Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Life

March 29, 2013

Temperature fluctuations good for maple syrup production

With temperatures trying their best to be uncooperative this spring, it is by no means curtailing activities behind the scenes.

I drive by numerous greenhouse operations that are buzzing with planting and seeding activities. In the wee hours of the morning with dawn just breaking, these operations can be seen with smoke billowing from their stacks and the whole greenhouse lit up like a jewel in the darkness. Later this same greenhouse may have its doors wide open and fans blowing to allow heat to escape.

Temperatures in a growing greenhouse ideally should hover in the 68- to 72-degree range, depending on what you are trying to grow. Sometimes it is difficult to maintain these constant temps because of the sun’s penetration into these enclosures.

Most of the older houses have roll-up sides to allow for better ventilation. But nowadays, with modern technology, most of the newer greenhouses have overhead vents that are automatically temperature controlled. Heat rises, so it makes sense to have these overhead vents to allow all that excess heat to escape.

Most of the larger operations will have at least one greenhouse that is kept cooler for plants that desire a cooler growing atmosphere or, in some cases in large operations, there will be several houses kept between 40 and 50 degree to “harden off” the cool, weather-loving plants, including early vegetables (kohlrabi, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kale) when they reach an acceptable size to do this.

Early, cool-weather flowers are also treated to this “hardening off” action and they would include, among others, alyssum, snapdragons, violas, pansies, petunias and ivy geraniums. You must perform this operation in stages by decreasing the temperatures gradually to prevent shocking.

Smaller operations may prefer to provide a “cold-frame” set-up that will allow them to be open during weather conditions that permit this, or to be closed if a frost or freeze is in the forecast.

Another behind-the-scenes activity that has always intrigued me — but that I’ve never had the opportunity to watch to its fruition — is the maple syrup production process.

I pass wooded areas that have the tree tapping going on with the collection of sugar water that will eventually become the reveled maple syrup we all love so much.

Some relevant facts that people might not know are that it takes between 40 to 50 gallons of sugar water to produce one gallon of maple syrup.

February through March when temperatures fluctuate from above freezing during the day and below freezing at night is what causes the sap to flow.

The earliest harvesting of the sap was done by the American Indians who “reduced it down” by heating stones and placing them in the tree water. This would reduce the water content and leave the remaining syrup.

Tapping graduated from wooden flute-like taps to the modern metal taps that are used today. A sugar maple is considered large enough for tapping when it is 10 inches in diameter at 4½ feet above ground level. A 15-inch tree will allow two taps and a 20-inch tree can use three taps. An average tree will produce 15 gallons of sap from each tap-hole per season.

The sugar water is collected and placed in a central storage tank at the “sugar house” to start the process of filtering several times and heating to 185 degrees. This reduces the sugar water with a sugar content of 2 to 2½ percent to a sugar content of the finished product of more than 65 percent. A gallon of syrup weighs approximately 11 pounds.

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