From sap to syrup

Tapping sugar maple trees at Eastman Nature Center 

By Megan Hopps

SUN PRESS Newspapers

 

Swish, swish, crunch, crunch.

The sound of little feet could be heard pitter-pattering through the snowy trails Sunday at the Eastman Nature Center in Dayton. Families gathered to learn how to tap a maple tree for its sweet sap.

Little ones took turns placing buckets on syrup spigots as they follow volunteer Les Kowal through the snowy forest at Eastman Nature Center. Families later had an opportunity to taste the syrup made from the nature center’s Sugar Maple trees. Sap is tapped from the trees and placed over a fire to remove the water leaving the sweet syrup behind. (Sun staff photo by Megan Hopps)

Little ones took turns placing buckets on syrup spigots as they follow volunteer Les Kowal through the snowy forest at Eastman Nature Center. Families later had an opportunity to taste the syrup made from the nature center’s Sugar Maple trees. Sap is tapped from the trees and placed over a fire to remove the water leaving the sweet syrup behind. (Sun staff photo by Megan Hopps)

“You only have to drill about two inches into the tree, just through the bark,” said Three Rivers Park volunteer Les Kowal.

Drill too far and the tapper would find themselves drilling into the trees sapwood. This part of the tree is similar to its skeleton. It’s the strong, structural part of a tree and does not contain sap. Drill two inches in and this is similar to the trees veins, this is where the sap flows.

“Think of it like donating blood,” Kowal said. “We take a small part from the tree — one to three buckets depending on the size.”

During a typical six-week sap season, about ten percent of a single trees sap is taken from its bark. Once the hole is drilled, Kowal inserts a metal spigot with a hook at the bottom.

“Anyone know what the hook is for?” Kowal asked. “The hook is where we hang the buckets.”

Kowal passed out buckets to each of the children that gathered to watch the tapping. The metal buckets came with covers and Kowal later explained that it’s important to keep the buckets covered to keep snow and water out. And Kowal explains that’s not the only thing that can get into the buckets.

“The animals are very smart,” Kowal explained. “We use bags instead of buckets sometimes and the squirrels will chew holes in the bags and drink the sap. After a while the bags are covered in duct tape.”

After the trees are tapped volunteers come by to pick up the filled buckets. The sap is then poured into a large cauldron and placed over a fire to boil the water out of the sap.

After tapping the trees, the buckets are left to collect the sap from the maple trees. Later, volunteers will come by to collect the buckets and pour the sap into a large cauldron over a campfire to separate the water from the sugar.

After tapping the trees, the buckets are left to collect the sap from the maple trees. Later, volunteers will come by to collect the buckets and pour the sap into a large cauldron over a campfire to separate the water from the sugar.

 

“To make one gallon of syrup takes about 40 gallons of sap,” Kowal said. “Sugar maple trees have anywhere from two to five percent sugar in their sap, but other trees like the Box Elder and can be tapped as well.”

The best time to tap Maple Trees is in the early spring when temperatures rise above freezing during the day and fall below freezing at night. This fluctuation in temperature is vital to the flowing of sap. Sap runs from the bottom of the tree upwards towards the branches. This allows the tree to produce leaves in the spring because the sap delivers sugars and carbohydrates to the buds.

The Eastman Nature Center is harvesting Maple tree sap every Sunday in March from 1-4 p.m. Residents of surrounding cities are welcome to stop by to learn how to tap the trees and make the syrup.

Though Kowal jokes, “Don’t boil the sap in your house, you’ll take down the wallpaper.”

 

Contact Megan Hopps at megan.hopps@ecm-inc.com

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