backyard chickens, cooking, duck eggs, ducks, farming, homemade, homesteading, raising ducks, recipes

Maple Bourbon Smoked Duck, what “farm to table” means to us


The term “farm to table” is another one of those terms, in our opinion, that is way over used and frankly, not even used properly. If we were to define our way of homesteading, we would say that the term, “farm to table” applies. On our homestead, we have ducks and chickens. (Our ducks were introduced to you in an earlier blog, so look that up if you did not see it) In all farm or homesteading life, most of the animals serve a purpose, such as eggs from the hens and ducks as well as their meat.  Last fall, we hatched 14 ducklings and ended up with a total of 7 males and 7 females.

As in life and nature, too many boys are not a good thing! Frequent fights and domination can cause quite a ruckus in a flock of ducks. So the tough decision has to be made, it was time to thin the flock. We have a friend that already had a female duck that mentioned that they wanted to get another duck for a mate. So of course, we offered one of our boys and they gratefully took it off our hands. As for three other males, we carefully, and as respectfully as possible, butchered them. No other details necessary here. They went into the freezer for a later meal.

Easter was fast approaching and in thinking of what we had in the freezer for our Easter dinner, we remembered the ducks. One of our favorite ways to have any of our fish or meat is brined and smoked. We have yet to perfect our home-built smoker, so in the meantime we use one that is a part of our gas grill. The wood we use for smoking is apple wood, and yup, you guessed it, from our small orchard of apple trees.

Maple Bourbon Glazed Smoked Duck

1 duck, 2-3 lbs

Cracked black pepper

The Brine (also great for chicken and pork)

4 cups of cold water

¼ cup of kosher salt

¼ cup maple syrup

1 oz of bourbon

1 tsp cracked black pepper

The Glaze

¼ cup maple syrup

1 tbsp bourbon

Whisk together the brine ingredients until the salt is dissolved. Pour over the duck in a large bowl. If you don’t have enough brine to cover the duck, don’t panic, just add a little more water. We also use a trick here that we learned from making sauerkraut. Place a small plate over the duck in the brine and it helps to keep it immersed and to keep it from “floating”. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours.

About an hour before cooking, soak the apple wood chips in warm water.


After 6 hours, remove the duck from the brine and rinse the duck inside and out thoroughly with cold water. Place the duck on the smoker rack, and season simply with a sprinkle of black pepper. (let the smoke do the seasoning for you!) Smoke the duck according to your smoker’s directions with the wood chips that you have been soaking. We smoke ours at about 225 degrees for 2 hours or until the internal temp reaches 165 degrees. (There are varying degrees of duck “doneness”, this is just our preference.)

After the first hour of smoking, mix the glaze ingredients. Brush the glaze over the duck, then brush again every 15 minutes. After the agonizing wait for your duck to be done, remove from the smoker and enjoy!

So there it is, the epitome of “farm to table”, or in our case, “homestead to table”. We strongly believe in treating our animals, which also become our food, with dignity and respect from their births all the way to nourishing our tired bodies from the homestead life. It’s not any easy life, but the rewards are countless. A meal in our house never goes by without thanking the animals for giving their lives for us, or thanking each other for the time spent caring for the animals, gardening, canning, freezing or preserving, and cooking the meal.

carpentry, farming, firewood, gardening, homesteading, tools, wood working

Tools Make The Homestead

When we think about homesteading we always think of images of chickens and fall harvests.  We rarely see pictures of the tools that make homesteading possible.  No two homesteads are alike, and neither are their tools.  What makes homesteading great is that you get to do it your own way.  You can choose your own land and what crops you will grow,  but most importantly you get to choose or make your own tools.  This blog is a tribute and an introduction to the tools we use on our homestead.  Hopefully it will give you a few new ideas about what to use around your homestead.

The Chainsaw


This is one of the tools that we can’t live without.  It brings us warmth and Christmas trees.  Its uses are endless, especially in places where power cords can’t reach or in an emergency.




When we first started our homestead and decided to burn wood for heat, we realized quickly that we would need a chainsaw.  Initially we started with a box store bargain, but it only lasted a short time.  The next purchase was the largest saw the box store had to offer, but we had a similar experience, it didn’t last. We knew it was time to ask the pros. Knowing that we cut 10 cords of wood a year, we knew we needed something reliable. We went to our local Huqvarna dealer and he helped us select a saw that would fit our needs. We settled on a 365 special because it was a saw we thought we could handle, but can also get the job done.  After 7 years, and still running strong, it has not missed a beat. We try not to spend a lot, but in this case, we learned that you truly get what you pay for.

The Homemade Apple Press

On our homestead we have 7 apple trees, and once they started producing we knew we wanted to make cider so we needed an apple press. We looked into buying one, but they were too expensive, so we made our own plans using an inexpensive Harbor Freight bottle jack to apply the pressure.  Later on when we planted the vineyard, we were able to use the press for wine making.  This tool works well and brings us plenty of joy.  There is nothing like drinking your own fresh pressed cider (or wine!).

Antique pencil sharpener


Whenever I use it I am reminded of our grandfather’s shop.  I think it makes me work just a little harder to make him proud. No other explanation needed.





Small Tractor Supply Trailer


This trailer has served so many purposes of the years it’s hard to remember them all.  It was initially purchased to allow our older son to mow lawns.  It has hauled everything from lumber to pigs.  We built a removable rack to keep the pigs on board.  It is the versatile workhorse of the homestead.

The Antique Crock


This old school tool makes great food and looks good too.  It is one of the few tools we display in our living space. It makes wonderful sauerkraut and dill pickles.  We can not imagine the homestead without it.

Solar Electric Fence Charger

When we decided to keep honey bees, we needed to keep bears out.  After a lot of research we decided on a high voltage charger that was big enough to zap a bull.  This was one of the few times we went right for the best tool first.  It wasn’t cheap, but it has never let us down.  It has saved us money on the electric bill,  and has enough capacity to fence in our pigs as well. It is a Parmak Magnum 12 Solar Pak Fencer and was well worth the $250 we spent on it.

Mowers and Tillers

After years of small front tine tillers and shovels a few years ago we upgraded to a good used rear tine tiller.  We were so happy to not feel like our arms are ripping off every spring.  Used tillers are very reasonable especially around Christmas time.  After years of different riding mowers, this Fall we upgraded to a lawn tractor.  We won it at an auction and it came with a snowblower, tiller, and a mowing deck.  It is an old Simplicity and we could not believe the difference it made.  It does everything well and has a hydraulic drive and lift to make work easy.  By far, its best feature is the tiller.  I can see us expanding our garden with this monster.  We could never afford a new compact tractor, but this used beauty suits our needs.

The Simple Tools

These provide us with heat and nourishment. We always choose durable items like cast iron, composite handles, and ball canning jars. In our house we have a saying “nothing bad ever comes out of the dutch oven”, and to this day, that remains true.

The Green House

img_2602This is our first year with the green house, but we already have cold weather crops like kale and lettuce growing in it.  It is unheated, but we can see that changing in the future.  This $300 dollar investment should pay big dividends in delicious vegetables.



Maple Syrup Evaporator

This is a tool that may actually pay us back one day.  When we first started making maple syrup we made it in a small pan over a fire.  It took a very long time to boil the sap down into syrup.  During this time we always dreamed of having a real evaporator, but their price always put them out of reach for us.  Last season we were able to get a good deal on a real maple syrup pan from a friend.  We found this old tank in a junk yard and after a year of planning and welding we had made our own evaporator. At 1/4 the cost of a manufactured one, it is the little engine that could.  It makes the most delicious maple syrup.


The Farm Stand



This simple stand started as a way for our son to make a few extra bucks, but now that he’s older it allows us to recoup some of the money we spend on seeds.  It is so much fun to chat with people when they stop by to make a purchase.  We also enjoy how cute it looks on the lawn when you drive by.

The things that keep us sane

Just like everything else here on the homestead, the hot tub serves more than one purpose.  It is also our onion and garlic drying rack, and potting bench.  It is our favorite place to go after ice fishing in the winter.  Our solar pool heater allows us to extend the swimming season by 3 weeks on either end and is incredibly cheap to run.

As you can see, tools make the homestead an efficient and happy place.  They are our constant companions.  We would be lost without them.  They are more than just tools they are part of us.  Every year we add more and more of them.  Which naturally leads us to a future blog, where to store them.  Time to build a bigger shed.

homesteading, maple syrup, Uncategorized

Homestead upgrade, “un-tapped” potential


IMG_5136On warm winter days, our thoughts often turn to making maple syrup.  This is the first food that we will produce for the coming year.  A major component of making maple syrup is the evaporator.  This is what we use to take the sap from 2% sugar to 66.7% sugar.  The entire process is about getting rid of water through evaporation.  When we first started making maple syrup, we would boil it in a small pan over a fire. As you wait for the water to boil off, you have a lot of time to think about how you could speed up the process. A maple syrup pan can boil off one gallon of sap an hour for each square foot of surface area.  So a pan that is 2’x4′ can boil off 8 gallons an hour.  This is the most time consuming part of the process.  As you sit there waiting, it’s impossible to not think of ways to make the process more efficient and every year we make upgrades.  Last year we got a new pan, so we built an evaporator.  It would be too expensive to build one from scratch, so we built it from an old tank/stove that we had found in the woods.

After a lot of cutting and some welding we had a basic evaporator.  This was a big upgrade for us and allowed us to burn much less wood in the process.


During the season last year, we made several modifications to make it work more efficiently, however it still left something to be desired.  So this season, we came up with a plan to get that sap boiling faster.  All winter long, my mind worked on ideas to make it better.  We looked at commercial evaporators and watched videos, however, none were made out of an old relic like ours.  We borrowed ideas from all the different evaporators we had seen, and began working.

We are not metal workers so this would be a new adventure.  We do own a small welder and some grinders and saws. We gathered them up and set to work.  A major component of all the evaporators we saw in our research was a ramp.  The ramp forces heat against the pan to get it boiling, so we ordered some steel and began to weld, and weld, and weld.


We also knew that firebrick would retain a lot of heat and make our evaporator work more efficiently,  so we made our design with them in mind.  We also found that a fire burns much hotter with the air coming from underneath, so we built a grate and moved our door upward.  We also added a flue and chimney so we did not get a face full of smoke the whole time that we boiled. Lastly, we added the firebrick.

We now had what looked like a much better evaporator.  Often in homesteading and life you have to take a risk, not knowing what the outcome will be.  You may be building a  fence or raising animals for the first time.  You never know how these things will turn out.  You can do all the research in the world, but there is no substitute for doing, or trial and error.  We crossed our fingers and started a fire in the evaporator.img_1795-1

The sap quickly heated up and was boiling in no time, not to mention a greater area of the pan was boiling, so the upgrade was a success!  Now we can’t wait for all that sap to flow.  One of our favorite parts of homesteading is learning.  It seems like we are always learning something new, or learning a new way to do something old.  We are constantly challenging ourselves to do more, to learn more, and to live more.

homesteading, maple syrup, Uncategorized

Spring is in the air and we are tapping


Nothing makes me happier than tapping maple trees.  It is always a sign that warmer weather is on the horizon.  It may not be for another month, but you know its coming.  The days are getting longer, and the sun feels just a little warmer.  Usually we tap trees in early February.  However, in the last few years there has been sap flowing in late January,  so this year we are taking advantage of this run and tapping early.  Maple sap runs through the tree when temperatures are above freezing during the day and below at night.  So today we set out to tap knowing it will be in the 40s the next two weekends.  It seems like whenever we tap trees there is snow on the ground, the woods are always quiet and beautiful, today the sun glistened off the powdery snow.  You just had to take a deep breath and enjoy that crisp sterile air.  We carry all of our supplies in buckets.  You  only need a 7/16 drill, a hammer, some taps, and a bucket.  We carry a few extra items but they all fit in a five gallon pail.img_1697

To tap the tree we drill a 2″ deep hole in the sunny side of the tree, trying to avoid areas that were tapped before.  We make sure not to over tap the trees. A healthy tree 10 to 17 inches in diameter should have no more than one tap. A tree 18 to 24 inches, no more that two taps. A tree larger than 25 inches, no more than 3 taps.  We use plastic tubing and plastic taps.  Last year I was smart enough to label my taps so I knew where they went this year, brilliant!  Now you may be asking yourself, what is the thermos for?  We fill the thermos with boiling water,  and when we have to install any kind of fitting in the plastic line, it needs to be warmed up by dipping in the hot water so that it slips right in.


There is nothing like being alone in the woods and methodically going tree to tree setting up your taps.  Sometimes we string several trees together on one line.  That’s when you need fittings and the hot water, though often I wish it was full of coffee, which I suppose it could be, it would heat just the same.


When we tap a tree, we drill in two inches and place the tap in the hole.  You gently drive the tap with a hammer until you hear a dull thud.  If you go any further, you can split the bark and have a leaky tap.  I love to hear that dull thud over and over again, as it means we are making progress, and it is a little bit of a reward for all the slipping down the bank, and snow in your gloves.


Once the trees are tapped, the lines are run into buckets.  Tapping day is the best day of what we call sap season, it doesn’t even feel like work and you are so happy to be out in nature.  We run about 60 taps, tapping various types of maples which are all good for syrup. Now it is time to wait for the first run.  Checking the buckets for sap is like the chicken farmer looking for eggs.  It’s such a joy to see a full bucket. Sometimes I even need to canoe to get the sap.  Every 5 gallon pail becomes a pint of syrup.  Sap comes out of the tree with about a 2% sugar content.  It must be boiled to 66.7% sugar and that’s when the work comes in. But today is just a day to enjoy in the woods or sugar bush as it is sometimes called.  A day to think about spring.  A day to look at rabbit tracks as you go.  So much work on the homestead can be rewarding both physically and mentally,  and tapping trees definitely qualifies.  This year we are trying some new glass containers and hope they will make our syrup look as good as it tastes.  There is nothing like wood fired maple syrup.  You can’t buy it in a store,  that flavor is impossible to duplicate on a large scale.  We are making liquid gold.IMG_9098