Conservation Corner

When I was a child, as the days lengthened in March, my dad would hook the yellow bubble-shaped sleigh that normally carried three little girls on family winter outings to his snowsled and head to the woods behind our house to collect sap from the big maples he had tapped.

I still remember those late afternoon trips with him and the excitement of gathering sap and emptying it into buckets in the bubble sled. It was a late winter activity that delivered a concrete promise of spring, boiled down into a sweet syrup.

Two weeks ago, my younger sister called me at 7:30 a.m. on the first day of school closures due to the coronavirus. Maybe it’s because she is a teacher, but she had already decided that if she and her son were going to be home, they needed a weeks-long project and had decided to learn how to make maple syrup.

I collected a few of the taps, called spiles, I had from my dad and after my nephew Kip’s careful note-taking from watching a YouTube video, they were ready. I visited the family woodlot this week to see firsthand how the project was progressing and what Kip had learned. He was quite the font of information, as it turns out. 

He knew how to identify a maple tree and the difference between the north side and south side (moss on one and sun on the other) and tricks of the trade like putting a piece of tape around the drill bit so that you don’t drill in for the tap too far. 

At seven years old, he did each step himself and learned a bunch in the process. On the day I went to collect sap with him and my sister, we did a taste test at each of the four tapped trees and rated the sap sweetness on a scale of one to five. Each tree had a different level of sweetness and it was fun to compare and taste each one. 

My sister even came up with a creative way to transport the sap back by strapping the bucket onto a slide that basically looks like a scooter for snow. The best part of their project is that it gets them outside for fresh air and sunshine, exercise, and some hands-on learning. For me, knowing that the sap dripping from those old maples through the spiles is the same that my dad used over 40 years ago provides a connection between the generations and our family’s land. 

If you are interested in tapping some of your own maple trees, there is still time and there are many online resources available to help you get started. Other than buying a few taps, the containers and the rest are up to you and whatever materials you come up with to make it work.

Angie Wotton loves her work as district manager for the Southern Aroostook Soil and Water Conservation District. She also raises pastured pork and vegetables with her husband on their small West Berry Farm in Hammond. She can be reached 532­9407 or via email at angela.wotton@me.nacdnet.net

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