Sunday, April 12, 2009

In the maple woods

Budd Andrews carves a spile

Three days ago, pairs of wild geese wandered at random across the snowy fields looking for open water. At 10 a.m. there was none. By noon, the edges of the lakes were melted and the geese settled in. By late afternoon, a turtle was basking in the sun on the yellowed grass above the lake shore. Those days are perfect for maple sugaring.

We work in Budd and Marguerite’s sugarbush. Bordered by two roads, a cornfield and a little lake, the maple woods there slope down toward the south and are warmed by the late winter sun. In theory, having a sugar bush is easy. All you need is a maple tree and some time.

First we pick out the maple trees – not the easiest thing to do in late winter before the leaves come out. Dave recognizes the trees by the bark and the branching habit. After the first year, I can tell a maple by the hole drilled through the bark last year.

Then we drill a 7/16th inch hole through the bark and into the trunk of each tree with a brace and bit. Next, Budd cuts a piece of sumac wood about four inches long and whittles one end into a sloping shoulder that will fit into the hole. The other end he carves into a spout. Finally, he pushes a piece of wire through the carved wood, driving out the soft core and creating a spile, a tube for the sap to run through on its way from the phloem cells of the tree to our collecting cans. We drive the spile into the tree with a wooden mallet. Then we pound a nail into the trunk under the spile and hang a collecting can on the nail and wait for the sap to run.

On beautiful spring days, when the temperature has dropped below freezing the night before and rises above 32 degrees in the warmth of the sun, sweet maple sap runs from the trees and collects drop by drop in our cans. When the sap comes a drop per second, it’s an okay day. When the sap runs two or more drips per second, it’s a great day, and when the sap practically streams out of the trees, we know that we’re getting behind boiling the sap down into syrup.

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