In his book “The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden,” author William Alexander complains that after all he had invested in his garden, each tomato cost $64. This is a good reminder of what can happen in extreme cases in which hobbies get the best of us. But the best hobbies also give back. Did Alexander get nothing out of the garden but tomatoes?
For much of the freezing arctic weather these past weeks, our family has escaped the “tundra” of the Northeast. But we need to come back now, and even though I enjoy cold weather, I confess that I am wary of the shock that awaits us.
However, I have a plan that is motivating us to come home, and I cannot wait to be trudging around in the snow and freezing temperatures. The plan is called “Syrup Saturdays.”
A few years ago, my wife began to tap a couple of Norway maples at our house. We made homemade taps and bought a bit of hose. We borrowed a cordless drill, drilled a few holes, set up a few milk jugs, and we were underway, heating the sap on our woodstove and finishing it on the range.
The first experience of a “sap-letting” defies description. One minute you are looking at drill shavings, and the next you are rushing to pound the tap into the tree, licking the slightly sweet water off your fingers — “Now it’s running down the tube! Quick! Get the jug! Let’s not waste a drop!”
Then we moved a block up the street. There are no maple trees to tap. We only have street maples, and it is against the borough ordinance to tap those. It is also inconvenient to empty buckets and bring the sap home from the old house. And, we found by experience that although the syrup from Norway maples is tasty, tapping them causes much damage.
So I contacted a friend with plenty of maples. I suggested we make a weekly family party called “Syrup Saturdays.” I ordered taps, lines and tees online. We plan to set up a simple network of trees and get barrels to collect sap through the week. We’ll use cinderblocks to make a stove. Between sledding, wrestling in the snow and tossing a football, all the kids can gather kindling and wood, and help us boil the sap in buffet pans.
So far, the supplies cost about $90, so at this rate, we need to make 2.5 gallons to break even. And I ordered 12 taps, so we could get as much as 3,840 gallons of sap or 71 gallons of syrup. We might spend more, and we might not get more than a gallon of syrup. But even if it is a very expensive gallon of syrup, I am sure that the weekly family maple festival will be—as Mastercard says— “priceless.”
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Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified municipal specialist, Clarks Summit’s municipal arborist and an operator of an organic lawn and landscape maintenance business.