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  • Megan

Maple Syrup for Tu Bishvat

Happy Rosh Chodesh Shvat! Today is the first day of the month of Shvat. On the 15th, we'll celebrate Tu Bishvat, the New Year of the Trees. It marks the beginning of spring - yes, even here in the US, where it feels like winter.

In Israel, Tu Bishvat marks the first blossoms of the almond trees, and the first signs that fruit is coming. Where I live, it was 42 degrees today, which, to be completely honest, did not have me dreaming of spring blossoms. Even when we can't feel it, though, the trees are getting ready for spring. For us in colder weather, the trees are starting to wake up from their winter rest. As temperatures dip below freezing at night, the sap flows down to the roots where it keeps from freezing. During the day, as the sun warms the trees, the sap flows back up into the branches to bring stored up sugars to the rest of the tree.

Here in Maryland, I'm barely in a zone where I can tap our trees, but we do manage to get a week or two in the right temperatures. You're looking for a time when the nighttime low is below freezing and the daytime high is above freezing. For us, that's today.

This is our second year tapping the maple tree in our front yard, so I am absolutely a beginner, and if you want to try, please don't consider me an expert source. That said, I'm in the suburbs, inside the DC beltway, so you don't need a lot of land or expertise to be able to do this. You just need undisturbed access to a maple tree, and some basic equipment. The equipment wasn't expensive, either - I paid about $30 for this kit, which gave me enough to tap 10 trees (I have one tree. You could absolutely share this with a friend). My kit uses the smaller "tree saver" stiles (that's the plastic part that goes into the tree) that are supposed to do less damage to the tree.

I measured the stile against the drill bit, and added tape to make sure that when I drilled into the tree, I got the right depth. On the other end of the tube, I've got a large mason jar. I drilled a hole in the lid and folded the edges down with pliers so they wouldn't be as sharp, then fed the tube in. Ideally, I'd love to have a food safe bucket with a silicone ring to provide a tighter seal against rain and bugs, but we're going to filter it on the other end anyways, so this will do for now. (The third photo above is last year's hole, which you can see is already starting to heal.)

Then, the fun part. I drilled a hole into the tree at a slightly upwards angle, then bashed the stile into the hole with a rubber mallet. (Seriously, this is so easy you can see I didn't even put on real shoes.)

Last year, we got about half a gallon of sap from our tree, which boiled down into about a 1/4 cup of syrup. We're hoping to catch it earlier this year, but the weather here is very fickle. As soon as the trees start to bud, the sap stops flowing. Hopefully, by Tu Bishvat, we'll be able to taste our very own homemade syrup, a reminder that even in the cold winter, we're still well on our way to spring.

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