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.
Fall is in the air. The cold descends at night, coating outside in a crisp, white veil of frost. A deceptive way of introducing colder temperatures and preparing us for winter. Still, fall invigorates me; I convert garden produce into a variety of edibles and delights. Tomatoes into salsa, cucmbers into pickles, horseradish roots into, well horseradish. And the list goes on. Tomatoes I find very versatile. From salsa and chutney to tomato sauce, tomatoes are the base for such a diversity of foods. Last year, with the garden abounding in tomatoes, I tried my hand at making sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil. While I only got one 500 mL jar from about 5 lbs of tomatoes, each morsel exploded with flavor and tasted out of this world. This year the tomato plants didn’t fare as well and I didn’t have enough to make everything I wanted to. And this year someone in the family planted potatoes. (Personally, I didn’t really want to do potatoes because I didn’t want to be the one digging them up but I digress…kind of). Now the planter is 8 months pregnant and has been ordered on bed rest so it looks like I’ll be the one digging them up after all. She planted them along a fence. In a field. I know where the field is, and I know where the fence is, but that is the extent of it. I’m begrudgingly going to dig up the ones I can find today before the frost turns them all into mush. If it hasn’t already. For many people around these parts Fall means time for the Carp Fair, a local tradition. The Carp Fair is both gardeners’ and farmers’ chance to display their pride and joy – their livestock, their produce, and their preserving abilities. This year I’m entering hot salsa, my maple syrup, maple butter, and a stuffed baby toy (knitted stuffed caterpillar) I made for my brother’s soon-to-be-newborn. (I have a sinking suspicion that if I were to sneak up on Mike and his baby spending quality nap time together, I’d find Mike snuggling with the caterpillar instead of the baby 🙂 ). I had my tags printed off earlier in the week and I’m submitting my entries tonight. They will be judged tomorrow. I don’t mean to boast or anything but my maple syrup is pretty fantastic – it’s got good clarity, color, outstanding flavor. The only thing I’m unsure about is the density. Thick maple syrup is what I grew up on, what I consider to be the standard. But I’ve heard others say that runnier maple syrup with a more delicate flavor is considered to be better. And I think I’m going to have some pretty stiff competition. There are a number of well-seasoned maple sugarers around these parts who know a lot more about making maple syrup than me. I guess I’ll have to wait and see. If it turns out runnier is what they want all the better; next year I’ll draw the syrup off earlier and run less risk of my pans foaming over 😛
Usually by this time of year the sun is blazing in all it’s glory. The garden abounding with beans, tomatoes, zucchini and the like, the lawn turning an attractive mustard, burnt color, Ahhh the heat. That is certainly not the case this year. Due to the late spring this season’s harvest seems delayed – by a lot. Both the tomato plants I started from seed in January, as well as the tomato plants that I bought in May have only yielded a handful of produce this year, whereas in other years there have been grocery bags full of ruby red tomatoes of all sizes by this time. After hearing newscasters this winter and spring go on and on about a ‘polar vortex’ that was taking place, and predicting milder temperatures in the coming months I was skeptical. It sounded a bit made up to me, I may have even scoffed a little. Well, it’s time for me to eat my words of disbelief, they may be the only things to ripen this year.