Summer is finally just around the corner, the veggie garden is planted and I am daydreaming of the plump tomatoes they will yield in the weeks to come. Though to many maple syrup season may be a thing of the past, or too far into next year to bother thinking about for some people it is what is on my mind. In the off-season maintaining a healthy sugarbush is as important as syrup production in the spring – there will be less sap to harvest in years to come if we do not perform seasonal upkeep. Walking through the forest I make mental notes, identify strong, healthy tree stands; plot additional collection routes; tag trees for removal. Though they may seem mundane these tasks are important to a healthy sugar-bush.
Upon first blush tagging trees for removal may seem counter-productive to the beginner sugarer, especially precious maple trees; maple sap comes from maple trees so why would anyone in their right mind want to take them out? What I’ve learned over the past few years from attending workshops, courses, and repeated walks in the bush with a seasoned land owner is that selectively cutting trees in a stand can indeed benefit the overall health of a forest, even a sugaring operation that depends on harvesting sap from maple trees. Take a lone tree in an open area that is in well-drained soil and has lots of sun exposure for instance. You will see it many strong branches and an abundance of leaves (known as the ‘crown’). That large crown will photosynthesize much more sunlight than a tree with a small crown. Photosynthesis promotes growth by taking sunlight + water + CO2 and converting them into O2 and sugar, meaning the more sunlight a tree gets, the more photosynthesis that is likely to take place, the bigger the canopy and root system grow. Now imagine flipping that tree horizontally so that the crown is facing down; this is what size the tree’s root system should be approximately. In other words the size of the crown is roughly the size of the root system. Apply this principle to a tree in a densely crowded forest: a tree that is crowded or gets very little sunlight has limited crown growth, meaning it’s root growth is limited as well. Since the root system is where the water is absorbed from the ground in the warmer months, and where over the winter the tree stores the sugars needed to feed itself and grow come springtime, crowded trees do not have as big of a sugar reserve, hence they produce less sap. By selectively cutting damaged trees, weed trees, or even an overcrowded area, one opens up the forest canopy, letting the sunlight touch leaves, encourage photosynthesis, foster crown and root growth. The more vigorous the growth, the better the sap flow! Over the summer I will continue to meander through the woods, observe and note.