Posted by John Minton | Posted in Plants | Last Updated February 23, 2014
Tags: Edible, Fragrant, Green Leaves, Spring Harvest, Tree, Winter Harvest
Acer Saccharum is one of the varieties of Maple Tree that you can get Maple Syrup from! It’s one of the neatest trees I have growing in my back yard right now even though this is only their second season from seed. Like most Maples it grows beautiful green leaves in the Spring that turn to lovely shades of reds, yellows, oranges and browns in the fall – bringing color and character to an otherwise plain and boring yard. They make excellent shade trees with their thick and full crown of leaves – many other Maples prefer to sit in part shade but the Acer Saccharum prefers more sunlight. As long as you water it during the hot Summer months when it’s younger, it should do just fine. When it’s older you probably won’t have to water at all. Acer Saccharum is very tolerant of many conditions which makes it ideal for use in suburban developments. In fact, Acer Saccharum Maple Tree will grow in nearly any soil except straight sand and will tolerate climates with snow on the ground…in fact a little snow is beneficial – I’ll explain in a little bit.
Maple Trees like Acer Saccharum like plenty of water, often growing near natural water sources, but they can also tolerate less water which makes them ideal for many climates. I’ve read that the Maple Tree draws water from wet layers in the soil, pumps the water up the root and puts it back into dryer soil where water would benefit the tree, even putting water close to the surface of the ground. I have yet to test this, but it occurred to me that you could plant other shallow rooted plants that like indirect sunlight, Daphne for example, under the Maple Tree and you would not need to water it. This is THE way to garden! When I try this, I’ll be sure to record the results and share them. The roots of the Maple Acer Saccharum are fibrous and do tend to grow close to the surface of the ground, they may interfere with any lawn growing around the tree – if you plan to plant in a lawn try placing it deeper than originally intended in order to keep the roots away from the surface the best you can – I don’t know if this will work in the long run, but it’s worth a try.
Maple trees can be grown from seed, but it will take 7+ years to get them to the point they can be used for Maple Syrup. In the mean time, for the first years of their life they make excellent container plants. Maple Trees are easy to care for – you really just have to make sure they don’t dry out. Regular pruning will help shape the tree. Every other year or so they should be moved to larger containers with good soil. When they are 6 feet or taller you should consider planting them in the ground somewhere permanent as they will soon shoot up to extreme heights, up to 50 ft tall.
In the late part of the year-before-last (2010) I placed my package of Acer Saccharum Maple Tree seeds in the freezer for 3 months – in peat moss and a little water, some had sprouted by the time I took them out – planted them in a mix of potting soil and dirt from my yard. Those Maple Seeds that had not yet germinated did so over the following 2 weeks – The 6 Maples that did well grew to about 6 inches tall by the Fall. They stayed outside after they sprouted in April. After the Fall of 2011 the leaves died off and they started their hibernation through the Winter. As I understand it, the Maple trees actually have to go through some sort of Winter. The cold of Winter is needed for the Maples to develop properly. As I understand, the roots if your Maples could freeze while they are young and it might cause trouble, but I doubt it. Since I don’t get snow I can’t really comment accurately on how well the young trees do in the cold but these Maples Trees do well in the Eastern USA where they regularly get 4+ ft of snow. This probably means that cold is not an issue, even for the young ones.
Traditionally Maple Trees are tapped around the beginning of March, but it depends on your preference, climate and discretion. Studies show that earlier tapping may be slightly beneficial, rather than the traditional March 1st or even later in the season. Too early and bacterial growth may prevent later sap production, but that may be solved with either a second tap or possibly drilling a bigger hole, cleaning it out and inserting a new tap to fit. There is much discussion about this, but it’s not as huge a deal as people make it. The traditional March 1st is fine until you are ready to experiment. Although March 1st is the Traditional tap date, sap may flow anytime the trees are dormant from October to late April (Kramer and Kozlowski, 1960).
After your tree is established in it’s permanent home, around 8 years old or the trunk at least 10 inches in diameter you should be able to tap it with one tap to collect the sap to turn it into Maple Syrup. Larger trees can support more than one tap. The sap is around 66% water and 33% sugar as it comes directly from the tree. This will vary depending on the environment, water supply and if it the tree has the nutrition it needs from the soil.
In order to “technically” constitute “Syrup” it needs to be boiled down to about 66% sugar and 33% water. We’ll go over that more later. The tap is usually a special piece of metal designed specifically for tapping into the Maple Tree with a hammer to collect the Maple Syrup. If you are like me,you’d like to go buy that special tap but would rather save the money and just do it yourself with a modified piece of pipe – buy if you have to, first think if there is anything around that could work. Copper can work, but it is poisonous to the Maple Tree so it would have to come out after the season of collecting Maple Syrup is over. Alternatively you can use aluminum without too much trouble. I’d still remove the tap after the season is over. You can fashion it any way you like, 1/4 to 1/2 inch in diameter, drill a hole the diameter of the pipe 2 & 1/2 inch in depth, and softly hammer the tap into the tree – Don’t hit it too hard, just fit it snugly. The tap should slightly be pointed downward, and with a flair on top at the end so the sap runs out and into a collection bucket that hangs on the flair but the bucket will still hang there – You may fashion a hook any number of ways to hang the collection bucket. I imagine drilling a hole in the top of the tap towards the ‘dripping’ end, and using a wire hook that sits in that hole and wraps around the sides to hold the bucket below. Be creative, if you can find a way to keep the collection bucket closed from bugs you’d be doing pretty good.
The Maple Trees are a like pumps. When it’s below freezing at night there is production of the sap, when it heats up in the day above freezing a pressure builds as the tree pushes the sap from the roots to the leaves. The tap hole lets that pressure out – and into the collection bucket. It’s my understanding that the leaves of trees create sugars from photosynthesis. One article suggests that the sugar is created from the previous season and stored in the roots of the Maple. During the Winter months when the leaves have died back the roots pump the sugar to the rest of the tree as nourishment. None the less, freezing nights and above freezing days create the flow of sap so we can collect it. This tends to be an Early Spring activity but as I mentioned, it could potentially be done any time from Fall to Spring where temperatures are below 32°F at night and above 32°F during the day.
The syrup has been processed a number of ways from early Native Americans, to more modern ways involving expensive or complicated processes. The simplest ways seam to me to be better. As I have stated in many of my posts, I like natural and home grown. I don’t like to depend on “going to the store” if I can help it. So the recommended ways of creating a syrup from your Acer Saccharum Maple Tree Sap are simple:
Cook it over a fire at a low heat – this can be more controlled with a measurement of the sugar content before hand and estimating how much you will need to boil off. This is easily done with a special tool you will have to purchase – a Tool also used in Wine Making. A special weighted tube with a temperature gauge and a sugar scale (measured in ‘brix’) floats in liquids with sugars in them – the level at which it floats at a given temperature gives you the approximate sugar content. That is seemingly beyond the scope of this post, but I will surely be writing about this and my wine making in the future.
Freezing – As I’ve read some Native American used to let the sap freeze over night, and would take out the ice frozen on the top thereby removing some or all of the water content.
Hot Stone – Native Americans would also heat up a stone (or multiple stones?) over the fire and drop them into the collection buckets. The water in the sap would evaporate off just like heating it over a fire – but this is more controlled. I think that through testing and measuring, you could determine the size of stone required, heated to a certain temperature, and placed in specified amount of sap – to create the perfect small batch of Maple Syrup every time. It would take a lot of effort, but well worth the prize in the end. Please share your experiments either in the comments or email me. I would love to read and share what you have take the time to pursue.
Some insight I’ve acquired is this – if the syrup is too watery it may spoil easily. If it’s too thick it may crystallize or be gritty. There is a perfect balance in the art of syrup making. If you’ve got the later – gritty syrup – you may filter it out and still be OK. If it’s too watery you might be in trouble – Quick, eat it before it expires! This is something you are going to have to look up in more detail and more than likely learn from experience. It’s not something you can just “do”, per say, but it’s something you learn over time and over multiple trys. I bet you could break your syrup making into very small batches and learn a lot your first season. In the end, if you get to wake up to an awesome pancake or waffle breakfast with fresh home made maple syrup, I’d count you among the luckiest people on Earth. The only thing more special than consuming an awesome breakfast like this is sharing it with your family and friends.
Not only is Maple Syrup sweet to the taste, but the raw sap contains many nutrients that are, might I say, good for you. Raw Maple Syrup contains a large amount of sugar – primarily sucrose, optionally followed by fructose and glucose pending the specific type of Sugar Maple – these days we could do without the sugars that in a sense destroy the benefit we may otherwise receive from said Maple Syrup because of the nature of our American diets. But if sugar is not something we regularly have, do it up! Aside from sugars, we have (in order of most to least) Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Manganese, Sodium, Phosphorus, Iron, Copper, Zinc and Tin – the last of these are in very, very small amounts. So you could say that in a “natural diet” these are very health things to consume. I apologize I do not have accurate measurements – I will see if I can detail these in the future.
As a decorative tree, these maples are wonderful. It’s the lure of the sweet sap that draws us away from this otherwise beautiful tree. It’s uses exceed far beyond the use of Maple Syrup, which in the end misguides us from the awesomeness of this tree. Just because it creates sweet awesomeness doesn’t mean it’s any less of a tree than other maples, for instance. When you think about it, this tree offers more than many others could – not only it is beautiful, it can nourish us if needed. That is something worth keeping around.
All in all, the Acer Saccharum Maple Tree is beautiful, magical even (and by that I mean it makes you feel good just knowing it’s there) and it speaks mountains of Gods great love for His people. It’s worth having at least a couple of these if you’ve got the room. Excessive pruning might keep this tree in check, but it’s desire is to reach the sky – so be ready to put it in the ground someday.