Tapping Maple Trees for Syrup

Long before you could go to your local grocery store and pick up a bottle of artificial maple flavored syrup made from corn syrup, sugar and a bunch of artificial stuff, people would collect the sap from maple trees.

From Wikipedia, where you can learn about the history of maple syrup:

Maple syrup is a syrup usually made from the xylem sap for sugar maple, red maple, or black maple trees, although it can also be made from other maple species. In cold climates, these trees store starch in their trunks and roots before the winter; the starch is then converted to sugar that rises in the sap in the spring. Maple trees can be tapped by boring holes into their trunks and collecting the exuded sap. The sap is processed by heating to evaporate much of the water, leaving the concentrated syrup.

I’ve known about a local country park which has maple tapping events open to the public every March, but for the past few years, always seemed to miss it.  I finally remembered ahead of time and so I took our daughters to see what it was all about.

Our day started out with a 20 minute lecture of the process of tapping maple trees.

We were told that the best time to tap a tree was when the nights were below 32 degrees and the days were above 32 degrees.

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We were told that after selecting a tree of an appropriate diameter, they would drill into the trunk just deep enough to reach the xylem layer.  At this point, the sap contains mostly water and about 3% sugar.

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They would then put a metal spile in the hole, though in the old days spiles were made from wood.  And then the sap would start dripping into buckets.

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They covered the buckets with lids to keep out rainwater and deter the deer, but sometimes bugs or leaves would get into the sap.  That didn’t matter so much as the sap would get filtered and cooked down before becoming edible maple syrup.

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Traditional collection methods include a few buckets and spiles arranged in a stair-step pattern.  It was advised to not make the taps in a straight line around the trees, this is known as girdling and can harm the tree.

Newer methods of sap collection involved multiple spiles tapped into multiple trees and connected with a hose to collect the sap.

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This would all culminate in one large barrel.

Of course, while this makes for efficient collection, in the back of my mind, I wonder if the plastics used are free of nasty chemicals.

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The maple sap would be taken to the “Sugar Shack” for further processing.

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We noted the warning sign with a smile before we proceeded inside.

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It takes about 40 gallons of tree sap to make one gallon of maple syrup, which explains why it’s so expensive.  About 66 percent of the water needs to be removed to make maple syrup.

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There were a group of historical re-enacters  who dressed as 1700s Voyageurs that were making maple sugar over an open fire.

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All of the water needs to evaporate in order to make maple sugar.

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It was delicious.

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It was a very beautiful day, and very educational too.  We went home with a couple bottles of maple syrup that they made.

For more information, check out these links:

http://biology.clc.uc.edu/fankhauser/Buds_and_Bark/tapping_sugar_maple_index.html

http://www.umext.maine.edu/onlinepubs/pdfpubs/7036.pdf

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2 Responses to Tapping Maple Trees for Syrup

  1. Selena says:

    Wonderful! I hope some day to see this for myself. Unlikely, since we live in Australia. The chapter about “sugar snow” in “Little House in the Big Woods” would be perfect to read alongside this visit.

  2. theexplorationstation says:

    I’m a little late in replying, but thanks for commenting.

    I remember that chapter and we have the whole series of Little House books. That would have been great to read it at the same time. We’ll still revisit the book…I think.

    Thanks so much for the idea.

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