Annual maple season now upon us

There is another group of outdoor enthusiasts, besides gardeners, that is very excited with the recent spring weather - the maple syrup producers. In cold climate areas, like ours, sugar maple trees store starch in their stems and roots before the winter; the starch is then converted to sugar and rises in the sap in the spring. Maple trees can be tapped and the exuded sap collected and concentrated by heating to evaporate the water. Because needs to be concentrated through evaporation, it takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup!

The maple season is completely dictated by the weather. If the night's too warm, days below freezing, et cetera, the length and quality of the sugaring season is adversely affected. And as the weather continues to warm through the spring, the maple tree's normal biological processes eventually alter the taste of the sap, making it unpalatable and therefore ending the maple syrup season.

Maple syrup is an important part of the New York State's and the North Country's economy. Vermont produces the most syrup in the country, followed by Maine and New York. The crop value of our state's syrup is estimated to be around $14 million dollars! Since most of the syrup is produced in northern areas of the state, buying syrup from a local producer is a great way to keep money in our local economy.

Not too long ago, most sap was collected in buckets and evaporated over a fire. Plastic collection tubing and reverse osmosis processes have improved maple syrup efficiency. The sap still needs to be boiled in an evaporator, but since some of the water is taken out during the reverse osmosis the time required to condense the sap into syrup.

As a child, I always wanted to make maple syrup. I wanted to tap our two large Norway maples and boil the sap on the stove. My parents, being wise, never allowed this. Boiling the sap in your kitchen makes for a very sticky situation. Boiling the sap on propane burners outside solves this problem. And, visiting a local maple syrup producers is yet another way to keep your kitchen clean while supporting your local economy!

Anne Lenox Barlow is a professional horticulturist who enjoys gardening with her family in Plattsburgh. She also chronicles her gardening experiences at her blog www.northcountrygarden.wordpress.com. She can be reached at a.lenox.barlow@gmail.com

New York State Maple Weekend - which features open houses at maple syrup producers across the state - continues this weekend.

For more information, including a list of locations for the event in our region, visit www.mapleweekend.com.

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