Tag Archives: maple syrup

Syrupocalypse be damned

While I am the one fully responsible for this spring’s volcanic eruption https://trilliumcenter.org/2016/03/04/syrupocalypse/

I feel like I’m making up for it this week.

 

I ran the soil through the 1/4″ screen this time. Luckily I had Leah helping pound the stuff into smaller chunks. That took a minute, let me tell you. Hanging in Yaz’s timber framing shop is a quote that makes too much sense.  I’ll butcher it from memory. “Love of a craft is measured by one’s ability to revel in it’s tedium.” I see that and my back aches. I know it’s true. I am objective enough to know just how much I’m able to revel in that tedium on any given day. Luckily, the last 2 days have been one’s where the tedium is well worth it. Even shed a bit of blood.

The mix is the same proportions as before with an addition. 50% local yellow clay/ 50%sand, 2 fat flakes of hay and 2 heaping scoops of lime plaster. The plaster is to start “tightening ” the cob. Or that’s what I’m telling myself. I forced the hay through the 1/2″ screen and discarded the vast majority of the longer and thicker stems. The cob went over the bumpy scratch coat pretty easily. I left the mix a bit on the dry side. The scratch coat was fairly rough so it had plenty to grab onto. Of course the first layer was only on there a day so it hasn’t really had enough time to start drying (read shrinking) Either way, it grabbed on and hasn’t let go yet. The ‘bowties’ seem to be doing their jobs.

The top is made of regular metal roofing that I backfilled under the ribs and secured to the brick with more masonry screws. Not only is it there to hold the pot away from the riser opening, it’s acting as a rain shield for the top of the thing. Not just that, this top is also a chest level razor blade. Or head level for kids. I’m looking for some way to address the sharp horizontal edges. Hopefully the final layer of plaster will be tight enough to serve and I will be able to trim this stationary horizontal guillotine back to a reasonable length.

All the irregularity is gone, replaced with long gently swooping curves. Not so terribly simple as I thought it was. OK, to be fair, I didn’t think curve would be easy. I’ve wrecked enough drywall trying to finish it to know that this stuff is not going to give me any breaks in terms of final surface. That, and gouging the tool into the already smoothed-out cob just past the transition. That’s pretty depressing actually. Feeling the tool turn just a little too much past effective and catching the curve. Digging in just far enough to expose the pebbles and fibers just below the nearly burnished surface. Leaving a hole that it takes 15 or 20 passes to refill with finer materials and leaving no scar. I must have gone around this thing 8x, re-surfaceing again and again. Needless to say, I was dripping with sweat by the end. With all that, the weather reports (and the not so distant booming of lots of thunder) calling for thunderstorms that never unleashed here. Plastic sheet on, plastic sheet off. More disruption of the smooth surface. More strokes.

cooker decoration

Leah graciously agreed to decorate the cooker. She complained that this was only the second time 2nd time she has sculpted like this. The first time being the spiral in the Seedhouse. The question arose as to whether she should build up or cut away. The only caution I saw with cutting in too much was exposing the longer, tougher stems in the scratch coat. She said that she did a little of both. I think it’s quite fabulous. And if this is her 2nd time, I can hardly wait to see what she can do after a few more projects.

cooker with pot

This isn’t the final layer. I still need to put a thin coat of very refined clay and not fiber and a lot more lime plaster and skim it one more time. None of this will be any time soon of course. This stuff dries really slowly here. 87% humidity right now and it never did rain here. The cob, that I used to seal around the bottom of the kiln, is only just now starting to dry out. I probably should have waited for the scratch layer to dry more. Let it crack and deal with the fact that the inner bricks are a single contiguous mass that isn’t going to be shrinking at all thank you very much. The cob is already cracking horizontally, above the firebox. I kind of figured that it would crack there. With the steep transition, I was unable to apply anywhere near as much pressure at that joint. Me thinks, ‘less compression at a really thick spot floating over a 90 deg corner, let’s see what happens.’ Like the adage I picked up the other day, ‘build your barn first!’ Chickens could care less if they are living in a prototype or a finished product. {That’s WAY too abstract for their tiny little brains.} I got the message though. Actually, what I heard, way back in the once ago, was to build the SAUNA first. Instead of last like most folks do. It was 2nd and it’s 3rd incarnation only burned the barn a little bit. Lessons learned. Failure breeds innovation? So yeah, make the worst and most obvious mistakes on things that aren’t quite as important as survival.

My entire life feels like a prototype. I don’t know at what point it will start feeling like I’ve got a handle on things. Leaving public safety constituted my mid-life crisis. I never did pick up my red convertible. Had one all picked out too. Not really.

“She thinks I’m rash”

cooker mixing cob

This afternoon I went out back and cleaned up some fire wood we didn’t burn making syrup this year and ended up putting a scratch coat of cob on the cooker. Leah noted this evening that it’s almost impossible to get anyone to help with things around here if I don’t let anyone else know what I’m thinking of doing, especially myself, until moments before I do it.  I didn’t have a clue that I would be mixing cob today. Well, mix it I did.  I don’t have any straw right now so I just used a bale of last year’s hay. Not ideal with seeds in it and all. Another experiment. Here’s the thing though. This thing is tiny. More than 2 people would have been standing around watching.

Since I had the chance, I modified the firebox. Leah can work the stove without compulsively stuffing as much wood in the hole as possible (like me), so the tunnel didn’t overfill and plug up with coals when she fired it. This was not my reality. From the eyeballing I’ve been doing of the Haiti stoves that J Anderson has been around, I’ve wondered about shortening the burn tunnel. The fire really just needs to be under the riser, not necessarily pulled back away. I think moving the pile of fire into the stove and allowing the unburned wood to have a spot to sit, away from the fire, will help with efficiency. There’s just that much less to heat up. More over, it will remind me to not jamb so much wood in. I’m not going for cone 10 here or anything.

I tried something different with cobbing onto bricks this time. I noticed that when we cobbed around the rocket stove in the Seedhouse, the cob slumped away from the sides of the brick wall fairly relentlessly. This time I made “bowties” out of some scrap 1/4″ hardware fabric and attached them with masonry screws directly into the brick. This gave us a place to wrap the longer stems of hay. And the cob could squish into the mesh. They are scattered around the upper lip and down the back wall fairly liberally.

The mixture was a bit rough to prepare. The clay is fairly dry so mashing it though the 1/2″ screen is work. 50% clay 50% sand covered with a thick flake of hay and way more water than I expected. I had to break up some of the more stubborn clumps of hay but once everything is wet and mushy, it’s just a dream to put up. Scooping up a full double handful and mashing it around a corner and up to one of the bowties was amazing. Because it was so moist, it stuck to the brick. The long hay snaked into and around the bowties and it all hang in place. Leah worked out the staired firebox. Very referential to burnt offerings and spiraling smoke. There is a bit of shaping to do tomorrow. And I need to set some metal into the top as a rain cap/pot riser. Regardless, the final layers will have lime plaster in them. this will tighten up the surface. Time will tell of course.

as a side note, I’ve cut the holes and manufactured chimneys for the wood kiln. I’m looking for 5 and 13 quart bowls, just the right ones, to be my cooker top. Once I find the bowls, I can fill the kiln. It’s all a complicatedly simple process I’ve been using for years.

Spring Events

Although we still have cold temperatures ahead, it’s clear that spring is upon us. I have seen turkey vultures, geese, bald eagles, and robins. I have seen the tips of crocuses poking through the snow. The maple sap is running slowly but surely. What signs of spring have you seen? Please join us as we celebrate spring with classes on plants and trees.

Work Exchange Program
We are so close to having work parties to finish the Seed House, our straw bale sunroom and greenhouse – we just need the freezing temperatures to vanish so we can start getting our hands dirty making cobb for the walls and the bench rocket stove. But don’t let that stop you from contacting us to start banking work hours in our Work Exchange Program – we need help getting seeds started, planting the green house, preparing seed beds, making trails, and more. Write to trilliumctr@gmail.com to schedule your visit.

Volunteer Program
For those who’d like to get involved and volunteer, there is no requirement to participate in the Work Exchange Program. If you simply want some time out in the woods and have a strong back or some busy hands, let us know. We always have things to do!

March

Monthly Plant Walk and Making Maple Syrup
March 22 – 1 PM-2:30 PM

Join us for the second plant walk of the year, which is actually a tree walk. We will be identifying trees that have medicinal and edible properties.  We will also demonstrate our process for making maple syrup. Plant walks are $10 – all funds go to the Seed Fund for the Trillium Center. Send an email to trilliumctr@gmail.com to sign up.

Serpentine Project Plant Study Group
March 22- 3 PM -5 PM

The Serpentine Project is a monthly experiential study project that allows participants to learn about plants directly from the plants. Read more about the study groups at: http://serpentine-project.org/. The cost is $10 and includes a 2-hour workshop and a sample of the plant medicine to take home. Space is limited, so please send us an email to reserve a seat at trilliumctr@gmail.com.

Community Herbal Intensive
March 29 – 10 AM-6 PM

Monthly series that includes basic identification of wild edible and medicinal plants, herbal medicine making, basic anatomy and physiology, frameworks for developing community projects. Cost per workshop is $75, but early birds get a special price. Full description is on our Programs page.

April

Plant Walk
April 5 – 1 -2:30 PM

Ever wonder what that weed is growing in your back yard, or that flower that blooms deep in the woods in the spring? Learn to identify plants and trees at the monthly plant walk led by herbalist and community health educator, Leah Wolfe, MPH. She will point out wild edible plants, plants that have a history of being used medicinally, along with folklore and some of the latest science on the wild things growing around us. Cost $10. Dress for outdoors.

Cleveland Museum of Natural History: Field Trip to the Trillium Center
April 12 – 10 AM-1 PM

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History will be bringing a van from Cleveland to the Trillium Center for a tour and plant walk. Come learn about seasonal medicinal and edible plants. In early April, we expect to see the spring ephemerals, the forest dwellers that begin to emerge before the canopy fills with shady leaves. Register at http://cmnh.org/site/ClassesandPrograms/AdultFieldTrips.aspx

Plant Walk
April 12 – 1 -2:30 PM

Ever wonder what that weed is growing in your back yard, or that flower that blooms deep in the woods in the spring? Learn to identify plants and trees at the monthly plant walk led by herbalist and community health educator, Leah Wolfe, MPH. She will point out wild edible plants, plants that have a history of being used medicinally, along with folklore and some of the latest science on the wild things growing around us. Cost $10. Dress for outdoors.

Serpentine Project Plant Study Group
April 12, 3-5 PM

The Serpentine Project is a monthly study group that allows participants to learn about plants directly by using their senses, such as taste and smell. Cost $10 – includes a sample of the plant medicine to take home. Read more about the study groups at: serpentine-project.org.

Community Herbal Intensive
April 26 – 10 AM-6 PM

Monthly series that includes basic identification of wild edible and medicinal plants, herbal medicine making, basic anatomy and physiology, frameworks for developing community projects.  This series is closed for 2014, please send us an email if you’re interested in attending in 2015.

 

 

March Schedule

Image
Chickweed is an early spring plant that helps the body cleanse from a heavy winter diet.

We have several opportunities to learn about late winter and early spring plant medicines in March. The Community Herbal Intensive begins February 23 and meets monthly. We’ll be doing a demonstration of tapping maple trees and making maple syrup at home. We’ll take a walk to find early spring tree medicines and then sit down to learn about a mystery medicine in an experiential study group. Continue reading for details…

 

Community Herbal Intensive
*** changed to February 23*** – 10 AM-6 PM

Monthly series that includes basic identification of wild edible and medicinal plants, herbal medicine making, basic anatomy and physiology, frameworks for developing community projects. Cost per workshop is $75, but early birds get a special price. Full description is on our Programs page.

March

Making Maple Syrup
March 1 – 4-6 PM

Do you have sugar maples on your land? Join us for a free demonstration of collecting maple sap and cooking it down for maple syrup. We’ll show you how to make your own spiels and you’ll see our handmade rocket stove. Dress warm! FREE

Monthly Plant Walk
March 22 – 1 PM-2:30 PM

Join us for the first plant walk of the year, which is actually a tree walk. We will be identifying trees that have medicinal and edible properties.  Plant walks are $10 – all funds go to the Seed Fund for the Trillium Center. Send an email to trilliumctr@gmail.com to sign up.

Serpentine Project Plant Study Group
March 22- 3 PM -5 PM

The Serpentine Project is a monthly experiential study project that allows participants to learn about plants directly from the plants. Read more about the study groups at: http://serpentine-project.org/. The cost is $10 and includes a 2-hour workshop and a sample of the plant medicine to take home. Space is limited, so please send us an email to reserve a seat at trilliumctr@gmail.com.

Community Herbal Intensive
March 29 – 10 AM-6 PM

Monthly series that includes basic identification of wild edible and medicinal plants, herbal medicine making, basic anatomy and physiology, frameworks for developing community projects. Cost per workshop is $75, but early birds get a special price. Full description is on our Programs page.

Let’s make syrup!

Earlier today, after looking at a few more websites and pictures of various rocket stove designs, I got it into my head that I would just go out and make the thing.

Why not?slab

I used a rectangle of cement that was poured by the Drennans, the people who lived here while my dad was growing up.

Just barely legible on the slab is written, “Drennans’ Dogwood Dell”

Anyway, I laid the slab our away from the seed room and started carrying bricks over to it.

Some of these bricks I’ve had for almost 20 years just waiting for the right time and project.base layer

They are mostly fire brick and refractory soft brick, of various shapes and sizes, with a few red brick mixed in.

Directly on the slab I laid a bed of 16 red brick with a row of soft brick along either side. This would be my base.

Why red brick?
I really couldn’t tell you.

Then I ran 3 courses of fire brick in a long skinny rectangle.

 capped fire box

I capped off the fire box with a large fire brick, I have no idea where it came from.

chimney

The chimney was proportioned roughly the same size as the firebox opening (which I didn’t like) so I took a red clay chimney tile and set it into the existing opening.

Then I just built up around the tile a couple of layers of fire brick, switching to soft brick until the final course, which is one level above the top of the chimney tile.

let'g get it going
The entire lower section was then covered in soft brick, 1 layer along the sides and back and 2 layers over the fire box.
4 pieces of broken kiln shelf are used as the supports for the pot with the syrup in it.
At 1:00pm Leah lit the first fire.
It was about 50 degrees and falling with a pretty good wind out of the NNE.
syrup cooker v1.0The chimney started drafting properly from the start, but as things slowly began to heat up I felt that the firebox was too close to the chimney so I added a cinder block outside of the firebox opening with hard brick for walls and cap.

From no fire at all, it took about 1 hour 20 minutes to bring 10 gallons of maple sap to a boil burning only pine at first, then adding maple and ash as it heated up.

We cooked the sap till it got dark and started to rain. night fire

For whatever reason I just can’t get enough of looking at a fire burning in a brick firebox at night.

final cooker for now

After a little thinking on things over night, I decided that I wanted the chimney even taller and that there needed to be something to deflect the heat up the sides of the pot.
So I added 4 more courses of brick.

Just letting it vent straight out the sides seems a waste.steamy cauldron
For that, I stood the final course of bricks on end.
The redirection of the heat is made obvious by the additional black carbon accumulating up the sides of the pot.

almost syrup

Considering how much of the water was boiled away and how many hours we fired the cooker, we used remarkably little fire wood in the process.

Still a couple of hours from finished, the syrup is starting to take on the golden brown of maple goodness.

There’s more about making syrup (and sugar!) here:
https://trilliumcenter.org/2013/03/14/lets-make-syrup-and-sugar/