We’ve started our maple sugar operation again this year. Last year, I had five taps going - one per tree. This year, I’ve paid closer attention to the best Maple varieties to tap, and have put in ten taps!
I feel so blessed to have several Maple trees on our property here, they’re beautiful majestic trees. Some of ours are very old indeed; but three of the four largest are silver Maples, which are not known for valuable sap. The rest appear to be red Maples, and are generally considered second only to the true Sugar Maple in terms of quality.
This year, I’ve boldly put in more taps for the larger trees.
I’m using ‘Sap Sacks’ again this year. I used them last year and they generally worked well once I got the hang of them, though one or two did leak a little. They are cheaper than buckets, and easier to keep clean. I think my only other option would be to move to the new-style plastic taps and tubing, but the trees are spread so far apart this is not really practical. I’m not anxious to start sucking the sap out of the trees with a vacuum system, anyways. Since I’m not doing this for profit, I’d rather take just what the trees naturally give - if that makes sense.
We had a couple of warmer days last week, so I was able to get a little under five gallons of sap. I’m using the 12 quart Dutch oven again this year, and moved my fire location a little more conveniently to the house. Saturday was cooking day! It was absolutely cold out there, but with a nice fire going and some warm clothes, it wasn’t too bad. I started late morning, and finished around eight PM.
I had a stash of Walnut firewood leftover from last year. I felt that burned so nicely, and imparted a nice flavor to the syrup, that I’ve been using it again this year - splitting it down as fast as I can to have enough to keep the fire fed. While it looks like a small fire, it takes a lot to keep the sap boiling!
The biggest hassle with using a Dutch oven is there is not a lot of evaporation surface area. If I had had more time coming into this year, I hoped to purchase several stainless steel chafing dishes (also known as ‘hotel dishes’) and assemble a self-supporting fire area using block. The long, wide dishes would sit above the first and cook off much more efficiently. Maybe next year?
By the end of the day, I had cooked down that bucket of sap into…slightly…less than a ping of almost-syrup. This I’m refrigerating (might even freeze it) until the next warm spell and syrup cookdown, which if the reports are right, should be this weekend.
My hope, with this many taps, is to get about a gallon of syrup - this would last our family a long while. To get a gallon, the usual ratio is roughly forty gallons of sap for a gallon of syrup - so I have my work cut out for me! To make it less daunting though, each four gallon sap sack need only be filled once - and some of the trees, I know, will produce a couple of bags worth of sap - so I think I will meet my goals. The hard part is making time to boil it all!
Last year, I was having good success with the sap even with my five taps - but an emergency at work called me away. I was there almost non-stop for two weeks, clocking over 100 hours the first week and around 80 hours in the second, so all of the sap I had hoped to cook down was spoiled and needed to be dumped. My prayer for this year is for an uninterrupted syruping season!
A week and a half ago, or so, I was down by the creek bed clearing away more overgrowth. I love doing this in the winter, when it’s cold and there’s no snow on the ground - no weeds or Poison Ivy to get me, and I can get some exercise out of the house. I have been clearing the north-east portion of the property; I am convinced that it will make a great location for berry bushes - blueberry, gooseberry, currants, etc. can go there. There is an excellent southern exposure that should provide lots of light throughout the day, and the ground is not overly wet even with proximity to the stream. There is a lot of dead old growth in there, so I have been clearing it out fairly aggressively.
There is a boxelder tree in there too, that I am determined to get rid of. It serves no purpose, and my belief is it may contribute to the boxelder beetle population around here too. Before doing this, though, I feel I need to stabilize the stream bed from erosion; the various trees along here are holding the bank together for the most part, but there are some very obvious places with it’s eroding away. Stone, or even some native marsh grasses, should help - especially if more light gets back there due to my cleaning efforts.
I am really excited for what 2019 has in store on the homestead! We have some fun plans in mind for gardening, and everything we’ve worked on for the past couple of years is starting to develop and mature a bit. Every year is something new, and Sarah and I feel so blessed to have this plot of land to call our own!