It took five minutes of tuning into a Wisconsin Public Access channel to peak my interest. A change of season influences many dynamics in how we conduct our lives while living in junction with a truly uncontrollable world. I walked away from my television confused as to why the price of my locally sourced Maple Syrup, was on the rise? A night of covered in ice, immediately followed by a week of mid-sixties to record highs starting off last years early spring. To understand the dilemma, I made my way to the Sugar Bush.
A Simple Look at the Science in Syrup:
In order for a Maple Tree to provide the continuous flow of droplets of sap which are needed to produce the amount of Maple Syrup consumed by our sugar loving world, What goes up, Must come down.
Starting in the Fall, a Maple Tree becomes saturated with rain waters and moisture, the tree begins storing this excess fluid in it’s roots. The Tree lives off of these fluids continuously dispersing the waters throughout the trunk and into the branches promoting growth and self maintenance while enriching the fluid with natural sugars (sucrose) in the process.
Once the ground has frozen, the roots, and enriched cells of the tree freeze locking the developing sap in place. In the winter, this excess water becomes immobile and virtually inactive.
In the spring, as the Maple Tree prepares to launch into a marathon of rejuvenation, the sapling gradually thaws, continuing it’s life cycle. Now come the introjections of instability causing an entire industry to appear fragile, warmer mornings and freezing nights.
The sap begins to run from the roots to the budding branches, promoting photosynthesis in the leaves. In optimal conditions, as the tree thaws in the morning, the sap begins to flow about the tree, extracted through a manmade tap.
As the temperature begins to drop at night, the tree distributes the sap to the limbs and base to protect the progress it has made in it’s continuous development, freezing the cells locking the sap in place. As the morning brings warmer temperatures, the sap becomes mobile once again, continuing the lifecycle of the Maple Tree.
When working in an Industry built entirely in the idea of perfect nature, weather will always provide the variable. Nothing is predictable in dealings with the lovely mother nature. A freezing night leading into a sixty degree morning, makes a perfect record setting day in early spring. For a week the nights resist freezing, never fully allowing the trees to adequately unwind from the stresses of their evolution, endlessly growing. The trees continue to run sap to the limbs supporting the life and development in the leaves until the blossoms bloom; then finally, nothing. The tree’s sap circulation becomes focused and limited; Due to A constant heat, and evaporation, the tree utilizes only enough sap to support the thriving life and color of the blossoms. No sap = No Syrup. No Syrup = High Prices. Basic supply and demand-enomics.
I visited with several Syrup Producers around the area and everyone had the same humble expression of helplessness. These people are doing what the can with what they are given. Producing syrup is a truly romantic affair, it is a defining duty, the work of a North Woods Forager. In beautiful, unspoiled patches of earth, a syrup producer describes to me the secrets of his success. He tells me how to measure sugar content in the collected sap, he gives me his yield, “roughly 41.5 gallons o’ sap, to create one gallon o’ my Maple Syrup.” He over accentuates the “my,” insinuating a higher quality. “I’ve got ‘bout twenty Gallons right here!” he proclaims, pointing to a filling vat in front of us.
There is a deep love & appreciation for what is happening every year, in the early spring deep in the backwoods. Good years and bad years, they same to weigh each other out, but a pride and sense of honor in the work is evident, regardless if the sap is not. as I returned to the sugar bush this year, there were smiles on every face in the sticks… It seemed to be the perfect year, after last maple seasons devastating production outcomes.
Holding an auburn jug to a window, allowing the sunlight to illuminate the amber contents, I hear a gentleman’s Voice; “A great syrup producer never dies, you know.” I try to make since of the statement thinking that this man is nostalgically referencing his blood line, maybe the tutelage he encountered as a child and the idea of teaching someone new…
Then, I hear him furnish an explanation, “They Evaporate.”*A special thanks to Hustad’s and Dennis Penzkover for taking the time to Show me around!