It’s the Season of Mistakes

Here I was, patting myself on the back for all the experience acquired over 7 sugaring seasons. This 8th one though, I’ve made several costly mistakes. A filtering snafu, sap overflow, woodpiles allowed to get wet, and more importantly, I misread the weather and let the pan full of syrup spoil. I thought it had been cold enough but it hadn’t and I let it sit too long. I could smell it right away when I started boiling. It didn’t smell bad but it was lacking the sweetness and you could tell something was off.

So that’s it, an anticlimactic end to a very decent season otherwise. It’s not worth rebuilding up the pan with the sap about to turn. And it’s ok really, we still made enough, and I’m actually enthused to get going again next year with a list of many things I want to improve, which I’ll implement until then.

Still though it’s a bit of a shame to waste all this effort. If nothing else, it’s good exercise out in the woods, and it’ll make a nutrient dense addition to a pile of compost. It’s always good to remind myself that I used to go to a gym and exert myself into the void. Moving 200 gallons of sap from the forest to a compost pile achieved something at least, on top of being a good workout.

We received a monster snow storm that made bucket harvesting a snowshoe ordeal. Esther loved creating little paths between the buckets.

Birch Syrup

One of the maple taps wasn’t producing much at all, so I moved it to a birch tree. I had tried before but was too late and didn’t really get anything. This time though, the sap was flowing and so I got about a gallon that I boiled on the stove inside.

And it was really delicious. Much like maple syrup but with more of a floral tone. Maple syrup takes ~40 gallons of sap to get 1 gallon of syrup, a 40:1 ratio on average. Birch syrup is 100:1! That explains why it’s not common. I’m definitely curious about it though. In one season, we make enough Maple syrup for our family’s generous use for a good 2 years. Maybe I could do Birch every other year. It’s the same process with the same tools, just more water boiled out.


After last year’s hiatus, we’re back into sugaring. It’s a whole lot of work, but it’s also very rewarding and I love doing it. I love that everyone around us is involved in it somehow, it’s got a community wide feeling to it.

The contemplative boil coupled with the smell are the parts I was missing the most.

When we wind down the operation, I don’t need to feed the fire every 5 minutes. The fire bricks keep plenty of heat to keep evaporating several gallons for an hour or 2, so I keep an eye on things remotely.

When we draw syrup, I don’t take pictures. There’s too much going on and it gets very sticky. Between the bucket collection, the boiling, the draws, the cleanups, moving wood, it’s really a lot of work. We were insane to do it outside through the night and moving sap by hand a few years back. I have a distinct memory of being outside by myself at 2AM, seeing light in my warm house from a distance, hearing coyotes come down the hill, and really wondering what the fuck I was doing there. And I would always worry that a bear would knock down the pan to get in the syrup. I’m glad I don’t have to do this anymore, but I’m also glad I did it.

I’m bubbling with ideas for things I want to improve in the operation.