It is the last day of February and the sap in the trees is running already! Can you believe it? With the mild winter that we have had here in Southwestern Ontario, all manner of trees and other plants have been getting ready for spring already. In fact, only yesterday I spied some sprightly little crocuses peeping their purple heads up towards the sun. I suppose it will be March tomorrow, but maple syrup producers have been hard at it collecting their liquid gold for several weeks already. At this rate, the season will be done before we know it. For those of you who don’t know the ins and outs of how maple syrup comes to be on your kitchen table for your pancakes, let me enlighten you a little today.
In the early part of the spring, as temperatures start to rise, trees slowly begin to wake up out of their winter dormancy. In the fall, maple trees store starch in their roots for winter use. As winter gives way to spring, warmer daytime temperatures encourage the sugary sap within the tree to begin rising. That is when the drills come out and stiles get tapped into place. Overnight temperatures below freezing stop the flow of sap, but the warmer daytime temperatures begin the process over again. Once temperatures consistently remain above freezing both day and night, the season for maple syrup is at an end, as the starches no longer convert into sugar.
On average, a maple tree can be tapped once it reaches approximately 40 years old. The larger (hence older) the tree is, the more taps it can handle. A tree that is 10 inches in diameter can have one tap, with up to 3 taps depending upon the girth of the tree (2 taps on a 15″-20″ tree and 3 taps from 20″-25″). As long as the tree remains healthy, it can be tapped every year for upwards of a hundred years without harm to the tree. In part, that is because even though a tree provides anywhere from 35-50 litres of sap per season, that only accounts for approximately 10% of the sap produced. The small holes that are drilled into a tree are only minor blemishes for the maple, which rapidly heal and leave no long-term damage behind. That is a good thing, as it takes approximately 40 litres of sap to make 1 litre of syrup! All that sap is boiled down to evaporate most of the water in it, leaving behind the thick amber syrup that we love so much. The high cost of pure maple syrup makes a little more sense when you crunch the numbers that way.
So if you are thinking about heading out to the sugar bush this year, you might want to get out there sooner rather than later. As the mercury steadily rises, the sap will slowly ease off and the short maple syrup season will come to a close. Don’t forget to pick up a bottle of that pure Canadian maple syrup to pop into your fridge before you leave the bush either. It is not only great on pancakes, but is also a source of zinc, manganese, trace amounts of calcium and potassium, plus just darn yummy! So pour it over your waffles, add it to your baked beans and mix it into your muffins. Maple syrup season is upon us and the time is now to enjoy!