February is here. Depending on the weather, sap could start running in the maple trees any time now. I'm checking the 10-day forecast daily, trying to decide when to head out to the woods with my drill, spiles and accumulated clean empty milk jugs (the frugal syrup-er's sap bucket). So far, we have a day or two of 'right' weather, followed by a week of too cold weather. I'm getting antsy.
Last year, the weather was so wacky I didn't tap. A lot of people in my area didn't. Since a tap only stays good for about six weeks, you don't want to tap too early and then have the weather be too cold all but the tail end of that time period, as the tree is healing around the spile and cutting off the sap flow. We had crazy warm weather every other week last winter, so by the time the normal dates of the six week window arrived, the trees were actually budding out and the nights way too warm. The only people locally I know who got syrup last year tapped in January, which is normally way too early.
My syrup stash from the 2011 season is running low. I have, maybe, a gallon worth of syrup in pint canning jars left. Not enough to last through another year. So I definitely don't want to miss this year's sap run.
I've been washing out and saving milk jugs for weeks now. My spiles are accounted for, put away on a shelf in the mud room closet back in April 2011. I still don't have a real sap pan, or a real evaporator, so I may end up boiling off sap in the turkey fryer again, using propane for fuel. Or, I might end up cobbling together an evaporator out of the dozens of cinder blocks stacked next to the barn, and buying a couple of steam table pans to boil off in. At least that way I can use 'free' fuel: some of the dead fall DH and I have been cutting up this winter.
Either way, I'm starting to feel the call of the maple trees. Kind of like how a deer hunter feels as deer season approaches. I'm ready. I'm anticipating. I want it to come; I want to feel the thrill of the "hunt"--okay, the thrill of finding full sap jugs each day. I want to experience the harvest. I want to taste icy cold sap right from the tree, it's faintly sugary flavor speaking of the mysteries of nature. I want to stand over the boiling sap pan (or pot), in the sweetly aroma-ed steam. I want to taste the newly made syrup right from the spoon I stirred the boiling sap with just as it hit the syruping point, the magic temperature of 219 degrees. I want to see all those beautiful golden and amber colored jars lined up in my cellar at the end of the season, the promise of pancake and french toast and waffle breakfasts to come.