Friday, March 21, 2014

Welcome Spring!

Oh boy, first day of spring!  The equinox was yesterday, but as the Willow and I were discussing this morning, that would probably count as day zero and this as day one!

We've had a long cold winter! 

I am glad that I tapped the maples over President's Day weekend.  We have been in the deep freeze since then.  A couple of days have cracked the freezing mark, but not enough to really get the sap flowing.  I have managed to eek out another gallon or two of sap by draining the small amounts out of the chunks of ice in the collecting jugs.

Two of the jugs I pulled off and brought in the house to thaw before I put them back on, and of course that ended up being one of the few days that the sap dripped a little bit!

I lost track of how much sap I have processed.  I think I started off with twelve gallons, plus a couple more.  I gave up trying to do it on the kitchen stove, and turned over one of my hot water pots on the woodstove  for sap reduction. I can put about a gallon and a half of sap in the pot.  Then of course by the time I want to go to bed, it is at a critical level.  Meaning, it will be burnt sugar by morning but too much to boil down on the kitchen stove before bed.  So, I usually just add another gallon of sap and go to bed.

I have to be careful though, because one year I kept doing that with a larger pot, and went to bed thinking it would be ok until morning, because there was several inches in it.  But I had lost track of how long I had been adding sap, and I woke up in the middle of the night to a house full of acrid smoke and two inches of black on the bottom of the pot.  Ugh.  I couldn't smell maple syrup for two years after that; the smell lingered for weeks in the house.

Yesterday morning we had had several inches of snow that turned to rain, what an icy floody mess!  Several of the animal houses were full of water because there was so much frozen snow the melt had no where to go.

The sap ran a little yesterday. I got two and a half gallons.   One tree had a half gallon of dark sap, and I would think some trickster had urinated in one of my jugs if I hadn't seen that in past years.  I don't know what causes it, but I set that one aside for now.

Today it is gorgeous out, a little windy perhaps, but well above freezing.  I have been stockpiling smaller pieces of firewood for the old kitchen woodstove that is outside.  Once I get buried in sap and have a nice day, I should have enough fuel to boil it down outside.

Right now I am trying to bake a chocolate Babka.  I had found this recipe online for chocolate doughnuts, which the Willow wanted instead of regular ones.  They are really awful!  It was 1/2 cup of cocoa to 8 cups of flour!  They look like a chocolate doughnut but are soooo bland!  And eight cups of flour! That made a lot of dough!  I fried off the first half and froze the other half.  Then I thawed it and tried a few more last night.  We even tried glazing them with chocolate chips and rolling them in sugar.  Uck!

So, I decided to take the rest of the dough and make a chocolate filling and bake it.

I think I should have added more sugar and still craving!

  I hope it's good I am starving!

Monday, March 17, 2014

A New Project

I certainly have enough half finished projects kicking around, so of course I decided to start a new one.

Perhaps inspired by watching the new Hunger Games moves, "Catching Fire" several times with the Willow (she's a huge fan).  The main character is proficient with a bow.  I had some small experience with archery as a teen, and started discussing some of the finer points with the Willow.

One night shortly afterwards, I was doodling around on the internet and thought I would do some research on bows.

I eventually found a webpage where a guy walks you through how to make your own out of an oak board and basic tools.  The site is called something like, poorfolksbow.

Well, I am not too close to a home improvement store, so I continued searching and found directions on how to make a recurve bow out of a sapling.

So, as soon as the sun was as high as it was going to get today, I headed out onto the property with Peko, my double bitted ax, and a small bow saw.

I thought it would be pretty simple to find the requisite 3" diameter oak, ash, or maple, with a clean straight length from the ground to the middle of my forehead.

I found one oak candidate but thought I might drop it on the power line, so I kept looking. I guess I should have been happy that it went below zero degrees F again last night, because the snow pack was like a brick so no floundering around in loose granular for us today.

In fact, the snow was so solid that once I gave up on the side and front lots and headed down over the ridge, I was worried I was going to slip and fall on the axe.  I already had one spill headed back from the poultry house early in the morning, walking and looking around for a likely bow tree. I wasn't watching my footing and next thing I knew, water jugs and grain went flying, me landing hard on one butt cheek and wrenching every thing above and below that point.

Right after I found the bow saw in the tool area I accidentally whacked myself in the temple with the handle (not the blade,thank goodness) and since I am familiar with the saying bad things happen in threes, I was trying to be careful.

I saw a few nice beech that fit the bill, but I hadn't read  that was a good kind for bow making, and I know from experience they can be very difficult to split, which is why I was avoiding Elm which was one of the kinds suggested.

I wandered down to the fairy glen and found an oak that had two smaller oaks growing on the same stump.  Right variety, right diameter, only both the smaller ones were bowed over from earlier storms.   Hhhm bowed.  I had an idea that I could split it with the bow in my favor, one side for a long bow and one for a recurve bow.

So I set to with the axe.  I was trying to get the most I could out of it, because there was a knobby bit right about top of my head height, so I was kneeling in the snow choked way up on axe handle, tap, tap tap.  Switch sides, tap tap tap, couple strokes with the rusty bow saw til it sticks, then the axe again.

I knew I was going to have a challenge on the back side, because the larger oak was nearly touching the base.  I had the idea to take the blade of the bow saw, and then put it on backwards with the tree between the blade and the handle.  That worked sweet!  In fact that was the easiest the saw has ever sawed!~

So, I felled the small bowed oak and then had to go back to the house for the handsaw to cut the top off the piece I wanted.  That went pretty well, too.

I headed up out of the woods with the 6 foot length of oak balanced on my shoulder and set it on the back step while I scrounged a broken axe head, a hammer, and a small chisel since I couldn't find my other chisel.

Then things got a little complicated.  Because I wanted to split it a certain way, with the curve of it, and sometimes I am just mechanically dyslexic.  And the darn thing get rolling and flopping on the deck while I was trying to eyeball the place and get the axe started . 

I finally got the axe to bite and was smacking it with the hammer trying to split it, and realized if I stood it up and stood on the deck it would go easier.  When I stood it up I realized that I was splitting it the wrong way.  Grrr.

Well, thank good I had left the knobby bit on the top end, because that was making splitting it a touch job, and I hadn't gotten very far.  Only an inch or two had started to crack, so I picked up the handsaw again and sawed that bit off and started again.

That went a lot smoother, in a few minutes I had split the length and had two pieces of oak.  One was thicker than the other, though.

After Peko and I took our walk and met the Firebird, I brought the smaller one in to my perch on the milkcrate by the woodstove because the temps were getting pretty chilly outside.  I dug out my drawknife and started peeling the bark.  I like doing that part.  In a short amount of time I had made a huge pile of curly bark shavings at my feet, on my afghani socks, and all over my lap.  I just noticed I also nicked my jeans and made a small tear.  grrr one of my better pair that actually fit, too.  oh well.

The next step was to glue or plastic wrap the ends and tie the wood to a piece of metal like a bed frame.  I slapped some ELmer's on the ends and wrapped them with wrap for good measure (I feel like I may regret that later)

I just happened to have a metal bed rail under the house, so I crawled under and grabbed that and looked in vain for another one, because I have two pieces of oak.  No luck.

Well, you know how these instructions go, "tie the oak to the metal, ends first, then run a block of wood under to flex the wood, then tie the middle down."

Sounds simple enough. 

  Well, I HAD to pick a piece of bowed wood.  Yeah.  HAHAHA I started by wiring the ends to the rail, and then tried to bring the middle in.  The wire stretched.  The rail kept rolling trying to crush my fingers.  I tried having the Firebird stand on it while I wired it, but I could not get the wire tight enough.

I finally gave up , un tied it, turned it flat side down (the directions said tie flat side out) tied the middle first and then forced each end in, and even resorted to the infamous duct tape.  I felt sort of like a sicko tying up a struggling captive. 

I think I have it well enough that when I get to tapering the ends it will work out.  I didn't mention that after I peeled it, for some reason the bow was side to side and not front to back.  So I don't know what happened there.  If it had been front to back like it was supposed to, it would have been much easier to get it down on the rail, but curved the other way it was very difficult.

So now I am going to go out and get piece number two, the fat Momma, and see how that one goes.  I guess I am going to tie it or tape it to the same rail since I could only find one rail.  I do have a crib rail outside wired to a not in use temporary goat shelter, but it is only about three feet long.

I'll see how this piece comes out and then decide. I don't want it to dry out and crack now that it is split.

Then I have to wait two weeks for them to dry, but in the meantime I will need to make a bow tiller, which I am excited to see how that will go.  The tillering of the bows, not the making of the bow tiller.

  I do wish I had better wood than that bowed piece, because it is not totally clear either.  I found a couple small black knots and am hoping they don't make weak places in the bows.  But, I don't expect to make a perfect first bow anyhow.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!