Journeys of Dr. G at Tyler Arboretum

The sabbatical project continues, exploring all that Tyler Arboretum has to offer

Maple Sugaring in the new year

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Maple Sugaring

Some of the visuals and displays from the Maple Sugaring class

Today was my first class at Tyler Arboretum in 2014!  I grew up in the New England states, and when I was a kid, we used to travel to Vermont and visit the maple farms to view the sugar maple trees and to purchase 100% Vermont maple syrup.  So when I read the description for the Maple Sugaring class in the Winter 2013-14 issue of Tyler Topics, I knew this was a class for me!

Maple Sugaring

Learn about the history of maple syrup making and then venture outdoors to learn the techniques of tapping a tree, collecting sap and boiling it down to create delicious maple syrup in this adults-only program.  If you are lucky enough to have a sugar maple in your yard, you may want to try this at home!

… and, it turns out, one of the people in the class with me today was there to learn how to tap a sugar maple in his own yard!  He also shared with me how much he learned in the Terrarium Workshop the day before, and we chatted some more as others arrived for the class.  The class was led by Tyler Arboretum educator Rachel Ndeto, who did an excellent job with the basics of trees, how they grow, how they can be identified, etc.  We started with our class in the barn, looking at different samples of wood to note different features such as tree rings (and a short discussion on dendrochronology!) and tree bark.  I also found it interesting that the maple tree is one of four trees in Pennsylvania with opposite vs. alternate branches.

Then, we began focusing on the sugar maple, and how the tree needs to be tapped in the winter during certain temperature conditions – otherwise, the sap will have a different taste.  Rachel’s description of not only the branches but the “winged” bark was in all of our minds as we headed outdoors to tap a tree!  A short trek in the snow led us to a sugar maple, and Rachel took us through step-by-step how to set everything up.

Maple Sugaring

Rachel drills in to the tree (not that deep!). She drilled at an angle sloped up, so that the fluid would flow down and in to the bucket.

Maple Sugaring

The spile that is then inserted in to the hole in the tree to help direct the draining sap and water. Spiles can be carved out of wood, made of metal or plastic. The size of the spile needs to match the size of the hole drilled in the tree.

Maple Sugaring

The lid is then attached to the spile.

Maple Sugaring

Add the bucket and now… we wait!

Depending upon the diameter of the tree, up to three taps can be placed. On a day with the right temperature conditions, Rachel said that a this bucket would need to be emptied twice a day!

Maple SugaringRachel said that most of what comes out of the tree is water, which needs to be placed in an outdoor evaporator to remove most of the water.  Then, what is left in the pan is brought indoors and boiled at a temperature of 219-3/4 degrees (that’s 7.75 degrees F above the boiling point of water) for the material to become syrup.  After draining this syrup through a coffee filter to remove any remaining bugs and plant material, we have syrup!

It was fascinating to hear about the different grades of syrup, why trees have to be tapped in the winter, and how 40 gallons of sap from a sugar maple are needed to make one gallon of syrup!  And we ended the class on a real positive note – a chance to taste a sample of 100% maple syrup!

This maple sugaring class and taste of syrup is making my mouth water for Tyler’s Pancake Breakfast, taking place Saturday, February 22.  Can’t wait!

I found some interesting information from Penn State Extension on Maple Syrup and collecting sap for beginners.

Author: Dr. G

Dr. Laura Guertin, Associate Professor of Earth Science, Penn State Brandywine. Learn more at http://about.me/drlauraguertin

2 thoughts on “Maple Sugaring in the new year

  1. I just found this fascinating new article by NPR called “Sap Discovery Could Turn Syrup-Making Upside Down” – check it out! http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/02/02/270204651/sap-discovery-could-turn-syrup-making-upside-down

  2. Pingback: Preparing for the Pancake Breakfast! | Journeys of Dr. G at Tyler Arboretum

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