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Cooler weather ahead, thankfully

Have I ever told you I don’t like hot weather? Well, I do not like it at all. I realize moderate summer temperatures are necessary for most crop production, and I truly do enjoy eating, but the heat does me in. I will be glad as our daily highs start falling. My favorite weather is what I call Flannel shirt weather. In that you wear a flannel shirt to be comfortable and when you work hard, remove that shirt and the temperature feels right again.

As cooler weather returns, I get a chance to bottle more syrup while comfortable, packing syrup in 80-90F + days and high humidity is necessary but very uncomfortable to do. When bottling syrup, if below about 70F I need to heat the syrup to about 90-120F in the SS barrel, pump it into the finisher where it gets heated to 175-180, then it gets pumped thru the filter press and sent into the water jacketed (WJ) bottler. There I verify density (adjusting if needed) and grade it (how light or dark is it). To pack it into retail containers I heat it to 186+/- 1 degree F, then I begin filling containers. The WJ bottler is heated electrically and maintains the syrup temperature within this temperature range. As I fill containers, I’m only about 18″ or so from the WJ bottler, which is shinny stainless steel (and at about 186F), it feels good when cold outdoors but gets uncomfortably warm in hot weather. Maybe someday I may build a heated and cooled room around the bottler, filter press and the finishing pan (a 2’x6′ propane fired unit which can hold up to 80 gal of syrup, but I generally only fill it with 26.5 or 40 gal batches, those being the 2 sizes of stainless steel (SS) barrels I use.

The full SS barrels set on the concrete floor in the unheated/cooled sugarhouse, and in cold weather I need to heat the barrels (using an electric “band” heater), which takes 3-4 hours to bring the contents up to 90F+ to make it easier to pump. If I try to pump it without heating it when at about 20F, it still pumps but does so very slowly. When heated it pumps 40 gal in about 25-35 minutes, when heated to 120F+ it pumps in about 15 minutes, if at 20F pumping a 40 gal barrel can take 6 or more hours. The pump is an air powered diaphragm pump, so when using it I need to run the compressor too.

I sell lots of syrup most months, but Sept-Dec. are by far the fastest sales period. That works out good, because the cooler weather makes filling containers far more pleasant.

Costs, no surprise, the cost of jugs and bottles have skyrocketed, to where jugs are 2 and 3 times what they were just 3 years ago. Another issue is supply, back years ago, I never went to my supplier to buy several cases of jugs only to find they were not in stock, now it can at times take months to get an order filled. Luckily, I ordered several cases 3 years ago, to help hedge against rising costs, that is still paying off. In fact, last week I was able to finally bring back the last of my order from 3 years ago from my supplier. He agreed to hold them for me at no charge when I paid for them back then. I finally used enough to have room to load them all into my sugarhouse and storage barn. This was I believe the 3rd time I hauled more back from that original order. Those were paid for shortly after a significant price increase and before an even larger price increase. From here on, when I need more the cost will be about 2- 3X what it was just 3 years ago. At that time I’ll be forced to raise my selling prices. I do have enough of th older priced jugs to last me into the 2023 and maybe into the beginning of the 2024 season. As my sales continue to grow, that remains to be seen.

I actually use 2 different priced jugs in just one size, the half-gallon size. The reason is that in online orders one brand jug allows me to fit 2 half gallon jugs into one USPS medium flat rate box, that jug last I bought a case, cost me 60 cents per jug more than the other brand jugs. Thus I only use the pricier jugs for mailing orders of 2 HG jugs (and by far most online orders are for 2 HG jugs, or multiples of 2, if someone orders just 1 HG it ships in the other brand which fits in fine going in facing the wide way, the other brand fits 2 facing the short way. For all of my local sales in HG I use the slimmer, taller jug which costs less. All other sizes are packed into the lower priced jugs, lower priced in no way in this case means the jugs are inferior, they are of equal quality, it’s just that the one brand that is shorter and slightly wider in HG charges more.

Soon I’ll be packing more syrup, my ready to sell dark syrup is getting low in some sizes, but don’t worry, I have more in SS barrels. Hopefully I get a day with temperatures in the mid 40’s to mid 50’s ideal for bottling.

I hope everyone is doing well, and have a great Fall!

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Bottled more syrup

This week, even with the extremely high heat I actually packed more syrup. In the next few days I’ll pack more. Yesterday I emptied a 40-gal stainless steel barrel of Amber syrup. So far, I’ve packed some of all of the sizes I carry, half gallons, quarts, pints and half pints, but I’ve not yet finished the entire 40 gallons. It gets too hot working with 185-degree syrup, filling containers when the outside temperatures are in the high 80’s and low to mid 90’s. For that reason, i only pack up to 15 gallons and then I need to cool off. I did 13 gallons yesterday, and about 10 gallons today. I think I’ll skip tomorrow and do more on Friday and finish on Saturday or Sunday. When It’s cold outside I generally do bottling of 40 gallons in 2 days, when I was younger, I did 40 or more gallons a day when needed, but alas I’m no longer young enough to do that much.

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Wound care keeps finding more stitches

On my final visit with my surgeon, I was told all stitches and staples had been removed, guess what… I have since been going to wound care every week. On each visit to wound care the Dr as removed more stitches or staples. Just last week he removed 1 more stitch, the week before 3 stitches and 2 staples. I have another appointment there tomorrow.

However I am doing much better. I finally got about half of my blueberries fertilized. Once I was well enough to drive the tractor, recent rains made the fields too wet, my 4×4 tractor with differential lock engaged struggled to gain forward movement and backing out of the aisles was not possible. I then, once I got the tractor out, checked into getting tire chains. That proved to be a no go. On my 2012 tractor the clearance from tires to fender is only 1.25″ and the lowest profile farm tire chains need a minimum of over 3″. The cab on the tractor makes it almost impossible to raise the cab and fenders.

Thus I waited until 6/14 and the fields were finally dry enough to spread the fertilizer. On the 14th I managed to get just over half of the fertilizer spread (on 4.5 acres) but then I had to rest. I use a tractor mounted spreader with a banding kit which throws the fertilizer out to the side, thus applying fertilizer to 1 row at a time. I managed to do 28 rows, each 300′ long before needing to get some rest (I’m still not back to 100%, maybe 40% or so and I can’t lift over 20#, Dr orders. I buy my fertilizer in super sacks and I use my excavator to lift the sack, suspend it over the fertilizer spreader while I open a tied closed spout on the bottom, then reach in with a knife and cut slits in the poly liner to dispense. When the hopper is full, I tie the spout tight and the excavator then sets the rest in the super sack back into the sugarhouse. Because of soft ground I only put about 275-300# in the hopper for each trip, otherwise I’d put about 400# in. That day I got 2 trips completed.

Since then it’s been too hot or raining. As of now it looks like Sunday will be my next chance. We have had more rain but nothing like the 2+” of rain in 1 day we had that caused to problems earlier. Had I not been forced to hold off because of my surgery and issues following it, I’d have been all fertilized in early March, but I didn’t feel well enough and once I did the Dr still said no. I finally got his OK on June 3, but the fields proved too wet.

For years I always thought my wet fields were because of clay, but then I had testing done by Soil & Water, they said my clay was not bad enough to cause it, but rather I had hard pan 24-30″ down that didn’t allow water to get thru. This summer I’ll need to try to break it up with a single point sub soiler. I hope once the fields are dry enough to pull the sub soiler that I can get it to break up enough of the hardpan to allow water to soak in better. I know it won’t get 30″ but I think it can get 26-27″ deep. For that I’ll need to add 2-300# of weight on the hitch to hold it that deep, then I’ll need to see if 36 HP can pull it. If it won’t I may need to get a 3′ frost tooth for my excavator to break it up.

Thank you again for all of your prayers for my recovery, they really meant a lot.

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I think I’m gaining on my battle in surgery recovery. For the last 4 Wednesdays I’ve had an appointment with the surgeon who “put me back together” after my stitches failed following the original surgery. Each of the return visits he has removed some staples or 1 or 2 of the long stitches relieving stress on the line of staples at the incision which is about 9″ long. Today he removed 2 of the long stitches (about 4″ long, going from side to side) and 4 or 5 more staples. This Friday I have an appointment at a wound care center. The surgeon said they might remove the rest. If they don’t I have a return visit with the surgeon again next Wednesday.

I’ll be glad when this is all healed and I can resume work. Among other things I need to spread a half ton of ammonium sulphate on my blueberries, I’m already 2 weeks late. For that I don’t need to lift, my excavator lifts the bulk sack over the spreader and I loosen the spout to fill the hopper, then I retie the spout shut. I can load 500-550# at a time, thus 4 trips. To spread it takes about 75-90 minutes barring complications. Back before my original surgery I bought the half ton of ammonium sulphate because the prices were climbing fast. The price back then was already up 35% above last year

I AM feeling better, but before my stitches failed on April 18 I felt better too. The surgeon has me wearing a compression belly band to minimize the chances of a rupture of the stitches.