The sight of Johnny De Bakker boiling gallons of maple sap in his driveway has become an annual event in the Mariday Park neighborhood of Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Families with strollers and dogs in tow pause to peek at the steaming pot resting on a roaring propane burner, while others check inside sap buckets resting on an old maple in the front yard.
“It’s not something that a lot of people do, but I think it’s becoming more and more popular for people to tap trees at home. But, you know, definitely a lot of interest from the neighbors,” De Bakker said.
“People want to stop and ask questions and things like that. You know, unfortunately, I’m just an amateur, just a guy who has a pot boiling in the driveway,” he added with a laugh.
De Bakker and his family have been patting a decades-old silver maple in their backyard every spring for the past four years, and it’s a trend that has caught on across the neighborhood.
People with homemade syrup wait for a temperature range of around -5 C to 5 C before tapping into the trees.
Maple season begins sweetly for some
De Bakker said things got off to a slow start this year for his own business, but in other parts of the country maple syrup producers have been working hard with high hopes for the season ahead.
John Williams, executive director of the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association, said “every bush is different” in terms of sap production this season.
“Last year was one of the worst years on record, so when you compare it to last year, this is a boom year. It could actually turn out to be a record year if the temperature keeps going like this,” he said. previously told CBC News.
But it’s not about the seasonal yield or the shelves for homemade maple syrup makers in Thunder Bay.
“This is why we started the process,” De Bakker said, referring to the family and neighborhood aspect of the home operation.
“My daughter is now six, so it’s fun. We go out and check the buckets together… and it’s kind of a thing the whole family can do together,” she said.
The backyard hobby helps with the “lull” of spring
If you walk into the northwestern neighborhood of the northwestern Ontario city, many homes have sap buckets set on their trees. The growing trend in the neighborhood started years ago thanks to Dick Henderson, who lives across the street from De Bakker.
“He’s been doing this for a number of years. And he told me he wouldn’t do it again and I wasn’t happy with it. So I decided it was my time to buy my buckets and sort out some and do it myself. “said De Bakker.
Now Henderson offers some friendly tips and tricks to neighborhood syrup operations, having been doing this for about 10 years. Even if he doesn’t pretend to be an expert.
“We started, I think, with milk cartons and little wooden faucets. And then we moved on to high tech stuff like Johnny has here now … and yes, full blown business now across the neighborhood,” Henderson said.
After graduating from milk cartons, Henderson said there have been many successful seasons of sap racing, while other seasons have not been as great. Especially with the sometimes unpredictable and severe winters bleeding in the spring in Northern Ontario.
One year, Henderson’s family produced 45 medium-sized bottles of syrup which were shared with numerous neighbors.
“I think that’s what sparked everyone’s interest when they tasted the good things, you know. But we’ve had many times where we had bad things that we didn’t share,” he said.
“It’s fun, it gets us through, kind of a spring lull. It’s great for the neighborhood, especially for the kids,” he added.