With the arrival of March, it definitely feels as if winter has started the turn to spring. There are the odd bulbs poking through in sheltered places, and the local birds have started their spring songs. I even heard a couple of phee-be calls from the chickadees, which means spring really must be coming. The floraison is otherwise fairly minimal: catkins on some of the corkscrew hazels, swelling buds, and the sap is rising according to a friend who has tapped the sugar maple in the campus quad.
I think this is very cool. Making maple syrup is a goal of my life. Somehow I’ve always thought of it as a difficult task, perhaps because I tend to fail miserably at making caramel, though really, boiling liquid until it reduces can’t be that difficult. Getting the initial liquid, the sap, has always seemed far more complicated, not something one would just do, until I met the friend en route to tapping the maples and he explained his method. He even made the spile out of a dowel, with a hole drilled through the middle.
Maple trees are tapped in the early spring, obviously, when the sap starts to rise. Apparently the trick is for the daytime temperatures to be above freezing and the night-time below, as this drives the hydraulic forces at work in the tree. I learned from a talk I went to last year that the reason for such sweet sap in the sugar maple — also to be found in birch trees — is that the trees are forcing a bloom of bacteria in the soil. Most woodland soils are heavy on the fungi and less on the bacteria, but both are needed for the best growth. The bacteria feed on the sap and in turn make accessible other nutrients the trees need, and so the tree gets a bit of an extra boost for the growing season.
The sugar maple is the source of the leaf on the Canadian flag; of course, it’s also one of the more dramatic members of the autumnal display in the eastern part of the country. (And the northeastern US.) I always find it a bit interesting that the maple is on the flag, since the sugar maple doesn’t grow west of Ontario, but . . . then again, it’s also fairly cool to have a beautiful and useful plant on the flag. And very distinctive.
I have exciting developments in trip planning to write about soon — or at least I find them exciting — I’m working through my equipment needs, and am on the backpack. I’m going to make my own from a kit. I have borrowed a sewing machine, and now is the time to practise on some of the twenty yards of blue cotton I acquired last fall. More details to come!