|DRILLING THE TAP HOLE|
|INSERTING THE SPILE|
|ALL SET TO COLLECT SAP|
|FLAKY BARK OF THE IRONWOOD|
The trees are all tapped in the sugar bush, about sixty sugar maples and at least one basswood that keeps getting tapped year after year because it had a tap hole evident from the prior year. A rather common human failing, I would guess. Trees to tap should be over 8” in diameter at breast height, and not be obviously unhealthy or damaged. The tap hole can be anywhere convenient on the tree from perhaps 2’ to 4’ up the trunk, some say it should be on the south side of the tree but most say it doesn’t matter. Many people now use a cordless power drill but an old-fashioned brace and bit works fine as well and doesn’t need to be constantly recharged. The drill should be the diameter of the spile, 7/16, and should go in at a slight angle upward, and the tap hole should be about 1.5” deep. Wood shavings should be cleaned from the hole. The spile (now usually aluminum but in prior times lead or even wood) is driven gently into the tap hole with a hammer until it is firmly in place. The bucket is hung and the sap will flow when temperature and sun conditions are right. When flowing fast it doesn’t take long for a bucket to fill, but usually it takes a good part of the day, and then sap is collected, and taken to the fire or stove to be boiled down into syrup.
The photos include a much better example of yellow birch, and the trunk of a common under story tree of the maple woods, ironwood, also called hop hornbeam, Ostrya virginiana. A 6” diameter ironwood is a big tree, and since they grow very slowly most are very much smaller. It has elm-like leaves and bark that is black-brown and very scaly or flaky. It is a nice little native tree, very shade tolerant and with a yellow fall leaf coloration.
I guess I have mentioned that I have become, belatedly, a fan of Robert Ruark, an outdoor and adventure writer of the 50’s and 60’s. Another of his homilies has stuck in my head; “Don’t be noble, it is ruining the country.” That was his reaction to the exhortations of Eleanor Roosevelt for young people to be so, during the Great Depression. For some reason it struck a note with me, and after some ruminating I think I can explain his sentiments in my own words; in order for some to be the nobles, others must be the serfs.