I tapped a maple tree this year because I wanted to practice a skill I had been reading about: how to produce homemade maple syrup. I tapped when the book said to – late February/early March – and I got…nothing. A week later I got a few drips. A week after that I had a little more than a half gallon, which I cooked down but ended up with maple sugar taffy by over-cooking it. I figured it was all a good learning experience, pulled the spile out of the tree, washed all the equipment and stored it away.
Yesterday afternoon I was walking down past that maple tree and couldn’t believe what I saw:
The entire front of the tree is covered in sap, which is running freely out of the tap hole! B-b-but…it’s almost April! Sap isn’t supposed to start running now! The books said so, and I already washed and stored all my equipment!
The skill I lacked was patience.
And real-world knowledge, as opposed to book knowledge. Even though the sap was “supposed” to run earlier, it didn’t. Who knows why – probably because of the extremely cold winter. But I learned several more lessons, which I’ll share here in hopes of helping someone else avoid the same mistakes:
1. Knowing how to read conditions is vitally important when it comes to producing a yield. Nature doesn’t read books; it produces when the conditions are right, not when the time table in the book says it is supposed to. I need to learn to read the conditions for maple sap production.
2. Patience is a skill even more than a virtue. I wanted my sap right now, and when I didn’t get it, I wasn’t willing to wait and see what happened. Also, I’m struck by the fact that one of my first reactions was that something might be wrong with that tree, that it might be pest-infested and that I’d better get someone out to spray it with pesticide.
…permaculture is founded upon patience. Permaculture is about working with nature and allowing time for nature to work herself out. Permaculture can be frustrating for many people, because there are no ‘quick fix’ solutions to problems. Permaculture is about setting the seeds for a permanent system (think: permanent agriculture = permaculture) that will manage and sustain itself for years to come. Our severe impatience drives us to get in with the tractor and chemicals, blast everything out to bare soil, and plant a monoculture of the desired plant we want. We want these plants to grow fast so we can begin harvesting straight away and make more profit. The more the better! This is a ‘trophy hunter’ mentality. But this type of system requires constant management and constant artificial inputs from fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and other manufactured chemicals.
Permaculture, in contrast, is about the maximum amount of output with the minimum amount of work and input. In order to create something that will last and be sustainable, the key is patience, patience, patience! But patience is such a hard quality to cultivate in us ‘instant-gratification’ humans. Therefore, incorporating the practices of permaculture requires a complete change in mindset and attitude. It is not just a method of farming, it is a belief system and lifestyle.
The permaculture method of farming is the wheat we can extract from the chaff of their “belief system”, which tends toward pagan spirituality.
3. Skills are best learned before you have a critical need of them. My family isn’t counting on that maple syrup for our livelihood or our survival, which makes now the perfect time to learn by trial-and-error and repeated attempts. Maybe the food supply will never be disrupted and I’ll never “need” this skill – though it’s still a nice one to have – but if I ever do need it, I’d rather already have the skill acquired.
…it’s important to learn stuff NOW. Remember, preparedness is a three-legged stool: supplies, community, and knowledge. You might have all the supplies in the world, but without the knowledge of how to use those supplies, they’re almost useless.
…This means testing your theories, supplies, and equipment; and it means learning how to do things by alternate means. And this must be done before things hit the fan.
In the face of natural or societal disasters, you are going to be stressed, scared, desperate, panicked, and unfocused. If you think you’ll suddenly have the leisure to learn the intricacies of cooking from scratch, growing a one-acre garden, canning green beans, or plinking at targets, think again. Because make no mistake: all these skills take practice.
…you need to go through trials and errors and the initial failures at a time when those failures won’t mean the difference between life and death. Then you need to learn what works for you. For some things, like a garden, you only have one chance a year. Get it wrong and you have twelve more months to sweat and plan before the next try.
My advice to readers is to make this the year that you grow something – anything – useful, even if it is just a little backyard garden or a window box of herbs. But in seeking to obtain a yield of the fruit of the land, let us remember together that we need first to seek the fruit of the spirit:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
And as we wait patiently for our earthly yield, we also wait patiently for the return of Our Lord:
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.