Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tapping the trees

Saturday marked our first time tapping the trees in 'the old sugar bush'. To get there you must first walk through the big hayfield towards the south-east corner of our farm, a crossing made easier by our snowshoes, which have had little use in this wet but mild winter.

It was my favourite kind of winter day, cold but sunny, with a healthy base of snow (thanks to Friday's storm), which felt dense and solid under our footfalls. We walked single file through the outskirts of the forest stand, with its mix of young maples, evergreens and sumac.

The cedars gave way to the oak trees and then rounding a corner we passed into the part of the woods populated by some sugar maples. We had a hazy sense of which trees were maples, but without any leaves we couldn't be 100% sure.

While we'd meant to mark the trees last fall, we didn't, and the monochromatic winter forest is markedly different from its green and leafy warm weather persona -- it's more quiet and reserved.

Undeterred, or just plain stubborn, we located two of the trees that we'd eye-marked last weekend based on what we thought was classic maple bark design, and decided we'd hang just two buckets here. I've come to appreciate that book learning can only take you so far; the true teachable moments come from experience.

We drilled the first spile...

...and hung the first bucket.

The lid barely had time to close before the kids clammered around, looking to see the first sap flow. But the trees were still sleeping on this cold morning.

While the kids and Lucas searched for suitable trees on the other side of the trail (to hedge our bets in case we'd misidentified the first two) I remembered one special maple that I'd found last summer .

I know so little of the history of our farmstead, so when I first learned about 'the old sugar bush' during an unexpected visit last August from a woman who told me she was "born here 70 years ago", I checked the sugar maple tree trunks for some evidence of their productive past.

I found only one spile scar. At the time I was disappointed, but this day it was enough.

I used that same scar as a map (of sorts) to show us where to hang two more buckets

Nature has much to teach us if we open our eyes and look -- with a little help from those that came before us.


Mama Pea said...

Very cool! Be sure to keep us updated on your maple sap gathering. We also have a lot of maple trees in our area but unfortunately, nary a one on our property. :o(

David said...

We have maple trees here in the midwest but not the kind that would produce the sap needed for maple syrup. There's no snow here and we just had the greatest spring thunder storm today. The kind that sounds, smells, and feels so good after winter.

Have a great tree tapping day.

Marina said...

Thanks for such an interesting post! I've never met someone who actually collect sap.Very impressive. I'll be back to see what's next!

Fiona said...

@Mama Pea -- thanks! We think it's pretty cool, too. I'll for sure keep you posted -- I already have a post lined up for tomorrow!

@ Dave -- oh, I love spring thunder storms! I'm so looking forward to those, though the weatherman says we've got more freezing rain and/or snow coming. What a weird winter this has been.

@ Marina -- thanks! We're pretty excited about it too, even though we're doing it on a micro scale compared to some folks around here. But yes, please stay tuned!

Erin said...

awww, this is a very sweet post, and so true! Can't wait to see your buckets! Birch syrup is awesome too, do you have many of them? You are so right about how different the forest looks in winter...

Fiona said...

@ Erin -- thanks! And I haven't tried birch syrup yet, though a local farmer makes it ever year. I was going to try tapping some birch too this year -- we have quite a number of beautiful trees and there's no mistaking that bark -- but I didn't want to take on too much. It's on next year's to do list though!

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