Wednesday, February 29, 2012

First sap!

While we tapped some trees on Saturday, three days passed before I got a chance to check the buckets. So after finishing barn chores yesterday morning, I took the dogs for a walk on our usual loop, which passes through the woods where we're tapping.

As I walked towards the buckets I wasn't sure what to expect. Would there be any sap? Did we even tap the right trees? The temperature had been below zero the last few days, so I told myself, "don't be disappointed."

I lifted the first lid and let out a loud whoop -- sap!

There was only about 4" of accumulated sap on the bottom of the bucket, and approximately 2" of it was frozen solid, but it was maple sap all the same.

I emptied all four buckets -- the first two much fuller than the buckets on the old tree that we'd double tapped (I think we're going to move one of the spiles to another younger tree) -- and dragged the slushy sap home using a sled I'd expropriated from the kids.

I left it to fully melt and then measured it -- approximately 2.5 litres! I felt a bit silly being this excited about our first harvest as this amount of sap will yield only about 1/4 cup of finished syrup, but I was giddy. Ridiculously so.

Until I took Jack to hockey last night. It seems everyone around here is tapping trees. The first woman I talked to already has 300 spiles in, and hopes to tap 100 more. She said they'd max out their taps at 500 trees as that's about all they could handle this year.

I was more than a little sheepish when I told her that we'd tapped just four trees, because we thought that was all we could handle this year. I started thinking, maybe we should tap some more -- we could do at least 10, right? Or 15? Or...

Then I caught myself doing that thing that I always do. I compare myself to what other people are up to, and I never seem to measure up. Folks are always 'further ahead' on their homesteads and farms, doing more, achieving more, and I often feel like I'm just dabbling, or when I'm really hard on myself, I feel like a fraud. I'm not a particularly competitive person and yet I always seem to be keeping score.

Since moving to the farm I've become horribly impatient. I want to do it all -- grow food, raise animals, live the "good life" in our ultimate efforts to become more self-reliant -- right now! But I too often forget (or ignore) that it's the journey that matters, not the destination.

I'm learning most of these skills from scratch, while raising two kids and working three jobs. I know I should cut myself some slack, but it's hard. I waffle between feeling like an underachiever and feeling totally burnt out and exhausted.

What we're doing is enough. I'm enough. And even if we only harvest enough sap to make one bottle of syrup, it's one more bottle of homegrown goodness than we had last year.

So in the spirit of celebrating another first, before the kids left for school this morning I passed around a tiny sherry glass and we each took a sip of this spring tonic.

It was a sweet way to start a new day and a new season. It was enough.


karmacoy said...

Yes!! You are enough!! Hurray for you and your first buckets of sap!! I so totally and completely identify with this post, it's like I could have written it myself (cept I'm not nearly as good at writing as you are... see, there I go with the comparisons too ;-).
And I'm not making any Maple Syrup.
But I do understand what you mean.
You inspire me!!
Namaste my friend!

David said...

Fiona, I'm the same way. I've learned the wisdom of trial and error that I must start small until I figure out what it is I want to do. If it was up to me I would start hundreds of projects that are roaming around in my mind but the issue becomes then none would be finished. Even urban homesteading has a hundred things that could and should be actively pursued. The weather is just starting to break into the Spring weather patterns. The Tulips and Daffoldils are starting to peek through the ground. Spring is so close I can feel it in my bones. However, already the weather is starting to fire up and bad storms are sweeping across the country. So far we here in eastern Nebraska have dodged the bad weather but other parts of the country are getting blasted with freezing rain, ice, and snow. The southern part of the country is ripe for tornadoes again this year. We are in a very volatile weather cycle for sure.

I was wondering how you will cook down your tree sap into syrup? My understanding is that it takes quite a lot of cooking to get the sap into syrup. You are correct in thinking that even if your year of sap collection only produces one bottle of syrup, it's still worth the effort and satisfaction from knowing that you did it. Good luck with all your homestead learning experiences. said...

@ karmacoy -- thanks, lady! You inspire me too, friend. xo

@ David -- it's hard to hold back when there are so many fun projects to try! But while I'm usually great at starting something, like you, it's the doing and finishing that sometimes trips me up.
As for cooking down the sap -- we're going to collect more and then cook it down old-style over an open fire. We could use a shallow pan or a pot, and we're going with the latter (simply because that's what we could source easily and cheaply this time of year). I've been tempted to play with this small amount of sap and boil it down inside, but as it takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup, that's a huge amount of water vapour, even with a dehumidifier going. We'll see... and stay tuned!

Mama Pea said...

I've also read one reason you shouldn't boil down the sap inside is that it produces ideal conditions for mold to form in the house. And nobody needs that!

You're trying to do too much, m'dear. But even though I've got almost 30 years on you, I'm still trying to do too much, too. :o\ And am still suffering from the same feelings of inadequacy. As soon as I figure out how "to do" this life, I'll let you know. ;o} said...

@ Mama Pea -- I've also read that about mould -- yech! Though if you need to strip wallpaper, boiling down map sap is apparently the way to make that happen faster!
It's so funny, in a tragic sort of way, that you talk about feeling 'not enough' when I look at all the wonderful things you do and think, 'how does she do it?' Sigh.
Here's to all of us "being enough."

Jacqui said...

I am always comparing myself to others and feeling inadequate. i read another blog last week about tapping trees and making syrup and felt bad that I wouldn't be able to do this. It seemed so essential to my ideals. So crazy when I live a whole ocean away from any sugar bush - lol. Relax - breathe and we'll get there - wherever that is. And you have sap!

Linda J. Spencer said...

Hey Fiona - you are enough! And so is what you do. As long as you are happy doing what you're doing it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks.So no need to compare. Happiness comes from within.

On making maple syrup - just add a few more buckets each year. My family has been producing maple syrup for generations. It takes 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup. So, yes, that will create a lot of humidity in your home if you're boiling it down on the stove. But I wouldn't worry about it on such a small scale. If you were collecting gallons, I would suggest at least boiling it down outside on a propane burner. Have fun with it and enjoy the fruits of your labour. Happy maple season! said...

@ Jacqui -- I had to smile because you're another one of those women (like mama pea) who (to me) looks to have it all together -- even when you're writing about a life challenge! Thanks for your kind words and encouragement.

@ Linda -- lovely to hear from you! And thank YOU for the kind words! I am getting better at not comparing -- at least I realize how often I do it! Good advice on adding some more buckets each year. We're definitely going to mark trees this fall, so we'll have a roadmap for next tapping season. I didn't know your family produce maple syrup -- so neat! And I wasn't too serious about making it inside. We're going to start old school over an open fire, though as we heat our home with wood, I know how time consuming that may become. The propane burner is a good alternative -- thank you!

Erin said...

Congratulations! We all fall in that trap of comparing ourselves to others, but just revel in this new adventure and skill you have right now!

The Hungry Crafter said...

Hi Fiona,
I'm a relatively new subscriber, and just wanted to say hello! It's comforting to know that I'm not alone in the struggling with always wanting to do MORE and looking at others' accomplishments... A natural human reaction, I suppose, that we just need to learn how to manage so it doesn't overwhelm us or make us feel bad.
In trying to learn not to bite off more than I can chew, I have two new goals for myself this summer: learn how to grill well and grow herbs outdoors. That's it! I'm making myself keep it to that! Well, the ongoing sewing projects will continue, of course, and I have been talking about learning to play the mandolin, and... sigh.

Karen said...

Hi Fiona!
Did you know that using that sap to make your morning tea is absolutely delish? Just the right hint of sweetness!
And that frozen layer, on top of the slushy, not so frozen stuff? It's mainly water! Taste it to compare. You can reduce your boiling down time by removing the frozen water.
See you Sunday! said...

@ Hungry Crafter -- hello! Thanks for introducing yourself. It's always lovely to connect with new folks. And thanks for sharing how you also always want to do more. I think your summer goals are awesome, and complementary (fresh herbs do wonders for grilled foods!)

@ Karen -- great idea for tea... yum! And good to know about the slush -- thanks! :)

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