It really does take its sweet time.
There is no rushing maple syrup. Like time and tides, this special nectar waits for no one. Only temperature and trees can decide when it’s time to tap.
And I think that they have decided that the time is right. In late February and early March, an agricultural revival comes to Massachusetts and New England. The maple trees awaken and become ripe and ready to be tapped for sap.
This is sugar weather, and the conditions are becoming perfect. With below-freezing temperatures at night and warmer temperatures during the day (around 40 degrees), the sap within maple trees begins tomove. The sap can move both vertically and horizontally, from the roots up and from the branchesdown. This movement creates pressure within the trees which, when released, allows for the flow of the trapped sap.
Farmers and hobbyists across the state are ready to catch the sweet stuff and make the maple syrup that is really the best reason to eat pancakes or waffles.
Although most maple trees can be tapped for syrup, sugar maples are, not surprisingly, the most popular variety, followed by blackmaple. Neither tree species is widely found on our Island. Not toworry; we have the swamp, or red, maple and of course a few Norway maples to tap to our heart’s (and taste bud’s) content.
To tap a maple tree, simply drill a 7/16th inch hole about three inches deep. Make sure that the chosen tree is at least 10 inches or more indiameter. You may have a wait ahead of you if your tree is smaller thanthat. It has been estimated that it takes at least 40 years for a maple to reach tappable size, but then it can be tapped annually for 100 years or more!
For trees of the proper size, insert a spigot and allow the sap to drain into a bucket. One healthy tree can have multiple taps, and if they are done properly the wounds will heal and not harm thetree. Each hole can yield up to 10 gallons ofsap. Unfortunately, this would give only one quart of syrup after the sap has been boiled down, since the ratio of sap to syrup is 40 to 1.
Maple syrup is simply evaporated, concentrated sap. The clear liquid sap that comes out of the tree is about 98 per cent water and two per cent sugar. After boiling for hours and even days, the final syrup product becomes about 33 per cent water and 67 per cent sugar.
You will not lower your carbon footprint by making maple syrup; it takes one cord of wood or 60 gallons of oil to boil down 800 gallons of sap.
Yet we keep on tapping. Massachusetts is the sixth state in the country in termsof production of maplesyrup. There are over 1,000 people employed in ourstate making 50,000 gallons annually — $2 million worth of maple madness!
Get your local maple sap soon, since the trees will only yield their precious juice for eight weeks or less. Then come the labors of love that produce the finest syrup around. Enjoy it while you can because this season of sap is short, but sweet.
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.