OHIO OUTDOOR NOTEBOOK
By Laura Jones, Ohio Department of Natural Resources
When the sap starts “running” it’s time to go tapping;
Get a taste of Ohio’s sweet heritage with a trip to the sugar bush
As early signs of spring go, Ohio’s maple syrup season is certainly one of the sweetest. It’s also a time when Ohioans have a chance to get out and see firsthand how this sugary goodness is gathered and learn about its place in our state’s heritage.
Long before the first European ever set foot in North America, Native Americans were already gathering sap from maple trees. Early Ohioans quickly caught on to the idea, appreciating it as a sweet substitute for the hard-to-come-by cane sugar.
While methods have changed, the basic process for creating maple syrup has not: tapping, collecting sap, boiling it to evaporate the water, leaving a thick, sweet, amber-colored syrup.
Today, more than 800 Ohio producers bottle between 70,000 to 100,000 gallons of maple syrup each year, according to the Ohio Maple Producers Association.
Tree tapping in the sugar bush the wooded area containing the maple trees begins around mid-February, when freezing nighttime temperatures are met by warmer days, causing a clear sap to begin moving in maple trees. The sap “runs” from the roots of the tree to the ends of branches, providing food to young, developing buds.
Any kind of maple tree can be tapped for its sap, but the highest sugar content therefore the best syrup comes from sugar maples. Sugar maples also have the longest period of sap flow before buds open. Once a tree buds usually the end of March the sugaring season is over. Buds reduce the amount of sugar in the sap, causing it to have an unpleasant taste.
Did you know that maple syrup, as we know it, is an exclusive product to the northeastern United States and eastern Canada? That’s because those are the regions of the world in which sugar maples grow in abundance. In fact, the Buckeye State is among the most prolific syrup producers in the country, joined by Vermont, Maine and New York. The blue ribbon for production goes to Canada, which generates more than two million gallons annually.
To put this in perspective, experts in the maple syrup industry say it takes 31 to 45 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup, and one tree might yield 11 gallons of sap a month.
Lynn Boydelatour, a naturalist for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said drawing sap does not harm a tree as long as it’s healthy and the number of taps is appropriate for the size of the tree.
“Small holes are bored in the trunk just large enough to accommodate a small spout, which directs the sap into a bucket or plastic tubing,” Boydelatour said. “After the tapping season, the old taps heal over and new holes are drilled elsewhere the following spring.” He added that ideal the ideal sugar maple reaches tap size around 40 years of age and could continue providing sap for up to 100 years.
During February and March, there are several opportunities in the state to get an up-close view of how maple syrup is produced and most times, a sample of the sweet treat is included! Some of the best places to see the process in action are in Ohio State Parks, where one of the state’s premier maple syrup operations can be found at Malabar Farm in Richland County.
At Malabar you can cure your curiosity and learn how maple trees are tapped. Then discover the many methods for transforming sap into deliciously sweet syrup or sugar, including the centuries-old techniques used by Native Americans.
Malabar Farm usually has about 800 taps, according to assistant park manager Jason Wesley. Depending upon the weather and length of season, the taps generate anywhere from 35 to 100 gallons of syrup.
If you’re sold on the idea of enjoying some maple sweetness, visit one of the many upcoming maple syrup festivals, including Malabar’s from noon to 4 p.m., March 6 and 7, and March 13 and 14. Further west in Preble County, Hueston Woods State Park will have its Maple Syrup Festival those same weekends.
At Caesar Creek State Park in Warren County celebrate Kid’s Day in the Sugar Bush on February 28 and 29. Festivals also are taking place Saturday, March 6 at Van Buren State Park in Hancock County; Saturday and Sunday, March 13 and 14 at Hocking Hills State Park; and Saturday and Sunday, March 20 and 21 at Indian Lake in Logan County.
Have fun as you explore Ohio’s sweet maple heritage, and remember, tapping time is a sure sign that spring is just around the corner!