A weekly blog for all things conservation
By: Nathan Dewing, Agricultural Team Leader, Bradford County Conservation District
Do you realize that regular, every-day, neighbors of ours are producing world-class, healthy, 100% all-natural sugar right here in our own back yard? It’s one of those forgotten wonders.
While maple sugar harvest here pre-dates recorded history, today, Pennsylvania ranks 6th out of 25 US states in production while Bradford County is 5th among 56 Pennsylvania Counties. Bradford County’s 53 sugar makers install an estimated 54,200 taps each year, producing 8,000 gallons of delectable, 100% all-natural maple syrup. Many direct-market their product as maple syrup along with the other most common 100% natural-sugar forms of maple cream, maple candy, and dry maple sugar. Maple flavored goodies beyond these are only limited by the imagination.
Pure maple sugar is harvested in the form of sap, predominately from the Sugar Maple (Hard Maple) tree, which is limited to the northeastern quadrant of the North American continent. Other maple species may yield some sap for the sugar maker, but none can beat the quality and sugar content of the sugar maple tree. Trees at least 12 inches in diameter are “tapped” from February to April each year by drilling a 5/16-inch diameter, 1.5-inch deep hole. A healthy, 12-inch diameter tree can easily handle the stress of 1 hole and larger trees over 18 inches in diameter can take two taps per year without harm. A healthy tree will seal off a tap hole within a year! No chemicals or preservatives are used in the tree or in any part of maple sugar production.
Sap can be gathered in a variety of ways from individual buckets to an extensive network of tubing carrying sap to a central collection point. Sap containing approximately 2% sugar is boiled to remove water until sugar content reaches 67%. Since the only task at hand is boiling, no special equipment is needed! This is an excellent backyard activity for the entire family. You will find however that it takes a long time. On average, depending on sugar content, starting with 40 gallons of raw maple sap will require you to turn 39 gallons into steam! That’s a lot of energy. This is why sugar makers continually develop and add tools to increase efficiency. It is also why all-natural maple sugar is more expensive than other options.
Weather conditions creating sap movement in the tree allowing harvest are freezing nights and thawing days. This is the best time of year to visit local sugar producers. They often enjoy visitors and are very willing to give spontaneous tours. Maple Weekend happens the third weekend in March each year, when many local producers make an extra effort to provide tours, on-farm activities, and special treats. The Endless Mountains Maple Syrup Producers Association promotes the event and you can find more information at www.facebook.com/emmspa.
Our local, golden to amber shaded syrup is coveted the world over for its natural, smoothly sweet taste. You and I however need not travel the world. We can find a neighbor with open doors and tremendous products ready for use.
The Bradford County Conservation District is committed to helping people manage resources wisely. You can visit the Bradford County Conservation District at 200 Lake Rd in Wysox across from the Wysox Fire Hall. Contact us at (570) 485-3144 or visit our web page at www.bccdpa.com.
Various staff at the Bradford County Conservation District