Growing up, I was blessed with a loving family that has always cherished time together. We spent lots of time with grandparents who loved the outdoors and took us hunting, fishing, boating and camping.
One of my most memorable winter activities was going to Uncle Afton’s sugar shack. Grandpa, Uncle Afton, Uncle Max and my dad used to sit and play cards and tell hunting and fishing stories as they tended to the wood fire and made sure the maple syrup didn’t stick to the boiler pan or turn to sugar. It was great fun to be there in the old shack with them and smell the logs burning and the sweet maple fragrance in the air.
My grandparents and Uncle Afton have been gone for a while, but the memories of those times will linger forever. It’s a childhood memory that I now realize not too many people have had the opportunity to experience. Likely, most people don’t immediately associate Ohio with maple syrup production. Do you realize that Ohio ranks as the fifth largest producer of maple syrup in the country?
Maple syrup is truly a North American product. Quebec, Canada, now produces almost 80 percent of the world’s maple syrup followed by Vermont, Maine and New York. Maple syrup comes from the sugar maple tree (Acer saccharum), red maple (Acer rubrum), and black maple (Acer nigrum). Acer is Latin for “sharp” which probably refers to the sharp-pointed lobes and teeth of the leaves. Saccharum translates to “sugary,” the nature of the sap that the trees produce in late winter. Rubrum means “red” and refers to the red winter twigs and buds, red spring flowers, and for the trees’ tendency to have red summer petioles and red fall foliage. Nigrum means “black” in Latin and likely refers to the bark of the black maple which can be a darker gray or even blackish compared to the sugar maple.
Maple syrup is made from the sap drawn from a maple tree in late winter/early spring. It is then boiled to remove water, concentrating the sugars found naturally in the sap. All trees have sucrose (sugar) but maples have the highest concentration. The average concentration from a sugar maple tree is 2 percent and the boiling process evaporates off water to concentrate the sugar to between 66 to 68 percent for the maple syrup we love. It takes about 40-45 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. That’s a lot of boiling!
The Ohio Maple Producers Association provides educational workshops for our state’s producers and for beginners who are interested in producing maple syrup as a hobby or as a business. It also hosts the very popular annual “Maple Madness Driving Trail” each March for the general public. The 2016 dates are March 5, 6, 12, 13, 19 and 20, and the route will soon be posted to www.ohiomaple.org.
Ohio State University Extension has a wealth of materials through http://ohioline.osu.edu. It also produces the North American Maple Syrup Producers Manual, which is available at the Delaware County Extension office, 740-833-2030.
Sugar maple trees are not only the mainstay of Ohio’s syrup industry; they are featured around Ohio as a favorite shade tree with gorgeous fall color. It is a slow growing tree which prefers rich, moderately deep soil with even moisture and good drainage. It matures to a height of 80 feet and a width of 40 feet. It is a valuable part of Ohio’s economy due to its hard, dense, fine-grained and difficult-to-split wood, which is utilized for floors, furniture, veneer, musical instruments and railroad ties. Ohio’s two biggest sugar maples are located in Medina County and Mahoning County, with circumferences of 167 and 164 inches respectively.
Now is a good time to think about trees because planting season is just around the corner and the annual tree packet sale through the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District is underway. We are again offering the desirable sugar maple in packets of 10 seedlings for $11. Other species available this year are American arborvitae, Colorado blue spruce, Norway spruce, Canaan fir, swamp white oak, black gum, American hazelnut and Eastern white pine.
For detailed information on each species, including height and width at maturity, prices and more, please visit www.delawareswcd.org or call 740-368-1921.