Tonight when I got home, I remembered that I had borrowed a couple of buckets and maple tree taps from my friend Ken. I have one maple tree on my property that is big enough to tap, and then… not quite.

A tree is supposed to be 10 inches in diameter before it is tapped. That means its circumference should be 31.415 inches, but we can call that 31.5 inches to be safe. Or we can run with scissors and say that 30⅞ inches is big enough, because that’s what I measured on my tree. There’s another nearby that might be big enough in a couple of years. It is clearly smaller than the first one I mentioned, which means I should leave it alone. And I did.

On the way into the woods, I notice some squirrel tracks in the snow. The snow is very wet and sloppy right now, and it’s holding tracks about as well as mud does. So these tracks were pretty clear. I could see the toe marks. So I put down the buckets, bits, brace, and taps and trudged back to the house to get my camera. I took several pictures of these crystal clear squirrel tracks. Nice.

Cyrstal clear squirrel print in snow

Cyrstal clear squirrel print in snow

Then I made my way to my maple “grove” (and I use that term generously – two trees makes for a mighty small grove). Those are, of course, not the only two trees I have – they are just the only big maples I have. There are plenty of red oaks out there too, but I don’t think you can get syrup from those, or we would have heard about it. I also have a lot of white pines. Their sap might be good for turpentine, but not so good for pancakes. We’ll just leave them be.

I bored a hole and drove in the tap. Then I went to hang the bucket on the tap, but had forgotten to slip the bucket-hanger on the tap before I drove it into the tree. Oops. So I tried to pry it out. But I didn’t have a hammer (I had driven it in with my brace, which is decidedly not what a brace is for). So I went to the basement and got a claw hammer. With that, I was able to easily remove the tap. I slipped the hook’s ring on the tap and drove it back in the hole. But I was not able to drive it in as deep as the ring prevented that. So the tap wanted to slip out. That’s not such a great thing if you’re trying to hang a bucket on it, especially if the bucket fills with sap. Last year, when we tapped Ken’s trees, one of the taps did pull out, and of course it was full of sap at that point. Not wanting a repeat performance, I went back to the basement again and got some cable ties. Five of them girdled the tree nicely, and should prevent the tap from pulling out. While I was fooling with all this, the tree had drained several tablespoons of sap into the bucket. It is flowing quite heavily. I’ll have to check it before I go to the office in the morning, as it could well have overflowed by then.

Once I have some sap, I’ll have to boil it down. You hafta boil it down by a factor of 30 or 40. In other words, 30 or 40 gallons of sap make one gallon of syrup. Ken says you can expect about a quart of syrup per tap, so I guess I’ll get about 7-10 gallons of sap out of my tree. We’ll see.

Once I had finished tapping my tree, I went ahead and hiked around the trail I had blazed though the woods last summer. I also saw some more tracks out in the woods. Maybe they are chipmunk tracks, but I’m not sure. Chippies hibernate in the winter, but they may have stirred by now. The tracks were about right anyhow. The snow is still quite deep out there – I’m guessing 18″. In several places my boot tracks filled with water a couple inches deep. It is going to be a very wet spring.

Good news is that the city dumped some gravel on the road in front of our house. That should make it somewhat passable. Speaking of which, when I got my car back yesterday, the mechanic told me that the wheels were filled with an enormous amount of mud. No surprise there, and it’s also no mystery where all that mud came from.