Sap can be collected from several different maple species, but the sap from the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is preferred. It has a higher sugar content, longer period of sap flow and produces syrup with the most pleasing flavour.
Under ideal conditions, a maple tree reaches a tappable size in about 40 years, when its trunk reaches 20 cm in diameter at 1.3 metres above ground level. The number of taps per tree is determined by the tree’s diameter – one tap in a tree over 20 cm in diameter, two taps if a tree is over 45 cm, and a maximum of three taps in trees over 62.5 cm. Tapping the tree does no permanent damage and does not affect its growth or health of the tree. Tapholes are typically 2.5 – 5 cm inside the bark and 1 cm in diameter.
Maple sap is clear, slightly sweet and has the consistency of spring water. We are only able to collect sap for about 6 weeks in late winter and early spring, when the temperatures are above freezing during the day and below freezing at night. The rising daytime temperatures in late winter and early spring as compared to the overnight temperatures create pressure within the tree, causing the sap to run. Once the temperatures no longer fluctuate between below freezing at night and above freezing during the day, the pressure within the tree stabilizes and the sap stops flowing.
A vacuum tubing system is used rather than the traditional bucket collection system, greatly reducing labour requirements and creating a more sanitary environment for collection. The use of reverse osmosis concentrates the sap’s sugar three or four times, by separating water from the sugar molecules at high pressure. This removes up to 70% of the water from the sap prior to entering the evaporator and saves on time and fuel by speeding up the concentrating process.
The sugar house is where the sap is boiled down to maple syrup. The maple taste everyone is familiar with develops only through the boiling process. During this process, the excess water is removed from the sap and nothing is added. The sap (2-3% sugar when it leaves the tree) is fed by pipes from the storage tank to a long and narrow ridged pan called the evaporator. As it boils, the water evaporates and the sap becomes denser and sweeter. It is boiled until it reaches 66% sugar, or 66 brix, and is then considered maple syrup. It takes approximately 40 litres of sap to produce 1 litre of maple syrup. This varies based on the starting sugar content of the sap - sap with a higher sugar content produces more syrup than one with a lower sugar content. After the evaporation process, the syrup is bottled and ready for you to take home and enjoy!