Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Not this year

The buckets stand in a corner of the barn.
The trees stand in the yard.

Any other year at this time, as the sap begins to flow, the preparations for making maple syrup begin.
On a bright, still, mild day, we rinse the cobwebs from the buckets, drill the holes in the Sugar Maples, and hammer in the spouts.
For the next few weeks, the buckets hang.
The sap flows.
And I recall my grandfather’s Vermont farm.

The arch is set up on the gravel drive--of concrete blocks 2 rows high, that support the evaporating pan and a stovepipe chimney. For just one day, we will boil the colorless, sugary liquid, from dawn till dark--everything we’ve collected and carefully stored. The clouds of steam billow from the surface, gradually revealing the prized amber remainder.
The following day, on the stove indoors, the syrup is finished--brought to the proper density and sealed in jars.
It is just enough for one year.

This year we’ve decided to let our trees rest. Although sugaring isn’t harmful to healthy trees, last year’s extreme drought and the unusually high temperatures in this southern region caused the few Sugar Maples remaining on this property to drop their leaves before fall.

The extreme weather, an annoyance to so many, touched every living thing--
burning and choking these sweet trees that have stood with the old house for so many years.
I hope they are strong.

And, as I tentatively watch each day for an indication of what’s in store for the coming months, my prayer is,
“Not this year.”

Last year sugaring

Stumble Upon Toolbar


MojoMan said...

Your restraint seems so kind and wise. If our climate starts to change, as predicted, sugar maples will likely be one of the first victims.

On a good year, how many taps do you have and how much syrup can you bottle?

Mary said...


Your decision is a hard one. Better for your trees, perhaps. I can resonate here. I'm worried about giving butterflies and hummingbirds a place to linger. "Not this year". So true.

That's a sweet photo of your lovely home.

Adele said...

It's probably a good decision if the trees are under some stress already. Let us hope that the weather this year is kinder to them.

possumlady said...

Oh, you are so lucky and so wise. Good idea to give them a rest this year. I LOVE everything maple! A few years back I drove up to around Thurmont, Maryland (northwestern Maryland in the mountains) to a Maple Sugar Festival in March. I was in heaven. Do you ever make Maple Creme? I can eat that straight from the jar--in fact, that is all I ever do. It never seems to make it on toast.

Kathiesbirds said...

Nina, I found you from Mary's View. What a lovely blog! I love the quote by Whitman. I love vermont maple syrup and maple sugar candy! Nice memories. Don't miss the cold and gray, though. Does remembering the flowers help you make it through? A warm woodstove always helped me when I lived in the northwoods.

KGMom said...

The extreme weather is hard on trees--too much heat, too little water.
Even stalwart trees need rest.
I read an article recently that distressed me--it seems tree thieves have cut down swaths of sugar maples somewhere in New England--not their trees, but they wanted to wood. So they cut down & stole it. Awful--to kill mature sugar maples!

Annie in Austin said...

Hello Nina,

Thank you for leaving a comment at my blog - I'm enjoying your encounters with nature in Ohio. I hope that while the maple trees are on sabbatical they'll also get a break in weather and live on to bring sweetness to your life.

Can you still hear the gnawing sound? Good luck on settling that encounter with nature!

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Yolanda Elizabet said...

Wishing you lots of rain so that the Maple trees can grow strong again. A wise decision not to take the sap from them now that they are less strong! But how wonderful to be able to tap your own maple syrup from your own trees. We don''t have that around here.

BTW thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment on my blog!

Sandpiper said...

I love this time when the sap starts to flow. I drive down the country roads near my home and see the buckets on the trees, just waiting. I know then, that spring is just around the corner.

robin andrea said...

It does sound like a wise decision to let your sugar maples rest after a stressful year. I hope this year is good to those trees, and they are replenished and reinvigorated.

RuthieJ said...

I have a couple of maple trees in my yard that I think would be big enough to tap this year. I have heard you can even use the sap from box elder trees. Any thoughts on this Nina?
And where would be a good place for me to find the utensils for collecting sap?

Nature Nut /JJ Loch said...

What a lovely post and photos. I enjoyed your maple syrup adventures.

Hugs, JJ

nina said...

My grandfather's farm continues to this day under the care of my cousins. Though the generations have spread this family around the globe, I sometimes wonder if I have sap in my veins!

Mojoman--on a "good year" we make about 2 gallons--not a lot, but with only 3 trees, each has 2 taps--and we collect about 60-80 gallons of sap. The storage until we can boil it is the constraint--this warm climate makes it hard to keep large amounts of sap cool, and unspoiled until we're ready to boil. And boiling is a time-consuming, careful task, that we do once the trees are done.

Mary--Yes, last year was hard for YOU, too--and no doubt your worries for a repeat are very real. I may try to add more water sources for that reason.

Adele--Yes, the maples suffer with the heat--as I'm sure some other northen species do, too...pines....I worry that we'll lose some of those that live on this border between "northern" and "southern"

Possumlady--I've never had maple cream, but if we have a surplus, we make "sugar on snow"--heated syrup to softball candy stage and drizzled onto a pan of snow to solidify it.....yum, oh, and a pickle to crunch!

Kathiesbirds--I love to look back at the memories of summer--and sit my the woodstove.

KGmom--sugar maples just can't get a break! Acid rain,...

Annie--the gnawing seems to have quited for this week--hmmmm

Yolanda--we've always looked for a home with sugar maples...it's a part of my heritage I want to continue.

Sandpiper--I love the look of buckets, too--we're the only ones around here to do this, so every once in a while a car slows to watch--an occurrence from another time.

Robin Andrea--I'm just guessing at the connection--and hoping that this year, when they leaf out, they'll be strong!

Ruthiej--Box Elder is a maple and does have sap, but not as much or as sweet as the sugar maple. Many trees can be tapped--just not as successfully as the sugar maple's product. You can experiment... We got our buckets from an operation going out of business. Plastic milk jugs can be used, if it's just a one-time experiment, though the buckets look so much prettier hanging in the yard! Taps are available through online country stores.
The evaporating pan is another story. Ours was custom made, 2' by 4'--a manageable size for private operation and easily set up and dismantled in the driveway every season.
Boiling indoors generates far too much steam.
Good luck! It sounds like(and IS) a lot of work, but well worth it!

Anonymous said...

I suppose it's a wise decision to let the trees rest this year... How sad that we have to... I love maple syrup.

RuthieJ said...

Thanks for the information, Nina. I'm going to check into it. If it works out, I may get to blog about it in a few weeks.....

nina said...

winterwoman--I love it, too, the dog won't eat anything else, either

ruthiej--great, your cooler area will probably have a better future for these trees, you may find this becomes an annual happening!