Today was nothing short of glorious. I worked a 3/4 day, went to the dentist, took a short hike with my dog in 70° sun. Then proceeded to break out the motorcycle, take a 20 mile ride to Harry’s Place for a most excellent cheeseburger, and come home before it got too cold, because it’s still April after all. And we got home not a moment too soon, because my hands went numb by the end of the ride. The only possible cure was a finger of whiskey, which is conveniently seated a foot to my right. An excellent day indeed.
And I’ve been quite lucky, because 2015 has been full of some pretty excellent days. Lately, its been surprise after surprise of new growth from bulbs and trees planted long before we got here. Yesterday, we found out we are the owners of a thundercloud plum tree (which apparently bears 1″ edible fruits that are a cross between a cherry and a plum and I AM SO STINKING EXCITED TO PUT THEM IN JARS). And I may be going out on a limb here, but I think we were pretty lucky to have the winter we had. As some of you might have noticed, February 2015 arrived on the scene bringing just a little bit of snow. Just a bit. Even though it was a helluva winter, in hindsight I can say the forced downtime wasn’t always a bad thing. It was certainly a good test of our resourcefulness, not to mention our roof rake. Plus, as ye olde enormous snowpack began to melt, cabin fever made me jump outside to begin the first project of the year: sugaring.
There are a lot of great resources out there for how to get started sugaring. That said – there are a few things I plan on tweaking next year.
- Equipment: You really don’t need fancy stuff. I got this kit as a Christmas present and combined it with a few months worth of saved milk jugs and orange juice bottles, which worked wonderfully. I love the galvanized pails and hooks, but at $35 each, it was just not practical. Plus, by using collection/storage containers with lids, I could walk over to one tree, remove the bottle, add a new container, throw it in my backpack and walk to the next tree. Closed containers were an added bonus for storage in the fridge for a few days in between boiling sessions.
- Tap Height: I tapped my trees at whatever height, but made sure they were facing south. Well, genius, when the snow melts, if you are using DIY containers (like me), you need to tap such that your lines will still reach the bottles when they are resting on the ground, too. Obviously this is more of an issue in years like 2015 with enormous snowpack. Something to keep in mind.
- Containers: I used half gallon containers. Next year I might consider gallon sized ones, as some of my trees produced at least a half gallon per day at the height of the season. Most of the time I could empty them every day, but on the off chance I couldn’t it, would be a waste.
- Type of Tree: Next year, I plan on segregating and storing my sap by type of maple. This year, I mixed all my different sources in each batch, which made for some interesting woody flavors in my syrup. Not bad, just… interesting. I also should identify which kind of maple trees they are next year, as some of them are definitely not sugar maple. One looks suspiciously like a Norway maple. Oops. I plan to tap our hickory and black walnut trees next year too.
- Sap Storage: I am going to need another fridge next year, and will plug it in exclusively for sap storage. Unless I can find some way to store it outside when the temp is still below freezing. There is no way I have enough room to store sap AND food in one fridge without boiling at least every other night. Which is a process I don’t plan to repeat. On the bright side, boiling almost every night, then sticking the pot outside in the snowbank to cool was really effective.
- Boil Outside: You know how most sugarers boil in large metal pans outside? Yeah, there’s a reason for that. At least it will be easy to take down the wallpaper in our kitchen now?
- Removal: Oh yeah, when it’s all done… no one tells you this key piece of advice: take out your taps with pry end of a hammer.
All said and done, it was fun to get eight pints of syrup for not a ton of work. Our stove really deserves most of the credit. I admittedly burned a few batches too, which I hope to not repeat. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve picked up a new habit. And for an even newer habit: the first package of bees gets delivered in a few weeks. Here’s to 2015 continuing on the glorious end of the spectrum.