March 6, 2010

Sugaring Season

Today has been a spectacular very-early-spring day, with bright sun and mild air. I spent an hour on the porch, lying down on the floorboards, protected from wind, soaking up the light. It felt like full spring, warm and clear, with the only sound the wind blowing in the trees. It was a perfect day for the maple sap to be running––temperatures above freezing, after a frosty night––into old fashioned buckets or through plastic tubing. In the photo above, taken at a neighbor's house, you can see the holes from previous years of tapping. Each year, the ritual of maple sugaring is a paean to spring, and to the bounty of the land around us.

Plastic tubing, beautiful with its array of color drawing linear designs on the gray-brown bark, catching the light, is now the preferred way to collect sap, unless you're tapping just a few trees. The tubing, which is set up to flow downhill, collects the sap in a tank, saving a great deal of labor. If you look carefully at the image above, you can see the sap about 1/2 way up the blue tubing.

I could see the sap flowing through the 1/2 inch sky-blue tubing, creating bubbles on its way.

And here is a modern tap; in years past, metal taps were used, and wood before that. After collecting, the sap must be boiled: 10 gallons of sap yielding only a quart of syrup, a delicious, heavenly essence.


  1. Fascinating. I have never thought about how maple syrup is produced. I live in Perth Western Australia where we have just had a record hot summer, only 0.2mm of rain for the whole summer months. We have had a couple of days of slightly cooler weather, about 26 degrees celsius, giving us a hint of autumn, although we are returning to a few days of 35 degree celsius heat again next week.

  2. I've read about the record heat in Australia, Pamela Anne. Here in the US, climate change deniers are all aflutter because of the record snows on the east coast, caused by climate change: there's lots more moisture in the atmosphere, causing the snow. New patterns of drought and rainfall are occurring all over.

    If you click on the link above, in the first paragraph, for "maple sugaring", you'll get some good info about the process at Wikipedia.

  3. Thanks for this visual treat. Last week I cleared the snow off my deck in anticipation of the weather man's promise. Yesterday I lay on the clean winter-cleansed boards and soaked up the sun. In March!

  4. Wonderful to see this Altoon!
    I had a Canadian friend who described something of the process - no visuals though this is fascinating! Id love to be in the kitchen or where-ever the sap is boiled!

    Maple Syrup is quite pricey here...but so delicious! Its more a treat!
    I feel I have been missing all sorts of interesting things not getting to visit this past week! I deliberately avoided the computer so I could get other things done!

    You are probably just starting Sunday as I go now to bed!
    Have a good week!

  5. so - is sap like the blood of the tree and this process is like blood letting? or is sap more like milk and this process is milking a tree?

  6. Sophie, sap is boiled in a small outbuilding called a sugar house; it needs many hours of boiling to make syrup.

    and rapp, I think the sap would be more equivalent to the blood of the tree, in that the sugars in it are used to grow leaves and twigs in spring. When the buds begin to swell, the sap is no longer good tasting. Taking some sap from the tree doesn't hurt it if care is taken not to put more taps in one tree than it can handle, usually figured out by the tree's diameter. The hole is used for only one year, then it is allowed to heal and a new hole drilled the following year.

    Every once in a while I think I should tap my few sugar maples, but then I say, nah, too much work.