Saps Making Syrup

16 Mar

As the cold Midwestern winter gives way to crisp spring chill, the sap starts flowing and the saps make for the maple forest.  Maple syrup season is a fleeting spring fling!  Too cold, the sluggish sap won’t flow.  Too warm, bacteria grow and stimulate the tree to start heeling its wounds and close up the sap taps.  So in just a few short weeks between afternoon highs reaching the 40s and climbing to the 60s, the maple farmers have to make the most of their sweet time.  This year is warming up fast!  And the beautifully balmy spring days are cutting the sap season short!

I got a brief chance to spend a short weekend in the woods helping my family harvest sap from my uncle’s Ohio tree farm.  (Ironically, the “Pancake” tree farm was named for the nearby road years before the idea for a family-run maple business ever occurred to the Berg family.)

It’s a family affair!  The Berg family takes to the woods as a trio (or more when they can convince friends and family to help).

The serious sappers:

My cousin – the chef and salesman – has little love for the sap buckets and lots of ideas for automation (left).

My aunt – the doting, supportive mother – overcomes fears of bugs and disgust with dirt to help her boy’s budding business (bottom).

My uncle – the outdoorsman and family goofball – spurs the family into the woods oblivious to their discomfort and chuckling at their grumbles (top).

The visitors:

My mother – happy helper, goofy old lady – plods along with my aunt, two old ladies hefting heavy sap sacks and trying not slip down leaf littered slopes (right).

Myself – the outdoors tourist – coming in to town for a weekend in the woods, only getting two days of sap action, I scurry up the steeper hills lacking the knee injuries of the older folks who’ve been at it all month (spared the photo).

Sap sacs dangle in the woods.

The maple stands looked a little like a retail check-out disaster – blue plastic bags hanging from every tree.  But the bags are a rather clever collection devise.  Each bag, held open and secured by a metal handle/hanger, hangs from the lip of a tapper driven into a hole drilled in the tree.  The bags can’t tip or collect debris like buckets might, and the tap is directed to drip right into the bag until it fills.  And the sap flows – from the tree to bag – bag to bucket – bucket to ATV – ATV to holding tank in the truck – down the highways to the Sugar Shack.

Bugs like the sap too! But, don’t worry, that’s what filters are for!

I’ll admit, I came to Ohio this weekend prepared for long grueling days of endless bucket-brigading.  Much to my surprise, I was impressed not just by the quantity of sap we collected, but the simple efficiency involved.  In just a couple hours 5 of us collected 100s of gallons of sap (about 300 gallons Friday, just around 200 Saturday, a record day before I arrived yielded nearly 500!).  And, at a 2% sugar content, it takes 43 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of tasty syrup, making every one of those gallons precious.

Once we get our tank of sap to Dave’s sap house, the operation kicks into high-tech gear, this is no pot of sap on the woodstove!  Well, it sort of is – but this is one heck of tricked out woodstove – and the fanciest collection of stainless steel holding tanks you ever did see tucked in the woods next to a bark board shack!

Dave’s Sugar Shack.

Coming soon – the magic or turning sap to syrup!

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