What are those buckets on our campus maple trees?

As spring comes, gray buckets begin to show up on the maple trees on campus. The buckets are for “tapping,” or collecting sap, from the maple tree to make maple syrup. As the maple buckets are filled, part of their contents is sent to Natick Community Organic Farm to be manufactured into maple syrup, and the other part is collected by the sixth graders for their own syrup-making efforts.

There are about 65 maple buckets on our campus, and for the past three years, sixth-grade teacher Mr. Victor D’Ambrosio has been showing his classes the process of making maple syrup. “The kids seem to enjoy the field trip on the campus and get to actually empty the buckets and see the entire process. Just prior to the end of the day they even get to sample the finished product,” says Mr. James Wernig, Director of Facilities.

According to Mr. Wernig, tapping usually occurs during March; however, due to climate change it has moved forward to February. The sap comes out when it is warm during the day and cold during the night because sap flows through the tree to the tree stem only when it is warm outside. When it is cold, the sap stays underground. In addition, tree stems have to all be going upwards to show that they are healthy enough to be tapped. When it is cold outside, the sap turns solid and white inside the bucket; when it is warm outside, it becomes colorless and liquid.
Because sap is the tree’s food, there are many regulations about how many buckets you can tap from one tree. According to a tour guide at Natick Community Organic Farm, a maple tree has to be over 40 years old and its diameter has to be over 10 inches in order to be tapped for one bucket, and two buckets can be tapped if its diameter is over 18 inches. Three buckets is not recommended due to its effect on the tree’s health.

Turning sap into maple syrup is a long and hard process since you have to keep boiling the sap until it turns to the color of maple syrup. Every ten minutes someone needs to add wood in order to keep up the fire, and a large amount of sap is needed for a small amount of maple syrup. People at Natick Community Organic Farm boil the sap from 7:00 am until 9:00 pm, and they have to always keep an eye on the machine. Once the sap turns to the right color with the right temperature and the right pressure, it is done.

Natick Community Organic Farm, holds maple-sugaring tours, each about 45 minutes to an hour, from February 25 through March 24. You get to learn the history of how the tapping skills had developed from the Native American to Colonial to modern times. Also, you will learn how they tap maple trees, how they transport the sap in old days, and how they turn the sap into maple syrup. They also celebrate Maple Magic Day every year; this year it was on March 4, 2017.

Photographs: Maple buckets on Dana Hall’s campus. Photo source: Sophia Lu.

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