April 26, 2012 —
UPPER DELAWARE REGION — Anyone who has ever thought that pure maple syrup is too expensive need only visit a local sugar bush to gain a good perspective on what it takes to make the delicious product that sweetens our lives in so many ways.
For starters, producing one gallon of the syrupy stuff requires harvesting 40 gallons of tree sap using a variety of practices involving taps, buckets, tubing and more. Next is the fairly grueling process of boiling that sap down to concentrate the sugars over an intense period of time.
Collecting sap involves drilling small holes into trees, inserting spouts or spiles and harvesting the sap, which is about 98% water and two percent sugar. The sap is then boiled until it reaches a final concentration of 33% water and 67% sugar. The syrup is also processed into candy, cream, jelly and crystallized maple sugar.
This year, local producers faced unusually warm temperatures early in the season. Some tapped, while others waited for more typical weather patterns. One result was an abbreviated season.
According to Peggy Simons, president of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Maple Producers Association, PA producers had all finished boiling by March 14 this year. Last year’s end date was April 5. Those who began tapping in January and boiling in February saw the best results.
“The earlier you started, the better it was,” said Simons. “If you didn’t hit February, you were down to a two-week season instead of the normal four to five weeks.”
The typical maple season lasts from mid-February to early April. Sap begins to flow only under certain conditions featuring cold nights with temperatures below freezing and days with temperatures above freezing.
The hot spell also affected sugarhouses during boiling time, when some facilities reached punishing temperatures in the 90s. It’s a process that can’t wait, requiring producers to swing into full-steam production once underway.
As a result, most producers on the Self Guided Maple Tour in the Wayne County area had already completed the evaporation process before the tour occurred in the third week of March. On the upside, visitors had more opportunity to interact with producers who would normally have been more occupied with the process.
The tour was coordinated by the Wayne Conservation District (WCD) in partnership with the Wayne County Cooperative Extension and Northeastern Pennsylvania Maple Producers Association, and is slated again for the third weekend in March 2013. For more information contact Simons at 570/224-4607 or Paul Reining of WCD at 570/253-0930.