ABOVE: Kate Michaud Photography - Paris, Maine
Winter feels a lot longer when you become a gardener and keeper of livestock. The sunshine months are when everything just glitters. Thankfully, we do get some glimmers of hope come late winter/early Spring here in Maine. Our lot provided us with some excellent maples that have been top notch for early Spring tree tapping!
When the days start to get warmer, and then cool way back down at night, it is time to tap the trees.
You will need a hammer, drill, large drill bit, maple tree taps, and buckets (traditional metal ones, plastic, or makeshift!). You can find kits or pieces and parts at your local Tractor Supply store, or online!
Identify your maple trees, and then pick a spot on the tree and aim the drill with the large bit at a slightly upward tilted angle, and drill towards the center/core of the tree.
Back the drill bit out, and wait a few seconds. You should see clear liquid come rolling out of the tree (not a gush, but a few dribbles). No luck? You might wish to try a different spot on the tree, or drill a little deeper. If nothing is coming out after a few minutes, then move on to another tree. Thankfully, the trees do heal from this process before the following season. The next year, you may see a wooden "cork" where you drilled the hole the year prior.
At this time, grab your tap set ups, and hammer them into the hole. Make sure it is in there firmly, so nothing shakes loose on you. It would be a shame to waste any of that liquid gold!
Attach your bucket using the hooks that usually come with the taps, or using an old wire coat hanger if you have one kicking around. Zip ties can work in a pinch, too.
We have a few of the traditional metal buckets, but we also use growlers - they seem to be a good fit. We have also used the bag style in the past, and even gallon-sized milk jugs.
Once the sap buckets are set, we wait, and let nature run its course. If husbandry has taught us anything, it is to trust. Trust Mother Nature to provide, trust the trees to flow, trust the seasons to change and have faith in all of it, much like we keep faith and trust in one another (see, I told you we were sappy).
We continue sap collection for a couple of weeks and then it's time to boil it down in preparation for Maine Maple Sunday!
What does one do with all that syrup though?
Well, aside from eating mounds of pancakes and waffles every weekend, here are some ideas:
Use it as an alternative to sugar in your coffee, or for sweetening pies and other baked goods, mix it into butter for maple butter on toast or rolls, make candy, add it to baked beans, pour it over vanilla ice cream - you could even brew a beer with the raw sap (not evaporated).
Don't be fooled by the above statement, however - it takes a LOT of sap to yield a fair amount of syrup. Stay tuned for further sapping posts, and we will share what we were able to yield this year, and just how much sap it took!