By now you may be sick of snow and that heart-shaped box of chocolates. And even though the calendar does not say it is yet spring, the animals and trees say otherwise. Owls are fledgling, salamanders are swarming and the sap is flowing. Sap? Yes, you know that sticky stuff that drips from the trees onto our cars. For the record, I personally am crazy for it. I could go on and on about how sap is the fluid food of plants and how cohesion-tension transports the hormone and mineral filled-water through the xylem into the upper reaches of the trees, but lets skip all of that for now and get to the good stuff, the really good stuff—maple syrup!
With its distinct climate and forests, New York State produces some of the world’s finest maple syrup. But before you soak your short stack in sweet amber syrup, lets take a crash course in Maple Sugaring 101. The art of making syrup is called sugaring. To start sugaring we need to find a sugar bush— a stand of trees, usually maple, from which a farmer collects the sap. Collecting the sap starts by drilling a hole into the tree a.k.a. tapping the tree. A spile (think small funnel) is then inserted into the hole to divert some of the tree’s sap into a collection chamber, often just a bucket. To complete the process, the sap, which is mainly water and sugar, is heated to seven degrees above boiling. As the water evaporates and the sugar concentration hits about 67% the sap is then considered syrup.
Though no one knows for sure, it is suspected that Algonquin tribes, in what is now known as New York, were the first people to make maple syrup. First or not, they knew late winter in New York is prime time for sugaring. This is due to the freezing nights combined with warmer days. When the tree temperature is between 40-45ºF. , the sap is full of sugar. Outside of that temperature range, the sugars are converted back into starches.
During the cold nights the sap keeps from freezing by hanging out in the roots. Slightly warmer daytime temperatures encourage the sap out of the safety of the non-freezing roots and up the trunk of the trees, right to those spiles and buckets. On average, it takes 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup. And as the price climbs to over $40 a gallon, no wonder maple syrup is considered to be liquid gold!
Travis Brady, a wildlife biologist, owns and operates Mosaic Wildlife Services in Nyack. He can be reached at www.mosaicwildlife.com