We often are asked... "What are you guys going to do in the winter?" In turn, we have been using #itswhatfarmersdointhewinter on Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram to document what we have been doing over the winter. As a result, we hope that it's clear that we don't get to take the winter off. Oh no! There's really no downtime or "vacay" time here on the farm. We have to-do lists that we know someday will at least get smaller but will never disappear. As mentioned in a previous post, we are doers & as such we will always have a to-do list.
One big to-do list item, well humongous undertaking, for us was producing maple syrup! First off we researched about maple syrup production for at least a year before deciding to give it a go. One great resource was the book Maple on Tap. We then marked some trees on our northern facing hillside last fall before the leaves were all gone. We decided to start our maple syrup production endeavor on the hillside, because we had determined that we were going to set up a gravity tubing collection system for our sap. Then we spent more time & plenty of money purchasing the tubing, collection tank, supplies to build our evaporator setup, & other necessary pieces to produce our maple syrup.
Here's where we got real busy real fast. We follow Indiana Maple Syrup Weekend on Facebook & on February 5th they posted a wonderful video of sap flowing at another Indiana sugarbush location. We were not ready at all to begin collecting sap & knew we were missing out on collecting sap! We immediately went into full gear getting our gravity tubing system set up to collect sap. It took us 3 full days of working 6-8 hours each day to get our tubing system in place & trees tapped before we started collecting sap. Setting up the evaporator came next. We choose to build our evaporator setup to keep our material costs low for this first season. We emulated a rocket stove setup in building our evaporator out of cinder blocks, bricks, & stainless steel steam table pans.
Here are some numbers from our first year sugaring:
Approximately 300 gallons of sap collected
Almost 3 gallons of maple syrup produced
Approximately 175 hours spent sugaring over 6 weeks: 2/7/18-3/22/18
End result is that we succeeded in successfully making maple syrup this year! Future goals for us, while scaling up our production, will include increasing our number of trees & taps feeding into our collection system, purchasing an evaporator, possibly adding on a second collection tank, & possibly adding a vacuum to our collection system.
When you click through the photos below the captions will give you more insight into our sugaring adventure from this year!
Seedlings! This year we used the same setup as last year but upstairs in our garage instead of in our bedroom. The biggest reason for the change of location was our cats. Last year they were super interested in the addition of the vertical space that the tables introduced to them as well as the possibility of green things to munch on. In turn, seed starting will not occur in the house ever again.
We failed to get actual pictures of the seeds in the garage seed starting area this year. However, here are some photos of our planting area plans, seeds we are using this year, as well as the seedlings in the cold frame & out in the field just prior to being transplanted into the ground.
Finally, we shall discuss our efforts in inoculating logs with shiitake mushroom spawn plugs. We have inoculated 36 logs thus far & are waiting for our 2nd batch of spawn plugs to arrive to inoculate more logs. In turn, we are anticipating having 60-70 logs inoculated in total. Additionally, we are thrilled about producing & bringing shiitake mushrooms to the farmer's market starting next spring!
How we got started with our shiitake mushroom cultivation endeavor. In April we participated in a workshop that the Farmer Veteran Coalition of Indiana hosted on cultivating mushrooms. Cultivating mushrooms is part of our agroforestry plan in growing our farm business so we have already determined to cultivate mushrooms. However, attending that workshop spurred us to get going on it ASAP. Additionally, the workshop allowed us to get feedback & first hand information about shiitake mushroom cultivation from other Indiana cultivators as well it gave us resources for the spawn plugs. We also left the workshop with 4 logs that we inoculated at the workshop. It was an extremely impactful day!
For our on-farm inoculating process Ben cut down some trees for us to inoculate from our forested area that we are working on developing into silvopasture. Yeah for forest management! We ordered our spawn plugs from Field & Forest Products. We spent 4 hours inoculating our initial 36 logs. We have another order for more spawn plugs arriving tomorrow & then we'll complete our 2nd round of log inoculations ASAP. If you are interested in learning more about log-based shiitake cultivation check out this PDF from SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education). Otherwise, have fun browsing our photo gallery below for more information on how we inoculated our logs with shiitake spawn plugs.
We are Four Flags Farm, Armonda & Ben Riggs!