This site is about my life as a farmgirl, wife, mother and grandmother. We have a beautiful granddaughter and the cutest grandson. We own two farms in Craig County Virginia, leasing one and raising beef cattle on the other.
Even with a pandemic our lives didn’t change a lot from any other year. We limited our trips off the farm, had doctor appointment over the phone, kept in touch with family and friends via mail, email and Facebook and at times my blog. I really don’t know who even reads it but I do enjoy keeping up with myself through my blog. If anyone has questions or suggestions for topics related to farming let me know and I will address with the knowledge that I may have.
On the farm in January, we trim fruit trees and we have plenty of them. We prune the grapevines and berry vines. We prepare for maple sugaring by cleaning the spouts, buckets, holding tank, and cooking pans.
We opened up several roads in the back of the property. Eddie worked on it several days before I was able to help but it made such a big difference cleaning out the trees and brush that had the road covered block our way.
There one chore I have monthly and that’s to clean out the chicken house and nesting boxes. It’s really hard on the back and legs to let it go more than a month when you have 30+ chickens. With only five hens and a rooster at the moment it could wait but I like tidying everything up for my girls and keeping fresh hay or leaves in their nesting boxes. I can’t stand dirty eggs!!!
Usually right after deer season and through March you can find us most any day in the woods cutting firewood for the following winter season and we had some help this year from a friend. The woodhouse is “almost” full and there’s a stack we’re using now in the area where we split the wood when we haul it in.
We lost our honeybees during the winter but thankfully a wild swarm came into the hive. They worked hard all through the spring and we got one super and four more frames in the middle of summer. Unfortunately Eddie checked on them a few weeks ago on a warm day and they’re all dead again. I wish the scientists would find out what the problem is so we could build several colonies.
The rest of the month found me inside sewing, reading, and going through seed catalogs. I wore them out going through them every night.
At the end of the month, 30th and 31st, we got a heavy snow!!
With yet another weird spring we managed to collect about 80 gallons of sugar maple sap in 2021. It was cold and blustery but hubby tapped those trees anyway and cooked off the syrup on our propane turkey fryer in the garage. A small tank of gas boiled down about 10 gallon of sap in about 5-6 hours which gives us about a quart of maple syrup in each run. The syrup was cooked down in the garage, moved to my kitchen to strain three times and cook down to desired thickness. We thought it was probably the thickest we’ve ever made. Trying to farm and cook off syrup at the same time became a little harried at times and two pots became scorched near the end and had to be thrown out!! But in all it was a quick process and we processed 15 pints and half pints this year. The end product was worth it and those plates of French toast were delicious.
The pandemic that we are witnessing is a very real reason to stay home. We stay home most all the time anyway so it hasn’t hindered our life much at all. You see, there is ALWAYS something to do on the farm that keeps us busy during the day and at night we’re usually too tired to much anyway!!
Wintertime keeps us busy with feeding and caring for the cattle and small animals on the farm. Everyday finds us hauling firewood out of the woodhouse into the house or to the front porch when there’s pending bad weather. It’s also a time for restocking the wood stores for the next winter and checking the fencing for downed trees that have broken the fences that keep the cattle where they belong.
This winter we are dealing with a lot of ice and over the last two months we’ve had a total of about 12 inches of snow. We’ve expected to lose power but only had one outage early that was fixed and back on within about five hours, we were asleep during most of that.
Our next big issue is calving time which begins again on March 18th through May. We’re hoping that the bad winds, ice, below freezing temps and snow are over for the most part then or we could end up with a couple orphans like these to take care of.
A few more work projects coming up are fruit tree pruning, making maple syrup and opening the greenhouse (unheated), building new fence and repairing old, restocking chicks, introducing more ducks and maybe turkeys to the farm, and fixing roads that have developed deep ruts and gulleys wherever the tractor tires dig in. This is all before we start the garden!!! There are no lazy days or boredom when you’re a farmer!!!
Maple sugar time is upon us and because of the freaky weather we may not get to make any this year. It’s either raining or icing our world and we’re sure the sap has come up but we’re expecting 20 degree weather over the weekend and next week.
We’re still waiting on the heifers to drop their babes but have only had one of fourteen to calve so far.
The one little calf needs/wants a playmate so much. Today he was running laps around his mom for fun!
Goodbye February! We’re anticipating the March winds, have had enough showers so April can be semi-wet and bring in some of those beautiful May flowers!!!
Hubby and I had a quick window of time to collect our sap this year and it turned out perfect! We decided to make the syrup by ourselves this year because of the unpredictable spring weather. We also decided that about half a batch would suffice so we only filled the sap tank with 135 gallons of clear maple sap!
You know spring is really on it’s way when the Caldwell family fires up the sugar house and loads the maple trees with sap buckets. Eddie and I tapped our maple trees last week with the awesome help of our son, Shawn. It was a spur of a moment decision because of the unpredictable weather situation. We tapped fourteen trees with 1-5 buckets depending on the size and condition of the tree.
We gather the sap every two hours so by the time we had all of the taps drilled, plugged and a bucket hung on them it was time for Shawn to start making the rounds to each of the trees. The sap was running like a heavily dripping faucet and soon the buckets were running over. We had a total of 52 buckets hung and we hauled it in milk cans from the trees back to the 210 gallon storage tank. The tank was filled well past the holding mark giving us about 225 total gallons of sap in 2 1/2 days. On Tuesday afternoon we pulled the taps and buckets, cleaned them and put them away for another year.
At this point we stored the tank full of sap in our garage where it would stay below 40* until we were ready to make the syrup and would be okay for 10-12 days as long as it stayed cold. We now waited for weather that was cool, dry and not too windy to fire up the sugar house.
On Friday, Eddie hauled in the firewood to use for the fire. It had to be dry and a sturdy wood that would stay really hot. We had a stockpile of old locust post that came from replaced fencing on the farm so he brought in two loads and placed them on top of three other posts laid out on the ground to keep the wood dry in the event it rained again before we started the fire.
Friday night we made the decision to make the syrup while we had at least one good day. I emailed the kids and we set the syrup vat on the fire pit. The syrup vat is a stainless steel vat with four sections.
We put the vat on the firepit around 9:00 p.m. Friday night and we thought we had everything ready. The sawed up fence posts were in the pit along with kindling and we don’t put the sap in until right before lighting the fire. (Don’t want no varmints sucking up the water or worse walking through it. The lights for working in the dark first thing in the morning were set up and ready. The hose was hooked up to the tank, buckets in place, and all we had to do was try to get a good nights sleep because it was going to be a long day.
The next morning Eddie got up at 5:00 a.m. and got the vat filled with sap, started the fire and when I got out of bed at 6:00 I could see the steam coming out from under the sugarhouse roof. It had been cooking good for about half an hour and Eddie was going to add more sap and the waterhose from the storage tank to the vat was froze. We were really doing some hustling trying to unthaw it. First he tried a small propane torch but that didn’t work and would have melted the hose. Then we tried running hot water from the house to the hose and that didn’t work. Finally we ran straight hot water into the hose, whipped it against the ground to beat up the slush and ice in the hose and finally after thirty minutes and almost scorching the syrup in the pans it broke free. At this point we filled the vat sections quickly again but this time we kept the hose off the ground by placing it on several milkcans from the garage to the sugar house.
After this things went pretty quickly and I left him to go to Covington at 9:00 to visit my younger brother. This was a short trip because he wouldn’t get out of bed and didn’t want to talk. I got back home a lot sooner than I expected and our daughter, Heather, had joined her Dad around 10:30 and things were going pretty good. Only about 75 gallons of sap had gone through the vats during my absense but I had about two gallons of syrup to strain and process. It was beautiful and so sweet. You have to remember though that when we collect that sap from the trees it looks and tastes like clear water.
We had a very successful day ending up with 53 pint jars and 6 quarts. We’ll sell the pints for $8 and the quarts for $12.
Here’s some of the pictures shared throughout the day.
Our granddaughter, Victoria, and her new beau joined at the end of the evening just in time for french toast and sausages. Fun and hard work was had by all!
The farm is always busy but the last three weeks have been quite busy. My chickens had almost completely quit laying but now the eggs are pouring out of them. We’re getting 18-22 eggs a day and two of my ladies are starting to show broody signs. It’s just too cold to set these ladies yet so I think I’ll give them until the first weekend in April to put eggs of my choice under them.
I had thought about buying some babies in mid-April or May but then decided if I’ve got broody hens that won’t give me eggs, I’ll put them to work hatching me some new layers.
Then maple syrup season came on us and last weekend we made 45 pints of the golden nectar. The weather was such a hit and miss thing that we didn’t invite a lot of people to join us but our daughter had some of her clients come in to see the process. It was very, very windy the day of the cook-off.
AND, the babies are arriving and they are so adorable. The calves seem a little on the small size this year but that’s fine. They grow so fast and smaller calves are definitely easier on the mothers. Here’s a few of our recent arrivals:
And of course, keeping the driveway clear of ice and snow and feeding the cattle has been a chore, not to mention keeping firewood on the front porch to feed the stoves.
This has been the coldest winter I can remember for a long time and I’m just so ready for it to be over, yet, I know we still have two more cold months to go for our neck of the woods.
My hubby asked me tonight to take some pictures of the ice and snow hanging off the roof of our house. I decided to share them along with some pictures I hope will bring beautiful spring thoughts to our minds and ward off some of the cold while we wait for that precious time of year called SPRING.
We could not have picked a better time to start tapping the maple trees. Saturday morning after feeding the cattle and cleaning up from breakfast we got started. It was clear, sunny and still a chill in the air. First we gathered the bucket and cleaned them and then we cleaned the 210 gallon water tank.
From here we gathered the portable drill, wood bits, hammer and taps and headed for the maple trees in the yard. From there we tapped the trees behind the garage and then went to the mansion and tapped the tree that we know has been in the family since the 1800’s. She is still producing and we tapped with six buckets on her and from there went to our daughter’s house on the farm and tapped two trees at her house. In total we nine trees in all and as tonight at 7:00 p.m. the tank is full. We’ll hold it in the tank in the garage until Friday morning. It will stay ice cold in the garage.
These trees are not being damaged. The one inch hole heals within a few weeks and as I said before the tree at the mansion is in a photo we have of the family back in the mid-1800’s and it’s still living.
Around 1:30 Saturday our son joined us and he was kept busy emptying the buckets into the tank and was glad to have the ATV for collecting. He won’t be still long enough for Mom to take his picture. But sometimes we have to do what we can and here’s a picture helping at the sugar house in years past.
By Saturday night we had 100 gallons in the tank and the high temperature at the farm on Saturday was 49*. Sunday morning we got up to 27* temps, the buckets were running over with ice and the sap had even pushed out of the top of the tee.
On Sunday we got another 75 gallons and the sap has slowed a little. The temperatures got up to 52* and at 9:30 p.m. it was still 49*. For the sap to run really good the temps MUST get below freezing at night.
Today hubby filled up the tank and the trees have slowed down immensely but the tank is full of 210 gallons of pure sugar maple sap. The cooking will begin on Friday and finish up on Saturday around noon if all goes well.
Here’s a few of today’s photos:
Hopefully more pictures of the process when completed on Saturday!!
It is almost sugar time. Hubby announced this afternoon that if the weather cooperates we’ll tap the trees week after next. I wanted to share with you some pictures we took at the Highland Maple Festival a couple years ago. This event is a two weekend all about maple syrup fun time. The pictures I’m going to share are from one the operations we visited that work on a much, much larger scale than we do. Here we go and hope you enjoy the ride:
We drove for miles and miles that day and found one family that makes the syrup, taps the trees, and made it fun for the guests viewing the process but the rest of the journey was looking at miles and miles of plastic tubing running through the woods and into big tanks. Trucks emptying those tanks and taking it to a main processing building where it was cooked off in a big evaporating tank heated by propane. It was all so commercial and kind of took the fun out of the entire process. I think we’ll stick with our little sugar house and making enough to keep our friends and family happy while making enough money from it to pay for hubby’s time making it work. Hope to see you in a couple weeks at the sugar house licking our lips!!!
This is the blog for our little farm in Skagit county. Here we have Shetland sheep and Nigerian Dwarf goats. In addition we have donkeys, cattle, pigs, chickens, geese, and peafowl. The blog describes the weekly activities here.