Thursday, March 17, 2011

Get your taps in. It’s syrup weather. Maple syrup. Sunny days in the 40s with nights in the 20s should get the sap flowing.

I say “should” because I haven’t yet checked sap buckets that I hung out on the trees a few weeks ago when winter temperatures suddenly turned warm. That day was hopeful: I drilled holes an inch and a half deep, lightly hammered in the spiles, hung buckets, and attached covers over the buckets. The sweet “ping, ping, pinging” of sap hitting the bottom of the metal buckets began immediately. Nights that stayed too warm for the next few days brought sap flow to a screeching halt, and then cloudy weather followed by frigid days and nights kept it that way. But sap weather is upon us again.

My “sugar bush” amounts to only three sugar maple trees. I used to have four, but a large tree that was destined to become a truly magnificent representative of its species has begun an irreversible path to its death. “Maple decline” is a disease complex brought on by some combination of drought, soil compaction, road salt, root damage, and air pollution. Upper branches are usually the first to go, and once decline begins, secondary fungi and insects speed the process along.

I’m not sure about my tree, though, because its lower branches were the first to go. Also, the tree grows along the back edge of my property, where it’s been shielded from those usual causes for decline.

One more contributor to decline is overtapping. I plead not guilty. My declining tree is larger than the 10 inch minimum diameter for tapping, and I only tapped it once, when the tree, it turned out, was already in decline. The lack of sap flow was what prompted me to stop and notice the tree’s decline.

My three other, healthy maples might yield me three quarts of finished syrup. Probably less, because their trunks are each only about a foot across. In years to come, I’ll be harvesting more sap as these trees age and also because I’ve planted more maples. Those young ‘uns are now over 10 years old and should be big enough to tap in 10 or 20 years.

I don’t need to see the small, pebbly-skinned, orange orbs on grocers’ shelves to know that it’s kumquat season. My own Meiwa kumquat is looking very pretty, with a good crop of fruit staring out from their backdrop of glossy, forest-green leaves. I’ve trained the plant as a “standard,” that is, as a miniature tree with a crown of branches perched atop a four foot trunk.

The present crop is my best ever, and traces its success back to last spring. In previous years, I was too timid with pruning. And pruning is necessary, every year. Pruning keeps the plant from growing disproportionately large for its pot – or my house. Pruning also balances out each year’s loss of roots, needed to make space for new potting soil. The seemingly brutal treatment took place last year just as the garden awoke in yellow blossoms from daffodils.

In that daffodil-time, I shortened all the kumquat’s branches, some more dramatically than others, and removed still others completely. Then I slid the plant out of its pot and, with a sharp knife, sliced an inch of soil and roots from around the outer edge of the18-inch-wide root ball. Back into the pot the plant went, with new potting soil packed into the space between the root ball and the inner edge of the pot.

As soon as weather warmed, new sprouts began to grow. By midsummer, the plant was fragrant with blossoms. By late summer, little, green fruits were forming which, with careful watering, survived the environment change as the plant moved indoors in October. The plant stood at attention in a sunny window in the cool bedroom for weeks, and a couple of months ago, the fruits started turning orange. They are now ripe and delicious!

Don’t be surprised if you see me sporting a pink carnation in my buttonhole this summer. I want big, fat, fragrant, florists’ carnations, and I think I finally found one: Enfant de Nice. I’ve grown many “pinks,” another name for carnations, in the past, but they were always too demur. Enfant de Nice, from its descriptions, should have corpulent blooms in white and various shades of pastel pink. The fragrance, billed as “intoxicating spicy-sweet clove perfume,” sounds heady enough that it might have me unable to walk a straight line with one of those in my buttonhole.

For now, the practical must be dealt with: sowing seeds 1/2 inch deep in seed flats kept cool and moist, then moving sprouted seedlings to individual cells, and finally, after the last average frost date (mid-May), out to the garden. Pruning back stems after blossoming should keep me in boutonnières through July and August.

I just checked my maple syrup buckets. They were all full.

1 comment:

  1. I just bought a sugar maple seedling. In 40 years I too can start tapping my maple. Hooray!