Arboretum News Maple Syrup Nature Notes

The Beginning of a Sweet Season

Tapping into nature with 350 maple trees at the Arboretum.

Richard DeVries taps the trees by drilling a hole, cleaning out the wood chips and then inserting (by gently tapping) little drains that allow the maple trees’ sap to flow out of the tree. For demonstration purposes, some trees in the area, known as a sugar bush, are tapped with buckets and bags, instead of tubing. Photo by Sarah Jackson.

By Sarah Jackson | Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Tap, tap, tap … thud! That’s not a woodpecker at work in the maple trees; it’s the sound of the Arboretum’s maple sugaring manager, Richard DeVries, tapping trees on a sunny, but below-freezing, February day. 

DeVries and a team of volunteers are installing new gravity tubing and sap spouts on the sugar maples near the Maple Sugar House for the 2022 season. Those tubes will connect to a vacuum unit used to efficiently draw the sap downhill toward the Arboretum’s Maple Sugar House. 

In all, DeVries and his helpers will tap about 100 trees on this hill, plus another 250 trees at two other inclined areas on the Arboretum grounds. For demonstration purposes, some trees in the area, known as a sugar bush, are tapped with buckets and bags, instead of tubing. DeVries will also tap some of Arboretum’s black walnut trees to make syrup using the same process. 

Photo by Sarah Jackson.

Tapping a maple tree involves drilling a hole, then clearing out any remaining sawdust and finally gently tapping (not pounding) a new plastic sap spout into the hole with a hammer. DeVries, gripping the hammer near its head, can hear precisely when the spout has gone far enough into the tree because, all of the sudden, that tapping sound turns to a dull thud.

“That’s how you know when it’s in the right spot,” DeVries says. “If you go too far, you can risk splitting the wood.”

Once the taps (which are connected to the tubes) are in place, all that’s left to do is wait for the perfect conditions for collecting sap from maple trees, which can be boiled down into syrup. 

Warm days and freezing nights — both are required to provide optimal sap production — typically occur together in late-winter in Minnesota. Though sap production can vary dramatically from year to year, this year DeVries hopes to gather a whopping 6,500 gallons of sap, which would make about 160 gallons of maple syrup. 

“We have to at least try to break our record, right?” DeVries says. 

During the past 20 years, Arboretum syrup totals have ranged from as low as 3 gallons in 2005 to 157 gallons in 2020. Over the years, the average has been about 70 gallons per year.

lt takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup and each tree shares about 10 gallons of sap during a season. If all goes well, DeVries will be boiling down many gallons of sap per day in the Maple Sugar House to make syrup, which is then tested for density in smaller batches and then filtered and sold in the Arboretum Gift & Garden Store

Arboretum visitors can learn in person about maple sugaring on Saturday, March 19, when DeVries will offer demonstrations and answer questions as a part of the Arboretum’s annual MapleFest Pancake Breakfast.


A Minnesota twist on a classic vinaigrette

Looking for a way to enjoy maple syrup without pancakes? Pick up a bottle of Arboretum maple syrup in the Gift & Garden Store, and try this recipe that puts a Minnesota spin on a traditional salad dressing.

Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette

3/4 cup olive oil (or less to taste)

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1 garlic clove (or more), finely minced or pressed (optional, but delicious)

Salt and pepper to taste

Shake together all ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid (or whisk in a bowl) until well combined. Pour over mixed greens or spinach and toss gently. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to a month. 

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