In Ojibwe, zhiiwaagamizigan means maple sap. Sap, maple syrup, sugar. It’s up the hierarchy with wild rice and corn as traditional main staples this neck of Turtle Island. (Haliburton area was more of a coniferous hunting ground not long ago, but Rice Lake isn’t far away.)
In the vicinity of mid-march, for about a month-long, we can tap our sugar maple trees in Ontario. From the first spring melt where the water is flowing until spring buds swell. When the nights are freezing and days are warming.
The first run is considered the best by some. It’s said a sign of a good sugar season is when early winter has less snow cover allowing the ground to freeze deeply, with deep snow cover following later.
Tapping Sugar Maple Trees
Large trees can hold 2-3 taps. My tree is barely large enough to tap, so we’ll do 1. I did the least bush thing possible and ran to Home Hardware. No carving a tap out of wood, no making a birchbark vessel for the sap. Maybe another time!
I drilled a slightly angled uphill hole into the trunk about 11mm or 7/16ths of an inch and going about 2 1/2 inches deep, being careful not to split the wood. I cleaned it out with a stick so that the sawdust wouldn’t clog my tap. Then I drove a cast iron tap into it. Drip, drip.
Boiling Sap Into Maple Syrup
Originally, I was going to use a rocket stove outside to boil. If boiled inside on a stove the walls around it will get sticky. An outright bonfire would be quicker, however, which is the way Robin does it. And thankfully he did collect sap again this year and boil it down. (Continuing to add sap until it’s about 4C/7F above boiling and has reduced to a sweet maple syrup brown.) And why was it a break that Robin made some?
Because I couldn’t. I got at most a gallon per day from my meager one-tap. By the time I was getting close to the 5 gallons I was aiming to boil, it would get cloudy – which means bacterial overgrowth. If I had the room to store it in my fridge it should have worked out. But I had to store it outside.
I tried twice and tossed my 5-gallon bucket twice. Fortunately, I used a lot of the fresh sap for making tea and coffee, and there’s still a nice crystal clear liter of it in my fridge. But out the window goes the idea that I’ll be able to make it all on my own from my lot anytime soon. Some year soon I will have 2 trees that can take 1 tap each. Maybe, maybe, if I make room in my fridge I will get to boil the duo’s sap down to maple syrup.
It’s still a win! I finally tapped a tree on my own property! I can’t wait to try different trees! Poplar sap anyone?
Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants (Out of Print)