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Maple Sugar Season: Tree-Following, March 2016

March 13, 2016

maple syrup containerIn my part of the world, maple (Acer) trees are particularly prized as the source of maple syrup. Recently, a story on the evening news featured the Governor’s ceremonial tapping of a maple tree outside the State House. This process involves drilling a hole in the trunk of the tree and then putting in a tap and attaching some kind of container to collect the sap that flows out of the tree through the tap.

All over my neighborhood, trees are wearing the latest in maple syrup fashion. It seems fitting that the old, venerable trees growing at the edge of a nearby cemetery are sporting classic metal containers for collecting their sap. It is more typical these days to see plastic pails, either hanging on the trunk of the tree or sitting on the ground attached to plastic tubing that is inserted in the tree. (Note that tubing from several taps can be collected in the same pail.)

maple sap classic maple sap plastic1 maple sap plastic2

The preferred trees for maple syrup production are sugar maples (Acer saccharum); these produce the greatest amount of sweet maple sap. But red maples (Acer rubrum) like mine also produce sweet sap.

What is the source of this precious spring product? In autumn, as maple trees stop growing and go into dormancy, they store starches in their sapwood. As days get warmer and the tree temperature begins to rise in late winter and early spring, these starches are converted to sugars which pass into the sap of the tree. At the same time, cold overnight temperatures create pressures that cause water from the soil to flow into the roots of the tree, increasing the production of sap. The ideal conditions for the flow of sweet sap combine warm, sunny days with freezing nights. According to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s bulletin on making maple syrup, each tap hole typically produces 5-15 gallons of sap (although, under the most favorable conditions, a tap hole can produce as much as 80 gallons in a single season). This might seem like a lot until you realize that the process of producing maple syrup from that sap involves evaporating the liquid to concentrate the sugars. It takes 10 gallons of sap to produce a single quart of finished syrup!

red maple no tapsI will confess to having a bit of a maple syrup addiction. During the winter months, I eat hot cereal for breakfast, and each day I garnish my cereal with one tablespoon of maple syrup. This means that I will go through 1.5-2 quarts of syrup in an average winter. Despite my heavy use of this precious product, I have never tapped my red maple tree to collect sap and make my own syrup. I prefer instead to support the local farm economy by purchasing my yearly supply.

Each March, Maine maple syrup producers celebrate the spring bounty on Maine Maple Sunday. This is always held on the fourth Sunday of the month. On that date, farmers open their sugarhouses (the out-buildings where evaporators convert sap into syrup) to the public and make lots of delicious maple sugar products available to them.

I am linking this post to the tree-following meme at The Squirrel Basket and to Donna’s seasonal celebrations at Gardens Eye View.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. debsgarden permalink
    March 13, 2016 11:36 pm

    Interesting that red maples can also be tapped. I am tempted to taste Japanese maple sap just to see what it tastes like. I love maple syrup, but I have to get mine at the market. No tapping of trees this far south.

    • March 15, 2016 8:26 pm

      Deb, I love living in a place where I can buy my maple syrup directly from the farmer.

  2. March 14, 2016 2:08 am

    A perfect way to celebrate the spring season Jean… and we also have a festival in March. I saw trees being tapped in February here which is so early. And friends are telling me the red maples are budding so no more sap can be used from them….and with the early spring, the tapping is now ending. Even my silver maples buds are swelling. Nothing beats local maple syrup. Thanks Jean for joining in to Seasonal Celebrations!

    • March 15, 2016 8:28 pm

      Donna, We’ve had a similar pattern here. Last year, February and March were so cold that there was some talk of postponing Maine Maple Sunday until April. This year, an unusually warm February meant that tapping began early.

  3. March 14, 2016 4:33 am

    An excellent post! Very informative and topical.
    I do love maple syrup and as well as using it on bread I have a recipe in which it makes a sauce with orange juice, cream and nutmeg for pork steaks.
    I look forward to more updates!
    Best wishes 🙂

    • March 15, 2016 8:30 pm

      Pat, I often add a dash of maple syrup as a sweetener in various cooked dessert dishes. It’s also delicious as a seasoning on winter squash.

  4. March 14, 2016 3:28 pm

    I find it hard to imagine being able to harvest maple syrup from an actual tree (not a supermarket shelf)

    • March 15, 2016 8:34 pm

      Diana, I’m reminded of a conversation that a gardening friend of mine once had with his four-year-old daughter. She was requesting ketchup on some food and he asked her if she knew what ketchup was made from. She replied (imagine an accompanying eye roll), “Oh, Daddy, you don’t make ketchup; you buy it in the supermarket.” I almost never buy maple syrup in the market; normally I buy it directly from the farmer who produced it.

  5. March 14, 2016 3:41 pm

    I share you maple syrup addiction and thus count myself lucky that I don’t live in maple syrup country, where my addiction would undoubtedly flourish. As it was, my brother and his girlfriend gave me a box of maple sugar candy leafs from Vermont for Christmas. They were gone in just over a week (and my husband had none).

    • March 15, 2016 8:36 pm

      Kris, I don’t have the same addiction to maple sugar candy as I do to maple syrup — but I’ve had some similar experiences with gift chocolates that disappear in a shockingly few days.

  6. March 14, 2016 4:47 pm

    Very interesting. I did not know that red maples can also be tapped. I use maple syrup but not on porridge in the morning as I would not have your fortitude and would not limit myself to one tablespoon!

    • March 15, 2016 8:37 pm

      Alain, On the occasions when I make pancakes or french toast, I don’t dole out my maple syrup in tablespoons but pour it on with abandon. 🙂

  7. March 15, 2016 5:31 pm

    Hello Jean, I would love to have maple syrup on-tap like this, though I realise it’s not as simple as tapping a tree and coming back later when you’re ready with pancakes. Maple syrup is a rare treat here and the effort in producing it is reflected in the cost to buy just a small jar.

    • March 15, 2016 8:42 pm

      Sunil, It’s fairly expensive here, too, which is understandable given how labor intensive it is to produce it. I’ve noticed, though, that it costs about twice as much from specialty food shops as it does when I buy it direct from the farmer.

  8. March 18, 2016 12:49 pm

    Maple syrup – yum! Poured on buckwheat or blueberry pancakes, and I’m in heaven.

  9. March 21, 2016 12:00 pm

    Oh Jean, I love the maple syrup run! I celebrated the first day of spring with blueberry pancakes and yes, maple syrup. I use maple syrup a lot for cooking, too, since going Vegan because hey, it’s plant based. I love it in all my baked goods, and as a marinade and to sweeten oats. Maybe now that I have a little bit of acreage I can try a hand at making my own. My most wonderful neighbor in the world usually gives us maple syrup each spring. Happy spring!


  1. Tree following link box for March 2016 | The Squirrelbasket
  2. Seasonal Celebrations Revealed: March 2016 | Gardens Eye View

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