Ian placing tap

Every weekend from late February through the end of March, we’re pretty much focused on one thing–making maple syrup. We start by hauling out our sugaring supplies, giving our sap-collecting containers a thorough cleaning, and making a trip to the hardware store to replace tubing or for additional taps. Then we watch the weather, and as soon as we’ve had a few warm-ish (well, warm for February, anyway) days, we get the trees tapped and the sap containers placed.  The boys love this part, as they get lots of time with the drill and the hammer in hand.   Shortly after, it invariably snows and gets cold again, and we wonder whether we tapped too early.  But I’m coming to see that perhaps this questioning is just part of the process–knowing when the sap is running, and when to tap, is never an exact science–or if it is, I certainly haven’t figured it out.  We just do the best we can–by feeling the weather, watching the trees (during those warm days, shortly before we tapped, one of our maples was literally dripping sap from it’s various nooks and crannies–clearly it was time!), and listening to the word around town.  Just paying attention, really.

When the weather warms up again and the sap starts flowing in earnest, we check the buckets every day, and swap out the sap containers when they’re full. Once we’ve collected about 25 gallons of sap, it’s time for our first boil, as that seems to be the maximum that we can boil down in a day.  We do our boiling in our driveway,  in  in a home-made, stainless steel evaporator pan, on an old barrel stove that Ben modified to accommodate the pan. On weekend days,  we get the stove going early in the morning.  We can’t go far, as our fire seems to need almost constant feeding to keep it hot enough, but during this short season I really enjoy the attention it takes–we all hang out, sometimes crowded around the stove drinking mugs of warm sap, sometimes doing our own thing in the barn or in the yard–but no matter what, the warmth of the fire continues to draw us back, together, many times throughout the day.  The boys kick a ball around the yard, sometimes family or friends stop by for a visit, Ben splits wood, and one weekend I got all of my potting soil mixed and my earliest seeds started while hanging out by the fire.  And speaking of splitting wood, Connor got to try his hand at that this year for the first time.  Using a small hatchet, Ben showed him how to split kindling.  He totally got the hang of it, and really did a great job.  And, as you might imagine, he was pretty excited to get to do this new grown-up kind of job.  By the end of the season this year, we’d collected and boiled down about 122 gallons of sap, and we ended up with about 3 gallons of syrup.  A lot of time for not a whole lot of syrup for sure, but now that we’ve been doing this for few years and have gotten into the rhythm of it, I wouldn’t have it any other way–when it comes down to it, I love our days sugaring together as a family almost as much as love the syrup itself.

ian putting tube in bucket