Sap Season

Natalia collecting the sap from the first of the great old maples of the Nemeton.

Natalia collecting the sap from the first of the great old maples of the Nemeton.

We are well into the season for making maple syrup.  We don’t make a lot, just a couple gallons for our own use through the year.  We draw sap from several sugar maples around the homestead.  One is located along the north fence at Hedge Witch Hill.  Another is located along the trail to the Rusalka Wood.  Yet another is down near the Hollow Brook in the Firefly Meadow where the goats graze through the summer.  And several are near an artesian spring on the far west side of the homestead, a cluster of ancient maples we just call the Nemeton.

The Nemeton is the heaviest yielding site, but getting there at this time of year is a challenge. It means a tractor trip a half mile down to the southwest side of the homestead, then hiking in several hundred yards. The hike is normally no big deal, but at this time of year the snow is deep and crusted.  In most places the crust is hard enough to walk on, but it is treacherous, and there are plenty of places where we might break through and stumble.  The going is uphill and requires careful plodding.

Once there, gathering the sap is easy.  After gallons of sap are collected, there comes a very cautious hike back out, carefully stepping in the footfalls we made on the way in so we walk only on known snow. This helps us avoid stumbling and spilling the precious sap. Buckets are carried low so that if we do fall, we can press them instantly into the snow so they don’t spill. Then we cross the Hollow Brook and use the tractor to carry the sap back to the cottage for straining before it goes into the cauldron.

It takes about three days to boil down 35 liters of sap into a single liter of syrup.  Making three gallons of syrup takes the better part of a month, presuming the weather stays right.  For the sap to be good, it must stay cool–just a couple degrees above freezing is ideal.  And the sap flows best when the sun’s out.  Warmer weather will cause the trees to bud, and the moment they begin to leaf out the sap becomes bitter and unusable.  Normally, our sap season would be over by now but a late, heavy snowfall about two weeks ago bought us several more weeks of sap season.

Now and then we collect sap from birches, too, but this year we decided to focus on productivity.  Birches yield wonderful sap but it takes more than twice as much to make an equivalent amount of syrup.

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