When I was a child, the beginning of March signaled the exciting trip to the woods with my dad to check out the maple sugar shack. This was a warm and wonderful place where sweet sap from trees was boiled down to delicious syrup we used on waffles, pancakes, and ice cream.
Capturing these priceless childhood memories of maple sugaring, the Stranahan Arboretum is offering public presentations of this event on March 25, beginning at 10 a.m. It is in conjunction with a professional educator group, EcoDiscovery.
Tapping of maple trees has been an American tradition since ancient Indian tribes discovered the sweet sap that flowed during the "hunger moon" time, when other food was scarce.
Days of above freezing temperatures and nights of below freezing cause the production of sugary sap under the bark and in the roots of the trees.
As the sugar is formed from the starch the tree has stored from last year, the water in the thawing ground is pulled into the roots.
This ground water pushes its way into the tree and up the xylem into the trunk and branches. The tree is actually "priming its pump" with a siphoning action.
This production of sugar sap primer is the only time when you can get sweet sap in the early morning.
Expert tappers with buckets and spouts enter the sugar bush, a grove of maple trees. Holes about 1.5 inches are drilled with a half-inch drill bit into the trunks of the trees.
Care must be taken not to drill too deeply or they will miss the layer of sap wood. Spouts are inserted pointing upwards a bit to allow gravity to pull the sap into the buckets. Then the buckets, with "hats" to protect from falling debris, are hung under the spouts. Buckets are emptied once or twice a day.
It takes 10 to 20 gallons of sap to create a pint of syrup. No wonder pure maple syrup at the grocery is expensive. The presenters will be boiling down the sap in a large pot over an open fire.
Maple sugar tapping usually lasts only 3 to 4 weeks, and does not tax the tree when done correctly.
At the University of Toledo Stranahan Arboretum, 4131 Tantara Drive, Toledo, 12 trees are being tapped. University students in education, recreation and leisure, and biology are assisting with the event.
For reservations on March 25, call Sandra Stutzenstein, program coordinator, 841-1007. Admission is $2.
Mona Macksey is a free-lance writer for The Blade.