|Maple Sugar Days in Milwaukee County include tours of the urban forests|
The trees need cold temperatures at night and warm sunshine during the day. Sometimes spring comes too quickly and we have a bad year for the sugar. Once a tree has buds, the sap tastes bitter and can't be used. I visited a couple of our parks yesterday to see how the process is going.
|The wood stove with a pan of maple sap cooking|
|Look for opposite branches on the tree|
Many years ago, maple sap was collected in buckets which had to be washed and stored when not in use. Someone came up with the idea to use plastic bags which can be tossed after the season is over. the only downside is that they can blow off if the sap isn't weighing them down and sometimes critters like squirrels will chew a hole in the bag to get to the sap. Larger healthy trees can support more than one taphole, so you may see trees with 2 bags.
|Holes are drilled and bags hung|
We went to Wehr Nature Center in Whitnall Park to learn more about tapping, as they were celebrating their Maple Sugar Days. I found Ken Keffer, Naturalist, tending a pot of sap cooking just before he spoke with one of the dozens of groups coming through this weekend. He said he used to camp out in the woods as a child and help make maple syrup, but things were historically a bit different. A handheld drill was used to punch holes in the trees and sometimes the spouts were made from sumac. He later demonstrated how a sumac branch could be hollowed out using a hot metal instrument. It was hard work, but obviously something he enjoyed and still does as an adult.
|Ken Keffer at Wehr Nature Center woods|