I’m on the local food bandwagon. There’s just no argument against it. I find it disorienting not to know what is in season at what time of year. I want to re-set my own local knowledge and make sure that my kids know – even if it’s subconscious – that eating strawberries in February (in southern Ontario) isn’t possible without kilometres of asphalt, litres of fuel, refrigerated storage, runways, airplanes, and plastic containers.
I’ve been wanting to plant food in the back yard for a few years now. Every year something puts it off – work, babies, travel. This year is no different. We’re spending mid-April to mid-July – the growing season – in Berlin. I’m not complaining, but this isn’t the year to start planting.
There’s one crop that already grows in our backyard: a maple tree. Last summer my friend Zoe and her family visited us. Her dad remarked: you could tap that tree. Really? One tree? I could? I’m no stranger to the sugar bush. I’ve never made syrup but I’ve seen it being done. I grew up with annual school field trips to the sugar shack and we have family and friends who tap their trees. I just never thought of it as an urban endeavour. It’s true that a tree spile and sap bucket are hard to come by in the city but thanks to some generous friends (thanks Amy!), I borrowed one and started watching the weather forecast.
It has to be below freezing at night and above freezing during the day for the sap to start to flow. And you have to tap the trees before my Dad’s birthday (March 19) – that’s just a rule. On March 7th, it looked good. We drilled the hole, tapped in the spile, and within seconds, the sap started to flow.
The truth is nobody makes maple syrup from the sap of one tree. It’s a slow drip. And sap spoils so we’ve resorted to keeping it in the fridge which is a pretty energy-intensive agricultural practice. At some point, when we get enough, we’re going to boil most of the water out of the sap. In the meantime, we’re using electricity to keep it all cool. It’s not very efficient.
It takes 40 litres of sap to make one litre of maple syrup. I’m holding out hope for 10 millilitres of final product. We’ll have to make those tiny pancakes that are really just drops of batter and then dole out the syrup from an eyedropper. At least it’s local!