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The First Harvest of the Year

Tree tapping time, writes Becca Groves, is like the first time your alarm goes off in the morning. There’s that day or two with a groggy yawn and a bit of denial because the sudden flow of sap racing up the trees is our sounding bell that winter hibernation is now over: farm life is about to ramp up to full speed.

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The First Harvest of the Year April 12, 2019  |  By Becca Groves
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This piece was originally published in The Rabbit Room.

As soon as the snow begins to melt and the temperature breaks above 32 degrees during the day, it’s time to begin the maple syrup harvest. Which means in Minnesota, it’s tree tapping time.

I would liken tree tapping time to the first time your alarm goes off in the morning. There’s that day or two with a groggy yawn and a bit of denial (is this all starting up again?) because the sudden flow of sap racing up the trees is our sounding bell that winter hibernation is now over and farm life is about to ramp up to full speed.

Tree Tapping begins it all. Soon baby lambs, goats, and chicks will be born followed by the arrival of the feeder pigs. The snow will melt, uncovering our waiting garden, and seeds will sprout under grow lights in the kitchen. Fallen branches will need to be removed and fences repaired. The spring-and-summer-into-harvest train begins to slowly move out of the station, and sometimes a girl can feel a little overwhelmed by all that is to come. She might want to hit the snooze and hibernate a little longer.

But it’s time to wake up. And Tree Tapping serves as our soft start. We wade through the snow and visit our favorite trees. We know the big producers, the ones that will drip the most sap for us. And we talk about giving other trees a year off. We only harvest enough syrup for our family each year and to give as gifts. Small-scale fits us best and it means this process is filled with no added stress of livelihood or wages. Most of this syrup will end up on our kids’ oatmeal and in our morning coffee.

Each year the routine is pretty much the same. We drill a small hole into the tree and gently tap in the spile. We scramble to get the bucket positioned to catch the fast drips and then feel the same annual wide-awake joy. It’s all coming back to life. These trees will be green again! We may have felt that hope fade during the long winter, but watching the flow of sap dripping into the bucket is proof; warm roots are soaking up melted snow and life is returning to each branch.

There’s a mystery in it all, reminding me of our very creative and thoughtful God. Somehow the melting snow will defy gravity, moving up the trunk from roots to tree top. And in God’s goodness and great abundance, there’s enough sap both for the tree and for happy hobbyists like us, grateful to restock our sugar for the year. So while I may feel overwhelmed by the work ahead, I also carry an awareness that God is the one working the miracles and graciously inviting us to tap into his ways.

When we first began, we created our own evaporator with cinder blocks, buffet pans, and a make-shift chimney. We spent hours and hours watching that boiling sap, and it never serves to walk away. Our first year my husband was out evaporating when it began to sleet. He came in the house to warm up for a bit, but in that time the sap had reduced to syrup and the syrup reduced to char. Soon there was an inferno at the end of our driveway, representing hours of lost time. Ever since, you can’t get the man to leave his boiling sap for anything.

Since those first years we’ve converted an old garden shed into our sugar shack, giving us wind protection, shelter from the sleet, and an incredible steam facial all month long.

Eventually the sap is reduced enough to bring the thickened syrup into the kitchen for the very careful last step of finishing. If left too long the syrup can scorch, ruining the whole batch. Our whole house takes on the pleasing aroma of a candy shop and it’s on this first evening of finishing that I fully embrace spring and all the work that is to come. Because it will be this evening that my husband will come to me with a spoonful of pure maple syrup and together, we’ll taste our first well-earned, delicious harvest of the year.

In that one spoonful I remember the goodness of all that is ahead. The seedlings under the grow lights have to be watered each day, but soon enough I will be picking the tomatoes from these same plants for BLTs. The goats and sheep have to be watched carefully as kidding and lambing can quickly become stressful. But soon I will be milking that goat and making soap and cheese again. The pigs are demanding and require so much food, but…bacon. All of it, all of the work that is to come, brings with it a satisfying harvest that I suddenly remember in that first spoonful of hard-earned maple syrup.

So it is springtime. There is much work ahead but God is calling us to wake up, O sleeper, and Christ will shine, illuminating God’s miracles and abundance. For he is the one running the sap, growing the seeds, and bringing new life.


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