After three weeks of waiting for the sun to return, Frostmore Farm co-owner Rachel Taylor finally got the opportunity last week to tap the maple trees at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School.
Taylor and her husband, Adam, made a proposal to GBEMS to share the maple syrup business with students, as well as the fruits of their labor. The syrup made from the sap from the trees at the school will be served in the cafeteria through the Farm-to-School program.
To prepare for the maple tapping, teachers had special lessons including books about maple syrup, spelling words and worksheets.
Friday, Taylor showed the students how to tap maple trees and explained the process of collecting sap to make syrup.
“When you tap a maple tree, syrup doesn’t come out of it, it’s just sap,” she said. “It’s kind of watery and it doesn’t really taste sweet. So, what we have to do is make a way to collect it. What we’ll do is we’ll have something called a spile. The spile will go in where we are drilling and we’ll hang this bag, and it will start dripping.”
Instead of using the tried and true buckets to collect the syrup, Taylor used sap sacks, blue plastic bags which hang from the spike.
“They’re cleaner because there’s nothing open to the air and your spile is right there,” she said. “There’s no lead so this is FDA approved plastic. The bags will keep the bugs out and any other stuff we don’t want in there.”
Taylor explained to the students that sap is best collected on days above freezing and nights below freezing. The sap must be collected before the trees bud when the sap travels up into the leaves.
The first step is to decide how many spiles will go in the tree.
“We won’t hurt the tree if we follow Good Practice Standards,” Taylor said. “This tree, if I had my tape with me, I would be able to tell you what the diameter is and the diameter is how far it is across. This tree is only going to get two holes put into it. If I put ten holes in this tree, it might hurt the tree and it might take too much sap.”
Maple syrup makers try to collect as much sap as possible before it warms up and the trees bloom.
“When the buds start coming out on the trees, that makes your sap taste nasty, so that’s when we know enough is enough,” Taylor said. “Right now, the sap is being stored in the roots of the tree, kind of like in the basement of your house, and then when it gets warm, it goes up to try to feed the buds. Then when it gets cold, it comes back down. In the summertime, it’s all up there, so we wouldn’t get any coming back down the tree.”
The students will help collect the sugar water and change the bags as part of the project.
Once the sap is collected, it will be taken to Frostmore Farm to become maple syrup.
GBEMS will take a road trip to Frostmore Farm Friday, March 20, to see the second half of the maple syrup making process.