Sunday, March 31, 2013

Cabin Life: A First Syrup Season

First DripI love my dog Pico.  But there are times when he can be extremely annoying.  Like right now, he’s licking my elbow and won’t stop.  I lifted my arm up off the table but he just jumped up on me to keep on licking.  I don’t know why he is doing this or what I could have possibly gotten on my elbow to make him want to lick it so bad.  He’s just a little weird sometimes.

I noticed another oddity out here this week.  I tapped a few maple trees so I could make a little sap this year.  Last year, I was all primed to do the work, but then maple season came and went in a week in February, and I was caught off guard and left with no syrup.

This year is a test run.  I bought some taps and used a few old milk jugs as buckets.  Trying to do it on the quick and cheap, I’m really only expecting a couple servings of syrup.  I don’t have the equipment or the time right now to handle a big production, but now that I know what I’m getting into, I can make a bunch of syrup next spring.

Last winter I found a cluster of nice maples not too far from the cabin, and never touched them.  But this year I picked up a bag of spiles at the local hardware store and the proper size drill bit. A friend and I took Pico, the taps, jugs, and drill out to the trees.  The sun was shining and it was perfect weather for sap to run.  As soon as the drill bit broke through the bark, a big, fat drop of sap coursed down the rough exterior of the tree.  The drill then died.

My cordless drill, which I’ve had since college, made a hole about half an inch deep and just stopped turning.  I jammed a tap into the hole to see how bad it was, and the tap stuck out a ridiculous amount.  No way would it be able to keep a full jug from falling to the ground.  I pulled the battery out of the drill and locked the bit in place.  I used the body of the drill as a handle and finished the hole using my power drill as a hand drill.  This is why I only placed three taps this year.

The next couple of days were cold and I didn’t think the sap would run that much.  From the yard I could see the jugs on the trees and knew that they hadn’t fallen or gotten blown off.  When I went and checked the jugs after two days, I noticed the irregularity that I was not expecting.  The smallest tree had given me the most sap, and the biggest tree had given me basically no sap.

Now, there could be many factors for this discrepancy independent of the size of the tree.  I just found it odd that this was the case.  I figured bigger tree equals more sap.  But maybe I did something wrong drilling the hole.  Maybe I put the tap in at too much of an angle.  Maybe the tree just doesn’t produce that much sap.

After three days, I had a gallon of sap.  At this rate, I might be able to put my own syrup on one pancake.  But that’s not really the point this year.  I just want to try something I’ve never done before and see how it comes out.  That’s what this whole experience has been about too.  To try something I’ve never done before and see what happens.  And maybe that’s why Pico was licking my elbow earlier.  He just forgot that he’s done it before and wanted to see what he might find.

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Having grown up in the southern Adirondacks, Justin has always been at home in the mountains of New York. After graduating from Paul Smiths College, he began his career in the environmental field working for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. After a brief five year detour to Florida, Justin returned to the Adirondacks to live off the grid in a small cabin with no running water or electricity.

Justin continues to work and play in the outdoors, and maintains a blog about living off grid, hiking, and being outside in the Adirondacks called Middle of the Trail.

6 Responses

  1. Mary C Randall says:

    Happy Easter! I believe if not passover Anyway, Spring has sprung and I will wait to see what you do with the sapping next year Enjoy reading your journals.

  2. adkcamp says:

    If the big tree gave you no sap: A)verify you have a sugar maple tree, B)the spile should be set above a root, C)preferably toward the south side of the tree and D)drill another tap!

    Happy Boiling!

  3. Aspiring maple producers in NNY can find production resources online under the Maple heading at, the website of the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program.

    Landowners who would like to collaborate with maplemakers will find information there prepared by NNY Maple Extension Specialist Michael Farrell, director of the Uihlein Maple Research Forest at Lake Placid.

  4. Ole Sap says:

    Perhaps if you are living “off of the grid” you should try a tool that doesn’t require electricity… like a brace and bit. Sap flow is temperature dependent and is dictated by the pressure of gases within the wood of maple trees (Not just sugar maples). During periods of cold temperature, a vacuum is created and available ground water is sucked up into the tree. During warm temperatures, pressure increases within the wood, and, given a place to exit (a nicely bore tap hole) sap will drip out. Bigger the tree does not necessarily mean more sap. Bigger the crown may mean more sugar. The bigger they are the harder they fall. Or is it fell? Good luck, have fun.

  5. Ryan says:


    Going home this weekend to Wisconsin to boil some sap, Dad says the run has started and should have 100 gallons to boil down.

    Keep your spirits up!!

  6. Frank says:

    I don’t know why but some trees produce better than others. After a few years you get to know which trees run better so you can just tap the good producers. The ones that are not producing are probably stressed in some way. Also from experience and from a Cornell webinar red maples produce just as well, so that’s not the problem. When I first started doing sugaring I asked an old timer with many sugaring years under his belt which tress are sugar maples. He smiled and said all maples are sugar maples. Just tap the best ones.

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