Facts and fables are sometimes interwoven together.
Native Americans, for example, did harvest maple syrup for centuries before the first recorded harvest in 1609. But how did America’s indigenous people discover what some considered the oldest type of agriculture?
There are many myths, fables and legends to this question but the volunteers at Stratford Ecological Center, 3083 Liberty Road, in Delaware sometimes bring up the yellow-bellied sapsucker.
The medium-sized woodpecker is said to have revealed the sap within the trees to the Native Americans, according to volunteer Mike Roth.
One school teacher, he said, expressed skepticism about the story during a tour group last year. Right there and then, she did some fact-checking (or fable-checking?) on her smartphone.
“‘By God, you’re right,’” he remembered her saying.
The public can find out more facts and fables about the process to make maple syrup over the next two weekends. Stratford will be hosting its maple sugar tours from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. this Saturday and Feb. 25. Hike leaders can take up to 20 people per group on the tours.
“We just make it a fun day for the family,” said Jane Walsh, Stratford’s volunteer program director.
Participants can learn how trees produce sap, what terms such as “xylem” and “phloem” mean and why the sap is tapped between late January to early April. Tour-goers will learn how to tap one of the center’s 280 maple trees to collect its sap and observe the evaporation process to create syrup at the Sugar Shack, which was built in 1995.
“We like to educate people; that’s part of our mission,” Roth said.
Outside of the shack, are some props on display to demonstrate how the Native Americans turned their sap into syrup. The shack is surrounded by trees with white buckets hanging off of them after volunteers started tapping them earlier this month. Inches of sap had already filled some of the buckets as of last Thursday.
Volunteers take about 10 percent of the tree’s sap supply during maple sugar season, which lasts about six weeks. One gallon of maple syrup is made up of about 40 gallons of sap and Stratford produces up to 2,500 gallons of sap per day.
“It depends on the sugar content in the sap,” Roth said.
In addition, Stratford still welcomes volunteers as tour guides, Walsh said. A tour guide training session will take place 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday. Those interested can contact her at email@example.com.
Aside from the Saturday tours, Stratford will be hosting its Maple Sugar Pancake Breakfast from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 4. The public can enjoy a breakfast before hiking to the Sugar Shack to learn about the process.
Registration is required for the tours and the breakfast and can be done online at www.stratfordecological.center. For information call 740-363-2548.
Gazette reporter Brandon Klein can be reached by email or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.