February is a time of anticipation on the farm. I’ve noticed that every February I become antsy, or maybe I should say “birdsy.” Like a mother robin that is busy finding materials for her nest, I find myself planning, organizing, purchasing, and scrapping for materials, all while dreaming about what this farm season will hold. Warm February days provide a sneak peek into the “S word” – Spring! Ok, I’m getting ahead of myself. Deep breathes. Appreciate the moment. Savor the winter.
One way we are savoring the winter this year at Bellwether Farm is by making maple syrup. Tapping into a wintry tradition that goes all the way back to the indigenous peoples of North America, we’ve been collecting maple sap from the trees on our property. Cold nights and warm days produce the mysterious freeze and thaw cycles that allow the sap to flow during the day. As spring nears, the buds on the trees start to pop, signifying the end of the maple sugaring season. But for now, we’ve only just begun, and are hoping to go to the end of March. On our first collection, we gathered 100 gallons of sap from 40 maple trees, and boiled it down in our new wood-fired evaporator. The ratio of sap to syrup is around 40:1, so we’ll get about 2.5 gallons of syrup from this first batch. Math is so much fun when the equation equals maple syrup at the end!
Most of my work on the farm involves me initiating and overseeing the process of growth – planting a seed, watering seedlings, carefully transplanting plants, and making sure the soil conditions are ideal for them to grow. Collecting maple sap is a different experience. As I walk through the forest at this time of year, I feel like I’m among quiet giants. These trees have been here for longer than I’ve been alive. I think about the gift that trees are – providing shade and shelter, filtering rainwater, cleaning the air, and holding soil in place. I think about how the leaves of the maple trees have been converting the energy of a giant star into food (aka starches and sugars) and storing that for energy. I think about how I did nothing to produce the sugary sap. I didn’t put the sun out there. I didn’t make it rain. I didn’t even plant the trees. I simply went out and gathered it. It’s all a gift!
At this time of the year, one of the best gifts is a sticky, delicious treat that we pour on top of pancakes. May we all see the gifts that each season brings, even if it’s the season of “almost.”