Tappin' Time Is Here (Maple Report #1)

I thought I was so clever and got all my maple supplies last October. I drove to Bascom’s in Acworth, NH on the eve of a weekend trip. Acworth is one of those towns you can’t get to from here. I just followed the maps and wondered where the heck I’d end up. Fortunately I wasn’t going back, I thought, as I drove on to Vermont.

Well plans change and I realized I needed more sugarin’ stuff. I run a hybrid system of sap collection, utilizing both buckets and tubing – and I decided I needed more buckets. Last year my tubing did not do as well as I wanted and while buckets are extra work, they fill up quick. So in late January I ordered a handful of buckets and some other supplies. In order to not spend $30 on shipping, I decided to take the drive out again.

Pip and I had quite the wild ride, as we went the morning after an ice storm. And at some point about forty-five minutes away, we turned off our last paved state road….onto road after road with "Hill" in the name. If we weren’t going straight up, we were going down just as fast. The trees glistened with ice, locals were out scraping their driveways clean in tractors and Tundras. I clinged to the wheel of my two-wheel drive hatchback and glanced at Pip in the passenger seat, my trusty buddy comedy sidekick, worry etched on his face as we flailed up the backroads to the sugarhouse on the top of the hill.

I felt pretty confident that we literally couldn’t get home from there, so we went somewhere else first, sticking to state roads, unfortunately named Hill Rd and Lempster Mtn Rd, but once we hit Rte 9, life was highway smooth all the way home. We pit-stopped at Lowe’s to stretch the old Aussie legs and then it was back to the sugarbush.

I mark my calendar every year to tap around President’s Day. I’m not too scientific about it, largely because I don’t have a huge operation – my goal was to tap 100 trees this year, about 25% more than last year. It’s easy to bang ‘em all out over a week, typically. And having the extra day off for the holidays makes that easier.

Well last week we got that sneaky February thaw and my maple friends and I started getting antsy pantsed about it, texting each other Should we do it? Now? How about now? So I tapped a few trees and had half-full buckets just days later. Then I stared at the weather report every hour, eyeing that 10-Day Report. A few freezing days, but mostly trending into the 30’s and 40’s. A rainy day in the 50’s! Oh we’re tapping.

First things first, I snowshoed out a beautiful switchback trail back and forth along the south-facing woods ridge, with easy access to each tree in that section. Postholing is miserable enough. Farmer carrying fifty pounds of sloshy sap-filled buckets doesn’t help. Though by April I’ll be rock-climbing to get the sap after my switchbacks melt away. I tried to be mindful to tap lower so when the snow is gone, the buckets won’t be six feet in the air!

Next, every night after work for one hour, I make it a mission to tap ten trees. Sometimes it’s easy because I’ll get three or four maples near each other and I can run a single strand of tubing. Sometimes I make it up as I go and I dare any grizzled old vet to watch me care. Sometimes I fumble my frozen and numb fingers through all my pockets and cannot find a simple part and need to slip and slide all the way back to the barn to get it. I’m probably dancing to my Spotify Liked Songs playlist and I’ve been impressed with how many moves I got on completely impassable sloped ice.

As of right now, I have 71 taps in and plan to tube up the back woods this long weekend, getting us to that goal of 100. I’ve accidentally tapped a few Ash trees (doh!) and have had to slow down in the dark and not rush. I’m very jealous of the sugarbushes that keep their tubing up year round and will need to think about this during the next offseason. This is year four of our operation and every year it becomes more complex – and more efficient. I have a vision of a sugar house, and a selection of fancy maple sugarin’ accoutrements. But the maple game is not a cheap sport and we will get there one tap at a time.

Last night’s 50 degree teaser filled a bunch of our buckets and I think we’ll be boiling sooner rather than later. I’m real happy I’ve tapped a little early this season. I’m wondering when I’ll start going crazy from tapping, but then I remind myself in a month I’ll be going crazy from boiling. And then it’s just beautiful bottles of maple syrup from there on out.

We’re so thankful for all the interest our little sugarin’ enterprise has garnered in the last year and look forward to continuing the success. Good things are coming.

I’ll check in soon! Happy sugar season!