Ohio Maple Syrup Season is Here

Using the Sugarbush wood to boil sugary sap to 66 percent, farmer’s kids are fun tour guides
By Gregory Jackson, Founder of Groundz

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Maple trees are producing maple syrup, but maple producers prefer to call them maple “bushes.”

At Sugarbush Creek, an Ohio maple syrup farm in Amish Country in Middlefield, maple syrup producers tap 2,500 maple trees. Trees at 25+ inch diameter can have three taps; 18-24 inch diameter will have 2 taps, while 10-17 inch trees have one tap. Trees are tapped on the south, southwest, and west side of trees to collect more xylem. Xylem is the stored sugars in tree roots and trunks throughout winter, as the weather begins to thaw it triggers the movement of xylem, which eventually becomes sap.

It is best to drill by hand, as power drills can cauterize the hole, to no more than 2 inches deep, with wood shavings of light to cream color, not dark brown. Dark brown shavings mean the area is not conducive to sap production and another tap on the same tree is required. For tapping trees in the following years, there needs to be at least 2 inches above or below, to the left or right of previous year’s tap.

Sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and black maple (Acer nigrum) contain 2-3 percent sugar, while red maple (less sweet), silver maple and box elder contain about 1 percent. Maple syrup farmers use “Rule of 86”, which means at a 2 percent sugar concentration, 43 gallons of sap is required to make one gallon of maple syrup.

These gallons are collected by piping those networks into large center tubing, which is gently vacuumed by a close system down slope. At Sugarbush Creek, it’s fun to receive a maple syrup tour by the farmer’s children. They have enthusiasm, passion, and fun for leading tours through the sugarbush.

Tours begin on a tractor-drawn wagon across the farm, passed the newly installed Christmas tree rows (for cut-down your own Christmas tree next year) to the sugarhouse. At the sugarhouse they demonstrate how the indigenous people used to make maple syrup.

They would heat hot rocks. Meanwhile in a shape of a “V-slotted” log would hold maple syrup sap. With iron tongs the guide demonstrated how by dropping the hot rock into the sap, would heat up the sap. I have heard that the Native Americans handled the hot rocks, bare handed. Later pioneers would heat the sap in a kettle over the fire.

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Today they explain that the vacuum pump works with gravity to collect the drip from the trees into large holding areas, which use the same pump back to the sugarhouse. At the sugarhouse, the sap runs through reverse osmosis to clean and concentrate the sap into a further sugar content. The sap can go from 2 percent sugar to 9 percent sugar, before passing over the evaporator.

To fuel the evaporator, Sugarbush Creek maple syrup farmers use wood. Nobody has to handle hot rocks, bare handed. The wood is harvest from tree thinning of non-maple tree species. Home hobbyists have been known to acquire wood waste from area tree service companies that provide plenty for the whole harvest season. As the maple syrup season continues, some hobbyists donate a bottle of maple syrup to their tree service company. Chopping and splitting wood by thinning the stand of non-maple trees allows maple trees to branch and fill in available space in the forest (which the farmer calls his garden), to increase sap production. Thus the more bushy maple trees are the better sap production from the tree. The maple syrup farmer then adds diatomaceous earth to filter the finished maple syrup of 66 percent sugar.

If concentrates are greater than 66 percent, sugar crystals will form on the bottom of storage containers; if concentrates are less than 66 percent, maple syrup will sour over time.

Maple syrup nutritional value. In every 3.5 ounce serving (or 100 grams) maple syrup has trace amounts of B vitamins (under 1 percent), but has 7 percent calcium (15 times more calcium than honey), 9 percent iron, 4 percent magnesium, 4 percent potassium, 44 percent zinc, and 157 percent manganese. Late in the season, maple tree sap (from xylem) produces more amino acids. The natural phenols found in maple syrup prevent two carbohydrate hydrolyzing enzymes in Type 2 diabetes. Scientists have also found that 34 compounds are only found in pure maples syrup, five of these (like quebecol) compounds are only found in boiled maple syrup.

Zinc is a main ingredient to cough lozenges, known to be required in the proper synthesis of 100 enzymes that function in immunity, wound healing, DNA synthesis, and cellular division. Since the body cannot store zinc, a daily intake is needed. During pregnancy, zinc supports normally growth of the baby, and in childhood and adolescence it helps in our senses of taste and smell (see zinc fact sheet for more information on zinc). Other good food sources for zinc include oysters, nuts, beans, whole grain, legumes, and dairy.

The other essential mineral provided in maple syrup is manganese. Low levels of manganese can lead to weakness, infertility, bone malformation, and seizures. Manganese is required for many enzyme functions for detoxification pertaining to elemental oxygen, making it an antioxidant. It is vital in calcium absorption, and nerve and brain function. Perhaps a reason why maple syrup is an excellent source of manganese is because the mineral is vital in the oxygen complex of photosynthesis in plants – sap stores its energy from photosynthetic processes.

Sugarbush Creek harvest and thin out wood of non-maple trees, which encourage maple trees to produce more sap and the wood from thinned out non-maple trees used to fuel their evaporator. The wood ash and diatomaceous earth are composted at the farm, making Sugarbush Creek sustainable and locally produced maple syrup.

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