First pollen and the end of sugar season.
I always struggle with the end of sugaring. There comes a point every year where the decision has to be made to pull the plug. I think one of the things that is hard for me is that it never ends on a high note. At the end of the season equipment gets dirty very quickly, it gets hard to process the sap, tanks and other equipment need constant cleaning- but the desire to eek out a few more gallons of syrup is a strong one. Time marches on, sap begins to sour and trees start to bud. I always keep going until the syrup turns bad. It gets difficult to boil and even harder to filter. If the trees bud out, the smell of the boiling sap is unpleasant.
Sugaring is a full time, 18+ hour day after 18+ hour day for weeks at a time. Then it’s over. Over in a smelly unpleasant mess. There is no going away party or momentous hoorah. Just over. The emotions run strong. There is relief, there is pride, there is sadness. It is difficult to not look back and analyze every decision made and wonder if something different could have been done to better the outcome. Sure, somewhere in my mind I understand that I cannot control the weather. But what if I had pushed a little harder, added a few more taps, checked the lines again to gain just a little more vacuum. I push myself as hard as I can from around the first of the year through until the syrup turns, but there is always the feeling that more could have been done, somewhere, some way.
In the end, nothing can be changed, it’s over. It takes a few days to unwind from the intensity of the season. I slowly realize how much my body hurts and how tired I am. Now it is a time for some rest, before the cleaning of tanks, filters, the evaporator, pulling taps and taking down sap lines. Things slow down. Pride in the accomplishment sets in slowly. That syrup is there because the hard work and sacrifices that were made. Tree sap transformed into liquid gold. Barrel after barrel - 360 pound paychecks lined up one after the other. As the sugarhouse gets cleaned up and put to bed, the barrels of syrup lining the walls are counted and recounted. Another season in the books. We did the best we could with that we had. Quietly and steadfastly preparation for the coming year begins.
An afternoon walk through the apiary removes any doubt as to the passage of time. Long wintered foragers are moving about, bringing in the first of the spring pollen, from red maples and pussy willow. The apiary had a hard winter with steep losses, but the hives that remain are strong and will need to be fed and equipment prepared for making splits on the dandelion bloom. These are good bees and they will need to be propagated quickly so they are strong enough to bring in the honey crop. The ending of one season and the beginning of another.
Spring is here.
No time to wait, there is much work to be done.
Our sap ran from 3-3-21 to 3-25-21. We started tapping our trees on 2-16-21. We made 420 gallons of grade A maple syrup from 1,750 taps. This was approximately 50% of the expected crop. Talking with other sugar makers the consensus is that many are coming in at 50%, with a few hitting 60% of a crop.