Families tap into a sweet resource

Nature center teaches how to make maple syrup

March 16, 2003|By Jennifer Blenner | Jennifer Blenner,SUN STAFF

To most people, the snow melting and flowers beginning to bloom signify the first signs of spring.

But at the Eden Mill Nature Center in Pylesville, the last two weeks of February and the first two weeks of March signify the running of the sap from maple trees.

Last weekend, more than 20 area residents gathered at the nature center's first family-night program of the year to learn the history, make spiles, or spigots, and get instructions for production of maple syrup in their own back yards.

"We have been doing Friday-night programs dealing with every aspect of nature to get the community excited about nature, foster respect for the outdoors and for family fun," said Andrea Musser, a volunteer at the center for 10 years, who led families in the process of making maple syrup.

"I think it's a family-oriented program and it allows a family or group to do something together as well as learn together," said Janice Muscella of Bel Air, who brought her children to learn about nature. "I think it gives them the opportunity to get involved with outdoor activities and learn about native culture and the history behind it."

She said she attended because her daughter was interested in the program. "I wanted to learn more about syrup," Rebecca Muscella said. She learned that it all began with the Indians, and her brother, A.J. Muscella, said he experienced the real taste of maple syrup. He said he wanted to learn to tap a tree. "When I move, I will be able to tap my own tree," he said.

Yet others, such as Mary Klopcic of Bel Air, a mother of six children going on seven, saw the chance to get out of the house.

"We were going stir-crazy," she said. "We needed something to do to get out of the house. I think they had a good time and they were all excited about making their own spiles," she said.

Musser explained that a maple tree suitable for tapping must be at least 10 to 12 inches in diameter.

"Hugging a tree is how you measure it," she told the children. "If your hands can't touch, it's big enough to tap. For an adult, if you can hide behind it, it's big enough to tap."

Next, drill a hole slanted slightly downward with a 7/16-inch bit, Musser said. The hole should be no deeper than 3 inches and the average is between 2 and 2 1/2 inches.

Then drive the aluminum spile into the hole and hang a bucket from the spile. Collect the sap and strain and boil it until it becomes syrup - about 66.5 percent sugar.

Although there are many kinds of maple trees, the best for maple sugaring is sugar maple because of its sap's sugar content, Musser said. Maple sap can have anywhere from 1 percent to 7 percent sugar, averaging around 2 percent sugar.

Tapping season begins when there is thawing during the day and freezing at night, Musser said. This change of temperature causes "sap rising," when gallons of sugar water (sap) begins moving through the tree trunk. The tapping season is typically four weeks in Maryland, depending on the weather, she said.

Vermont is the largest producer of maple syrup, with New York the second-leading producer. Maryland does not produce much syrup, but there is a large maple tree population, said Karen Miller, executive director for the Maryland Forest Association, a nonprofit organization.

"Maple trees are found in the western region of the state, because the combination of typography and weather is something that species needs," Miller said.

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