She-sheds becoming more popular in rural areas

| March 12, 2019

Ben Harstine collects sap from the maple trees in his back yard.

Phyllis Harstine stands by her she-shed with her scarecrow she affectionately calls Hector.

FRESNO – Ever since a popular insurance company ran an ad on television about a she-shed, the trend has become quite popular. Even social media has exploded with she-shed tips and ideas with many pages and groups dedicated to the new concept.

Ben and Phyllis Harstine recently turned an old storage building into Phyllis’ she-shed, a place where she can go to relax that is her space and hers alone.

“I started filling it with stuff that was here,” she said. “I would be down with Ben working on the tractors and looking around the barn. I found old tools that Ben didn’t use so I asked him if I could hang them in there.”

Phyllis has many items that mean a lot to her in her she-shed. A chicken crate that used to be used to haul chickens, John Deere pocket ledgers, an old Carl’s Feed Sack, and most notably, a restored 1967 Minneapolis Moline lawn mower that was featured on the cover of The MM Corresponder in August 2018.

“It’s fun and interesting to see how many ladies would like to have their own space,” said Phyllis.

One of the more unique items in Phyllis’ she-shed is a chandelier made out of an old egg basket and glass chandelier panels. The two types of items combined make for the perfect combination of reusing the old and incorporating the new to create a statement piece in the space.

When Phyllis isn’t working in her she-shed, she and her husband enjoy canning vegetables. Their pantry is filled with cans of tomatoes, green beans, beets, peppers, and lima beans. A downstairs freezer holds frozen bags of corn, broccoli, and cauliflower.

“The secret to good sweet corn is to get it in the freezer as soon as you pick it,” said Ben. “That way, the sugar doesn’t have time to turn to starch.”

If that didn’t keep them busy enough, the couple also enjoys making their own delicious maple syrup and Ben has been doing so for about 20 years.

“My late wife was making ham one time and she wanted to put maple syrup on it to bake it,” said Ben. “I went to the store to get some and it was $16 a quart, even back then. I thought, I can make this.”

A shop in New Bedford custom-made a steal pan for Ben to begin boiling his maple syrup which was then lined with fire brick. He began saving milk jugs to collect the sap. Currently, Ben has 100 taps in the maple trees at the back of his farm. Trees must be at least 10 inches in diameter to tap and the tap runs until the trees begin to bud. For sap to run efficiently, the weather must be warm and sunny with days above freezing and cool temperatures at night.

Once the trees are drilled and the sap is collected in gallon-sized milk jugs, the liquid is poured into an evaporator vat to be boiled down. When the 150 gallons that are poured into the vat has been reduced to about four gallons, the syrup is brought into the house on the woodburner to control the process closer. This takes days to do and is a 24-hour process. About every four hours, Ben or Phyllis skims the impurities off and pours more sap into the evaporator.

“When it gets down to syrup, we filter it and put it on the stove and bring to 211 degrees,” said Ben. “We measure the sugar content with a special hydrometer, which is measured in brix. When it gets to 60 brix, the sugar content is right for syrup. Then we filter it into pint jars.”

Ben said the sap, which is clear when it comes out of the taps, begins to caramelize when it’s about half reduced and the color comes from it being boiled down. At the beginning of the season, the syrup is more of a light amber color and by the end of the season, it gets a lot darker and the taste is stronger.

Even though the Harstines have a lot of time and finances dedicated to making maple syrup, they choose to give it away to family and friends.

“There are so many restrictions now for inspections of commercial sales,” said Ben. “We do it just to give to friends, neighbors, and relatives.”

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Category: People & Places

About the Author ()

I have been employed at the Coshocton County Beacon since September 2009 as a news reporter and assistant graphic artist. I am a 2004 graduate of Newcomerstown High School and a 2008 graduate of Capital University with a bachelor’s degree in Professional Writing. I am married to John Scott and live in Newcomerstown. We have two beautiful daughters, Amelia Grace Scott and Leanna Rose Scott.

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