Tonight after I got home I strapped on my snowshoes and headed into our wood lot. On the way, I grabbed a syrup bucket, a maple tree tap, my brace and bit, and a hatchet. I would have gotten a hammer instead of the hatchet, but it was in the basement, and I was already wearing snowshoes. I did not want to try the stairs with 42″ feet, and I didn’t want to take the snowshoes off, only to put them on again.

On the way into the woods, Beth caught up with me. She didn’t know where my one maple tree was, so she followed. I bored a 7/16″ hole into the southeast side of the trunk, about an inch and a half deep. Then I drove the tap into it with the butt of the hatchet. Then I got the hook that holds the bucket and realized… oops. It’s supposed to slip around the tap before I drive the tap into the tree. So I levered the tap back out, slipped the ring in place, and drove it in again. Then I hung the bucket on the hook and remembered that I left the lid in the garage.

While I was in the garage retrieving the lid, I hung the hatchet back up on the wall where it belongs. Then back out to the tree to secure it in place.

Syrup bucket with lid, hanging on the tap.

Syrup bucket with lid, hanging on the tap.

While we were out there, Beth asked me how I could tell a maple from other types of trees. In this case I knew, because I found that particular tree in the summer when it was in full leaf. They are much easier to identify then, but they can also be identified in the winter. I showed her how the twigs grow out from the branches:

Maples are opposite

Maples are opposite


In the case of a maple (and a few other trees, including viburnums, ash, and dogwoods) the twigs grow out of a branch on opposite sides of the same spot. But in most other trees, only one twig grows out from a given spot. The next one will grow out farther up the branch on the other side, and they alternate like that (which is why they are called “alternate”).
Most others are alternate

Most others are alternate


I don’t have any dogwood on my place, nor do I have any ash (much to my chagrin, as that’s the proper species for making snowshoes). I do have lots of viburnums, but none of them are bigger than an inch or so in diameter, and most of them are way smaller than that. Since you can’t tap a maple until it’s ten inches in diameter, it’s not important to distinguish tiny viburnums from tiny maples – at least for the purposes of syruping.

There are only a handful of species of ten-inch diameter trees on our lot: maple, red & white oaks, white pine, and birch. Pines are opposite like maples, but they also have needles, so there’s no confusion there. Birch have distinctive bark. All I really need to tell apart are the oaks from the maples, and I do that by making the alternate/opposite distinction. It’s not that hard.

With any luck, I should have a bit of sap in the bucket by the end of the week. It’s supposed to be cold tonight and then warm up. Sap flows when the temperature dips below freezing at night and rises above freezing during the day. That’s our forecast for the next several days, and I expect it to continue along those lines for the next six weeks or so. At least, I sure hope so!

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