Sugar, Fire, and Love: Winter on the Burbstead

A local winter sunrise.

As the season comes to a close, it’s time reflect on this winter on our burbstead. Winter is our least “stead” and most “burb” season, but we make the most of our .3 acre plot by splitting wood, making fires, and tapping our maple trees. And we get to enjoy the fruits of last season’s harvest with our own chickens, canned salsa, and pickled jalapenos. Our maple syrup also lasts the year and pancakes are a Saturday morning tradition here.

Maple Sugaring

Why do we tap our trees? Because they are there. One of our two maples was afflicted by ants while the ants were also eating our house. We stopped tapping it since it isn’t healthy. Fortunately our wonderful next door neighbors let us tap their maple tree. Of course we give them syrup in exchange.

The weather this winter made for a strange sugaring season. We must have tapped at the right time because I’ve never seen the sap flow like it did those first couple of days. After a good first week, the temperature was all over the place. For a while it was in the 60s by day and not dropping below freezing at night, which is necessary for sap flow. Then it was too cold for a stretch—it has to go above freezing during the day.

Liquid gold.

We just kept our taps in and waited it out. Sap can be refrigerated or frozen while we’re waiting for a full pan for boiling, or if our schedule requires us to prioritize suburban activities over homesteading ones.

This was the first year we did not lose any syrup to mishaps like burning or spilling. We’re bad burbsteaders 🙁 But that’s the beauty of burbsteading—we’re not actually living off the land, so there’s no pressure while we figure out things like how quickly syrup cooks at the end. We learned to bring it in from the outside to our stove at the end for close monitoring.

All told our yield was over a gallon. For more on making syrup, check out our creatively titled post, Maple Sugaring.


Our wood pile is getting low, meaning we’ve enjoyed lots of lovely fires in our fireplace. It has a heat exchanger insert which greatly increases the fireplace’s efficiency. Neil did some tests this year to measure the heat output for different amounts of wood burning in the fireplace. Conclusion: we’ve been wasting a lot of wood by stacking it high in there. The “smaller” fires are more efficient. Again, all part of the burbsteading learning curve!

Our five-year-old often alerts us when the fire needs a log—and he really knows whether it needs one or not. It’s quite helpful and adorable.

Neil splits the wood himself and gets it for free from tree lawns, the city leaf and wood pile, and has been known to knock on doors when someone is clearly having a tree cut down. For more on getting free firewood and fireplace efficiency, check out Fuel Your Way to FIRE with Free Firewood. Neil also received a nice kindling hatchet as a gift for being in a wedding. Which brings us to…


Since fall, Neil was the best man in two weddings, and we attended a third one as well. This means wedding festivities—showers, bachelor parties, rehearsal dinners, and of course the big day—were a common calendar items for us this past season. Neil’s bachelor parties and toasts were a hit, and I believe his days as a best man (these were not the first) are over as all his dearest friends are now married.

Most people go through a season of life when they’ve invited to lots of weddings. Then the majority of their friends are married off, and they might just go to the occasional cousin’s wedding. Not so for us. Though the wedding frenzy has slowed some (one summer in college we went to seven!) we spent several years in youth ministry and those kiddos are now grown up and getting married. Add in the cousin weddings, and some friends who found love after the post-college wedding peak, and we’re still in this space. Let’s just say our annual budget’s “gift” line item accounts for this and always gets put to good use.

Another wedding happened to be on St. Patrick’s Day, and the bride and groom asked if I would lead an Irish dance. I sometimes plan “flash mob” type dances, and I took a whole nine months of Irish dance during high school. My credentials were satisfactory for this carefree couple, and I rounded up a troupe of about 10 to perform a simple reel to a Riverdance tune. I was just impressed I found any willing participants.

Our peas are planted so it’s officially spring. I’ll keep you posted on our garden, bee-baiting ventures, and baby chicks in the next burbstead update!

9 Responses to “Sugar, Fire, and Love: Winter on the Burbstead”

  1. Tonya says :

    Love it!! I just spent a TON of time in my backyard this past month (post to come) and there is something about this kind of stuff that is incredibly rewarding. Growing your own food, splitting wood, foraging if that’s possible. It feels really…REAL, ya know?

    • Troy says :

      I feel like this is a very North American life style. There’s nothing wrong with it, and actually I’m a huge fan of the country life style.
      But here in Australia, it’s more about the laid-back, beachgoing lifestyle.

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, I know what you mean about it feeling real. After spending so much time in a cube/on a computer, it’s nice to get outside, work with your hands, and make something tangible.

  2. Amanda says :

    Love the updates! It’s great you were able to tap the neighbors tree! We get our firewood from a local tree service. They just leave large pieces of wood in a certain spot for the taking – whenever we’re low, we check there (Alan splits all of our wood as well).

  3. Brian says :

    Sounds like a great winter! It was a mild one, but I’m ready for spring. Looking to get some yard work/clean up done this weekend.

  4. FullTimeFinance says :

    Given how much wood our property has netted us I’m actually contemplating a wood stove. We have a gas fireplace at the moment but it’s not the same. It sounds like your maximizing yours.

  5. Fruclassity (Ruth) says :

    We’re just starting the next generation for weddings. 10 grandchildren on my side of the family are old enough to marry, and 3 have within a few months. I want my own children to wait until we’ve paid off the mortgage, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we just barely make it for our 2 eldest. So cool that you’re in training for living off the land on your burbstead. (Are you planning one day to make a move to living off the land?)

    • Kalie says :

      It’s all just hobbies. I don’t want to live off the land exclusively though we wouldn’t mind expanding our efforts bit by bit.

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