Spring Coming?


As I write this the calendar still says February.  The Ground Hog has recently had his (or her) day and I do not recall if the shadow was seen or not.  Here in Wisconsin we are willing to call it Good News – if he tells us we ONLY have six more weeks of winter ahead of us.  So far so good the snow has been limited and the temps relatively mild (for Wisconsin).

My ears perked up when I heard some talk about getting ready to tap the maple trees to make maple syrup.  I’ve often wondered about this activity since we have more maple trees than I could ever count on our hunting land in northern Wisconsin.  It is a sure sign that spring is not too far away and winter is about to loosen its grip on us.  The sap starts to flow when the temps hit the mid 40’s during the day and the nights retreat back down into the mid 20’s.  That is the cycle that starts and keeps the sap rising into the tree structure.  If that temperature cycle stops so does the sap flow.  The season is usually only 1 to 3 weeks long, often with weather caused pauses in sap flow.

Large trees can have two taps while small ones (10-12”) just one.  Each tree can produce a few gallons, which is a very small % of their total flow.  It takes 1-2-3 visits to each tree each day to collect the sap and carry is back though snow covered ground.  This is starting to sound like work.  It requires 40 gal. of the tree sap to be boiled down to 1 gal. of syrup.  That means 39 gal. have to be boiled off.  That takes quite a pile of firewood, cut, split, and ready to keep the fire going under a large pot that can’t go dry.  Also, that 39 gal. of water is then turned into steam, which isn’t a problem if it’s outside, but could be a problem if you are trying to do this indoors.  (Spoken by an HVAC professional).  So you are either standing outside, or in a steam room.  That is why the regulars have a special building for this purpose (a Sugar Shack), with a dedicated stove in it.  Now this is turning into a construction project.

The concentrated sap has to get up to just the right density.  Too much water left in it and it spoils, but if too much is boiled off it crystalizes to sugar.  Too hot along the way and it gets a burnt taste.  Now this is sounding like a chemistry process.

Like many things that look good at first, this could be quite an undertaking for a remote location – in my situation.    I think I will put a little more of our store bought maple syrup on my pancakes and ponder this a bit longer before taking all that on.  The snow will melt, the leaves will come out, and the flowers will bloom, whether or not I decide to participate in this early spring tradition.

Enjoy your syrup!