Maple Sugaring in Pure Michigan

Ever wanted to make maple syrup? Maple Sugaring days are being held at different places around the state (check for info) and today, Craig Kasmer from Hartwick Pines State Park answered some questions about this fun family activity.

Q: For somebody that is new to the idea, what is Maple Sugaring?
A: Firstly (and basically), Maple Sugaring is another term used to describe the process of making maple syrup. That is, boiling maple sap, which evaporates the water molecules leaving one with a more concentrated sugar-rich liquid:syurp. There is however a product called maple sugar, which is created when the syrup is boiled down further (a laborious and difficult task) until the sugar particles crystallize, making maple sugar. But maple sugaring does not refer to the process of making maple sugar.

Q: How do you get maple syrup from a tree?
A: Maple sap is obtained from a maple tree (ALL species of maple trees produce sap it’s just that sugar maples have the most sugar content in the sap). A hole is drilled into the tree, a tap or spile (pronounced spy-el) is pounded into the hole. The spile is a hollow metal tube that more or less directs the sap towards a bucket that is hung on a hook that is fitted onto the spile. It sounds strange but this hook is important. If you pound the spile into the hole before fitting the metal hook over the end of the spile, there is no way to hang the bucket. Simple concept but an important step.

Q: Do Michigan trees produce a lot of maple syrup?
A: Just like any other agricultural product “Made in Michigan”, maple syrup production is weather dependent. Ideally, sap will flow best on days that are warm (45 degrees) and nights that are below freezing. Last year was an exceptional and record-breaking year for Michigan sap/syrup production when we produced 123,000 million gallons of the sweet stuff! If the daytime temperature stays cool but above freezing (33-39 degrees), the sap will flow but not as readily. Sunny days are better than cloudy days for increased sap production because the sunlight will hit the trunk of the tree, warming the tree and encouraging the sap (that is stored in the tree’s root system during the winter) to be drawn up the trunk towards the top or crown of the tree.

Q: What can people expect to see at the Maple Sugaring Days?
A: At our Maple Syrup Day Event, we will be offering several tree tapping demonstrations throughout the day and the sap that we have been collecting will be boiling down in our evaporating pan. We also have several maple syruping DVDS that will be shown in our auditorium throughout the day. In our classroom, there are several activity pages for kids to enjoy (crossword puzzles, word searches, coloring pages) and they will be able to make their own paper “mokuk”, which is a sap collecting vessel used by the Native Americans. The original mokuks were made of birch bark, and tied with tree roots (versus using string) and coated with stick pine sap to seal the container.

Q: Where can people go to learn more about Maple Sugaring?
A: My suggestion on where to go to get more information on starting your own sugar bush (tapped maple trees used to make maple syrup) is to contact your local MSU Extension Office. There are several different bulletins on how to get started and what kinds of tools and equipment are needed. I have no specific web site that we use; we’ve learned most of what we know simply by doing it.