WEATHER: A three-day thaw 2/21-2/23 melted away the snow from the fields and much of the snow from the woods. It has been an anemic snow winter. In December and early January we counted new snowfall in tenths of an inch. By late January we could count snow in full inches but not in feet. A storm on Friday, 2/25 dropped eight inches of silky snow to revive the look and feel of Winter in Vermont. “Snatch winter while you can,” says a friend.
TAPPING STATUS: The crew began tapping on January 31 but it was stop-and-go due to several cold days of temps in the single digits. Large dips and swells of temperature are the norm this winter. The crew wrapped up the tapping on Thursday, February 17th just in time for the first run.
HOW’S IT RUNNING? We collected sap on the 17th but did not boil. When the three-day thaw struck on Monday the 21st the trees didn’t run for two days then ran starting the night going into Day Three. “If the trees don’t want to give, vacuum won’t help,” said Chief of Operations, referring to the vacuum pump connected to the tubing network.
BOILING STATUS: We boiled on the 21st and 23rd. It is a relief to have gone through the shakedown cycle. No one here wants to sugar in February – it just feels too early – but, on the other hand, the Cobweb Boil looms each year as a nightmare of leaky valves and flues, frozen pumps, missing pieces of custom-designed drain hose, avalanching firewood, and the perils of forgetting one of the nine steps to setting up the hoses for rinsing out sap tanks – and now that’s behind us.
We careened through to the other side. And now March will be easy? The bonus is having a week to enjoy winter skiing before the first March thaw.
SAP SWEETNESS: “Try this sap,” said Chief of Operations. I poured some into a cup from the pitcher with the red cover.
“Wow, is that sweet. It tastes like bucket sap.” (The trees we hang buckets from are trees that matured under full sunshine when this land was pasture. Such trees produce sweeter sap than woods trees.)
“It’s what’s coming into the sap shed,” he said. “It’s over 2%! That’s exceptional for early season sap.”
“Wait ’til we make coffee from this!” I said.
[Time will tell, but if the sap stays sweet, sugarmakers will rejoice. In 2021 the sap was weak and watery; it took much more of it to produce a gallon of syrup.]
Chief of Operations writes:
The Palace Guard Hits the Ground Over the Mainline Called Susan
Removing this blowdown, a remnant of what was once a beautiful ancient maple called The Palace Guard, became considerably more involved than it first looked. The task was made more problematic by its being a large tree, laying in line with the tubing rather than perpendicular to it, and being frozen into the mud under the snow.
The log needed to be cut into sections small enough to roll out of the way. Finishing the cut ruined my chainsaw blade as it dug slightly into the ground at the end. After cutting, the pieces were still too frozen to move even with the help of a “crowbar” I cut from a sapling. In desperation I hooked a ratchet strap to the heaviest piece, keeping it under tension while I pried and rammed it with a smaller log until it finally broke free.
Even then I couldn’t lift the tubing as it was also frozen into the mud. I finally released it by pounding the frozen soil with the claws of my hammer. I then had to patch a tubing hole where the chainsaw had nicked it. In hindsight it might have been easier to leave the 20’ piece of tubing and support wire buried in the ground, and splice in new pieces.
Repair work like this is so much easier in the summer months, but blowdowns are on their own schedule and could care less about making my work easier.