This has been a winter for the record books here in Northeastern Ohio. On our homestead, it’s meant cooped up chickens, lots of carrying water, and making sure everybody in the barn has extra straw for bedding down and keeping warm.
Last week we had a bit of a break from the cold. Everything thawed, so we could regroup a little and get ready for the next freeze. It got us thinking about spring, planning a garden, and tapping our trees for maple syrup! It’s not quite time yet, but the big swing in temperature got us excited and we started looking at forecasts to see when would be the perfect time to tap the trees.
We moved to our homestead two years ago in January and one of our dear friends gave us such a thoughtful housewarming gift. He knew our goal was a homestead where we grew and raised as much of our own food as we could. His family had been dreaming with us about how to use this property…where to put the garden, what types of animals to put in the stalls of the barn, where to plant fruit trees. His gift to us was perfect: Our very first set of buckets and tree taps. It was a gift of self-sufficiency and we were excited. Tapping maple trees was a nearly free and available place to begin!
We had done research and asked friends who’d made their own syrup. We knew to look for stretches in late winter where the temps were ideally above 40 degrees during the day and below freezing at night. That would get the sap running. We knew to measure the diameter of the trees…and a bit about the different types of maple trees and how to identify the sugar maples.
We went out as a family, baby in tow, with the drill, the taps, the buckets, and the covers (to keep out falling leaves and thirsty squirrels) to tap our trees. Our five kids were so excited, no doubt dreaming of towers of pancakes. We tapped five trees around the border of our pasture and waited. It was a mini Christmas each day when rounds were done to check the sap. It was a few weeks of combining what we collected before we could start boiling, but it was an exciting privilege to get to go on sap rounds with Daddy each day.
Like with anything, our first syrup experience wasn’t without difficulty. The first time we had enough sap to boil down, we weren’t paying quite enough attention at a crucial time (in our defense, there’s a lot of nothing to see but boiling water for quite some time), and ended up with maple candy. The kids were thrilled. I remembered how many trips up from the pasture it took to get that much sap. The next time I was better prepared, and we made our first pint of delicious maple syrup from our new homestead. It was the first thing that our land provided for us.
Looking back, our land has given us so much bounty. We’ve raised chickens for meat and eggs, goats for milk, a productive garden, and this year we’ll add bees and pigs! But this was a sweet first. No matter how much production we have from our land, this maple syrup will always be first.
I’m so grateful for our friends who knew and loved us so well and got us started. They didn’t just give us supplies. They gave us the first taste of what our land could provide.
Are you making your own maple syrup this year? Find Lehman’s essential maple syrup supplies here.