. And when the awareness becomes clear, the question arises: How then should God’s people live in the midst of the “foreign land” they now find themselves in?

Well, the simple answer to that question might well be to look at how the secular world lives, and do the exact opposite. Look at what the ungodly value most, and reject it.

As I see it, the only way for this to happen is to return to the old path of Christian agrarianism.

Christian agrarianism is a vibrant and radical antithesis.

I have written of the Christian agrarian worldview here before. I invite you to read some past essays in the archive section of this blog. I have written of Christian agrarianism in the book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian. There are other Christian men who are blogging about this quiet but profound movement of the Lord (links to some are on the sidebar at right).

Many Christians will not agree with my conclusions here. Some may not totally understand what I’m saying. Some are comfortable with the status quo. A few will want to argue. That is to be expected.

My objective is not to say you must think as I do, or to declare that all Christians should act a certain way or go to a certain church. And my desire is not to argue.

My only intention with this essay, and others like it, is to declare that wisdom and hope for the future can be found in the old paths of righteousness and the old paradigms for living the Christian life.

The vision is long term. But the time is short.

A Christian-Agrarian Creed


Almost exactly three years ago, when I first discovered blogs on the internet, I posted a comment over on Scott Terry’s Homesteader Life blog. I don’t recall the context. But I do recall the story....

In my younger days, I started a chimney cleaning business. A Mr. Letchworth called me and wanted the fireplace in his camp cleaned. The camp was on Owasco Lake, which is one of Central New York’s beautiful Finger Lakes.

I turned off the main road where Mr. Letchworth had told me to, and I drove down a long, winding, private road, through hardwood forest land, towards the lake. At the bottom of the road I came to a large, level expanse of lakeside lawn and buildings. The largest of the buildings was, evidently, the camp. It was old and grand. The morning was foggy and damp. No people were in sight. The only evidence that anyone was around was a single, ordinary station wagon parked on the lawn.

I got out of my truck and walked around to the front of the camp. There I found the front stairs, which matched the grandeur of the structure. Two exceptionally large statues of winged lions stood guard on either side of the staircase. They were impressive creatures.

The combination of quiet, foggy morning, the old and large building, and the winged lions left me feeling like I was in the opening scene of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

Standing on the broad porch, I knocked on the front door, and waited. A short while later I could hear footsteps coming and the door opened. A slight, grey-haired older gentleman greeted me. It was Mr. Letchworth.

He invited me in and introduced me to his wife, then showed me to a fireplace in one room. I commented about the size of the camp and Mrs. Letchworth related to me that their visiting grandchildren would sometimes get lost in the place.

If you are familiar with New York State, you may have heard of Letchworth State Park. The land for the park was given to the State by William Pryor Letchworth, a wealthy industrialist who died in 1910. W.P started his career as a clerk in a saddalry and hardware business in Auburn, N.Y., which is at one end of Owasco Lake. I suspect the lakeside compound was a remnant of that family’s former greatness, and the Mr. Letchworth I met was, no doubt, a descendent, and heir.

The fireplace chimney wasn’t dirty enough to warrant cleaning. Before leaving, Mr. Letchworth wanted to show me a stove chimney in the kitchen. The room was in the back of the house. Like everything else, the kitchen was big with lots of windows and counter space. I imagined that it was once the center of activity for a bustling crew of domestic servants.

The kitchen was far from modern. Its walls, woodwork and built in cabinets were all painted a monochrome buttermilk color. Though clean and neat and bright, the kitchen was cold and sparse. There was no decoration or ornamentation except a single, plain black picture frame. But it had no picture in it. There was, instead, some printed words. I read the words and remembered them.

Use it up.
Wear it out.
Make it do.
Or do without.

Were those words an admonition to the domestic help? I suspect so. Were they the Letchworth family motto? Probably not—at least not in their heyday of wealth and fame. Would someone with such a motto live so grandly? It would certainly be a paradox.

But it appeared that the Mr. Letchworth I had just met was a conservative man—careful with his money. The small station wagon on the lawn was one indication of this.

Whatever the case, I like that little creed. I have always wanted to put it in writing and frame it in my home. Last weekend I finally did just that.


The framed phrase is in my kitchen. My whole family can now see the words, and learn them, and remember them, and, hopefully, take them to heart.

Inherent within the creed are some very notable virtues for living one’s life. In fact, as a Christian I see the creed as a deep theological statement. The Bible tells us that Christians are supposed to be a type of “domestic servant” to the The Most High God. We are to be caretakers of creation and stewards of the many material blessings our King has entrusted to us.

The whole idea of thrift—of not wasting the blessings—is found in the creed. Conservation of natural resources and using the earth’s bounty responsibly is there. Personal resourcefulness, as well as creativity can be read into the words. Contentment is certainly found within the creed. Simplicity, and doing without ostentation are also in the creed. In fact, the creed is a clear rejection of prideful materialism.

These concepts are inherent in the agrarian way of life, and they mesh perfectly with my Christian-agrarian worldview. That is because the Bible and agrarianism mesh perfectly with each other.

Of course, if everyone in America adopted this creed tomorrow, and actually acted upon it, our economy would collapse in no time flat. So what does that say about our economic system?

The industrial way of life, and the economic system it has spawned, is built upon discontentment, materialism, destruction of the earth’s natural resources, and waste. It is not a system that honor’s the King. It rejects Him and His wisdom.

All of which explains why the world finds itself in such troubles these days. Economic troubles. Environmental troubles. All kinds of troubles. We have departed from the simplicity and wisdom of God’s admonitions for living a responsible life.

So I present this Christian-agrarian creed for your consideration. It is something to think about. Perhaps you would want to frame it and put it on the wall of your home as a reminder to you and your family.

April 15: Two Steps Forward. One Step Back.

It has been almost three years since I established The Deliberate Agrarian and started writing here about “Faith, Family & Livin’ The Good Life.” It was many months before I said anything about my Whizbang Chicken Plucker plan book. That’s because I did not begin these writings with the intention of promoting my books.

But, as the story of that book (and the others I’ve self published) came out, I discovered something remarkable about blogging… it’s a great way to spread the word about your home business. The Google search engines have been good to me. People stop by every day to read the past essays about how my family raises and processes chickens in our backyard with the Whizbang Plucking machine, and the Whizbang Automatic Chicken Scalder. As a result, I have sold quite a few books. Better yet, I have sold quite a few parts to people who decided to make their own chicken plucker.

In fact, many of you who are reading this now have purchased one or more products from me in the past three years. For that, I am very grateful. Thank you.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know I have a dream. I have even referred to it as a vision. It is certainly my daily prayer….. Lord, my heart’s desire is to own some rural acreage—40 to 100 acres—a mix of woods and some field.

I desire a section of land greater than the 1.5 acre lot I now own so I can husband it. I want to care for the woods in a sustainable way. I want to plant trees and blueberry bushes, and have a raspberry patch, and a garlic patch, and a strawberry patch, and a big vegetable patch, and a small vineyard, and maybe I’ll even try my hand at growing apples again. In other words, I want to make the land productive. I have a strong yearning to do this. I feel it is a calling.

But more than that, I feel a desire to establish this acreage as some sort of a family trust. It would be a place that my children and grandchildren could visit and enjoy and use it for their own down-to-earth “dominion” projects. Perhaps we could all live on the land. I don’t know. But it would be a homestead base with a lot of possibilities for the generations. And, not incidentally, I see this land as a base of hospitality and Christian outreach.

It is with this dream, this vision, in my mind and heart that I am working to write books and make project parts to sell to people. My full time job as a state government employee supports my family. My part-time home business supports itself and gives me money to put towards the land I hope to get one day.

I am under the conviction that I should not go into debt for the land. I am also under the conviction that I should not strive too hard for the dream. I should work hard. I should save money for the purpose. But I should not strive so hard that I neglect my responsibilities as a father and husband. I could easily do that (I have done so in the past). And I am under the conviction that the Lord will provide according to His will, in His time. So I need to be patient. I need to be content with what I have (and I am).

I'm fully cognizant of the possibility that I may never own a section of land, as is my hope and dream. Or, it may be that, by the time I do own it, I’ll be too old to carry out the projects I have in mind. It may be a dream that my son’s see to fruition. But I will play my part in the story. I have planted the seed of the dream in their hearts and minds. And I will continue to save with the goal before me.

That said, last year was a good year for my home business. It was, in fact, good enough that I had trouble keeping up with orders. My little part-time job has turned into a bigger, full-time job. I pretty much have two full-time jobs now. But the one is a home-based business, and I can involve my family in it. This is part of my vision too—to establish a family economy of some sort. And, of course, with land, the idea of a family economy can take on a whole new dimension.

I have related these things to you because they are on my mind. I feel the Lord is blessing me in the area of creativity and entrepreneurship, and I desire to acknowledge that I see and believe such blessings are entirely from Him. And I am very thankful.

Now I want to tell you what happened two days ago. It was Saturday and I was working around the house. Marlene went to town to take care of some errands. One of those errands was to pick up our 2007 taxes from the accountant. They are due tomorrow, April 15. He waited until the end to get the finished paperwork to us.

When Marlene got home she told me I was not going to be pleased with the bottom line. I figured I would owe some money. Like I said, it had been a good year. But I was not prepared for the reality of my tax bill. I was stunned.

I had to sit down.

Seated in a chair in the living room, I stared blankly into space and thought for some time about my taxes and all the money the government wanted from me. All that hard-earned money. The government was going to take my gain from all those hours and hours of making parts in my shop and filling orders.

It was about 1:00 in the afternoon and the thought actually crossed my mind that I just wanted to go to bed, pull the covers over my head, and go to sleep.

A spirit of depression was knocking on the door of my heart. I’ve been there before. I’ve been through financial problems in the past. It is not a good memory.

And then I came to my senses. Two things entered my mind: First, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21). Second, “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.” (I Corinthians 16:13).

“Quit you like men” is King-James language for “Don’t be a baby about it. Suck it up. Act like a man.”

The true bottom line is that money and land and my dreams are of secondary importance. What is most important is that I keep my focus. Not a focus on my bank account. Not a focus on what money can buy or do for me, or even what it can “do for God.” But a focus on the things that money can’t buy.

What is important is that I focus on my personal responsibilities as a father and husband and child of God. What is important is that I focus on who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for me. What is important is that I give Him thanks for His grace, His mercy, and His many blessings. What is important is that I think and act more like Jesus Christ every day. What is important is that I trust Him completely.

In short, what is important is that I bring glory to the Lord in the life I live. And more often than not, money (the desire for more of it, an excess of it, or the love of it) gets in the way of that.

So, money and the things money can buy are secondary. Either I believe that, or I don’t. Either I act on that belief, or I don’t.

In the end, I am thankful for this situation. It has helped bring a degree of perspective that I needed.

For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised.
Psalm 96:4


P.S. It is not like I made a LOT of money with my little home business. I really didn’t (if I did, I’d quit the state job). But I made enough that I felt like I was on the verge of really “getting ahead.” I felt like if it kept up, I might, Lord willing, have enough to seriously consider buying land in maybe another five years.

If you have ever had a business of your own, and it started making some money, and you got socked with a surprisingly big tax payment (most of which is the 15% social security “contribution”), you know what a shock it can be to think you made a certain amount, only to find you made a whole lot less.

Oh, and I realize my story of tax woe is not unique. We’re all in the same boat. The reality of it just hits some of us harder at times.

Backyard Sugarin’
Part 5

Dateline: 11 April 2008

My previous essay in this series explained how we boil maple tree sap down to syrup in a jerrybuilt, wood-fired evaporator. When the syrup is close to done we stop the boil, drain the evaporator pan into a big stock pot and finish it off on the kitchen stove. The advantage to finishing on the kitchen stove is that we have better control of the heat.

Hot syrup needs to be filtered. We do this outdoors, as we are draining the syrup from the evaporator pan. We use a heavy felt filter that is made for this purpose. The filter is made like a pouch, with a wide, open top. And we use a similarly shaped pre-filter inside the felt. The pre-filter is a thinner material and easier to wash out. Here is a picture of the washed out filters (felt filter on left and pre-filter on right). If washed and dried, both filters will last for many years, though they may become somewhat stained (as is the one on the right in the picture).


To do the filtering we simply hold the two filters open over the stock pot and drain from the evaporator down into and through the filters. The person holding the filter wears gloves because the syrup and steam are extremely hot. A few clothespins are useful for holding the felt and prefilter together around the top.

Here’s a picture of the stock pot of suryp boiling on the kitchen stove:


A unique characteristic of boiling maple syrup is that, when it is close to done, a boiling foam of the syrup will rise up in the pan. If you reduce the heat, the foam will subside. A whole pan of frothing sap can also be miraculously sent into instant retreat by simply touching it with some butter. I’ve heard that the old-timers suspended a piece of salt pork over their evaporator pan to halt the sudden rise of maple bubbles. Here is a picture of tiny, hot, frothy, maple bubbles rising in the stock pot:


The trick to finishing maple syrup is knowing when to stop boiling. There is an optimum range for sugar content wherein the syrup is nicely sweet and thick (once it cools), but no sugar crystals form upon cooling.

Rink Mann tells in his book, Backyard Sugarin’, how to gauge this optimum range for sugar content by using a candy thermometer to measure the temperature of the syrup at a boil. When it is seven degrees hotter than boiling water, the syrup is done (see the book for more specific details). We used a candy thermometer the first couple of years that we made syrup. Then we decided to buy a maple syrup hydrometer and test cup.


The hydrometer is a sealed glass tube with a weighted bottom. A calibrated strip of paper has been sealed into the tube. To use the hydrometer, you first dip the stainless steel test cup into the boiling syrup to fill it. Then you slowly lower the hydrometer into the liquid. If there is too much water in the syrup, the hydrometer will come to rest on the bottom of the test cup, and stay there. That means more boiling is needed.

But if the hydrometer bobs up and floats, the syrup is ready. The higher the sugar content of the liquid, the higher up the hydrometer floats. There are two red guide lines on the hydrometer scale that indicate the acceptable range for finished syrup. We’ve found that when the hydrometer just starts to float, the syrup is nicely done. I suspect there are slight differences between hydrometers and you need to find the “sweet spot” on your particular instrument.

You can also utilize the hydrometer when boiling sap in the evaporator outside, and we do that. But be prepared to immediately stop the boil and drain the syrup off as soon as the hydrometer shows any indication that it is about to start to float up. You can tell when it’s close to floating by how it acts in the syrup.

Here’s a picture of the hydrometer in the test cup:


When we’ve determined that the syrup is done, we turn the stove burner down to a simmer—just enough to keep it hot. Then we ladle the syrup into canning jars for storage. Here’s a picture of a quart jar with a funnel and a measuring cup for ladling:


We once bought plastic, quart-size maple syrup jugs to put our syrup in. That was a stupid thing to do. There are plenty of canning jars in our pantry, they don’t cost anything, they are reusable, they are sanitary, and we get to actually see the entire contents of the container (which is kind of nice).

We pre-heat the jars in the oven to prevent thermal shock and possible jar breakage when filling. Then we dip the syrup out of the stock pot and pour it into the canning jar. We fill to about 1/4” below the rim. Put a canning jar lid on, followed by a ring, and tighten it down. Then the hot jar needs to be tipped so the syrup can sterilize the air space. Set the jars upright to cool and they will seal just fine. They will keep for years.

Here’s a picture of the yield from one day’s boil: five quarts and a cup.


As the jars of syrup cool and over time, a thin layer of sediment will settle to the bottom. It is known as “sugar sand” or niter. It is too fine for the felt filter to stop. The niter is no problem with homemade syrup (you just pour out of the jar, leaving the very bottom layer, and it washes right out), but it is probably not acceptable for syrup that is sold to the public. I understand commercial syrup producers have special filtering equipment that will remove the niter.

A tutorial about how my family does Backyard Sugarin’ would not be complete without a picture of The Lovely Marlene, my sugarin’ helpmate. Here she is tending the stock pot of syrup.


The blurry picture is indicative of how industrious my wife is—it's tough getting her to stop for a still picture. But I did manage to get one...


So there you have it. That’s how my family makes maple syrup on a very small scale, using very basic equipment, in our backyard. It was a productive season. Eight gallons of homemade syrup are in the pantry.

As I write this, it is April 11th. Our last boil was five days ago. Maple season is over for another year. We have pulled the taps. The buckets and other equipment are washed and put away. The maple trees are now budding. Spring is at hand. The garden beckons....

CLICK HERE to go back to Part 1 of this Backyard Sugarin' series

CLICK HERE to check out the Wood family's "Sap to Syrup" DVD

Backyard Sugarin’
Part 4
Boiling Sap

Dateline: 10 April 2008

As I mentioned in a previous essay of this series, one of the great things about Backyard Sugarin’ is that we utilize inexpensive, homemade, low-tech equipment to make maple syrup. Nowhere is this truer than with the evaporator.

The evaporator is a pan that you put maple sap in and boil off the water. You boil until the sugar content is concentrated to maximum liquid sweetness, and the clear tree sap will turn some shade of maple syrup color.

You can purchase ready-made evaporator pans from maple syrup equipment suppliers. I think they are made of tin with soldered joints. They can be amazingly expensive.

In the book, Backyard Sugarin’ by Rink Mann, he suggests using a big, 18” by 24” “hotel lasagna pan” for an evaporator. Restaurant auctions might be a good source for getting such pans at a reasonable price. He also provides directions for making an evaporator pan out of a 30” by 32” piece of galvanized sheet metal. The sheet can be folded and hammered into shape without any soldering needed.

Using galvanized metal for a boiling pan doesn’t appeal to me. I opted to have a friend who is a welder make me a pan. It measures 16-1/2” wide by 33” long by 8” deep. It is made of stainless steel and has a drain on one end. Here is a picture:


The metal in that pan came from a stainless steel plate that was screwed to one side of a swinging door inside a factory. I was doing some remodeling there and salvaged the metal before throwing out the door. I had no use for it at the time but knew it would come in handy someday.

My friend the welder happens to be a Backyard Sugarer too. He fabricated my evaporator pan, added the handles using some salvaged metal he had, welded in a threaded insert for the drain pipe, and charged me 40 bucks for the job.

The pan is pretty much indestructible. On one occasion I boiled too far and ended up with a tough, fired-on black residue in the bottom of the pan. Such an event would have totally ruined a fancy tin-and-solder evaporator pan. But not a stainless steel pan with welded corners. I took an electric disc sander to it and ground off the charred gunk. It took some doing but I did it. In between boiling batches of sap, I clean the pan with water and a sheet of 400-grit wet/dry sandpaper. You can’t beat stainless steel for durability and longevity

My pan sets on top of, and partly into, a firebox that I fabricated out of an old metal barrel, as shown in the picture below. By the way, in the picture you can see some charred sap inside the pan on the end. It is normal to get some of that after a boil and that's where the wet/dry sandpaper comes in real handy.


That fire-barrel is actually a new one made this year. The old one (just like it) rusted out after several seasons. My son, Robert made the new one using the old one as a pattern. The stabilizing framework of bolted-together metal conduit was still sound and he reused that. The chimney is 6” diameter stove pipe. It friction fits into a hole in the back of the barrel and is wired up as shown in this next picture:


Here’s another view of the evaporator and firebox:


Those scrap pieces of metal in front of the firebox opening are used like a door to restrict airflow into the fire chamber as needed in order to maintain the hottest possible fire.

To use the evaporator we fill the pan with sap and build a fire in the firebox. We keep the sap a couple inches below the rim to allow for a rolling boil. It takes some time to get a fire hot enough to boil the pan’s contents. Once it starts to boil, we keep feeding the wood to it all day, and sometimes into the night. Here’s a picture of the firebox in action:


Boiling the sap down is a lot of fun (as long as you don’t boil it too far). The evaporator is located just outside a window in our house, so Marlene (who, with the kids, tends the fire when I’m at work) can periodically look out to see how the boil is going. She enjoys stoking the fire with wood and “babysitting” the boil. There is a very appealing rustic ambiance to Backyard Sugarin’ like this.

Once the pan gets to boiling, we adjust the valve on the sap barrel to allow a steady trickle of fresh sap into the pan, as shown in this picture:


As the sap boils, dirty foam will collect on the surface. We skim it off with a wire mesh strainer, as shown in this next picture:


The sap will bubble and boil down for many hours as we keep the fire fed and fresh sap running in. We can typically boil down a whole barrel in a day. If the sap is “running” and we are refilling the barrel as we boil, we will sometimes leave the full pan with a fire underneath it and go to bed. In the morning the fire will be down to coals and ashes and the sap level will have steamed down two or three inches. Then we re-stoke the fire, top off the pan and boil for another day, or as long as needed to use up our sap supply. But we have never boiled a pan of syrup for more than two days because, the longer it boils, the darker it gets.

As the sap boils off and the sugar content concentrates, the boiling bubbles get smaller and smaller. When the syrup is almost done, the little bubbles will come together in foamy masses over the hottest part of the pan. A wood fire does not offer the control needed to precisely finish the syrup, so we draw it off just before it is completely done, and take it in the house to finish on the kitchen stove.

There is a certain knack to knowing when you’ve boiled far enough. Rink Mann’s book gives some pointers. The more we’ve made maple syrup, the better we’ve gotten at knowing the right time to draw off the evaporator’s contents. We will discuss when the time is right between ourselves: "It's not ready yet!" "Yes it is!" "No it's not!"

The problem is that the syrup can go from close-to-ready to overdone pretty fast. Overdone means that when the syrup cools down, the sugar will crystalize (not the desired outcome). Really overdone means you completely forgot about the evaporator pan long enough for the liquid to all boil off. It's a memorable experience.

There is, fortunately, a simple instrument that you can use to tell exactly when the syrup is close to done and just right. I'll show and tell about that in my next essay.

For our pan, and the amount of sap we process, we usually end up with a half inch of close-to-done syrup in the bottom, and it usually amounts to a couple gallons of liquid.

To draw the syrup off, we have three methods. One is to lift the pan off the firebox, set it over a sawhorse and open the ballvalve to let it flow into a big stockpot. It takes two people to do this and we are extremely careful about it because hot syrup is dangerous. I have a friend who spilled a pan of maple syrup on himself. The burns were bad enough to put him in the hospital and he was out of work for several weeks.

If I am by myself and have to draw off the syrup, I shovel out the hot coals and drain the pan. Or, on a couple of occasions, I’ve shoveled snow into the firebox to quench the fire before drawing off the syrup.

Sorry but I don’t have a picture of drawing off the syrup. But I have pictures of finishing it off on the stove in our kitchen and I will write about that next.

Stay tuned.....

Click Here to go on to Backyard Sugarin' Part 5: Finishing
CLICK HERE to go back to Part 1 of this Backyard Sugarin' series

CLICK HERE to check out the Wood family's "Sap to Syrup" DVD

Backyard Sugarin’
Part 3
Collecting Sap

Dateline: 9 April 2008

In the previous essay of this series I showed and explained how my family taps sugar maple trees to collect sap for making maple syrup. Now I’m going to explain how we collect the sap and store it.

It takes approximately 40 gallons of sugar maple tree sap to make a gallon of finished maple syrup. The exact amount varies because sugar content of sap varies. It varies between different trees, and even within the same tree throughout the season.

Our “sugar bush” is right out the back door of our house, just across the lawn. With only 25 taps to collect, we simply walk from tree to tree with a couple of five-gallon plastic pails. We unhook the galvanized sap pail from the hook on the sap spile (see previous essay for details) and dump the contents into our collecting buckets. Here’s a picture of me doing just that.


And here’s a picture of my son, Robert, filling a pail.


As you can see, collecting sap is a simple process. But that isn’t to say it is easy. Sap weighs around 8 pounds a gallon. The buckets are heavy to carry. The difficulty of the task is compounded by the steep terrain we have to traverse. Keep in mind too that maple season is also mud and ice season. So collecting sap in buckets and carrying them uphill to our collecting tank is a real workout.

There are days throughout the maple season when the sap doesn’t flow at all, and there are days when it really “runs” (which isn’t to say it is actually running out of the tree like a faucet—it’s just dripping fast and a lot of sap accumulates in the pails). On a good day we will collect sap a couple of times. But usually we collect once in the late afternoon. Here is a picture of me carrying some full buckets.


We carry the buckets of sap out of the woods to our makeshift “sugar shack” which is right next to our house, in our wood shed. Before I show you the wood shed and the west side of my house, I need to warn you—this is not a pretty picture. The west side of our house has no siding beyond weathered plywood and some tarpaper. When you are a one-income family and you build your house on a budget, without borrowing money, things like siding can wait....and wait. That’s part of My Christian Agrarian Reality. Here’s the picture:


What you’re looking at is a “temporary” wood shed that has been in place for eight years—far longer than I originally intended. I built it cheap with lumberyard culls and salvaged barn roofing. It does the job. We hand wood through the window in the background and put it in my Yeoman Furniture Wood Box. By the way, CLICK HERE to see the remarkable contrast between the above west side of my house, and the east side.

Underneath the woodshed is a steaming evaporator, which I’ll discuss in more detail in the next essay of this series. For now, I’d like to draw your attention to the big white 55-gallon plastic barrel. That is our sap collection tank. Here is another view:


The 55-gallon barrel is up off the ground so we can gravity-feed sap down into the evaporator. Please note that the barrel is up on top of a homemade Whizbang Garden Cart (an essential homestead tool if there ever was one).

You will also notice in the picture that our collecting buckets are upended over upright poles. That is how we store them to keep them off the ground and clean until the next time we need them.

We fill the barrel by dumping buckets of sap into the top, as shown in this next picture.


We don’t use any electric pumps to get the sap up into the barrel. Man and boy power does the job.

You can see a cloth is over the top of the barrel. That is a piece of sheer nylon curtain material that Marlene bought at a garage sale. It makes a very strong and effective filter and has multiple uses around the homestead. A filter is needed to separate bits of bark and bugs and such from the sap. Here’s another view showing the makeshift filter:


The filter is held in place with clothespins. After dumping our collected sap in the top, I take the clothespins and fabric off and put the lid on. I then clip the material to the roof of the wood shed and let is air dry until next time. In addition to filtering out bugs and bark, the filter will separate any slushy ice that was collected...


When sap partially freezes, the ice has almost no sugar content. So the ice is thrown away and the remaining sap has a higher concentration of sugar. A little icing is good because it results in less boiling time. Ice can form in the holding tank too, as seen in this next picture.


When the barrel ices up like that, it clogs the outlet drain in the bottom, and we have to dip the sap out of the top to get the boil started. As the evaporator heats up, it will thaw the bottom drain. Icing in the barrel makes more work, but I don’t mind because all that ice is water that doesn’t have to be boiled away. When the barrel is empty, I just tip it upside down and knock out the ice.

This next picture shows the water valve that I put on the bottom of the sap barrel.


We store sap until we get most of a barrel. If the weather is cold, the sap will keep for several days. In warmer weather it can go bad after a couple days. It is best to keep the collection tank out of the sun so the sap keeps a well as possible.

That’s the story on collecting maple sap.

In my next essay I will discuss our evaporator and how we boil the maple sap down into syrup.

Stay tuned.....

Click here to go on to Backyard Sugarin' Part 4: Boiling Sap
CLICK HERE to go back to Part 1 of this Backyard Sugarin' series.

Click Here to check out the Wood family's "Sap to Syrup" DVD

Backyard Sugarin’
Part 2
Tapping Trees

Dateline: 8 April 2008

In Part 1 of this how-to series I explained that my family makes maple syrup on a small scale in our back yard, and I explained our reasons for doing so—reasons beyond just maple syrup. Now I’m going to launch into the details of our particular little operation by telling (and showing) you how we tap trees....

This year we tapped our maple trees on Saturday, March 15. It was foggy and overcast all day but the temperature was in the 40s and the sap was “running.” Cold nights and above freezing days will get the sap flowing.

I was up at daybreak. The rest of my family was still sleeping. Not a problem. I tapped 24 trees by myself and I took my time. Later, I got my son, Robert, to help with the pictures that follow.

Tapping maple trees by oneself on a foggy morning in March is the antithesis of working in a factory in the city, which is what I do five days a week. It was quiet and peaceful in the woods. The air was fresh. I could clearly hear the water rushing through the stream that runs through our woods. But a rushing stream does not make noise; it is a quiet, natural, therapeutic sound. So, yes, I took my time. I savored the experience.

We tap only 25 sugar maple trees because that’s pretty much all the properly sized trees we have available to tap on our small acreage. Our sap storage and boiling operation (as I’ll be showing and explaining later in this series) is sized for that number of taps. If we tapped more trees, we would need to re-engineer our whole small-scale system.

Our woods are directly behind our house, along a gully, and on the west side in an overgrown old family cemetery. So our trees are all within walking distance of our yard.

According to Rink Mann’s book Backyard Sugarin', every tap you put in will translate to about a quart of finished maple syrup per season. we ended up with a better yield than that this year. But it is a good rule-of-thumb.

The following picture shows some basic tapping equipment: a galvanized steel sap bucket with a galvanized cover (in the background), a hammer, and hand brace with drill bit.


The first couple of years we made maple syrup we utilized recycled plastic milk jugs to collect the sap, as Rick Mann’s book explains. The jugs are free, and they work fine to collect sap. But they need emptying more frequently than a sap bucket. And if it gets cold, some of the sap will freeze. When this happens in a sap pail, you just take the ice off the top, throw it away, and pour your maple sap into your collecting bucket. But you can’t do that with a partially frozen jug of sap. I’ll tell you why we throw the ice away later in this series.

As you may know, a lot of maple syrup makers now utilize lengths of plastic tubing instead of old fashioned sap buckets to collect sap. They string the tubing from tree to tree and the sap flows along into a central collection tank. We don’t do that because I like sap buckets. They are simple and effective and, if properly cared for, should last a lifetime. Besides that, I hate plastic, or vinyl, or whatever that tubing is made of. The less plastic in my life, the better.

The buckets also clean out nicely. I’ve heard that the tubing is difficult and complicated to clean. We bought the buckets from a local maple equipment place used for something like three dollars each. The covers were a buck more. It was money well spent.

Trees are tapped by drilling a 7/16” hole into the tree with a brace and bit. 7/16” is the universally accepted proper size for a tap hole. And using a hand brace is the traditional method for drilling the hole. You could, of course, use a battery-powered electric drill to drill the holes. That would be faster and easier. But for 25 taps, I keep it simple.

Functional hand braces can be bought at flea markets for a few bucks. Don’t ever buy a brand new hand brace. They are way too expensive. If you need a 7/16” bit for the brace, you can get one at Lehman’s for a few bucks. Properly cared for, both brace and bit will last you the rest of your life and give you no problem. You can’t say that about a battery-powered drill.

You can tap a tree in 30 seconds with a brace and bit. This next picture shows Robert tapping tree #25.


The tap hole should be drilled a couple inches deep and angled up just a bit. Robert’s drill bit could probably be angled up slightly more than the picture shows. But that's good enough. We drill the holes just above waist height. A little higher or lower makes no difference.

This next picture shows a sap spile with a pail hanging hook and a spile insertion tool, which is used to pound the spile into the hole.


This next picture shows the spile insertion tool in the spile, and the spile being hammered in. The little tool serves to distribute and direct the force of the hammer blows so that the relatively thin metal of the spile is not deformed. A spile insertion tool is not absolutely necessary but it does the job it is designed to do and prolongs the useable lifespan of your spiles. The spile is pounded in until it is snug. Not too tight.


Once the spile is in the tree, the sap will start to drip out, unless the temperature is freezing. I love the sound of sap dripping into the bottom of an empty bucket.

Every maple tree has it's own sap characteristics. Some trees have better sap flow than others, and sugar concentration of sap varies between trees. Seeing as I was in no hurry the morning I tapped, I timed the drips from several trees. Some were producing 40 drips per minute. Most were around 60. My best tree, which also happens to be my biggest, was producing an incredible 120 drips a minute. That tree is always my best sap producer. I call it the “Big Dripper.”

I tried to take a picture of a drip falling off the end of a sap spile. This is the best I could do:


And here’s a drip's-eye view down into an empty bucket


And, finally, Robert took a picture of yours truly amidst a cluster of sap buckets. You can see the steep bank and gully that is behind our house. “Big Dripper” is at the bottom of the gully, which means that collecting sap from that tree is harder than any of the others. In my next essay in this series, I’ll explain (and show) you how we collect and store the maple sap.


To be continued....

CLICK HERE to go on to Backyard Sugarin' Part 3: Collecting Sap
CLICK HERE to go back to Part 1 of this Backyard Sugarin' series.

CLICK HERE to check out the Wood Family's "Sap to Syrup" DVD