Syrupin’ and Seed Startin’

Reader Contribution by Becky And Andy
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It was February 17th, almost the exact middle of winter, and we got an urgent text message: “Saps running! You tapping this year?”

What?! It was a full month earlier than last year. How could the sap be running? I looked out my kitchen window. Yes, the snow was melting with the unusual warm snap we were having … but I didn’t think that would wake the trees up by itself. Didn’t the sun have to be at a certain angle? Wasn’t there something to the length of the days?

No matter. In two days we’d hastily drilled holes in our neighborhood maples and pounded in the taps. In fact, our coats and faces got splashed with the heavily flowing sap. It was, indeed, running!

Andy and I, with the help of our friend Erik, went from property to property adding taps and blue sap bags to the tree trunks. In a couple hours, we had them covered. Here’s the interesting part: some of the maples we had drilled into last year were bone dry; not running at all yet. Others had clearly been pulling water for several days already. It was an odd experience; one we had not encountered yet in our fourth year of syruping.

That weekend we had scheduled to be out of town, so we relied upon our friends to collect sap. The day we hammered taps, it was 50 degrees F outside. When we came home from our trip, it was closer to 65! We broke records all over the place. Unfortunately, the sap was no longer running.

We had collected merely 20 gallons, and most of that had been from the first 24 hours.

Undeterred, we kept our bags up and waited. Winter can be tricky in Wisconsin; she only has a few stunts to pull. We knew the snow and cold would be back before the calendar proclaimed spring was officially here.

Indeed. Less than a week after seeing record highs, the state was covered in a snowstorm that dropped 6 inches of snow in some parts. And we collected 26 more gallons of sap. The trees love a good mix of freezing and thawing to get their blood pumping.

Because of a number of circumstances, we are having to boil it all down in our kitchen again this year.

As the sap turned from clear to amber to bronze, the seeds for our garden arrived in the mail. It was time to start our seedlings for May.

We have had very little success starting seeds at home. This year, I asked if we could invest in a seed-starting rack complete with grow lights in order to give our little tomatoes and peppers a fighting chance. With the help of a skilled friend, we found a simple, DIY, seed-starting rack plan online, and he built it in a single day. With all the hardware, lights, and wood, the final cost was about 100 dollars. We can hold up to twelve seed-starting trays (the standard kinds you find in garden catalogs), and the lights are designed to be raised or lowered depending on the plant height.

I’m sure there will be tweaks on our part to ensure the seedlings’ success, but for now, as the sap boils away, the little cabbages and lettuces have already sprouted. We are hopeful for an early spring, especially since the seed rack has taken over our living room!

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