There’s still an element of magic in sugaring, still plenty of things we don’t understand. Take how weather relates to a run. The book says you need a freeze-thaw cycle to build pressure in a tree, and that an ideal sugaring day will have lows in the upper-20s followed by highs in the upper-40s. Generally speaking, this is all true. But it dramatically oversimplifies things.
On March 26, for instance, we had just this weather, but the sap ran only modestly. Too much frost in the ground? Was the snow pack making a microclimate that skewed the temperature readings? Was the south wind affecting things? Who can say? But then this last Wednesday it froze very hard at night – low 20s – and crept up only to around 36 degrees during the day. You would have thought that it was too cold for anything substantial, but no, the sap poured. Our first smoking run of the year. “Sometimes the trees just want to run,” say the old timers. When I was younger this was a pretty unsatisfactory answer, but I’m coming around to realizing that this is sometimes the best you get.
I checked the tank at the farm at noon that day and found it was almost overflowing, then checked the sugar content to make sure it was sap and not someone playing an April fool’s joke on us by filling the tank with water. We gathered in the afternoon and evening then had a long boil Thursday. We had a three-person crew working – one gathering sap (it ran great that day, too), one boiling, one was a runner who filtered syrup, canned, drummed, kept the coffee pot full. At the end of the day we’d made 115 gallons of syrup – our biggest one-day total ever. At the beginning of the season, especially a cold, snowy season like this one, it can seem like you’re never going to get the operation together and running smoothly. But eventually the clanky old beater that hasn’t run in 10 months starts to purr.
We’re at a bit over half a crop, production wise, but it should come quick now. They’re calling for good weather next week, which, if true, should get us close to where we need to be. Everything is still cold – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen sap on April 1 that was tap-water clear – but everything else in the woods is reminding us how late it really is. The dogwood bark is getting redder and the willow bark yellower and even the poplar bark, in the crowns, is starting to look a little green if you catch it in the right light. Raccoon tracks meander along the small stream in our farm bush. There are at least three different merganser pairs on the one unfrozen mill pond in town. Won’t be much longer now.