Friday, March 09, 2012

Sweetwater and th' Gang Pt. 3 & 4

Once more th' night is cold, th' day warm. I've got ten taps and ten jugs. I take a drink of sap already collected and head out to th' woods for th' next phase of our sweetwater experiment. This time i'm alone. Th' forest, as always, imparts it's peace to me- a sort of gift, like going to a good friends house where there's a pot of tea waiting for you. I say thank-you.

Quietly, th' bit enters th' bark, presses on into th' sapwood.

Sap is flowing as i'm drilling, and before i even get a tap into th' hole, there's a little trail of sweet tears running down th' side of th' tree.

Granted it has no choice, but this tree is literally giving it's life blood to me. It'll be fine, it'll live, th' hole will close up and no one will ever notice, but still- i keep that in mind as i tap tap tap into these trees...

After last years floods, and th' three massive windstorms we had in th' last six months, th' piles of driftwood and greenwood out here are pretty impressive, and i enjoy them as i wander about from tree to tree.

With th' sap rising, and most of th' maple and box elders cracked and broken from th' top due to th' snows and wind, sap is actually dripping from th' trees as i walk around. I can hear it going drip drip drip onto th' dry leaves below.

sap running down tree trunk
After a slow meander, th' taps are set, th' jugs are hung. I feel mostly content, aside from th' fact that i don't like hanging plastic up in th' woods, even though i plan on taking them all home with me again. But that's all we had, though it would look much more beautiful to see those nice old tin buckets hanging up, blending into th' silver bark of th' maples. I've tapped twelve maples and one box elder, just to see how that one does.

silver maple, box elder, s. maple

box elder bark

I go home satisfied, and a couple of days later return with th' Lotz's to collect th' collectins. As usual, th' kids love it here, and go crazy, in a calm sort of way, exploring and romping about.

They head straight for th' river to throw stones, i head off to check th' taps.

Fynn and Nohea at th' waters edge

Judah's first taste of maple sap
It seems as though we're still a wee bit early on th' sap, as only th' box elder has really filled it's jug. And fill it it did, it's full, that's a whole gallon of sap, while th' maples still have only a small bit per jug in them, some of them none. Good thing i thought to try out a box elder.

But alas! What's this? A card on one of th' jugs. "If these are your jugs please call me", a natural areas ranger. "Well" i say, "we'd better take these down. I'll call th' ranger later and talk to him."
"It shouldn't be illegal," says Rachel, "it doesn't hurt th' trees."
"Yeah," i say, "but this is a natural area, and it does look a bit trashy. I wish we had those old fashioned buckets, or wooden ones, they'd blend right in."
"What if he wants to give you a ticket?" asks Beth.
"I'll take my chances" i tell her.
I set about removing th' jugs and taps, with th' help of a good stick and a friend of course.

After we empty th' jugs into our collection bucket, we've got about a gallon and a half, and one gallon of that's box elder, which to my mind is the inferior sap. But later i'll be proved wrong on that account. Th' box elder was still flowing after we pulled it, and as th' kids were playing around in th' woods, we caught Fynn actually licking th' tree. Oh it  made us laugh. Here he is with his tyrannosaurus standing by th' tree, we just missed him licking it with th' camera.

Th' kids played some more, and off we went to boil it down.

Th' Lotz's decided to take th' spoils home and put it on their woodstove to boil down. "We'll put it on in th' morning, and call you when it gets close to syrup." Rachel tells us.
"Sounds good." Beth replies.
Later that evening we get a phone call from Rachel, "You guys ready to come over, it's gettin close?"
"Ok," says Beth, "we'll be right there."
As soon as we get there Rachel greets us with a sheepish grin, "Sorry," she says, "it was getting pretty low so i took it off th' woodstove and put it in this cast iron skillet to watch it in th' kitchen. It was lookin fine one second, then when i looked at it again it was sugar!"
"Hey," i say "that's just as well to us. Have you guys tasted it yet?"
"Nope," Rachel says, "we were waiting for you."
"Well, lets dig in"

box elder sugar

go ahead, try some
"Wow," i say, "it tastes just like th' maple sugar you get from th' store. Only it's silver."
"That's good." says Beth.
"Would you like some maple candy." Fynn chimes in.
We all have some good lickins then package up th' rest to take home. After th' sap that we drank, we boiled down a gallon of it, and from that we got about a quarter of a pound of sugar. That's pretty good i'd say. If we actually got a gallon from each of our jugs, that's more than two pounds of sugar, all from a tree that's considered a weed.

I did call th' ranger and talk to him. He's a really kind person, and i enjoyed th' conversation we had, even though he did have to tell us that tapping trees is not allowed in natural areas. So we'll be on th' lookout for another location to try this again, maybe some private property where we have permission. Got any box elders where you live? There should be a little time to get some more, especially if we get snowed on again. But till then, we've all enjoyed this experiment immensely, and th' rewards have been mutli-fold. I'm exhausted from all this writing, here's a cup of sap for us to share. Bye.

box elder sap



  1. I once had cotton candy that was made with maple sugar. I love Maple Trees. I visited a natural history museum once, where they tapped the maples and simmered down the sap to syrup and sugar. They had huge vats of sap, and I tried some straight from the trees. It is fascinating to think about the life that comes from trees. Thanks for sharing your blog post, and I hope you find some more tress. If not, enjoy this lasting memory!

  2. Silv's parents have a silver maple in their backyard I'm positive they wouldn't mind you tapping... They're right in town, too... and Fynn can watch the bees in their hive!

    1. Heather, that sounds great, could you find out for sure for us? I'll be out of town from mon12th-fri16th, so after that we could do it, and you guys could have some sugar/syrup too...

  3. I'll ask, but I'm for sure for sure. I'd be shocked out of my socks if they said no.

    We'll be around; don't got no plans to leave town till June, so. Our car's in the shop, so we're staying put for spring break.

  4. love tose sap taps,where can they be bought?

    1. got 'em off ebay from a guy in vermont, don't remember th' details exactly, but they were a buck a piece, and there were many available, good luck, ~rico

  5. is there a proper/propriatory name for them?

    1. i just looked up maple taps on ebay, or maple tap spouts works, then i skip th' bidding and find a buy it now price, and that's about it, i also made a few of my own from bamboo, and those worked well too, if you're starting small, as we did, it may be worth your time to just make some...