I tapped the maple trees today. While my neighbors in New England are digging out from three feet of snow this weekend, it is sunny here and the high is supposed to be close to 50 degrees today. Warm temps with a foot of snow on the ground mean the start of sugaring season.
It feels good to get out in the woods again after a couple of months indoors next to the stove. I get a bucket and gather my tools: a cordless drill with an extra battery (charged, of course!), a bag of plastic taps, 50 feet of plastic tubing, a tubing cutter, a handful of rubber bands, six plastic jugs, and my camera. Off to the woods I go with Rolo running out in front. After a few yards, I hear insistent meowing behind and there is Nyan Cat following behind.
It has been four years since I tapped the maple trees. It was something my husband and I did together, and the year after we were divorced I felt too sad to tackle it on my own. The next year was a warm winter with poor sugaring weather, so I didn’t bother. The following year I was all set to do it, but I couldn’t find the taps. I didn’t have the money at that point to go out and buy more, so no syrup that year. Last year I was in Norway in February, and it was another short season, so I missed it. This year I decided to switch to the newer system of plastic taps and tubing, since I still haven’t found the metal spiles. The taps are called tree savers, because you don’t have to drill as deep into the tree and the holes aren’t as big around as traditional spiles.
There are many maple trees on the property, but I mostly tap six old sugar maples that grow next to the west creek, three on each side of it. They are huge, ancient trees, and I only put two taps in each tree. I’m not doing this to make money, only to have some syrup for my pancakes, so there is no reason to get greedy. Twelve taps usually give me a gallon of syrup; in good years we made three.
I tap the three trees on the house side of the creek first. I drill into the trees on the south side, directly over large roots. I clean out the hole with a piece of stick, and the sap is already starting to drip out of the hole. I place a plastic tap in each hole, and gently hammer it in with a rubber mallet, and then attach a piece of tubing to the tap. I attach the two pieces of tubing together with a rubber band and then push them through a hole I drilled in the top of the lid for the plastic jug.
I am using kitty litter jugs to collect the sap this year. I used to use milk jugs, but I don’t get milk in plastic jugs anymore, and when I got them from other people, they often had a sour smell no amount of rinsing would get rid of. I have used two gallon kitty litter jugs for many years to carry water to the barn. They are well-rinsed and have no odor to them. As an extra caution, I rinsed them with the One Step solution I use when bottling mead. I am not worried about using them, because, as I said, they are well-rinsed, the sap will not be in them for more than a day or two, and once the weather goes much above fifty, the sap flow is over, so I’m not worried about them getting too warm. It’s my syrup. If this bothers you, don’t come to my house for pancakes.
Once I finished tapping the trees and setting up the jugs, I headed back across the creek and home. As I passed the first trees I had tapped, I could hear the sound of the coming of spring: the plink, plink, plink of maple sap hitting the bottom of the jug.