The warm weather of mid-March has finally taken its toll. At the end of last week, the buds on the maple trees in our sugarbush began to swell and open. That is the signal that the sugaring season has reached the end as the internal chemistry of the trees change to stimulate blooming and leaf growth.
We pulled the taps from the trees, washed the equipment and began boiling down the final batch. That final batch has been accumulating in the freezer for a while. Most nights would find me out behind the house feeding the evaporator until the early hours but I was unable to keep up with the volume of sap that arrived with each new day. By the time the taps were finally pulled, 63 gallons of sap had accumulated.
I completed the process late last evening and got it into the bottles. The photo shows the results which totaled 1.3 gallons of syrup. That brings our total yield for this season to 1.8 gallons. It's a tiny sum but I have to say that I'm as proud as can be of every drop.
It has been an adventure but I'm relieved that it is done. Reflecting back on the experience, I would have to say that it was a great deal of work. Those seven weeks of lugging sap and tending the woodstove in the cold made me realize that I need to come up with some labor saving improvements. A big step would be the acquisition of a proper evaporator to speed the boiling process but I'm not sure that our small number of trees justifies the expense.
The last footnote to the season is to mention that my neighbor has shown an interest in getting involved next year. His woods are considerably larger than ours and he seems very interested in having me expand my operation to include his maples as well. In fact, he very generously supplied much of the firewood that I used this year. When the weather and our schedules permit, we plan to take a survey of his woods and talk about the possibilities for next year. Who knows, maybe a nice shiny evaporator is in my future after all!
Hindsight is so clear, but three weeks ago it sure looked like we were in for a week-long heat wave. The forecast called for unseasonably warm weather in the upper thirties. Worried that we were going to miss out on the first major maple sap flow of the season, I resolved to go ahead and get the taps in the trees. I suppose my jumping of the gun was fueled by my excitement to try out our shiny new evaporator as well!
On Sunday afternoon, the boys and I pulled out a couple of the wooden sleds that I had mailed home during one of my working stints in Germany. We loaded them up with tools and supplies and headed for the woods. There was enough snow on the ground to help the sleds glide along without being so much that it was tiresome to walk through. The boys pulled the sleds and chattered excitedly. It was nice to be out in the woods together rather than cooped up in the house.
We threw ourselves into the work and fell into a good rhythm quickly. I scanned the forest for the green ribbons that indicated which trees we had picked to tap and chose a route by which we could visit them all. I stopped at each tree, measured its circumference, logged the data and decided how many taps each would get. With Aidan's assistance, I drilled the holes and placed the tabs before moving to the next tree.
Sean followed along behind with his sled and completed the operation. At each tree he assembled the blue sap sacks to their holders and placed them on each of the taps. He also wrote the log book number of each tree on the bags to help us with our record keeping. His was the more laborious of the jobs. I was careful to keep my pace slow enough that we could talk back and forth as we worked and I could lend him a hand now and again.
Things went pretty smoothly except that the sleds kept tipping over. The heavy boxes on the tall sleds made them top-heavy such that any little branch in our path would topple them over again and again. After a while I finally tied the two sleds into a double-wide arrangement and put an end to the constant need to right our burdens and collect our tools from the snow.
About half-way through we broke out the thermos that we had prepared and sat down in the snow for a much-needed hot chocolate break. The woods were beautiful and our spirits were high. We joked and laughed together as we all enjoyed the time together and the adventure of the day.
Eight-year-old Aidan is a master of making ordinary sticks into fantastic playthings. After our break was over, Sean and I resumed the work as Aidan stalked us from behind the trees with stick rifles, stick rocket-launchers, stick light-sabers and stick bow and arrows. Now and then he would emerge from cover to charge toward us with a war whoop and a snarl. After collapsing into giggles over our pantomimed terror, he would bound off to take cover in the woods and begin the game all over again.
It was a pleasant day even if it was a bit early in the season. We emerged from the woods just as the light was fading in the sky. With a sense of satisfaction of another task behind us, we trudged back toward the warmth of the house and the looming prospect of another week of work and school.