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When The Sap Starts Running — It’s Spring

You’ll know if you have a good tree as the sap will start flowing the moment you draw out the bit.

How can we identify when spring has actually arrived? Perhaps it’s when the snow disappears and we begin sporting sandals and shorts instead of the heavy winter snowboots. Not for me. It arrives on a day when the honking of Canada geese are in the distance, and every puddle between the snowbanks reflect the sunset’s colours. It’s when the soft, musky, damp scent of last fall’s leaves, soaked with the

melting snow, send an aroma in the air that’s enough to make you want to push back the winter hood and listen to the sound of the sap droplets dripping into the pails. It’s sugarin’ time. It’s spring.

I’m an avid hobby backyard sugarer. I read once that to be a backyard sugarer you have to have a little bit of moonshiner in your blood. Just a little joke I suppose but similar to the point where you’re separating water from something else.

It’s time to tap trees when temperatures rise well above the freezing point in the daytime and drops below freezing at night. This is when the sap rises and falls. Use a seven-sixteenth-inch bit and drill a hole into the tree around 2-1/2 inches deep at a slight angle upward so the sap will run downward. You’ll know if you have a good tree as the sap will start flowing the moment you draw out the bit. Clean the hole very carefully without leaving any pieces of bark. Tap the spout in gently, but be sure it’s snug. Use pails with lids, plastic milk jugs and other utensils to catch the sap as long as they are immaculately clean. Remember that even one tiny piece of bark can cause the whole batch to have a bitter taste. I prefer pails with lids and often use a five-gallon pail set on the ground with several lines from taps dripping through holes into the lid of the pail.

The sap from Manitoba maples evaporates into excellent maple syrup. Usually, it takes around 45 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. After a lengthy process of evaporating the water from the sap, golden-brown syrup remains. Sap spoils as easily as milk, so store the collected produce in a cool place and boil it down within a few days. Evaporators do not need to be fancy but having it outdoors is a must as there is too much humidity to boil off in an enclosed area. Plenty of wood, an old open stove with a flat top and a good smokestack to keep the smoke away from the syrup is all you’ll need. I usually boil it down to the stage where I can finish it later in a smaller pan. The sap can easily burn at the final stage. When it gets close to the syrup stage the remaining sap starts to rise up in the pan, and then foams to almost boiling over. I store the not-quite-finished product in containers in the deep freeze to complete later when there is more free time. Then out come the straining cloths, hydrometer and some good recipes.

Yes, spring is in the air and it’s sugarin’ time.

– Lillian Deedman writes from Killarney, Manitoba

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