The snow crunched under our snow shoes. Mark broke trail and carried the drill and hammer. I carried the buckets and taps. We wandered around the sugar bush looking for the tell-tale holes in the trees from last year's maple season to be assured that we were tapping maples and not an ash by mistake. After so many years of tapping maples you would think that we would know a maple in winter, undressed of leaves we have to know them by their bark. We were 29 for 29 taps!
The start of the season was slow. From conversations we've had, we missed a run at the beginning of February. We tapped 2 weeks early because the season seemed like it would be early. At this time we tapped 15 trees. After a week or so the trails were well trodden. But my bucket remained empty while I walked from tree to tree. We tapped 10 more trees. We tapped 4 more trees a week later. The sap started to flow and by the following weekend we were boiling sap down.
This process has evolved over the years we have been making syrup. The first year we just used the stove in the kitchen and a big stock pot. It was great humidity for my skin and hair ( wild Irish hair) but terrible for a process that is essentially a free food source. We used gallon milk jugs on the trees. Inevitably a new spring chore would be to find the jugs that blew off the trees and around the yard in one of those March winds. The next year we boiled it down in our big stock pot and an old pressure canner on an old wood cook stove outdoors. The following year we repeated this process. Those three years we tapped about 20 trees and got about 2 gallons of syrup which would last until September.
When we moved to our current country eden we decided to try and perfect our set up. Ideally it would be great to have an evaporator pan. But those are pretty pricey for our small operation. Our outdoor arrangement has become an old woodstove that was in a shed on the property. We created a small channel of cinder blocks that comes out from the stove. We saved all the brush that remains after cutting trees for firewood for the winter and used this to fuel the fire. Mark found a pretty awesome chaffing pan at cooking supply store that sells second hand and vintage kitchen ware.
Our sap boiler sorta looks like this one now; only ours only has one pan.
Four weeks after we tapped the trees our season is over. A bit disappointing. Last year we got 4 gallons of sap. This year, when all is said and done, we will probably get 2 and 1/2 gallons. We put out 29 taps all together. The last two weeks the nights were cold enough and the days were a warm enough. I could walk in the sugar bush and hear the plink of sap filling the metal buckets, that we use now instead of milk jug. But now it is too warm. Even if the night were to get cold again the trees have probably shut down for the season. So now I walk from bucket to bucket; my boots crinkle old leaves or make smucking sound in the mud. Spring is here and other seasonal work awaits...