The appearance of sap buckets hanging on maple trees is as sure a sign of Spring as spotting the first robin. Tapping season usually begins in late February and lasts well into March, ending as the leaf buds begin to enlarge. But weather dictates when the sap will actually start to snow. It runs best when nighttime temperatures fall into the 20s and daytime highs are well above 32ºF.As a boy, I often helped my neighbor, John, tap the old maple trees that lined our road. First, he would drill a 1/16-inch hole into a tree trunk 3 feet above the ground. Next, he would use a hammer to drive an iron tap (a hollow tube, also called a spile) into the hole, after which I would hang a bucket on it. I still remember the "ping, ping, ping" as the first drops of sap hit the bottom of the metal pail.
We poured the sap that we collected into a large, shallow pan and heated it over a roaring wood fire in John's sugarhouse. A pleasant maple aroma filled the air as we boiled down 40 gallons of watery sap to make each gallon of syrup. The boiling was complete when John's candy thermometer showed that the thick liquid in the pan had reached 219ºF.
Like the first sweet song of America's first intrepid robin, the delicious taste of freshly made maple syrup is a sweet reminder that Spring has indeed sprung.
SKY WATCH ☆ On the 1st, the Moon hovers to the right of Saturn, which now rises at around 11:00 P.M. Jupiter, high and conspicuous in the west at nightfall, stands above and to the right of ton the 17th. The Moon dangles below Saturn, which now rises at around 9:00 P.M. on the 29th. Mars, Venus and Uranus all cluster tightly together behind behind the Sun on the 29th, thus becoming "invisible". This simultaneous disappearance of our two closest planetary neighbors, Mars and Venus, ensures that both will remain challenging for the next few months. Spring begins with the vernal equinox at 7:02 A.M. on the 20th, when days and nights are approximately equal everywhere and the Sun rises and sets due east and west.