Nursery Notes: Maple trees offer sap as well as colour

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Evan Davies owns Beltane Nursery at 2915 Highway 3 i Erickson.

Evan Davies owns Beltane Nursery at 2915 Highway 3 i Erickson.

Earlier this week, the girls and I cooked up some fun! We took a cordless drill, an old tap, a hook, a one-foot piece of hose and a clean bucket with a lid to the back garden. There we proceeded to tap one of our sugar maples.

In 13 years, I’ve never so much as put a nail hole in one of our trees. The way I see it, you do correct pruning or complete tree removal. Apparently you can put one tap in a 12-inch diameter tree without any damage.

I drilled a hole about a half-inch wide and one inch deep to screw the tap into. Many years ago they said not to prune maples or birch trees through spring because they bled sap so much. They said wait until June; however, more recent research indicates that there is no long-term detrimental effect from pruning them at this time of the year. That is how it all started with a little pruning in the arboretum last week. On a beautiful sunny day, we pruned a few lower branches from a Norway maple so it would be easier to mow underneath. Wow, look at the sap run!

So I took the girls back there on the Saturday to tap the tree, which was a pretty cold day. No sap came from the hole. I said, “Let’s wait and see what happens on the next warm day.” The sap runs in direct relation to the sunny weather.

Over the course of the next few days, I collected about a gallon of the translucent tree sap to boil up. At sea level, the correct temperature to cook the sap is 104 C but here it may be two degrees cooler. It is a rule of thumb that you could get 10 gallons of sap per tap on a 12-inch tree over the six weeks of sap run. It is recommended that you don’t tap trees under 12 inches in diameter.

So with the sap heating up in a big pot on the kitchen stove, I watched things take shape. I brought it to a boil and then simmered it for about half an hour. I’m sure that all the water that evaporates from the boiling sap would create a humidity problem in your home. Back east they make their syrup in outdoor “sugar shacks”.

They say you reduce it 40:1 but this looked more like 20:1, perhaps because I removed some ice from the top of the bucket or perhaps just because it was thick sap to start. It turned out to be very clear, much lighter in color than the “pure maple syrup” I had bought at the farmers’ market back east last fall. Factors that affect the color of the syrup are the species of maple that the sap is from and the temperature that it was cooked down at. Sugar maples have the most sugar in their sap, at about two per cent, with red maples following close behind.

We sell quite a few red maples for their fall color but not so many sugar maples, for whatever reason. They have a brilliant orangey-yellow fall color, which is quite nice. Not a bad way to pass the winter away.

Evan Davies owns Beltane Nursery on Highway 3 in Erickson.