ROCHESTER, NY (WROC) – Maple tree magic begins in late winter and early spring as temperatures start to break above freezing on a consistent basis. This is the window of opportunity to tap trees as they release their sap.
HOW IT WORKS
In the summer, a sugar maple tree absorbs sunlight and uses photosynthesis to convert sunlight to sugar. As fall approaches, the tree sheds its leaves and the sugar migrates toward the trunk. This sugar is highly diluted with water in the form of sap that remains solid in the the tree during winter. Once spring approaches and the temperature starts to swing above normal more regularly, the sap begins to flow. This is when you collect to make maple syrup. Timing is important as sap flows well only during a specific time. Tap late and you may miss large flows. If you tap early, it was once thought that damage could be done to the tree and disease could take over. Experiments have shown that this is not the case and is explained here.
COLLECTING THE SAP
A spout hammered into a tree with a bucket is the most simple way to tap a tree. More professional operations attach a tube to holes drilled into the tree and flow the sap to a collection site. The number of taps in a single tree is determined by the trees diameter, health, and growth rate. The collection should end when the growing season begins.
TURNING SAP TO SYRUP
Sap is simply maple syrup that is diluted with water. Boiling the water is a basic method of extracting the sap, but modern techniques include reverse osmosis, explained more in depth here. Two containers are used with a filter that allows for water to separate out. A pump is then applied to the sap to help further separate the two. Boiling is then done to further extract the sap.
About ten gallons of sap make a quarter gallon of maple syrup.
CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS ON SYRUP
Most of the maple syrup production in the United States comes from the Northeast, where greenhouse gas emissions is leading to a warming climate. That has moved up the tapping season, starting about 8 days earlier and ending 11 days earlier than 50 years ago according to Climate Central. Higher temperatures also lead to a worse yield as less sugar is created by the tree.
As temperatures continue to warm and the winter season shrinks, syrup production will continue to migrate northward into Canada. Some estimates say that by 2100, nearly all maple syrup production will happen north of the border. More dire predictions say that natural maple syrup will one day be a thing of the past as temperatures continue to warm, but that is unlikely to happen in our lifetimes.