Another Maple Season is in the Books

By Aaron Lefland, Forestry and Stewardship Coordinator

The 2015 maple sugaring season was anything from typical. Due to an unusually cold and snowy winter, the sap did not start flowing until mid-March, almost a month later than most years. In addition, warm temperatures in early April shortened the usually 6-week season to a mere 4 weeks. Fortunately, those 4 weeks were incredibly productive and the 2015 season was another success.

Maple Bottles2015 By the Numbers:

Maple sugaring is one of those things that can best be explained using numbers. So, rather than describe our season, we have created a list of numbers to help summarize everything we accomplished this year:

450: Number of buckets hung on trees around the town of Weston

12: Number of days that sap was collected

4100 gallons: Total volume of sap collected this season

600 gallons: Largest single-day collection total

200 feet: Length of the “sapuaduct”; a temporary tubing system that allowed easier collection of sap in the deep snow

7 cords: Amount of firewood used to produce all of our syrup

130 hours: Amount of time Aaron and Cam spent boiling sap into syrup

250 people: Number of attendees at this year’s Sugaring Off Festival

393: Number of kindergardeners and first graders who visited the sugar shack

13: Number of middle school students in the after school program who are now expert sugar makers

84 gallons: Total volume of syrup produced (a 12% increase form 2014!)

That’s All Folks!

As you have seen in our past blog posts, making maple syrup is no easy task. At Land’s Sake, we are proud to continue this New England tradition and share the experience with our volunteers, middle school after-school program, and visiting school groups. We are sad to see the maple season go, but will be able to enjoy the fruits of our labor for the remainder of the year. If you are interested in purchasing our maple syrup, please visit our farm stand when it opens on June 6th.

Maple Sugaring: Boiling

By Aaron Lefland, Forestry and Stewardship Coordinator

For decades, Land’s Sake has been continuing the New England tradition of turning the sweet sap of Sugar Maples into delicious maple syrup. Each year, we tap hundreds of trees, collect thousands of gallons of sap, and boil the sap in our evaporator to create syrup. This blog post will discuss how the water-like sap of the sugar maples is turned into delicious maple syrup.

Evaporate, Evaporate, Evaporate:

When sap comes out of the tree, it is usually around 2-3% sugar (sucrose, specifically), so how do we turn that watery sap into syrup, which is around 66% sugar? The whole sugaring process is really just an elaborate evaporation system. As we heat the sap and keep it at a steady boil, the water in the solution evaporates, leaving sugars behind. As this solution gets more and more concentrated, it turns sweeter and the sugars begin to caramelize and turn a light brown. In total, we will use about 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup!

Feeding the Fire is one of the most important parts of the boiling process

Feeding the Fire is one of the most important parts of the boiling process

Tools of the Trade:

To boil our sap, we use a specially designed apparatus called an evaporator. Evaporators come in all shapes and sizes, but ours in approximately 7’x3′ and consists of two large, square pans mounted above a firebox. The pans have a corrugated bottom which increases the amount of surface area in contact with the fire, and allows us to boil at a very fast rate. Under the pans, we have a giant firebox which is filled with firewood cut by our forestry team. To keep things boiling, we have to feed the fire with about two armfuls of wood every ten minutes. As part of this process, we burn anywhere from 5 to 10 cords of wood each year.

Late Nights at the Sugar Shack:

While tapping the trees and collecting of sap may take a bit of time, the majority of time spent sugaring takes place at the sugar shack. On a good day, we can collect 500-800 gallons of sap, but our evaporator can only process about seventy five gallons of sap per hour. That means that a good sap run can necessitate a ten hour boil! During the boiling process, we are constantly feeding the fire, checking sap levels, and when the time comes, drawing off the finished product of syrup. In order to make the highest quality syrup and ensure that the sap does not spoil (it only has a 3-4 day shelf life), we usually boil immediately after we collect the sap and do not stop until all of the sap is gone.

Want to get involved?

If you are interested in volunteering to collect sap, help with the boiling process, or do anything else maple-related, please join our Land’s Sake email list HERE. If you are interested in volunteering during maple season, sign up HERE. Now that the sap has stated to flow, we will need all hands on deck to help collect the hundreds of buckets we have hung with the help of our volunteers and after school group. If you happen to be around the sugar shack and see steam pouring out of the cupolas, stop by and we will give you an in-person tour of our operation.

Maple Sugaring: The Sap Run

By Aaron Lefland, Forestry and Stewardship Coordinator

For decades, Land’s Sake has been continuing the New England tradition of turning the sweet sap of Sugar Maples into delicious maple syrup. Each year, we tap hundreds of trees, collect thousands of gallons of sap, and boil the sap in our evaporator to create syrup. This blog post will discuss the most important step in that process; the sap run.

Both volunteers and students in our after school maple program help collect sap

Both volunteers and students in our after school maple program help collect sap

When does the sap start to flow?

Anyone who has been involved in the maple sugaring process knows that things are basically stagnant until the sap starts to flow (pardon our pun). This year has been an exceptionally cold winter, meaning that the sweet sap of the Sugar Maples is frozen in the trees and has not been running out of the taps we installed. Fortunately, things are starting to warm up, the trees are thawing out, and our precious sap will slowly start dripping out of the spiles and into our buckets. Once we consistently have days with temperatures in the low 40s, our buckets will start to fill and the sap will  be brought to the sugar shack and boiled down.

What causes the sap to flow?

According to Cornell’s Sugar Maple Research and Extension Program, “during warm periods when temperatures rise above freezing, pressure (also called positive pressure) develops in the tree. This pressure causes the sap to flow out of the tree through a wound or tap hole. During cooler periods when temperatures fall below freezing, suction (also called negative pressure) develops, drawing water into the tree through the roots. This replenishes the sap in the tree, allowing it to flow again during the next warm period. Although sap generally flows during the day when temperatures are warm, it has been known to flow at night if temperatures remain above freezing.” Read more about the process HERE.

How fast does the sap flow?

When a good run is underway, sap drips out of the spile a little more than once per second. Many people say that a steady sap drip should be similar to the rate of a resting heartbeat. Although this may seem pretty slow, a good run can necessitate a full collection every day. We  try not to waste time collecting buckets before they are full, but need to be equally as careful not to let them overflow and waste sap. Fortunately we have a great group of volunteers that help us collect sap, and you can join us in this process by subscribing to our email list below.

Although only about 2% sugar, buckets of sap can provide a sweet, refreshing drink while collecting.

Although only about 2% sugar, buckets of sap can provide a sweet, refreshing drink while collecting.

When does the sap stop flowing?

If we were to leave our spiles in the tree, they would theoretically keep dripping sap until the tree began to heal after a few months. So why do we stop collecting the sap? It turns out that there is a chemical change in the composition of the sap that occurs once the buds on the trees start to pop. “Buddy sap” as it is affectionately known, can still be safely boiled down to make syrup, but has an off-flavor that most people do not enjoy. Unfortunately, it is difficult to predict exactly when the buds will pop, so we collect as much syrup as we can in the limited window that nature gives us.

Want to get involved?

If you are interested in volunteering to collect sap, help with the boiling process, or do anything else maple-related, please join our maple-specific email list HERE. As the sap flow begins, we will need all hands on deck to help collect the hundreds of buckets we have hung with the help of our volunteers and after school group.

 

Maple Sugaring: Tapping our Trees

By Aaron Lefland, Forestry and Stewardship Coordinator

For decades, Land’s Sake has been continuing the New England tradition of turning the sweet sap of Sugar Maples into delicious maple syrup. Each year, we tap hundreds of trees, collect thousands of gallons of sap, and boil the sap in our evaporator to create syrup. This blog post will discuss the first step of that process; tapping the trees.

The history of tapping:

It is believed that early Native American populations in present day New England were the first to draw the sap out of Sugar Maples. By making a cut in the bark and allowing the sap to flow down a reed or stick, they could collect the sap in wooden buckets and concentrate the sap by dropping hot stones into the bucket. Over time, European settlers began tapping sugar maples as well, using augers to drill into the trunk of the Sugar Maple and inserting hand made wooden spiles to collect the sap. As the maple sugaring tradition continued, various forms of taps were created and improved upon. Today, most spiles are made of cast aluminum or stainless steel.

The spile is hammered into a pre-drilled hole in the tree. Photo courtesy of Ellen Ellerbee

A spile is hammered into a pre-drilled hole in the tree. Photo courtesy of Ellen Ellerbee

Where and when do we tap?

Around the town of Weston, there are a number of forest stands that contain a large number of Sugar Maples. These stands are called “sugar bushes” and are the perfect places to tap trees because we can collect a lot of sap from a small area. This year, the majority of our taps will be located in the Sear’s Forest, First Parish Church, and Linwood Cemetery.

At Land’s Sake, we tap our trees on the early side, usually in late January or early February. That way, we are prepared for an early sap run, and allow the students in our after school programs to tap trees for a couple of weeks before the sap starts to run. Due to the extremely cold winter this year, we installed the last of our taps in late February and are hoping for a sap run in March.

How do we tap?

The first step in tapping is being able to identify a Sugar Maple from the other trees. Luckily, most of our trees are tagged so they are easy to identify, but if you’re starting out in a previously untapped area you’ll need to know what to look for.  Sugar Maples are deciduous trees with opposite branching and flaky, potato chip-like bark. They are easiest to identify in the fall when you can see their leaves, but winter identification gets easier as you begin to recognize the unique bark.

After the spile is inserted into the tree, the bucket is hung, and a "hat" is placed on top to keep debris out. Photo courtesy of Ellen Ellerbee.

After the spile is inserted into the tree, the bucket is hung, and a “hat” is placed on top to keep debris out. Photo courtesy of Ellen Ellerbee.

After we figure out which trees are actually Sugar Maples, the next step is to figure out how many taps each tree will get. Depending on the diameter of the tree, we install either one, two, or tree taps on each tree. To do this, we drill a small hole about two inches into the tree and then hammer a spile into that hole. This spile allows us to hang the iconic sap bucket, and allows the sap to travel out of the tree and into the bucket.

Is tapping a tree bad for the tree?

Tapping a tree and collecting sap is a lot like a person donating blood. The sap is constantly being produced by the tree, so taking a relatively small amount of sap from the tree does it no lasting harm. We  take care of our Sugar Maples by only installing taps on trees that are at least one foot in diameter, and do not install multiple taps unless the tree is big enough to handle the added stress. The drill hole also heals relatively quickly, and is almost invisible after a few years.

Want to get involved?

If you are interested in volunteering to collect sap, help with the boiling process, or do anything else maple-related, please join our maple-specific email list HERE. We hope that the sap will be running the next few days and we will need all hands on deck to help collect the hundreds of buckets we have hung with the help of our volunteers and after school group.