Hello fellow readers!

I have kept my promise and I have built something new with a few pallets. I recently came upon a great source of pallets that are in great shape. They are chemically treated, so they will last quite a while. They were used to haul cardboard so at least I know there aren’t any REALLY toxic chemicals on the wood other than what would be in regular pressure treated lumber.

12122653_10153702124083478_7960561557761858400_nSo anyway, I used about 5 pallets to build this coop. I also have a gracious neighbor who gave me two landscaping timbers to use as bottom rails. I mounted the bottom frame on cinder blocks and field stone.

I then bought some hardware cloth and stapled it across the bottom so that the chicken12115535_10153702124208478_6588436197097495638_n manure would fall right to the ground. I made sort of a lean-to roof out of 2X8 lumber I bought and left over 12107281_10153702124708478_5713115505629419724_nroofing that I STILL had leftover from my other pallet barn project. I had the roof sloping so that the west wind would not have a damaging effect should any storms come along.12049402_10153705627458478_136994185988808480_n

I cut out a small entrance door for the chickens, and a human door so we can access the inside. I also built one egg laying box. I will add two more as they all fight over getting a chance to use it. I placed it next to an area where I cut down some brush next to an 12140852_10153728626728478_4030075741522017953_novergrown field. I have a small area of that fenced in. Once I get more fencing, I will increase their forage area.

Ever since they started using it, 12074656_10153744043178478_4754959207487340399_nthey have been laying eggs MUCH better than they were. Although where they were prior wasn’t the most ideal for them, they really worked over our new garden area and turned hundreds of bags of leaves into fertilized, rich, soft soil!

12063333_10153744000423478_8519027066427334673_n 12046864_10153743999693478_4268920681116930929_n 12039496_10153743999198478_1620982966691752573_n


Hills Creek Lake

Hills Creek Lake

It’s that time of year. The leaves are changing color, the days are getting crisper, and the frost is on the pumpkin. This is my favorite time of year. From the late days of September to late November, no other season beats it here in Pennsylvania.

This year has been outstanding for apples. Trees that had never even bore fruit in a generations memory, were loaded with apples, or pears. We have a few trees on the hill beside our house that I knew were some sort of fruit tree but being that I am not an avid botanist, I was not sure what kind they were. They had never bore fruit to my memory. This year they were loaded with pears! I was so excited that I grabbed one and took a big bite……BLECH! They were very wild pears, bitter, and leaving a “dry mouth” feeling. But in any case, my neighbors apple trees which we usually pick from were loaded down with delicious apples.

Family picking apples

Family picking apples

We usually make applesauce with our neighbors apples. They make the BEST applesauce. Dont ask me what kind they are because I don’t know. They are yellowish green, with a tinge of pink in the skin. This year I was interested in making apple cider as well as applesauce since there was such an abundance. I began looking into what was involved in the whole process. I figured that it couldn’t be any more difficult than the Maple Syrup we make. So I began researching. I found many examples of cider presses,  both homemade and some professionally made. It was clear that I didn’t have the time to make one, nor the money to buy one ($500+ for a good one).

Interestingly enough, that same day I came across a facebook post of one of my friends using a cider press with a youth group. I sent him a message asking where he got the cider press and he told me that a mutual friend of ours had built one and that he lent it to the youth group to use as an activity. So I contacted our friend DJ and scheduled a time that we could bring our apples over one evening.

DJ making the mash

DJ making the mash

He has children of similar ages to ours so it was a great time together. When we arrived we unloaded the apples and he showed us how the whole process works. We had a table where we had the apples sitting in a cold water bath, just as a rinsing method. Then we chopped the apples in half and took them by 5 gallon bucket full to a sink he had attached to some pallets and attached a garbage disposal to the sink. The apples get shoved through the disposal which turns them into a mash. The mash is then poured into a cloth net material that is draped over a

Homemade cider press with empty frame

Homemade cider press with empty frame

hollow frame on the press table. The extra netting is folded over the mash that is in the frame, the frame is removed and a wood lattice, made of slats of oak screwed together with 1/4′ spaces between slats, is placed on top of the netted mash. The frame is then placed on top of the slats for another layer of netted mash. This is done until about 3-4 layers are stacked. Then a car jack is mounted to the top of the press and you start expanding the jack as it presses down on a few blocks of wood that are placed on the top layer of the stack.

Pressing stack

Pressing stack

The press table has a 2-3″ high rim around the perimeter with a notch cut out in the front to allow the juice to pour out, where we placed a 5 gallon bucket underneath to catch the juice. On top of the bucket there is a pillow-case-type cloth rubberbanded over the top to filter out any finer unwanted dirt or pulp. The filter also helps if you’re doing this during the day and yellow jackets start wanting some too. My youngest hung outside with me and my friend DJ in the cold. He was a trooper. He also got to enjoy a drink of cider as it flowed out from the pulp, you should have seen his smile!

Out of about 5 bushels of apples we got about 11.5 gallons of cider….16 oz of which I am drinking as I write this post =). YUM!

close up of stack

close up of stack

Fresh juice!

Fresh juice!

DSCF2563I have been thinking a while about some of the local businesses around here and how they really deserve a little recognition for their services to the community. Some are not well known and often do not advertise. Their reputation goes before them through their satisfied customers, and frankly, that’s really the best kind of advertising.

Today I would like to talk about A & A Metal Shop. This small business is run out of  the owners shop at 464 Collins Hill Rd, Ulysses, Pa. The owners name is Aaron and his son Amon, hence the A & A in the name. I happened upon them through a friend of mine and through,  as I was looking to purchase a maple syrup evaporator. I had found one in New Hampshire and my friend told me to check out A & A before I made a long trip. So after looking him up, I found a few threads mentioning his business on and they were all praising his work.

I decided to take a road trip one day after work since it was only about 40 minutes away.

Typical  Amish house. Picture credit:

Typical Amish house. Picture credit:

As I crossed into Potter County and on to Collins Hill Road I was entering an Amish community where Aaron lives. The homes are large, white , well kept, simple, and efficiently serve a purpose as they are spacious to large families. Out in front of Aarons home is his red metal shop with a small sign hanging on to the mailbox with the words “A & A Metal shop”.

I entered through the door and stepped into his little office. I could look through a doorway into the main shop and see all the men diligently working with metal in some way or another. You would think of a metal shop as loud and industrial like, but this was quiet other than the occasional sound of metal on metal and conversation in Pennsylvania Dutch. The shop was warmed by a wood stove. No electric lights, though the windows all around gave ample light by which to to work.

Inside the shop.

Inside the shop.

Aaron eventually came over and inquired as to what I needed. He was dressed in simple work clothes, and a caring face, kind of like a real nice Grampa. We talked about the different kinds of evaporators he made and their pricing. I had settled on their smallest model, the Hobby Model, which is actually a bit larger than the large manufacturers version. I didn’t measure it but it looked to be almost a 2X4. I was really impressed with all the options that came standard: a pre-heater pan, 8′ chimney stack, fire brick for the arch, and fire cloth. That set up came in UNDER $1000. I had ordered a tin tester cup ($12) so my total order was $987. I may order a steam hood which would be around $140.

Hobby Evaporator

Hobby Evaporator

The construction of their stainless pans is done without welding. He uses all 304, 24ga, B2 finish stainless steel. They still use soldering which some people frown upon due to the old kind of soldering which uses lead solder but all joints are crimped and are lead free soldered. He also does not use the shiny anealed stainless steel as it is hard to solder.

I am very glad I stopped in to visit his shop. If you want to order from him, you’ll have to either write a letter or stop by as he does not use a telephone. Its actually quite refreshing to see a business run the old fashioned way with a smile and a handshake instead of an impersonal email or long distance phone call.

Large evaporator ready to be shippped.

Large evaporator ready to be shipped.

Sugar Shack mailbox

Sugar Shack mailbox

Large drop flue with pre-heater piping.

Large drop flue with pre-heater piping.

Old shed in background

I think its time to update you all on how the pallet barn/shed is coming along. This past summer I was able to commit myself to emptying out the existing shed and tearing it down before it fell in on everything, or on someone. It was completely rotting away due to a hole in the roof and the wet area it was set on. I had my friend come over to help tear it down to the base. I hauled away the material

Shed is down.

because none of it was worthy of recycling in this project. I am going to make use of other material that are recycled.  The run to the dump was probably the heaviest I have ever taken. I believe it was well over 1,000lbs!

So after doing that, I began to measure out and level the area where I was going to build the new barn. The back corner will be at the same spot as the former shed, making use of the same level base.

Ready to haul to the dump!

Then it will extend out in towards the hill and driveway. It will be a 16’X20′ barn.  My friend let me borrow his Kubota with a bucket on it to level out an area and spread out some soil/fill that I had piled up over the summer. I then built plywood forms and staked them to be level. Then I had 8 tons ($12.70/ton) of 2B gravel poured inside the forms. Uphill from the base, I used leftover drain pipe and covered that with gravel so any water running down the hill will drain out around the barn pad…well most of it hopefully!

Leveled ground and built form.

I am in the midst of leveling out the gravel inside the forms. I am also collecting old cinder block from a friends old barn that was knocked down. It will need a little cleaning up, but they will work great. I am going to lay the cinder block around the perimeter of the form and build the pallets on them to keep them away from any moisture. This also gives me more headroom inside the barn.

More pics to come in next update…

8 tons of 2B stone.

Ready to build!

This is an update as to what I have been up to lately. We have about 6 new chicks (1 mo. old now) out in the coop. We have 5 Khaki Campbell ducks on their way in late may, and 4 of our goats are pregnant and due in late June.

My next project is to tear down our existing sheds and build sheds made out of pallets. This would be our garden shed (may also double as sugar shack), and our goat shed. I’d like to make it bigger and have dry space for hay and feed storage.

We also had a great sap season. I gathered 400+ gallons of sap which returned 14 gallons of syrup. I boiled about 15 gallons of sap at home after my boiler friend stopped boiling. We got 1.5 quarts from doing that over the fire pit. The kids loved it!

Boiling sap at home

We also received a baby Sannen buckling from a friend. He was a week old in mid march and we are bottle feeding him currently. I also built a goat milking stand for when our two goats, who are half dairy breed, freshen. The other two goats are Boer goats so we will not be milking them. =)

Goat stand from scrap wood.


Hey Folks! Its that time of year again. The days are getting noticeably longer and the temperatures are a tad above freezing but still below freezing at night. That means the sap is starting to run up the sugar maple trees. Its time to put your taps in and drain a little out for your pancakes!

New tubing zip tied to high tensile wire

The snow here is still quite deep so I have taken to snowshoes to make the trek out to the sugarbush a little easier. I have been taking any spare time to go out and string up a new addition to my system. My friend is making available his high tensile wire. So this past weekend I ripped out all my existing tubing and taps and put up high tensile wire. Now I have a “backbone” to attach my new lines to. This will keep my tubing from sagging as it has in the past.  Sags in the lines do not allow for good sap flow. Its best to have as straight a line as possible always in an unlevel position to let the sap flow down instead of collecting in the sags. This has always been a problem for me.

The trick to no sags!

I am also adding about 30 more taps this year. I am very excited about these as they are nice big trees. Half of these will be collected by drop lines into buckets. In the past those bucket lines have produced so much that the buckets were always overflowing by the time I got back from work that afternoon. This year I am going to split the line right before it drops into the bucket so that I will have 2 buckets per one tap.

Hurry before the sun goes down!

I also have new tubing and taps which will cut down on the bacteria being introduced into the tree which would increase the speed of healing of the tap hole. As you can assume, the faster it heals, the shorter the time you have to collect sap from that hole. Sometimes you can freshen up the hole again by reaming it out if you still have good weather approaching but it is often considered not a good practice. I have done it in the past and it allows for more sap to flow for a few more days.

In the next few days I plan on hanging all my tubing and then hopefully tapping this coming weekend. I will post pics as I get them.

A beautiful day.

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