how sweet it is – first time tapping

2015-04-25 12.16.14o how sweet is spring!  the days have softened and our first tapping season is over.

first big thought is man, those trees are humbling.  tapping connects the person to the tree as well as the tree to a bucket.  trees are big, and strong and beautiful.  they are alive.  they provide shade and cover.  they produce carbon dioxide we breathe.

that thought is as simple as day follows night, and it is astonishing. more astonishing that wi-fi.  and the sap is ambrosia.

the idea to tap was generated in 2014 at the Friends of Pippy Park tapping demo, and galvanized at the Maple Tapping workshop with Lisa and Steve McBride in February. detailed how-to here.

owen the teenaged boy was chief tapping guy, and we started around the third week in March.  we looked at bark and branches, found out which way was south, and felt the life in the tree as we touched it. so much life that drilling the hole felt uncomfortable.   respectfully, we tapped four trees, a silver maple (imported by a neighbour 40 odd years ago from Moncton, NB), one on our street, one in the garden, and one on LeMarchant Road.  owen was collector for the nearby trees.   Nina and Jerome tended the tree on LeMarchant.

the first boil up took a day indoors on the stove and yielded about a cup of syrup.  (square bottle, top left).  filtering was a challenge as I was using a coffee filter, but the filter took too much.  i double sieved it, thus (I think) the cloudiness.

the second boil took two days indoors on the stove, and yielded almost a liter of syrup (second bottle from left).  it was strained through a double sheet of cheesecloth and a sieve.  during this boil i became concerned about the steam.  even with the fan on and the windows open, the house felt like a big damp sponge.  add in thoughts about poor use of water, time and energy in transforming 20 liters of water to steam and the project needed a re-jig.   a conversation with Maggie Kieley about her success in freezing sap encouraged  me to try another idea.

the third boil (third from left) was done on a propane tank outdoors and filtered through cheesecloth and a sieve.  it was a huge batch… maybe 25 liters, and it yielded more than a liter of the darkest sap.  it took a full tank of propane, and it took three days. it was a step toward the freeze method.  at that time it was still freezing on many days (as well as nights), so we didn’t boil what was frozen. it improved efficiency/reduced boiling time, but it felt wrong to throw out the sap.

the fourth boil (far right) was done on a propane tank outdoors. it took a couple of hours, sieved through a t-shirt-like cotton, and yielded the lightest colour syrup   it was a bit of eureka boil.  after collecting the sap we froze it, and boiled the first half (or so) of what melted.  (we used a weird drip method whereby the frozen container was put upside down in a very large spouted bowl.  there is something about the way sugar freezes that may yield higher concentrations if poured this way.).  when the rest of sap melted, we saved it for drinking.  lovely with a whisper of sweet at the end.  it’s probably very good for the body.
11149657_10155500401170710_5527849448356942213_oon the day it got warm we removed the taps. sooner than necessary as it turned out.  the trees looked bare, and with nothing to catch the sap, you could easily imagine that the tree was crying so we stopped the leaking with a dowel. bad idea it turns out.  new information from experienced tappers says that’s not the way to go:  best to let the sap flow as long as it flows.   keep collecting the sap as long as it’s clear, but if it’s cloudy, the fermentation process is starting to happen.  the literature says that the tree will heal by the end of the summer (photo at right is a healed tree).  place next year’s tap several inches away.

between now and then we will share and revere the syrup.  people often say something doesn’t taste as good if you cook it yourself, but this doesn’t hold true for maple syrup. all the shades are gorgeous to see and taste.   it’s explosive and gentle at the same time, silky and sticky, powerful and soft, a mix of two opposites.   kind of like the tree.

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Tree Tapping & Maple Sapping

Steve McBride, Backyard Maple Syrup, Pippy Parkfull crew on board at the Suncor Fluvarium Wednesday night for the Tapable Trees workshop!  all hands checking out how to tap the maple trees and make their own sweet maple syrup.

the session was held by Friends of Pippy Park and led by Steve and Lisa McBride, the homesteading duo with the goats, frequently found on the trail in Waterford Valley and on facebook’s Backyard Farming & Homesteading .

it’s all looking very very good because:

  • 51% of the tree population in St. John’s area are maple
  • maple trees with a diameter of greater than 10″ are tappable
  • tapping gear is low maintenance.  a drill to set the hole, a hammer to drive the tap in, a tap (not plastic says Steve), and a bucket.
  • sap starts running when the nights are freezing and the days are not.  usually around early march (steve & lisa will post when they start – a  bit into march most likely)
  • the season here is fairly long – 5-6 weeks

details, how-tos and more on Root Cellars Rock.

20150224_191757as well as a supply of home-made syrup, the thing with the tapping, according to Steve, is that it gets you in tune with the goings-on in natural environment.  like, right now, under the snow, the trees are coming to life and getting ready to send sap to the branches and leaves. (who knew?  St. John’s spring seemed to happen in two or three days in june!).

there were lots of questions, a couple of practice drills, and an exodus of people excited about hanging buckets from trees all over St. John’s this spring! is a non-profit that informs and inspires people in Newfoundland and Labrador on ways to address the challenges facing our planet, our communities, and our lives.  like and share!

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