Seasons Not Schedules

By , March 30, 2017

I got the jump on birch tapping season this year, which is to say, I started early—too early, apparently.

Last year I found some very valuable information on proper birch tapping methods, but it appears I have yet to fully absorb its key points. Up until I found the information, everything I’d read on the subject focused on maple tree tapping methods, then extrapolated them to cover birch and other trees.

As it turns out, while maple and birch tapping share many methods, and the seasons overlap nicely, the saps rise differently. Therein lies the key.

Maple tapping relies on temperature differentials, so “sugaring season” arrives when the nights fall below freezing, and the days rise above. Birch tapping relies on root pressure, which builds when both day and night temperatures rise above freezing for an adequate period.

Clearly, there’s wiggle room here. The inevitability of Nature’s forces ensures that spring progresses through the capriciousness of weather, allowing the neophyte birch tapper (that would be me) to get decent amounts of sap even while following bad advice (see “Moonshine”).

This year, I looked at the calendar and panicked. I checked my planner pages from last year and saw that I ended my tapping season around the first week of April (see Knowing When to Stop). I quickly set up taps and collecting vessels on two trees on the property, then I pulled up my notes on tapping and read the detail about root pressure. I also checked other records, and recalled that we enjoyed much warmer weather at this time last year, to the point that we switched to the summer water system more than two months earlier than usual!

With our current temperatures, we’re likely to start seeing yield from the taps any day. I left them in place, and check them once each day. Meanwhile, I’m moving ahead with other preparations for a new season of birch wine, confident that all will be ready by the time I get enough sap.

The lesson, though, is that in this case, as with most seasonal events in our region, watching the calendar counts far less than watching conditions. Continued success in this area requires me to stay attuned to the season, not to schedules.

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