April 27, 2016
Spring has arrived. Yeah! Although this winter was not unduly harsh, it was long and it is so nice to finally shed the winter parka.
Now that spring is here, the sap is running. Two winters ago, we cut down some birch trees to use as supports for the veranda. In the spring when the sap starting running, those birch trees bled for a couple of weeks, the sap running red down the trunk. And every morning and every evening, I had to walk by those poor stumps and watch them bleed. (Although the sap is perfectly clear in color, as it runs down the log it must catch some color from the bark. After a couple days of oozing sap, it begins to turn a blood red.
This winter, we cut down three birch trees to use as balcony supports and I vowed we would try and save the sap.
When the warmer weather hit last week, the birch sap started appearing on the top of the cut stumps. We drilled holes in the stump and ringed the tree with taps (five or six per stump) in hopes that the majority of the sap would run through the taps rather than out the top of the stump. The taps were connected to tubing that ran into a covered five gallon pail.
Success! We were thrilled to find that most of the sap came through the taps. Now that the sap is running well, we are collecting 15 to 20 litres a day from the three stumps.
I have been doing some research on syrup making. Maple trees have a sucrose based sap. Birch trees, however, have a fructose based sap. Boiling down maple sap to syrup requires 40 litres of sap to make 1 litre of syrup. Birch syrup is much thinner and requires 100 litres of sap to make 1 litre of syrup. That’s a lot of sap!
I like using the taps with the tubing. I bought some new taps this year and the fellow selling them said he prefers to use plastic milk jugs rather than tubing. He hangs the jugs on the taps and then goes round and empties the jugs. By using the tubing and sealed 5 gallon pails for collection, we only have to visit the trees once a day to empty the collection pails without worry that the container will overflow. And since the pails are sealed the sap is clean and free of any insects or debris.
After several days of syrup making, we are becoming syrup gurus. From what I have read, birch’s fructose sap is more fragile than maple sap and should not be boiled hard. The fastest way to reduce the sap is to have as much surface area exposed to the air. The wood stove is perfect for this job as there is lots of room for pots. The trick is to keep the stove just hot enough to almost boil the sap. There is a lot of water evaporating, and it would be ideal to do the boiling outdoors. Luckily, it is still fairly cool out and opening the windows in the house keeps it cool and removes the humidity.
Birch trees do not heal after being tapped, they continue to bleed until the tree finally dies. This is not a problem for us, because we are harvesting off the stumps, the tree is already gone. However, if you tap live trees, you must be careful to plug the hole from the tap (with a cork). Birch trees should not be tapped until they are at least 8 inches in diameter and then only tap every two or three years so as not to weaken the tree. We will continue to harvest the sap until it stops flowing. It will be interesting to see how much we get from three trees.
Birch syrup has a stronger, more molasses like taste, than maple syrup. However, it is quite pleasant and I think it would be delicious on pancakes. So far we have 3 cups of syrup. I also like drinking the sap straight from the tree and using it in my green smoothies.
Update – when the sap first started running, we were collecting about 15 litres of sap per day from the 3 stumps. After the first week, the temperatures got warmer and the sap began to run close to 25 litres per day. After two weeks, it was about 30 litres a day. However, the warm temperature also caused the sap to spoil quickly, and it became harder to keep a fire going in the house all day to evaporate the sap to syrup. So after about 10 days we called it quits with the syrup making. We made just over a litre of syrup. I continued to collect the sap for a few mores days, using the sap collected overnight for drinking and smoothies, and the remainder I fed to my plants. Maybe they will be as strong as birch trees. Today I pulled out all the taps. Next spring I will try to tap the maple trees in my Mom’s yard.