The first day of spring saw us greeting an articulated lorry parked at the base of our drive. We’d not expected it for several more days but were more than happy with it’s early arrival. It was delivering what quite possibly the only Maple Syrup evaporator to ever ship to Norway.
As luck would have it our good friend Darren is visiting us from the UK right now. Along with being my other half’s best friend he’s also an engineer so getting to build a thing neither of them had ever seen in real life was exactly the sort of challenge they enjoyed. As you might imagine they managed just fine, and even made sure it was easy to disassemble should the need ever arise.
Those of you who are fascinated by trees (like i am) will know of course that the Sugar Maple is not native to Norway and you may also know that the Norwegian Maple does not share the high sugar sap of it’s more famous brethren. We’re actually taping Birch. Birch sap has a sugar content of roughly 1% which is half of that of Sugar Maple. This is the primary reason Maple Syrup is “a thing” whilst Birch is not. More accurately perhaps, it is why Birch was not, it is now. Say what you will about technology and our advancements, it’s because of these specifically of Reverse Osmosis technology that the harvest of Birch Sap for the making of Syrup is now viable.
Birch Sap itself has been a popular “crop” in colder climates throughout history, Russians and Estonians used it for the making of beer and spirits, North American native peoples would drink it as a spring tonic. I believe that Norwegian Birch Syrup can become a product that chefs and people who throw dinner parties want in their pantry. I have the same hope for Birch Wine, but I’ve less reservations about that since decent wine sells itself. Only time will tell though, and we’ve a steep learning curve ahead of us!
Our production this year is more of a sampling than anything, we’ll be the Norwegian “pioneers” of the product so getting people to try it is a big part of this year’s goal. No one has produced Birch Syrup or Birch wine commercially here and very few people have even done so for themselves. In a way this is fantastic, a wide open opportunity and people appear to be curious. Fingers crossed!
This season we will harvest Birch Sap from 60 trees in out “home pasture” This should mean approximately 500 litres of sap which we’ll then use for syrup and wine to trial as products. I’ve had Birch Syrup from Kahiltna Birchworks the Alaskan Birch Syrup pioneers and Birch Wine from the lovely folks at Organic Lea and know that making an excellent product is possible, it’s just the learning curve to get there! I’m confident I can make the wine, I’ve a few years of successful wild wine under my belt it’s learning to use the evaporator that may be tricky. Anyhow, it’s warmed up to +7 so it’s time I go collect the sap!
As I am writing this the snow has just taken a break from slowly falling for the third day in a row. It’s not been falling hard, it’s not been a blizzard but it’s still crazy dangerous out there and we are on a self imposed lock down.
Winter has been strange thus far. We’ve had heavy snow and freezing cold as well as entire days where the thermometer is in the plus. That’s how it is now. There was a time, when I lived in the relative flat land of London UK when a sudden warm spell in the winter would be very much welcomed. Now that we are living on what is essentially the side of a mountain the warm spell is just dangerous. The melt is going to freeze up, like it had done several times already this winter, and we’ll be in the middle of an ice field on a significant slope. The first time this happened we had left the truck beside the house and when we tried to move it we got maybe 25m (75 feet) before the truck started sliding sideways. If you have ever been in a vehicle on ice you’ll know how scary that can be. We even had the chains / spikes on the truck’s wheels, it didn’t matter, gravity and ice won and we slid straight into the forklift forks. It could have been worse, if we’d lost momentum just a few meters further we’d have taken out the boat and trailer.. that would have been really bad.
Suffice to say, ice fields mean we stay hunkered down. Even getting out to the barn twice a day is a challenge. Being inside has it’s perks though. I’ve taken to teaching myself some new skills one of which is learning to cultivate a wild yeast sourdough starter for bread making. Making our lives, and in particular our food systems as self sufficient as possible is very important to me. I don’t believe we will ever be one hundred percent self sufficient, primarily because there are things I can’t grow (like coffee) or won’t grow (like tobacco) here. That’s ok by me. My personal goal isn’t to be completely and solely self reliant, it is to run a healthy chemical free ecosystem that provides most of what we eat and need to live comfortably. That includes generation of a modest income, which i believe everyone needs these days and also actively improving the land for the next generation of our family.
The snow is blanketing the slopes and the clouds in the valley are hanging at what seems to be just above head height from my chair. I’ve made my first stock of the year from vegetable peelings and chicken bones, and I’m planning that by the end of the year this simple healthy base food will be all part of a closed loop system here on the farm.
Our goals for this year include raising chickens for meat and eggs, keeping turkeys, growing 50% of our own vegetables and establishing a herb bed. These may seem like the goals of an underachiever to some, I’ll freely admit that my natural inclination is to declare my intent to do “everything” but to make things easier for my other-half I’ve promised to understate my ambitions everywhere including here. It’s not natural for me, but hey, it can’t hurt!
In order to facilitate our plans for 2017 we have been doing some solid ground work. He has been building me a glasshouse from scratch. It’s a time consuming process. Getting the “free” windows was the easy bit. Since then, he’s scraped them all, re-puttied the seals, cut and hauled trees from our wood, milled wood to spec, built walls in sections, oiled, primed them and begun the gables. This week he hauled the second load of logs to our mill, it took 3 straight days. They are very big logs and among other projects they will also be the main frame for the glasshouse. At just under 50 square meters the glasshouse is going to be bigger than our cabin. He’s put in a lot of work to help ensure our growing has every advantage possible.
To compliment the glasshouse I’ve dug and mulched 10 out door beds, which will be our “kitchen garden” at 10m x 1.25m they give us approximately 125 square meters of growing space for the semi-hardy and hardy vegetables that will make up the bulk of our diet. I’ll tell you what, after three months of eating shop bought and mostly non-organic vegetables I am really excited to get back to eating food we know the sources of. Come on Spring!
Our cat who also made the journey to our new home in Norway. He’s settling in now and likes to ensure he knows what’s going on. Here, he is “owning” the logs that are going to be milled this spring.