This year's maple syrup harvest; from left to right: week1-2, week 3, week 4, Red Maple syrup from week 1-2.
The sugaring season is officially over; I did my final boil on Monday and pulled out the taps. The last batch was quite dark, with quite a lot of sugar sand (a silty, bitter-tasting precipitate that needs to be filtered out). The local commercial sugar shack, River's Edge Sugar House, shut down its operations this past weekend. They had a relatively short, low-productivity season too, but made enough syrup to make the effort worthwhile. Apparently, they have vacuum systems on the sap lines in some of their larger sugarbushes, which enable them to harvest decent quantities of sap even when the weather is less than ideal. Vacuum or no, the weather forecast for the next 10 days doesn't even predict any frost, and the tree buds are swelling, making any further sugaring impossible.
My experiment with tapping a Red Maple (Acer rubrum) was kind of a flop; I can see why people generally don't bother with them. Sap flows were low compared to the Sugar Maples, and just about stopped towards the end on February, two weeks before the Sugar Maples quit. The final results for the Red Maple boil were 12 cups of sap to 0.25 cups of syrup, or about 50:1 (Sugar Maples yield something closer to a 40:1 sap to syrup ratio, though some sap runs were a little more watery this year).
It's time to start thinking about this summer's outdoor, vaguely-self-sufficiency-related project: beekeeping. I've acquired and assembled most of the hardware, taken the Eastern Connecticut Beekeeper's Association bee class, and my girlfriend has a couple of packages of bees on order from Anarchy Apiaries. The bees should arrive in early May, and I'll have some updates then.