JACKSONTOWN – Greg Myers had a busy week. The Dawes Arboretum trail maintenance technician was sanitizing buckets, bags, and taps; cleaning an evaporator; and generally preparing for another maple syrup season beginning Feb. 19. “It takes about four or five days solid,” he said Tuesday. Obviously, the arboretum isn’t in the business of brewing maple syrup for commercial sale, but it still needs to create 35 gallons as samples for tours and other educational programs. It’ll take roughly 1,000 gallons of maple sap to create the 35 gallons of syrup. “It takes quite a bit,” said Myers.
Although it was warmer Tuesday, conditions weren’t yet optimal for tapping the trees. According to a Library of Congress Science Reference Guide, below-freezing nights and sunny, warm (40 degrees Fahrenheit) days provide optimal conditions for sap to start moving up the tree, and then draining into a bucket or through a network of tubes to a sugarhouse, where it’s evaporated over a roaring fire and transformed into maple syrup. “It’s not prime weather for production,” said Myers, but he needed to begin tapping this week to be sure there was maple syrup for the tours.
Myers said he’d run one tube from a tap to a container as an example of how major manufacturers collect maple sap, but he still prefers to use the more traditional method of collecting sap in buckets or bags. The buckets and bags are emptied individually into an evaporator. It takes 40 or 50 gallons of sap to create one gallon of syrup. “It depends on the sugar content” of the sap, said Myers.
Mike Ecker, Dawes Arboretum Director of Horticulture, warned that trees can be “ over- tapped” if the tapper doesn’t know what he or she is doing. Generally, one tap is used for each 10 inches of tree diameter, up to four taps. “That’s as many as you should ever put on a tree at one time,” he said. It’s also important to move the taps around each year, first, because it does less damage to the tree, and second, because the tree will stop the flow of sap to the last place the trunk was tapped as the wood heals.
Myers said he’d tap the trees until they begin budding, which is in roughly six weeks. “After that, the sap starts getting bitter,” he said.
Dawes Public Relations Director Laura Appleman said Dawes sells taps and a wide range of maple products. “We have all things maple syrup,” she said.
Dawes’ Maple Syrup Madness program runs from Feb. 19 through March 5. Sap is collected from Dawes’ own sugar maple trees and boiled down to sweet smelling syrup in an on site log cabin. Witness the process and sip a tasty sample! Take the trail for a self-guided adventure, attend a Saturday 2 p.m. public tour, or sign up for a group tour with the Education Department.