It's time to prune here in New York's Hudson Valley, and I'll be holding a PRUNING WORKSHOP here in my garden on April 10th. Learn the tools of the trade, how plants respond to pruning, and watch demonstrations of pruning of apple trees, blueberry bushes, lilac bushes, and other plants. Limited space, so pre-registration is necessary. Anyone who is interested should contact me for more information.
Still, I’m hoping to make enough maple syrup to last until next year about this time. Four tapped trees should do it. It has to, because that’s how many spiles (taps) and buckets we own. This operation is nothing like what I came upon a couple of weeks ago cross-country skiing in the woods of northern Vermont. All of a sudden tubes had appeared in the pristine, white wilderness. Tubes everywhere! Baby blue plastic tubes, black plastic tubes, interlocking connectors, everything neatly wired into position at chest height and thoughtfully out of the way of any skiers enjoying the woods.
Processing the sap here at home is done quite differently from those commercial operations. Our low-tech approach is to merely add each day’s “catch” from the four buckets to a big stock pot sitting on the woodstove. The woodstove is stoked pretty much continuously this time of year, so the sap is always evaporating, with the added bonus of humidifying the house.
I see a few eyebrows going up. Sticky walls and ceiling are what comes to some minds upon the mention of cooking down maple sap indoors. Well, that’s usually myth. Sticky walls and ceiling only result when the sap is in an active boil and bubbles bursting on the surface of the liquid sent little droplets of sugar water into the air and onto walls and ceilings. But until the final stage of our sap-making, the sap is just slowly evaporating. The vapor given off by slowly evaporating, simmering, or boiling a solution of any sugar and water is nothing more than water vapor. That’s why the maple sugar becomes concentrated in the remaining liquid.
In those final stages of concentration, with much reduced liquid volume, the liquid can indeed reach an active boil. The pot of liquid announces that it’s nearing that stage by starting to gurgle like a baby, at which point it needs to be watched closely, mostly so that the syrup doesn’t get too concentrated or burn. The finish point is when the temperature of the liquid reaches about 219 degrees F.
Someone emailed me that, “The squirrels were chewing on the Norway maple last week and the sap was seen dripping down,” then went on to ask if that meant it was too late to prune. Perhaps the squirrels were enjoying some of the sweet sap. Yes, you can tap and boil into syrup the sap of all kinds of maples; I’ve tapped and made syrup from silver maple, red maple, boxelder, and, of course, sugar maple.
Getting back the pruning… It’s not at all too late. It’s fine to “dormant” prune any plants up until the time when they unfurl their leaves in spring.
Another good question might be: Why not just cut the Norway maple down to the ground? The trees are invasive and displacing our sugar maples, they have poor fall color, and they create lugubrious shade beneath which grass and much else can’t grow. Mostly, people keep these trees because they are already in place and full grown.
Despite a foot of snow on the ground, I’m still planning to scratch open a furrow and plant peas – the first outdoor planting of the season – on April 1st.
Given the white blanket, which may not be around by the time you read these words, some people might think me crazed for planting peas so soon. Then again, those people who insist on getting their peas in the ground before St. Patrick’s Day might think I’m dragging my heals.
Here are the facts: Peas grow best at cool temperatures, making early sowing a must. The seeds will sprout whenever the soil temperature is above 40 degrees F. But St. Patrick’s Day can’t be the universally best time to sow peas because different places experience different climates on that date. It’s probably too late in Florida, too early in Maine, and just right in Ireland.
So call me a fool if you like, but I’m still planning on an April Fools Day planting for my peas. I’ll wait a few more days if the ground is frozen or covered with snow. Just a few days though, because things move quickly this time of year.