The snow and cold this week seem like winter but maple trees know that spring is on the way. This year sap began flowing in mid-February, and we began the yearly ritual of turning their sap into maple syrup. So far 2011 has brought several short sap flows, separated by cold spells, when no sap flows.
The first step in making maple syrup is to tap the trees. To do this a small hole is drilled into the tree and a spile, a hollow metal tube with a hook to hang a bucket, is pounded into it. A covered bucket is hung from the spile to collect the sap.
When the nights are cold and the days are warm and sunny sap moves up and down the tree from the roots to the branches. Some of the sap, with its dissolved sugars, drips out of the hole through the spile and into the bucket.
When enough sap is collected we begin the process of concentrating the sugars by boiling away the water in the sap. Approximately 40 gallons of sap must be boiled down to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. It’s a time-consuming but welcome job as it is one of the first outdoor activities hearlding the coming spring and summer.
In a few weeks the buds will begin to swell, signaling the end of sap collection. With the swelling of buds the taste of the syrup changes and becomes unpleasant and we move on to other spring tasks.