By Kylee Baumle
If I could name one thing that I enjoy most about gardening, it’s that it is a venue for always learning and experiencing something new. Become a gardener and you’ll never ever be bored. Even if you don’t like some of the activities that tending a garden involves (weeding, anyone?), the perpetual classroom in the great outdoors more than makes up for it.
I suppose there are people who don’t crave knowledge, maybe because they didn’t have a good experience trying to absorb facts in high school, so that they could pass their exams. But so much of life isn’t a test as much as it is learning at our own pace, in the subject matters of our choosing.
Gardening is more than planting seeds, hoeing weeds, and pruning shrubs. It’s an opportunity to see nature at work and the miracles that happen every day if we choose to slow down and observe them. It invariably leads us down related paths, such as watching the insects we encounter while harvesting the vegetables or hearing a bird song that we never noticed before while deadheading the perennials.
An example of related activities occurred for us in late winter and early spring this year, when my husband and I decided to take advantage of the fact that we have maple trees and live in a part of the country with a climate that allows us to tap them for sap.
We’ve been around for about six decades now and neither of us had ever even thought to do this before. I’m not sure why we didn’t, because much to our pleasure, we found the whole process to be quite easy and rewarding.
Several weeks ago, we made use of a tree-tapping kit that I was given at one of the trade shows I attended last summer. Using a 1/2-inch drill bit, we drilled a hole two inches deep into one of the larger maple trees we have (probably a silver maple), and immediately the sap began dripping down the side of the tree.
We inserted the spile (that’s what the tap is called) and hung a 2.5-gallon bucket on the attached hook below, to collect the sap as it dripped from the tree. In order for sap to flow, night temperatures need to be below freezing and day temperatures above freezing, creating pressure that causes the tree to draw up groundwater through the roots.
Sugar that the tree stored there the year before is added to the groundwater and then it’s delivered as nourishment to the branches and developing leaves.
If you’ve never tapped maple trees for their sap, you might be thinking that it’s golden and sticky, sort of like pine sap. But it’s clear and thin, just like water, and in its natural state, tastes like it too. It has a very slight sweetness to it, and it’s very healthy to drink it this way, due to its antioxidant qualities and the micronutrients it contains.
In my opinion though, one of the best things about maple sap is boiling it down into maple syrup. We did this in small batches on our stovetop, but because of the amount of steam the process gives off, it would be best to do it outside, if possible. We have a good exhaust fan over our stove that vents to the outside, so it works for us to process it inside.
The maple sap collecting season varies from year to year, both in length and in the sugar content of the sap. The length can be anywhere from two to six weeks long, depending on the weather. This year, the season, which has come to a close for us, lasted about four weeks. Sugar content varies from 1-4%, depending on the type of maple.
Trees need to be 12 inches in diameter before tapping and we tapped three trees. In the end, we collected 42 gallons of sap and ended up with 1.5 gallons of syrup. We’re calling it good and the spiles and buckets are now cleaned and stored for use again next year. The trees will repair the holes by then with no help needed from us, not even plugging.
Until then, we’ll enjoy the maple syrup - nectar of the gods, really. I think it tastes better than honey and I really like honey. If you have maple trees, you should try it.
Read Kylee’s blog, Our Little Acre, at www.ourlittleacre.com and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OurLittleAcre. Contact her at PauldingProgressGardener@gmail.com.