(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — A handful of community members joined Asbury Woods staff and volunteers for a quick jaunt in the woods to tap maple trees on Thursday morning.
About a month ago, Asbury Woods offered the community a chance to rent a pair of buckets during maple season. Those renters were invited out to help tap trees. As the winter progresses into spring, the buckets will fill with sap and the renters will come collect the sap to take it home for processing. It takes about 40 gallons of sap from a sugar maple tree to create one gallon of maple syrup.
According to Andrea Krivak, the marketing coordinator for Asbury Woods, 22 buckets were rented. When signing up and paying a fee as a renter, two buckets are assigned to that person. Some people signed up for more than one rental slot, meaning they will have more than two buckets.
Maple syrup is a product unique to North America, specifically to northeast North America. The range of sugar maple trees stretches as far west as Iowa and Missouri, and the southernmost edge of the range is at about West Virginia and northern Kentucky. Native Americans were the first to process maple syrup.
On Feb. 2, in frigid temperatures, Asbury Woods interpretive naturalist Amy Shook led the tapping effort. She recently completed a one-year fellowship in Minnesota where they had tapped 1,500 trees to process more than 550 gallons of syrup.
“It’s a much smaller production here, which is nice,” Shook said.
Bucket renters were offered a chance to tap the trees themselves under the guidance of Asbury Woods volunteers and staff. A battery-powered drill was used to make a hole through the bark and into the tree. Spiles (like a short, metal straw) were gently hammered into the holes. Aluminum pales were then hung from each of the spiles to collect the sap that soon will drip out of the tree.
Maple sap harvesting is weather dependent. In the frigid temperatures on Thursday, they expected no sap to drip from the spiles. But early next week when daytime highs dramatically warm, Shook said she expects the pales will be filled and need to be emptied, perhaps multiple times per day. The renters will be contacted and will have to bring buckets or other vessels to take home the sap that has been collected in the pales.
Once home, they will have hours of work ahead of them. The sap will need to be boiled to reduce into syrup, often over a wood fire.
Tim and Sue Frawley of Millcreek rented a pair of buckets.
“We wanted to connect with nature and repurpose and reuse what we have instead of shopping at Wegman’s for maple syrup. We’re looking forward to it, and we think it’s going to be delicious,” Tim Frawley said.
“We also have the time this year, which we wouldn’t have had before. We have an inclination to do something fun in the winter,” Sue Frawley added. “We’re excited. We’ve never done it before, so we hope it will turn out.”
Asbury Woods has sent out emails guiding renters on the steps to process the sap into syrup. The recommended equipment includes a large pan over a fire or a turkey fryer, saucepans, a candy thermometer, canning jars and coffee filters.
“We’re a little nervous about it because we don’t have all of the exact equipment, but it will be an adventure,” Sue Frawley said.
Shook said she plans to use an Instant Pot (a modern-day pressure cooker) to make her syrup.
Asbury Woods rents buckets to introduce people to the process of making maple syrup and to give people access to maple trees who otherwise may not have the chance to tap trees.
“It really is a regional and historical product, so we’re bringing awareness to that and educating people about that,” said Sarah Bennett, director of education and community programs at Asbury Woods.