Maple Sugaring

It is that time of year again.  Time for making maple syrup.  It feels good to be able to make something while the gardens are still dormant.  This year I have stepped up my syrup production a notch, adding about 20 more taps over what I had last year.  I’m also experimenting with tapping sycamore and walnut trees.  Boiling being the most time intensive aspect of making syrup I also built an evaporator out of cinder blocks that were lying around and found several broiler pans on clearance to use as pans.  In theory you should be able to evaporate one gallon of water per square foot of pan area per hour.  I’m not sure if it works quite that well, might need some tweaking yet.  On days when I am busy and don’t have time to tend the fire I will still use the propane burner.

Syrup Evaporator

Syrup Evaporator

Last year I made a total of (8) 8 ounce jars that I sold and about 12 ounces for myself.  This year I am hoping to at least double that.  I’m also buying containers specifically for syrup instead of using mason jars.  While not necessary they cost about the same price and I like the look of the bottles.  I just ordered them along with a filter so hopefully they get here quick.

So far this year, I have collected about 20-25 gallons of sap, with most of it coming this weekend when the temps hit 50 degrees.  Tomorrow I should be getting it down to about finished syrup, which I will store in the fridge or freezer until I get the filter and bottles.  Hopefully we will have fresh syrup for our pancakes and waffles soon!


Back to The Rural Side

So, through an unexpected event I am back living on my mini homestead here on the Rural Side of suburbia. A company I had interviewed with almost a year and a half ago emailed me asking if I was looking for work. I wasn’t but I liked them the first time I met them, so I decided to take a chance and take an interview with them. We met on a Sunday morning almost a month ago and after about a hour of talking, the owner offered me the job, offered what I asked for salary, and better benefits than I had. I should have accepted on the spot but waited a day to make sure it was what I wanted to do. The biggest decision was whether to leave a steady job that I liked (for the most part). I won’t miss carrying twelve foot sheets of drywall but I am disappointed that I won’t see the end of the church project I worked on almost the entire four months I was there.

A little about the company… They are an Architecture/Engineering firm that mostly does restaurant and retail work. There are about 20 people in the company, about half of the Architecture side and half on the Engineering side. The office is a nice modern space in the town of Montgomery, which is only about 20 minutes from my house (30ish with traffic). Because most of the projects are stores that are based off of prototypes it sounded like it would be basically cut and paste, but I’ve learned after a little over a week that it is a lot more detailed then that. The corporate stores and franchisees differ in how they want things, even though the franchisees can only change fairly minor things in the scheme. So far it’s going pretty good. I’m getting to know the people and learning a lot. I was told I am doing good so far and asking good questions today, which is nice to hear.

Around the house I have been unpacking and organizing my stuff that I had taken with me. I felt like I didn’t take much when I left but I came back with more stuff for sure. I was able to do a good amount of canning this summer, so I have a good amount of food that I brought back. Salsa, tomato sauce, BBQ sauce, and green tomato/tomatillo salsa are some of the things I canned this summer. I attempted to make some plum jam but burned it. Corn cob jelly didn’t quite turn out. Brewed several batches of beer, have two batches of wine that are aging. Also built a smoker. So I kept quite busy during my time away from here.

The garden produced some food for us, even though I wasn’t here to tend it often or to weed (not looking forward to next year having to weed). I got quite a few tomatoes, tomatillos, carrots, potatoes, popcorn, a lot of black eyed peas, green beans and some lima beans. I’m planning on making some raised beds and working harder to produce more veggies next year. Considering building a little roadside stand if I manage to produce more then I need to put away. I’d like to do a mini CSA but I want to make sure I can actually produce enough for 10 or so shares before I offer that. Also debating on whether or not to restart Cincinnati Backyard Farms. I only had one meeting with a potential client last summer before I left. Not sure if I can get more business starting earlier in the spring then I did last year. Already have the website and business cards so it wouldn’t be hard to try again.

I should also mention that Heather and I got back together a few months ago.

So I’m on a new path again. We will see which way it takes me this time…

Leaving The Rural Side…

And headed back to my hometown in Northwest Ohio.  The end of May I had one major life change, my girlfriend of two+ years, Heather, and I broke up.  A couple weeks later I was sick for a few days and the company I was at decided to let me go.  Although I couldn’t help being sick, I guess it was the last straw in our sometimes strained work relationship.  I was tired of the racist, homophobic, sexist, overall bigot that the owner is and his constant spouting off on all things that he saw wrong with the world to the entire office.  And they were tired of me getting to work late, which happened a couple times a week and was mostly caused by traffic, but also because it really wasn’t a place I wanted to go everyday so I was unwilling to leave the house earlier.  One reason being that I wouldn’t have been allowed to leave early if I got there any earlier, they were a strict 8-5 with an hour lunch, not leaving early and not deviating at all from their schedule.  I wasn’t used to that coming from an architecture background where most offices offered some flexibility in scheduling.  Not working led to me not writing here as much.  I usually wrote my posts on my lunch break.

So now I am headed back home to work for a construction company that I worked at for a while after I graduated college.  They do steel stud construction, drywall, insulation and suspended ceilings.  While it is a cut in pay from what I could make in an architecture office, I am not wanting to go back to working in an office.  I have found I am much happier doing physical work.  My body has been happier not sitting at a desk all day as well and I am down about 12 pounds since early June.

Most of the chickens will be going to a friend’s house with Heather deciding to keep a couple.  The rabbits will stay here under Heather’s care for a while as well because she really likes them and I don’t have a place to put them yet.  Heather decided to continue renting her room and rest of the house for a while, so I won’t be selling the place yet.  There is a slim chance I may end up back here.  In reality I will continue to fix the place up and put it on the market possibly as soon as this fall but most likely next spring.  Without having to put about 15k into a new roof I only expect to get my money back.  If I do some of the renovations I have been thinking about (adding a second floor if it is possible, changing the floor plan, new siding, new deck, new windows and doors) making it at least a 3 bed 2 bath from its current 2 bed 1 bath I could probably recoup the investment in a higher sale price.  However that requires money I don’t have at the moment.

So the path I am on has cleared a little bit, though the future is still somewhat foggy.  I am sad to leave this place.  I plan on coming back every 2-3 weeks to do work and hopefully harvest some stuff from the garden, which has only produced an abundance of headaches and beans so far.  I was able to harvest some chard, tomatoes are just starting to take off, potatoes could be dug for fresh eating or left in the ground for winter storage, corn is maybe trying to grow, and most of the rest of what I planted didn’t fare well.  I did get a dozen blueberries, 1 cherry and a few raspberries this year.

My posts will probably be few and far between for the foreseeable future.  I hope to keep up on the goings on around other bloggers farms and gardens, if I manage to spend more time on the computer then I have been.  It has been great getting to know some of you through your writings and pictures.

Until another time,

Chuck From the Rural Side

Garden Magic

This is the garden’s magic,
That through the sunny hours
The gardener who tends it, Himself outgrows his flowers.

He grows by gift of patience,
Since he who sows must know
That only in the Lord’s good time
Does any seedling grow.

He learns from buds unfolding,
From each tight leaf unfurled,
That his own heart, expanding,
Is one with all the world.

He bares his head to sunshine,
His bending back a sign
Of grace, and ev’ry shower becomes
His sacramental wine.

And when at last his labors
Bring forth the very stuff
And substance of all beauty
This is reward enough.


The Path

I realize that I have not written on here lately.  There will be some upcoming posts about what I have been up to.  There has been a lot going on and I have been keeping myself busy most of the time.  It is one of those times in life where there is a fork in the road and you have to decide which direction to travel.  I’ve had a few of those in my relatively short life.  Those decisions for better or worse have led me to where I am now.  Sometimes I question the decisions I made in the past but I try not to dwell on them.

I’m not sure where the coming weeks or months will lead me.  I often times take pictures of the paths I am on while hiking, both forwards and backwards.  In those moments you can see where you are going and coming from.  Right now the path for me is foggy.  I am hoping for a few rays of sunshine to start coming through, helping to guide me.  Until then there isn’t much I can do but continue on…

“What matters is to live in the present, live now, for every moment is now. It is your thoughts and acts of the moment that create your future. The outline of your future path already exists, for you created its pattern by your past.”
Sai Baba



Ohio Free Fishing Weekend

As I mentioned in my last post, this weekend is a “Free Fishing Weekend” here in Ohio.  Heather and I went out last night after I got back from working at the CSA.  Heather got a crappie and I got two bluegill.  Heather won’t take her fish off the hook so I have to do it, although she will bait the hook.  Here are a few pictures:

Blue Heron on a log

Blue Heron on a log

Heather and her catch

Heather and her catch





My first bluegill

My first bluegill


Sunset on the lake

Headache – Car Accident

Heather and I were in a minor car accident last Thursday where we were rear-ended by another driver.  We were stopped at a stop light and somehow she ran into the back of us.  The car has some damage that will need repaired- the bumper and trunk are pushed in, the trunk won’t open, and the right rear quarter panel was messed up a little bit.  This is Heather’s first car and she owned the car less than two months before this happened.  photo

Now we are dealing with insurance companies, doctors and chiropractors.  Heather had to go to the doctor the next day because she had a headache and pain in her shoulder/arm, which the doctor said was pulled muscles and nerve damage.  She is feeling much better now.  I went to the chiropractor this week because the soreness I had didn’t go away.  He wants me to come back 6-10 times, depending on how the treatment goes.  I’m hoping it doesn’t take that many visits but I’m not a doctor so I guess I should do what he says.  Plus, I don’t usually go to doctors unless I’m in a lot of pain, so I really don’t want to go that much.

Next is trying to talk to the other driver’s insurance.  I was surprised to have not heard from them and I’m waiting on a call back from them yet.  Since it is clear that their customer was at fault and they were cited for not maintaining clear distance, I’m hoping they make it as painless as possible.  But it is an insurance company that will have to pay out money so I’m not counting on it.

In other news, today is Friday which means it’s practically the weekend!  I have work at the CSA Saturday and there is a plant sale there Sunday.  It is also a free fishing weekend here in Ohio, where you don’t have to have a license to fish, so I’m hoping to get out Saturday or Sunday evening.  Or both!  I need to get my fishing license.  I never went out last year.  Always seemed busy.  This year I will make more time for it…

Weekend Recap

This weekend was supposed to be very busy for me.  With Heather out of town, I hoped to get a lot of work done.  I had a to-do list made out and everything.  Only three things from that list got done, though.  Friday night I cleaned the chicken coop and organized it to make room for the free freezer I picked up that will be used to store feed.  Saturday, I washed a load of laundry and hung it on the clothesline before going and working at the CSA building shelves.  After getting back home, I started cleaning the veggie garden, finishing on Sunday afternoon.  That’s it.  That was all I got accomplished this weekend.  I’m not complaining, though.  I didn’t work real hard, didn’t strain myself.  Sometimes you need that.  Sometimes being out in the garden, pulling weeds, raking debris, lazily spending a day in the sun is all you need to feel refreshed, rejuvenated.

Sunday I really needed that as I woke up with a bad headache.  First I had tried sleeping it off.  After waking up again at 11:30 I didn’t want to waste the whole day in bed so I got up, ate some breakfast, drank a pop and started working outside.  Whatever combination of those things helped my headache to go away.  I used the mower to mow down some weeds before they go to seed and the covercrop of rye grass in the garden.  All of the cornstalks, sunflower stalks and other debris from last year that were left in the garden were put into the compost pile.  Sunday evening there was a potluck dinner for the CSA to go over the upcoming season with the workshare members.  The workshare is for those who would like to spend some time working in the gardens of the CSA in exchange for a discount on the cost of their share.  After the dinner I went to pick Heather up from the bus-stop downtown and we headed home.  And that was my weekend.



What You Do Today…

“What you do today is important because you are exchanging a day of your life for it”. -Author Unknown.

I saw this quote on Facebook today.  It resonated with me because I have been thinking a lot about what I want to do with the days of my life.  To those who know me some of this may be a shock, others know my disdain for my current job, while only a few may know my goals for the future.  If you have been reading here for a while you know a little about the last two points.  If you haven’t I will tell you now, I dislike my job!  The work itself isn’t bad.  It isn’t architecture, which is what I went to college for, but it is closely related.  Basically, I sit on a computer and draw mechanical, electrical and plumbing schematics for an engineer.  The bad part of the job is the commute, which never puts me in a good mood coming into work, along with some of the people, who don’t make being there much fun, and finally, sitting at a desk all day is something I have come to dislike.

My goals for the future are to become self-sufficient, relying on the land, hard work, and dedication to produce most of what I need.  Eventually, I would like to have a decent size farm, maybe 50-100 acres.  I would like to raise my own meat animals, adding cattle, hogs, and maybe some others to our current chickens and rabbits.  Fruits and vegetables will come in the form of an orchard, vineyard, gardens, greenhouse, foraging, or aquaponics.  Unless I’m in an area where I can grow enough through the winter, preserving the summer harvests will be key to keeping me from the grocery store.  I realize that some of what I need I will have to purchase or barter for- a tractor, implements, what building materials I need that don’t come from the land or free from others, the list could go on for a while.  However, I know people lived without those things in the past, but property taxes are unavoidable, so some money would be needed.  So a job, preferably one where I can work from home, will be a necessity.  You-pick fruit could bring in some income, in conjunction with a roadside stand or storefront on the property.  Woodworking, hay/straw sales, meat sales, a Bed and Breakfast/ cabin rentals if I am near a destination area, or making my farm a destination in itself could be other ways to pay the bills, again the list could go on for a while.  Working off farm part-time would be okay too, full-time wouldn’t be ideal for me, but if I had to I would.

The question is what do I do for now?  I have college loans, a truck loan, house loan and monthly bills to take care of, so I can’t just quit.  I have been considering selling the truck if I can find a close enough job to ride a bike to.  I wouldn’t be able to haul anything, like the free wood I get off Craigslist for example.  But really we use under two cords of firewood a year and with a delivery charge, the cost would still likely be less than a couple months of paying for the truck.  The biggest drawback of not owning a car would be the inability to easily go visit my parents or take a weekend camping trip a few hours from home without renting a car.  The student loans for the degree I hardly use (in reality, I could have gotten a two year associates degree in CAD Technology to do most of the jobs I have had related to architecture) are the biggest thing keeping me from doing what I want to do.  They won’t go away until they are paid off and the house I don’t want to sell, so the only other things are the monthly bills.  TV I can go without so the satellite can go away.  Internet I would want to keep.  Our only other bill is electric, which we could always be more conservative in our use of, but it’s not really that expensive.  I’m either stuck doing what I am doing, finding a similar job with similar pay, or working more hours at two lesser paying jobs to pay the bills.  Lately I have been considering the last option even though it would leave me less time to work around the homestead.  Landscaping and farm work would be ideal jobs to find but I would even work retail or food service right now.  Hopefully being less stressed and happier would be the trade off of lesser pay/more hours.

Sorry if this has been too much of a rant.

Have you been in a similar situation?  Have any advice for myself or others who are similar to me?

Busy Weekend

I kept busy pretty much every waking hour this weekend.  Saturday I cut up the last of the logs from the trees I cut down a couple weeks ago and split it all.  I also cleaned up the yard some, cutting the ornamental grasses back, raking leaves, cutting the cattails around the pond and putting it all on the compost pile.  After it got dark I started on the rabbit hutch.  I bought 3 New Zealand does this week off Craigslist.  They were too good of a deal to pass up, so even though I had not built pens for them yet I got them and let them spend a couple days in the dog kennel.  I boiled the maple sap I had collected while working in the garage as well.

Today I finished the hutch.  I need to take some pictures but I don’t feel like going out to the garage right now.  The weather was cold and rainy/snowy/sleeting today so I couldn’t do anything outside.  I also finished boiling the maple sap into syrup.  Seven gallons of sap yielded 16 ounces of syrup.  I might have over boiled it, I’m not sure.  When it cools I will see what it looks like.  It tastes delicious, though!  And it was a good air freshener for the garage and the house after moving the last half gallon or so to the kitchen stove.

It’s off to bed, now.  Tomorrow I need to write about the non-profit that I am hoping to work for this year.

Until next time

Chuck From the Rural Side