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2018 Post Season Update from the Sugar House

pure michigan maple syrup

Jonah, Sheila and Carl; kick-ass humans being

2018 Primal Woods Pure Michigan Maple Syrup | Year in Review

And what a Primal Woods Pure Michigan Maple Syrup season it was!  It probably included the biggest changes we will ever take on in the Sugaring business; production was up roughly 8X on 2017, and virtually everything in the process was new, or dramatically scaled up from prior years. If you have read this blog for any period of time, you know that I “reflect” fairly regularly on “what went well” and “what didn’t go so well,” with a keen eye on the latter, because the problems represent the bulk of the opportunity for future improvements.  This post will be no exception.  Having said that, without question, the most fulfilling, satisfying, and fun part of the 2018 season, was that we were able to involve a lot more of our local community in the process.  Before I get to the details, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the contribution of the people who helped us so greatly. Read more

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Late Season Update from the Sugar House

syrup pan - primal woods pure michigan maple syrup

A look into the Leader Evaporator RevMax Syrup Pan

Primal Woods Pure Michigan Maple Syrup – Late Season Update

And what a year it has been so far! We just surpassed 1,000 Half-Pint bottles produced; of the Amber, Dark, and Very Dark varieties.  Check it out in our Shop.  But even better than that, is the experience gained in the process, and the ability to include so many of our Community in the making of those 1,000 bottles.  Virtually all new equipment, the Sugar House conversion project, getting the help we needed in collecting the sap, putting up the necessary firewood, bottling, dressing the bottles, and the list goes on.  All of that with only a few hiccups, none of which could stop us.  I’m convinced we can pull off another big expansion for 2019, perhaps our final expansion; we’ll see.  For more on what we’ve been up to this season, read on. Read more

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Mid-Season Update from the Sugar House

Primal Woods Pure Michigan Maple Syrup – In the Making

I’m hoping and praying we are a little shy of the mid-point in this maple syrup season, at least as regards maple syrup production, but I think it’s likely that we are at about that point.  I plan for sap flow for 4 to 6 weeks from initial tapping, and we tapped February 16-18; gee whiz, now that I look at it we just passed the two week point.  Seems like it’s been a lot longer than that!  Okay though, I’m grateful for at least the possibility of more sap flow in front of us than behind us.  There is a little break in the action here, no evaporation today, and it looks like we are nearing the end of Sap Run 3; I will evaporate the last 400 gallons from Run 3 tomorrow, and that should yield 9-10 gallons of syrup.  And, this break gives us a little time to make some additional process improvements, and to reflect on, naturally, what has gone well, and what hasn’t gone well.  Let’s get to it.

maple sap collection

Joey and Carl collecting sap; 2018 Feb 23, Sap Run 1

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Wellpump Failure!

Background

Equipment failures never happen at an opportune time, and this was no exception to that rule.  It was about 0300 the moring of the 21st when Geri woke me to tell me that we had no water pressure in the house, and that day was our first running the new Primal Woods Pure Michigan Maple Syrup evaporator, and all of the associated new equipment.  I had no time for this wellpump failure!  But of course, I had to make time.  That time was this morning, when sap was not yet flowing, and when I did not have enough sap onhand to fire up the evaporator again.

Today’s Actions

Wellhead cover off

The braided line is connected to the body of the wellpump, and ensures that it does not fall to the bottom of the hole if the PEX tubing and wiring break.  Read on to learn more. Read more

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Sugar House Roof DIY

Bringing the Sugar House Conversion to Completion

There is one big project left for Primal Woods Sugarers, and a myriad of smaller details, in the completion of the Primal Woods Sugar House conversion; that being the roof penetrations required to allow for exit of steam from the Leader Evaporator Revolution syrup and flue pans, and smoke from the Inferno arch. The “arch” is basically the wood-fired furnace that heats the flue and syrup pans to make our Primal Woods Pure Michigan Maple Syrup.  Let it be said, I’m no carpenter, and I’m no roofer.  But again I think I am going to be pressed into service, this time as a roofer.  Read on to see what this project involves.

Sugar House hip roof structure, showing Inferno arch in place

Sugar House hip roof structure, showing Inferno arch in place

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2017 Year in Review – 2018 Goals

2017 Year in Review | Lessons Learned in Primal Woods and on the Homestead

Sawyers chalked up some impressive numbers year-on-year, and maple syruping went well in general.  Also, work on ensuring that folks searching on-line for the products and services we offer could actually find us, was greatly enhanced by doing a significant amount of search engine optimization (SEO) work on the website.  And we learned at a rapid pace.  On the Homestead, we continued to improve the infrastructure, specifically in and under the house, and did a much better job of sourcing our food locally.  So what could possibly have gone wrong?  Plenty as it turns out, and that is really where the opportunities lie.  Let’s have a look.

Primal Woods 2017 year in review

What went well, what did not go well; 2017

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Planning to Tap: Sap to Maple Syrup

Maple syrup: forecasting temperature conditions for maple sap flow

Long-range temperature forecast for Hartford Michigan

Maple Syrup Season is Upon Us!

This is a big, big year for Primal Woods Pure Michigan Maple Syrup.  As I have documented previously, we are in the midst of an almost 10 fold increase in production, which will probably be the largest increase in production we ever take on, at least in relative terms; 60 taps to 500, 15 gallons to 125 gallons of syrup.  If all goes well, we should produce the equivalent of 2,000 half pint bottles.  Every step in the process requires attention, from tapping to bottling packing and shipping.  I walk step-by-step through the process and necessary improvements in the post Planning for 2018 Maple Syrup Expansion.  Today though, the subject is Step 2: Tap Trees.  Read on for more information on how to decide when to tap your trees! Read more

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Cleaning the Central Boiler Classic Edge Reaction Chamber

Cleaning the Central Boiler Reaction Chamber – Homestead Maintenance

Central Boiler tools

Tools required (left to right): shovel, Central Boiler cleaning rod and hoe, plus the sheet metal wheel barrow

Cleaning the Central Boiler Reaction Chamber – Step by Step

As pictured above, you will need a shovel, the Central Boiler-provided “cleaning rod” and “hoe,” and something to use for moving the potentially still-hot ashes, when cleaning the Reaction Chamber.

Step 1: When ready, open the bypass damper and power off the control.

Central Boiler Firestar II control

Open the bypass damper and power “off” the control

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Homestead Maintenance Planning

maintenance planning MRC (Maintenance Requirement Card)

First 2 pages of an atypical Navy maintenance planning MRC (Maintenance Requirement Card)

The Need for Maintenance Planning

On the homestead, and in the Primal Woods business, there are a lot of “moving parts,” literally, and figuratively.  Of course some of the required maintenance is more important, some less, but choosing to do a particular planned maintenance task, or not, should be a conscious decision.  It’s “okay” to choose not to perform a particular task, or not to do maintenance planning at all, so long as a person is willing to accept the associated cost:benefit trade-offs and consequences.  And I will note; a state of “resilience” is difficult to attain without maintenance plannning and execution.

In response to my recently well-documented failures to perform some required maintenance, Central Boiler Heat Exchanger Maintenance for example, I went about looking for some sort of free “app” or program that might support my maintenance planning efforts.  No such luck.  I found a lot of work order planning tools, some with free versions, most overly complex, with functionality I don’t need at this stage, and none that I thought would meet my needs at low cost, i.e. no cost.  So, I am going about doing it the “old fashioned way,” the “Navy way,” and developing a maintenance planning system, or Planned Maintenance System (PMS) as it was in the Navy back in the day, maybe it still is, for the Homestead and Primal Woods.

Maintenance Planning: Free and Easy

Well, maybe not easy, but cheap for sure.  I am simply starting with a spreadsheet, and the various equipment manuals that we have around us, either as hard copies, or as digital downloads.  And, I’m not trying to pull all of this together at one time, it will come together in the ensuing weeks and months, as I pull out a manual to do maintenance, or as I encounter of breakdown.

Maintenance Planning spreadsheet for the Homestead at Primal Woods

Maintenance Planning spreadsheet for the Homestead at Primal Woods

Let me just point out a few things relating to the structure of the spreadsheet, which itself will be improved as experiences informs change.

Columns:  The first two I am using to categorize and subcategorize the tasks.  You could do more or less of this, but I enjoy some way of sorting and filtering maintenance planning items.  Column C contains labels for the various dates, and the individual task descriptions.  Column D and beyond, the Week Number and date range within which particular tasks will come due.  I have come to prefer the European-style Calendar Week approach for maintenance planning; I don’t need daily resolution on this calendar, but I want something a bit more precise than monthly or quarterly.

Rows: One row for each maintenace task, categorizing and subcategorizing the tax, describing the task, and providing the the cell comments, a reference to the safe source describing how and when to perform the task. I am not feeling the need to develop Maintenance Requirement Cards just yet, but the one I included at the top of the post is worth a look <wink>.  Yes, it gets that bad! <smile>

Body: In the body of the spreadsheet, where you can currently see “Due” in various cells, “Due” will be replaced with the Date that a particular maintenance task is completed.

Maintenance Planning: Future

A beauty of a spreadsheet, and there are many, is that it can be changed and improved relatively simply and quickly.  When the process is substantially proven out in the spreadsheet, it could be recreated in a database, with canned reporting, input forms, etc.  Who knows where this might go over the years, but regardless, the spreadsheet is a good starting point.  Also cool, is that I put this spreadsheet on Google Drive, and I can edit it, in other words make entries, using Google Sheets from my smart phone.  Or not; print it out, stick it on the wall, use a pencil, or update the spreadsheet on your laptop/desktop.

Example: Central Boiler – Check pH and Nitrite levels

Central Boiler Nitrite Test Kit p/n 40

Central Boiler Nitrite Test Kit p/n 405

You will see in Row 10 of the spreadsheet, “CB Check pH and Nitrite levels.”  It was due the week between Christmas and the New Year, though that date was discretionary, I just wanted to get it done “soon.”  As it turns out, soon was yesterday, January 4th.

The date moved out because we did not receive UPS shipments due to the weather for several days; I was awaiting the Central Boiler test kit.  But that’s beside the point.  The maintenance was performed, and though the task was simple I documented “How I” did it in a 6 minute YouTube video.  I know from my own experience, that sometimes it is very beneficial to see someone else do it, and some people consume information better visually than in written words.

Doing it for the first time, and making the videos as I went, it probably took me a little over an hour.  Next time it should take me less than 15 minutes.  I wrote earlier about more important and less important maintenance items; well maintenance to the water quality in an outdoor wood furnace, aka outdoor wood boiler, definitely falls in the “more important” category.  Have a look at the video if you like, and thank you for reading, and for watching!

All the best in 2018, and kind regards,

John

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Central Boiler Heat Exchanger Maintenance

Classic Edge 750 Vertical Heat Exchanger Maintenance

Before – During – After Cleaning of the Classic Edge 750 Vertical Heat Exchanger

Maintenance is Not Sexy!

Say it ain’t so.  Upon reflection, it seems to me that be it in the workplace, or in life, the steady Eddy gets little credit.  When things work, or go according to plan, well, of course that’s what we expected.  When things fail however, the fixer gets all credit, a big pat on the back, and is called in the next time there is a failure.  It’s even less glamorous in this life; because I have no one but myself to blame in the event of failure, and then I have to fix it, too. Read more