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.
I’ve been getting all of my ducks in a row these past few weeks. Since we tapped the trees 2 weeks ago, I have been stacking wood, cleaning tools, organizing equipment…and waiting for the sap to flow. And waiting some more. Since that week of sunny days with above average highs, the temperatures have dropped again (and I dare say plummeted last night to -15° Celsius with a wind-chill of -25°Celcius). Needless to say I’m antsy; I want to have a boiling day! I’ve been keeping myself occupied by double-checking that all of our equipment is in order, and doing beekeeping research (a story for another day). In particular we’ve been fine-tuning our sap-transportation process. Since the RTV has mini-caterpillar tracks on it meant for getting around in the bush now, it’s inefficient to be driving it back and forth to the house to empty the 50 gallon collecting tank out. I purchased a bigger tank (over twice the size at 125 gal) this winter that we will situate in the truck bed instead. So we will be dumping the buckets into the RTV tank, pumping sap from the RTV tank to the one in the truck, driving the truck to the sugar shack and then pumping the sap from the truck tank to the holding tank outside the sugar shack. We mulled over the best way to do this given the equipment that we already own and settled on purchasing an additional pump to leave in the second collecting tank for the season. Getting the proper sized fittings and tubing and quick connects has been a trial. At Canadian Tire and then at Home Depot we went in search for the correctly sized brass fittings – no dice. They had male 1/2 inch converter for garden hose, and a female 3/4 inch for vinyl tubing. Plastic and pvc but not brass. I reined in my compulsion to pull my hair out in frustration. The only purchase that resulted from that excursion was garden seeds for pretty flowers. We finally accepted that the most reasonable and economical solution is to duplicate the system that we already have instead of buying additional converters to fit the extra tube that we have lying around. Meaning, we simply need to buy more tubing with the right inner diameter. Big sigh.
November 13 – This year’s first snowfall is underway. Beautiful day today, about -3 and sunny; the grass is still green. Outside, with the sun beaming on my face I obliviously thought ‘for this time of year that sure is a lot of pollen floating through the air’. I then continued about my business. It took about 10 minutes before I stopped short and put two and two together, realizing that those white clusters drifting through the air were snow clusters.
I am proud to announce my maple butter won first place at the Carp Fair! There was plenty of competition in the syrup categories. I scoped out what the winners syrup looked like in each category. They were all about a shade lighter than mine so I conclude that I should have entered all of my syrups a grade lower: my extra light should have been in the light category, light in the medium category etc.. Live and learn, now I know for next year. As I’ve got time now I’m revisiting my list of improvements to make for next year. Two weeks ago AJ and I built a folding shelf under a window in the sugar shack. Today we bought some hardware to attach some cement slabs to the wall in the corner so we can safely tuck the finishing unit in closer to the wall. Mundane tasks I know, but the hope is they will make our process more efficient when the time comes. Only 4 months to go!