QU gets into a sappy situation

By Khalem Caldwell

Hunter Opiola, freshman, arrived in his new environmental science class not knowing what’s to come after missing the first day. A change in majors caused schedule problems for Opiola. Previously a business major, Opiola decided that business wasn’t his passion anymore. Looking for a fresh perspective and to move forward in his life, he came to the conclusion to take a try at science, which was always among his liking as a child.

The environmental science class, taught by Joe Coelho, Ph.D., goes out every year during January to tap Silver Maple and Sugar Maple trees. The trees are located at North Campus, in between the soccer field and C building.

The tapping of trees on campus started off as a student led project approximately five years ago. Coelho originally wanted to start over, cutting down the trees and planting native trees, however, he later found out the existing trees could be tapped for their sap.

Katelyn Gratza, junior, also taking the environmental class this semester, took one of Coelho’s classes last semester. 

The class walked outside into the frigid cold, accompanied by Coelho’s two dogs, which he brings to class every Thursday. The dogs barked with excitement to leave the classroom and get fresh air.

The first step in the tree tapping process is to drill a hole in a tree about hip level, just making it easier to retrieve the sap. 

The second step is to take spile, which is a small metal peg, and hammer it into the hole that was drilled. This allows the sap to seep out continuously. Opiola and Gratza switch off their jobs for every tree. 

The finally step is hanging a bucket from the spile, which collects the sap. However, there are bucket placing hazards, according to Coelho.

Buckets tend to get blown away by the wind, or flip over during the night. This results in a sticky situation to be cleaned in the morning.

After the tree tapping process was done for all trees, Coelho and his class awaited for a sticky substance to ooze out of one of the trees. Patiently they waited, as leaves rustled by. A minute went past and still no sap.

“In my mind I thought no sap was going to come out,” Opiola said. “It has to be close to the temperature of freezing for a tree to produce sap, and it is way colder than that.”

According to Coelho, eventually, the weather temperatures will get a little warmer, and the trees will start producing sap. The tree sap collection process normally takes a week. Coelho also showed off the sugar shack, where the sap is converted to maple syrup. 

Sap is converted to maple syrup by using an evaporator.  Sap is boiled in the evaporator with a homemade fire going. The sap becomes more concentrated and eventually you get maple syrup.

“I will definitely try the maple syrup when it’s done,” Gratza said.

The environmental science class, then, will sell it to the community. All profits made will go directly back into the environmental science program.

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