Monday, March 7, 2011

Tap that Tree

Over the weekend, Paul and I visited Fort Snelling State Park to attend the Maple Syruping event. We had gone since I've been wanting to check the park out, we have a annual sticker for the state parks and the topic of the workshop was of interest to me. I went in curious to learn about how it is done and I left after having bought 4 taps. They made it seem to easy to make maple syrup and we have a big Silver Maple in our back yard!

We watched a presentation where we learned a bunch of facts about maple syrup including a bit about the history of making maple syrup, how to tell when it is time to tap the trees, the different species of maple trees and the regions they grow in.

We went outside and got a primer on how to identify a maple tree in the winter. It is much harder than you would think being that when it is time to tap the trees, they are bare. No leaves makes it much harder to tell what you are looking at! The hint? Maple trees have branches that oppose each other, not alternate.

We got instructions on where and how to drill and learned the equation to figure out how many taps you can put in a tree without harming it. We also got to watch some bored kids pelt their parents with snowballs from point blank range.

Here is a tidbit I found thrilling: the sap only flows when it is below freezing at night and above freezing during the day. Why is that so thrilling? Well, when I thought about it more, I realized that the expanding and contracting of the tree basically serves as a slow motion heartbeat, causing the sap (lifeblood of the tree) to flow to all its parts. The visual of the tree as its own organ is quite amazing to me. It didn't feel as great to realize that tapping the tree sort of makes us vampires or ticks. But, man is maple syrup tasty!

We fully installed the tap, but it wasn't warm enough for the sap to be flowing yet. We spent the last part of the workshop back indoors where we learned about boiling the sap into syrup and got a sample of the syrup the park made 2 years ago. They didn't have any from last year because the park flooded. It will flood again this year, so we were glad we went to the first workshop of the season. When things start to melt, the interpretive center has to close.

Second thrilling tidbit of the day: it takes approximately 40-60 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. The naturalist made it seem so easy, that I bought a few taps from the gift shop and left with visions of a weekend spent stirring the pot as it boils over our backyard firepit.

Enter, Dad. During our regular Sunday phone chat, he set me straight about how much heat you really need to keep it boiling. That means I would need to modify my firepit and buy a truckload of firewood or use a propane cooker instead of fire. If I use propane, that means I have to buy it. So, this "free" syrup would end up costing me 2 days of time (not including sap collection) and around $100 of propane and equipment. All that for a gallon of syrup...which I can buy from the guy at the farmer's market for much cheaper. I have that guy's syrup now. It is delicious. Oh, and did I mention that as soon as the temperature warms up a bit, you have to boil it down right away or you run the risk of the sap going rancid and you end up with nothing but barrels of nasty water. Oy!

At the very least, it was fun to learn about the process, spend a bit of time at a new local spot and get a sense that spring will eventually arrive.


  1. Well, at least your dad told you early on. I had a boss who bought an entire maple grove (it came w/ her vacation home)--thinking it was 'easy' b/c "farmers can do it." (SHE had a PHD)

    First maple syruping weekend? She came into work and she couldn't move her arms, she was still sticky and most of VT had laughed at her. :)

  2. Wait. I was tromping around that park all of Saturday afternoon!


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