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!

Tonight Beth and I went to Agway, a farm supply store. I wanted to see if they had any maple syruping buckets, lids, and taps. I found two things. First, they do carry that kind of stuff, but they were sold out. Second, they carry farm toys. That would include things like die cast metal International Harvester Farmall tractors (but no Farmall Cub like Dad used to have). It would also include plastic horses, barns, fencing, stables, etc, and that pretty much sent Beth into a drool-fest.

She wanted to spend her money and I mean right now. But she didn’t have it with her, and I wanted her to learn something about impulse buying. I insisted that she wait until she got home, think about it, and see how much money she had (I didn’t know).

Turns out she has less than any of the toys she wanted cost. I don’t know if that blunted her desire for any of them though. She’ll have to save her allowance, and that might make her think about it a little more before buying the first thing she sees.

Back to the tractors. Dad had a 1949 Farmall Cub that he bought back in the mid-70’s. I think it was the first vehicle I ever drove. After he bought it, he spent a couple of weeks in my uncle’s shop overhauling it. The only thing I know that was still wrong with it when he got finished was that it had a broken tooth on second gear, so when it was in second, it made a bit of noise. I really liked that tractor, and now days I see them on Craigslist for $2500-$3500 or so, and… I want one, even though I have no use for one. It’s a little easier for me to resist an impulse buy when it adds up to four digits (my toys cost more than Beth’s).

And now back to the maple syrup. Last year I knew of only one maple on all my property that was big enough to tap, so I tapped it using a bucket, lid, and tap I borrowed from Ken. I don’t remember how much sap I got from it, but I had a late start. It boiled down to about a pint of syrup. I’m not going to save any money making my own syrup, and frankly, I don’t know how anyone does. For one tap, I was able to boil it down on the stove, but other people have huge evaporator pans that sell on Craiglist for three to four digits. It would take a lot of syrup to pay for that. And then there’s the sap collecting, firewood gathering (I assume that any property with enough maples to make syrup will also have plenty of firewood lying around for the gathering), the boiling down (30 or 40:1) and then the bottling and selling. It seems to me that that’s just a lot of work, and the last time I checked maple syrup sold for $13.00 per quart. I just don’t see how anyone makes money doing that.

I have another maple near my syrup tree that’s almost big enough. They are supposed to be ten inches in diameter and this one is maybe nine. Just as a watched pot never boils, it will prolly take another decade for this maple to add another inch of diameter, but I’m not in a hurry. Even though it would double my syrup output. Over the summer I found another tree up by the frog pond that might be big enough too. Well, if it is big enough , it’s only barely big enough. I haven’t measured it (and it’s a lot easier to measure the circumference than the diameter). If it’s not big enough yet, then I guess I’m already waiting a decade, and it’ll likely take that long anyhow.

I may stop at the Agway in Concord this week sometime, or I might not. If I don’t, then I guess I’ll miss a season. It’s already past starting time, and I don’t know how long the overnight temperatures will continue to dip below the freezing mark. So if I do act, it looks like I’m set for another pint! That would just about pay for a bucket ($5.99) and a tap ($1.50). Move over Donald Trump!

Today after work I went over to Ken’s house. Our mission was to go to Lowes and buy eight sugar maples so they could be planted along the edge of the new playground.

After feeding his cows, we hopped in his truck and drove to Lowes. They had maples all right, but no sugar maples. Instead, they had a mix of red maples (Acer rubrum) and a couple of hybrids that I had never heard of. I can only remember one of them now, and that’s what they called “Autumn blaze” (Acer x fremani). When I looked at it, I thought it was a silver maple (Acer sacharinum) because the leaves had the same shape (deep sinuses) and a silver underside (as does the silver maple). I was happy to learn when I got home that Acer x fremani is a cross between Acer rubrum and Acer sacharinum, so it was indeed half silver maple.

I don’t remember the name of the other cultivar – red something or another, but not plain red maple. I just checked the receipt. It was a Red Sunset maple, which is a cultivar of regular red maple. Cool.

The good thing is that you can tap red maple and get good syrup from them. That was the reason we wanted sugar maples in the first place, even though it will be years before these could be tapped. We dropped them off at the church, but I have no idea when they will be planted.

Then we went back to his farm where my car was. Lowes also had some apple trees for sale, and a redbud. I was tempted. I would like to have some fruit trees. Ken confessed that he has a weakness for fruit trees, and he is particularly fond of McGowan apples (if I spelled that correctly). He offered to pick one for me when we got to his place, and I gladly accepted. It is a very good apple, so if I can find them, I will buy a couple. I’d also like to get some plum trees.

Then I drove home, knowing that Beth would be there by the time I arrived. And she was! I kinda missed her while she was in Maine. She was excited to see me too and spent several minutes telling me about Outdoor School. She paddled a kayak (on a lake) and got stung by a yellow jacket. I guess those were the highlights.