All information and some pictures are taken from the pamphlet “FROM THE WOODS” produced by Penn State University, College of Agricultural Sciences-Cooperative Extension and can be found at www.cas.psu.edu
There are many different kinds of trees in Pennsylvania’s forests, but the sweetest tree in Pennsylvania is the sugar maple. The sap from this tree is used to make pure maple syrup. Sugar maple trees are unique to North America and grow naturally only in the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada. This makes maple syrup a very special product we get from Pennsylvania forests.
How It Started
American Indians first discovered how to make maple syrup many years ago. They collected the sap in containers made from birch bark. They boiled it by filling a hollowed- out log with sap, then putting hot rocks into it. The American Indians did not have a way to store the sticky liquid maple syrup very well, so they boiled the syrup a little longer to make maple sugar.
They used maple sugar to sweeten their food and added it to cold water for a sweet summer drink. When the first Europeans came to North America, the American Indians taught them about making maple syrup. As time passed, the method of making maple syrup improved, but the basic process remained the same. The annual tradition of making maple syrup has been a part of Pennsylvania’s history for well over 200 years.
Maple Sugaring Basics
In early spring each year, maple producers, also called ?sugar makers,” throughout Pennsylvania head to their woods for the start of the maple syrup season.
Generally, the maple season lasts from mid-February to early April. Maple producers drill a small hole into the trunk of the tree. This is called tapping. They insert a small spout or spile to catch the sap that begins to collect in the hole. The spout may connect to plastic pipes stretching through the woods, called tubing, or to a bucket to collect the dripping sap.
The Magic Tree
The sugar maple tree is the natural resource used to make maple syrup, and maple producers need to take good care of these trees. They wait until sugar maple trees are about 10 inches in diameter (20 to 40 years old) before they start tapping them. They also limit the number of taps they put in one tree according to the size of the tree, so that it will not be damaged. Tapping maple trees properly does not affect tree health. However, a small amount of wood damage does occur in the tree. The sap collected is only a small fraction of the total amount of sap in the tree. The small hole drilled into the tree usually heals within one or two years. If the maple trees are taken care of properly, the same tree can be tapped year after year.