Fiona and I have been visiting the trees in the forest that surrounds our home recently, appreciating them anew as they emerge from the snow and prepare for a new season of growth.
Yesterday we checked out the red cedar bark, which we will use for basket weaving. Years ago the kids did a workshop with this lovely local lady, and while they're a lot of work, the tiny baskets we have since made have been very striking and rewarding. It's still too early in the season for it to come away easily in long strips, but we're looking forward to harvesting some in May. We then dug up some red cedar roots, to decide how useful they'd be for embellishing our baskets. I had read that they make great sewing material, but had never taken the suggestion seriously. They really are amazing. The slenderest ones are strong, pliable and lovely to look at, and they dry and increase in strength very quickly once harvested.
We collected armloads of white pine cones to use a fire-starter next winter.
And then we made our acquaintance again with the birch trees. We tapped a couple of birch trees years ago, but our sap collection set-up wasn't ideal and we didn't get enough sap to make a proper syrup. Because birch sap is about five times less sugary than maple sap, you need a heck of a lot of it!
Sometime in the intervening years I managed to purchase four spiles and today we picked up some clear 1/2" tubing at the local hardware store. All it took was a quick bit of work with the portable drill and a couple of taps with the mallet the trees began spilling their sap out for us with eagerness. We plugged a couple of tubes into each of two glass carboys and within an hour or two had a couple of gallons of sap.
I imagine it will be incredibly time- and energy-consuming to boil the stuff down, but I'm happy to do it just once, to experience the process and the taste of the syrup.
Birch sap is sterile and contains trace amounts of minerals, xylitol and various other good things. It's actually a great source of safe drinking water. Not that we don't already have safe drinking water, but hey, when civilization crumbles, this might be a useful piece of knowledge.