Winter Post, Part II

by Beth

Here’s part II of our winter catchup. If you haven’t seen it yet, Part 1 covers updates about building and land maintenance. This part is about a few other accomplishments that have made life a little sweeter, beginning with the sweetest:sap collection from twin maples

– We made maple syrup. It all started when local conservationist @MTS.Ecological offered tips for tapping and sugaring on his Instagram profile <–highly recommend if you’re interested in plants, animals, and habitats of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Tapping is easy: buy taps and food-grade hoses off Amazon. Grab a tape measure, drill, and collection vessels. Select trees with 38″+ circumference measured 4.5′ up the trunk. Collect sap daily.

Tapping season in the South only lasts a couple weeks, when nights are under freezing and days are over 40. This year was so cold we may have had a few extra days. Sap ran from the 3rd week in January through the 1st week of February.

maple syrup tap

Sap is clear liquid. It tastes like slightly sweet water, like if coconut water had maple flavor. You can drink it straight or cook or make coffee with it. It’s amazing raw food. To make syrup, boil gallons of tree water for hours until they turn into ounces of sugary syrup. That’s called sugaring. At its simplest, sugaring doesn’t take much more than a big pot, a fire pit or hotplate, a mesh strainer, and a food thermometer.

Gallons of sap yielded 36oz of amazingly sweet maple and nutty black walnut syrups, enough to enjoy a few pancakes and share samples with friends and neighbors. Turns out, making syrup over a crackling campfire is also great way to kick the winter blues. There’s something about sugar.

– Golf cart. GOLF. CART. A golf cart or ATV can be so helpful in a rural setting. Our land has a couple hundred feet of vertical rise. Chris and I are used to it, but guests can find it cumbersome. We didn’t think a cart was in the budget any time soon, but this winter, Chris secured a 2001 Club Car with fierce, domestead-ready tires from a cousin. We’re endlessly grateful and excited to welcome Lil Wayne to east Tennessee.

We call it Lil Wayne.

– Got our dog’s sight back. In January, our little dog, who loves to play and run, stopped playing and started running into walls. The juvenile cataract in his good eye eclipsed the last of his sight overnight. Dogs and their owners can adapt to blindness, but since he’s only 5 and we’re about to move him to a new 3-story home and a farm with animals, we decided to take all possible measures to help him see.

Cataracts can quickly damage an eye to the point that surgery isn’t an option, so it was a relief when the UT veterinary school accepted him as an ophthalmology patient right away. The results were great, even if the recovery regimen was intense (lots of eyedrops and way too much cone time) and long-term success isn’t guaranteed. His eyesight is back, and he’s using it enjoy the world the way he does.


– Planned dog fencing. We also have a black mouth cur who loves to play and run. Unlike the little dog with his 3″ legs, she can cover major ground.

She really loves to run.


There are plenty of dog friends and dog-friendly acres around our rental dome, but at the domestead, it’ll be a different story. There are too many neighbor chickens in the vicinity to let dogs run free.

two dogs on leashes with SUV
Leashes for now. Soon, invisible fencing.

We’ve been at a loss as to how to fence enough space while keeping it easy to mow and route driveway access. Dog-safe fencing is neither cheap nor easy to install, especially in the woods.

The solution finally presented itself at a home & garden show in Knoxville in February: invisible fencing.

We know, based on our experiences with her and electric fences that our big dog will learn the fence quickly. Chris had a vendor out to walk the land and provide a quote. And then he invited another vendor, who brought the installment price down by a couple thousand dollars and can save us probably a thousand or more over the life of the fence for upkeep because of savings on extras like collar adjustments and batteries.

Pricing is competitive with above-ground fencing for about half the space. To save on labor costs, we’ve cleared the perimeter around the 4-ish acres she’ll have to run, including field, woods, and creek. Hopefully it’ll be enough!

The only downsides we’ve identified include wildlife. On the one hand, turkey, deer and bear love our field, and we’d like her not to chase them away for good. We’ll have to be mindful about the hours she gets to roam.

On the other hand, there won’t be a physical fence to keep wildlife out to protect the little dog. That’s okay; we’ll fence a smaller area in the future for him. He doesn’t get to play outside alone anyway, not only because of bears, coyotes, and bobcats but because…

– We saw a black panther. Not the movie. An actual big cat, a mile as the crow flies from the domestead. Read more here.

– Cut hiking trails. Before the flowers, bees, and snakes returned, we hooked up the bushhog and cut trails through 9 acres of deep woods. Chris followed on Greta as I walked a route that avoided older trees and preserved as many healthy black cherry, beech, and maple saplings as possible. We steered clear of spots thick with ferns and wildflowers.

We cleared a 1/2 mile of trails through the most heavily wooded portions of our acreage, all at golf-cart width 🙂  It doesn’t sound like much, but it makes for a satisfying walk in the woods, and it lets us wander parts of our land that used to be inaccessible without rattlesnake boots and a machete.

man on Kubota tractor with bush hog in woods
Greta is the tractor.

This winter was so wet that we had to postpone the 2nd half of the trail project to due to the risk of getting Greta stuck in the mud. Next steps will include opening up another 1/2 mile of trails and renting a wood chipper to surface the trails with the bush-hogged brush and saplings.

– Started hiking again. This winter was bad for hiking. Bitter cold is okay, but add wind and rain, and it’s not even worth it. In March, temperatures started cresting 40 again and we pledged to get back to our weekly hiking habit. It’s been awesome. To round out this winter update, here’s a picture of Cades Cove from the first day of spring.

pano of Cades Cove Great Smoky Mountains

Did you see Part I of winter accomplishments on the domestead?

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