Old Time, Celtic, Maritime Music, Gardening and Small Scale Farming

I didn't know I was a musician gardener.
All my life I've loved getting my hands dirty gardening, keeping small livestock, and playing traditional music, but I always thought that was just a peculiar combination that occurs in a completely random fashion. But one day my wife Sara and I were talking with a neighbor who ran a one acre educational garden down the street from us. He mentioned that as soon as the growing season was over he was going to hit the road with a bluegrass band he played with. He smiled and said that he felt really blessed to live the life he had- getting to play in the dirt and play on the stage. I had no idea he played in a bluegrass band so we talked shop about music, gardening, and travelling for a bit. After we said goodbye and started walking away Sara turned to me and said "oh I know what you guys are, you're Musician Gardeners."
Suddenly it clicked, all my life I've known and met people who combine their lives like that. friends, neighbors and other folks who combine their love of the land with a love of music, often the very music that grew and still grows out of that land.
This blog hopes to explore that relationship and to let other Musician Gardeners out there know that we're actually a demographic!

Friday, March 23, 2012

I should rename this blog Greg's adventures in Maple Syrup Land

Almost a week has gone by since my busy few days playing music various St. Patrick's Day events, and I almost thought I would be at a loss for what to do this weekend.  Fortunately my selective memory often allows me to forget about what really needs to be done untill it's time to do it.  Specifically, time to start tearing down all my sap collecting equipment, and to can up all the maple syrup and apple cider syrup I've made this year.  The total tally for maple syrup has been 2.5 gallons of syrup from a bit over 100 gallons of sap.  I'm wildly estimating my sap to syrup ratio at about 38-1 at the beginning of the season and 70-1 at the end of the season.  In the beginning almost all the sap was from silver maples, while at the end it was all norway maple.  End of the season norway maple sap is nothing to shout about, it's reasonably good, but slightly bitter, and cloudy.  To top that off my very last boil down I calculated a 100-1 ratio, almost completely norway maple sap.  Not so great.  Clearly norways are much better before march 15th- oddly enough this is the start date for good sugar maple flow.  I still have four sugar maples tapped west of town and I'm hoping to get a bit of decent sap out of them since now is the time when they should be flowing well.  I haven't seen a drop however and my observations from last year have definitely born out:  in North central Idaho late march and april do not generally include good sap flow weather, whereas late january through early march consistently have at least some good freezing and thawing cycles.  Silver, and norway maples flow best from late january through early march so any tree worth tapping around here should be one of those two species.
Another potential species that I have yet to tap but would very much like to is big leafed maple- Acer macrophyllum.  Big leafed maples apparently have been the focus of a brand new maple syruping trend on Vancouver Island.  Gary and Katherine Backlund started the trend and it seems that it's caught on like wildfire.  There are big leafed maple syrup festivals and workshops happening on a regular basis and the amount of sap the island has collected as a whole has been in the hundreds of thousand of liters this past spring.  They have a slightly lower sugar content than sugar maple- averaging around 2%, but I've know sugar maples with less than that.  The sap season runs from january through february for this tree as well.  So, next spring I'd definetly like to see if I can't find some big leafs to tap around here.
In this region there are a few isolated pockets of big leafed maple growing along the palouse river and the potlach river.  Even if I can't tap any of them I'm going to try and collect some seed or take some cuttings.  I think it might Make more sense to wait untill we have land to plant these trees on but that may change soon.......   more on that later .
All in all this has been a good experience, and educational as well.  Firstly propane is far too expensive a fuel to use in boiling down.  Natural gas and electric are slightly less costly but not by much.  The only way in my view to make boiling down economical is to use a wood fired boiler and harvest the firewood yourself So I'm putting a wood fired boiler - probably a modified barrel stove - on the list of things to do that may or may not ever get done.  The next most important that I learned is that urban tree tapping could be a great way to make part of your living if you are UNEMPLOYED.  The time (and gas) it takes to drive from neighborhood to nieghborhood and town to town it just too much.  Period.   Hauling sap around a 7 acre sugarbush is one thing, but driving around collecting sap from just 29 taps can take all afternoon. With the cost of gas and the cost of propane as my biggest budget eaters I will do slightly better than breaking even, but not by much.  Compared to the cost in time, energy, and money making apple cider syrup is much more economical so untill I have a real sugarbush of my own Apple cider syrup may become my first focus.  I'll never stop tapping tree of course, once that gets in your blood it's impossible to get out, but an urban tree tapping business along with a full time job.... hmmmm.... not so much.   After all how will I ever get my wood fired maple sap boiler finished?  Oh, the irony.....

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Fiber cereal, and Layer Pellets, Can You Tell the Difference? Plus Norway Maple, a great sap tree- who knew?

We were cleaning out the kitchen the other day and noticed an old box of fiber cereal that a neighbor had given us quite some time ago.  Obviously it hadn't been touched since it was brought in the house so we decided since none of us could stomach it the chicken could probably still handle it.  I have seen them eat broken glass before so I figured they could probably handle fiber cereal.  However, on my morning walk to the coop the next morning I noticed something strange about the similarities between the bucket of layer pellets and the kitchen scrap container full of fiber cereal.  So I've decided to bring the question to you, good reader, containers non-withstanding CAN YOU TELL THE DIFFERENCE?
What does this mean!? Have my parents really been eating layer pellets for breakfast all these years?

We've also recently discovered another culinary mystery.  Steaming purple cauliflower is apparently the best way to make Romulan Ale


If we mixed this with carrot juice would we get a Klingon Car Bomb?

Maple syrup update:
I'm on my fourth boil down now and have tallied up about 80 gallons of sap and 2 gallons of syrup.  Things are going much better than I had expected.  It's looking like the season will start winding down soon for my Silver Maples whose buds are just starting to burst but I'm hoping the my Norway maples will run for at least another week.  Norway Maple, by the way is a tree I have become very impressed with.  They have great sap flow even without dramatic freezing and thawing cylces.  The sap is sweet, clear, and boils down to something much more like Sugar or Red maple syrup than Silver Maple.
Norway Maple does have a tendency to become invasive so one would have to be careful planting it but I'd definitely consider Norways for a sugar bush now.  They seem to flow great all the way from early february through the middle of march and show no signs of stopping.  Most trees will give you a four week window of sap flow before they taper off, but Norways just seem to keep plugging right along.  Can we infer from this that Norway Maples are slower to compartmentalize their wound than other maples?  Who knows, either way I think all those norwegians over in the old country have been missing out on a good thing all these millenia.
Take care.....   and now that you know how to make it, just take it easy on the Romulan Ale......