In mid-February, while other gardeners are only dreaming of the harvest, New Englanders and many others in northern areas of the country are harvesting their crops. They are often harvesting it while the snow flies and piles up around them. The crop is maple sap. It is used to make maple syrup.
Harvesting the sweet sap of maple trees to make prized maple syrup is a painstakingly slow process. Fortunately, it is not hard, just time-consuming. All you need is a hammer, a tap, some plastic tubes, and a plastic jug. Armed with this inexpensive equipment, the only other thing you need is an ample supply of Maple trees.
The harvest period normally begins in mid-February when the sap of the Maple tree begins to move upward from the ground through the trunk of the tree. It is ultimately headed to the limbs, branches, and leaf buds, fueling growth for the coming spring. The sap will flow and remain sweet for about four to six weeks, depending upon the weather. Ideal conditions are freezing nighttime temperatures, followed by daytime temperatures in the thirties. A late winter warm-up into the sixties or seventies spells an end to the season.
The typical maple syrup harvest will include hundreds, if not thousands of trees. One productive tree will produce five to ten gallons of sap. Not all trees will produce this much. Taking sap does not harm the tree. It takes about 42 gallons of sap to produce a single gallon of Maple Syrup. Once collected, the sap is slowly boiled in long, flat trays to remove the water content, leaving the sweet, thick syrup we all know and love.
The sap also makes a refreshing drink. Many maple tree harvesters will keep a container of sap for drinking during the season.
The syrup you usually put on your pancakes contains no maple syrup. Many years ago, producers slowly replaced the maple syrup with corn syrup and other far less expensive sweeteners. They ultimately removed all the maple syrup and re-named it “Pancake Syrup”. How do you know? There are two ways. Read the label and check the price. Maple syrup costs over $25 per gallon.