We've had a brief yet successful little sugaring season. Many people have had taps out for many weeks, but my experience has been that the sap really doesn't flow enough to bother until you get some truly warm days. We're set up to hang about 40 taps at this point and every year I seem to find another maple or two to tap, so little by little our humble operation is expanding.
I know some of what follows is obvious, but I feel like I've figured out a couple of things from our 7 or 8 years of doing this:
-Sap quantity is the key. For a long time I was relying on a bunch of trees deep in the woods that just don't put out much sap, so my runs and ability to produce much syrup were meager. Felton pointed out some big mature trees right at the edge of the field and those three or four trees pretty much doubled our sap production. Now its not such a challenge to get a bunch of syrup by the end of the season.
-Steady-as-she-goes fire tending: I used to really labor to keep the fire continuously super hot and I was sort of hostage to the boiler. These days I still try to keep things hot, but I just stoke up the arch and then go do something else for a half hour or so and then come back and stoke it again. This way I can be doing something productive while maintaining the boil. Its probably a little slower to do it this way, but that's okay with me.
-Staying local: For the first few years I tapped trees up on my uncle's land in Fayston, about 6 miles away up a really steep muddy dirt road. The sap run was great, but the repetitive muddy trips over there were a drag. Now I keep it all within walking distance.
The easy part of sugaring is getting the buckets hung, the hard part is getting the sap from the buckets back to our sugarhouse. In the past I've used sleds, the car, and just plain old hauling 5 gallon buckets to get the stuff in. This year I came up with a great solution: a yoke. Without a model or any real idea of what a yoke looks like, I whipped one up from some lumber I had kicking around and it turned out pretty well. With the yoke I can carry two 5 gallon buckets at the same time from the woods back to the sugarhouse without feeling particularly stressed. The yoke distributes the weight and takes the burden off he arms and the shoulders and makes the whole process a lot more manageable. Without the yoke, I couldn't carry the buckets more then 50 feet without feeling like I had to rest my arms and shoulders.
Its been a sudden and full force turn to spring and it may be that the sugaring season is already over; the forecast is for very warm days and nights for the next week. It'd be nice to do a little more, but we got three gallons of syrup without a lot of effort and we really don't need much more then that so it's okay if that's all we do. We still have a reasonable amount left from last year.