Jeff Green | Mar 06, 2008
Outdoors - March 6, 2008
Back toHomeOutdoors in the LandO'Lakes - March 6, 2008 Maple Season – Just Around the Corner Outdoors in the Land O'Lakes bySteve Blight
Late February and early March is the time of year when maple producers scan the skies and pay close attention to the weather forecast. For this is normally when commercial sugar bush operators tap their sugar maples to begin the next season of maple production. They are looking for that perfect time to tap – too cold, and they run the risk of damaging their trees when they drill the tap holes into the frozen tree trunks, not to mention freezing their fingers and toes when they are working long hours out in the bush. But if they wait too long, they may miss the first sap runs, and these early runs can produce very desirable extra light syrup.
There are five species of maples native to eastern Canada that grow into large trees – the sugar maple, the red maple, the silver maple, the black maple, and the Manitoba maple. The Manitoba maple can be considered native to eastern Canada only if you consider Manitoba part of eastern Canada – and I am not sure how many Manitobans would agree with this notion. The Norway maple and its numerous varieties are native to Europe, but are widely planted across Ontario and have unfortunately escaped from cultivation in many areas.
There are two other locally native maples that are more like large shrubs or small trees. These are the mountain maple and the striped maple, both of which can be found in the forest understory in the Land O’Lakes area. I find the striped maple an attractive and interesting little tree. On young stems, its smooth green bark is conspicuously marked by long, vertical whitish stripes. Its leaves and young shoots are a favourite food of moose and deer, which helps explain its alternate names – moosewood and moose maple. It rarely gets very big – a 10 meter (about 30 ft) striped maple would be considered a giant.
Although syrup can be made from the sap of all five of the larger maple species, it is the sugar maple which provides the vast majority of syrup. The black maple is a much rarer tree in this part of Ontario, and some scientists consider it to be just a variety of sugar maple. Some producers, however, insist that black maples have sweeter sap. I personally have a difficult time telling them apart, and usually just lump them together as sugar maples.
Sugar maples are preferred for syrup over silver and red maples for three main reasons. First, the sap of sugar maples is generally sweeter, averaging about 2-3% sugar, compared to red and silver maples, which average less than 2% sugar. This means that it takes less energy to boil off the excess water to concentrate the sap up to the 66% sugar required for syrup. Second, the buds of the sugar maple begin to swell later than those of the red and silver maples. This provides a longer production run before the sugar maples start producing sap yielding an inferior grade of syrup with off-flavours known as “buddy” syrup. Finally, many people think that syrup from sugar maples (also known as rock or hard maples) just tastes better.
Interestingly, in parts of Yukon and Alaska, some people make syrup from birch sap.At about 1 percent sugar, it takes much more energy (and sap) to make syrup from birches. I have tried birch syrup, and although its flavour reminded me of maple, I think I’ll stick to maple syrup for my pancakes. And with any luck, it won’t be long before the billowing clouds of steam over the sugar shacks signal that another sweet maple season has arrived at last.Observations: Several reports of barred owls (photo left by Jon Donaldson of Maberly) over the past 2 weeks, and still lots of common redpolls are being seen – it looks like redpolls were this winter’s main attraction in the winter finch category. Watch for horned larks, robins and blackbirds to arrive as the days become a bit longer and the sun gets a touch stronger.