Students tap trees to make maple syrup
The Environmental Club and Environmental Science II class have been collecting sap and making maple syrup for 10 years. The entire process, both creating and selling, is done on North Campus.
“To give this experiment some perspective, this is an ancient practice. The American Indians collected maple sap in this way so it has really been around for a long time. It’s a long-standing tradition and it’s a sustainable extraction. It doesn’t hurt the trees, actually, if you walk around and look at the tapped trees you can see these little basically plugged holes where the bark has gone over and filled the hole so really it’s not damaging at all. In the old days, there weren’t many sources of sweet things because they didn’t have granulated sugar. There was honey and not too much else. So maple syrup was a rare source of something really sweet,”
The process of making maple syrup is long and tedious and is just as difficult as it sounds. Making maple syrup involves tapping trees, boiling gallons of the collected sap, and then heating it on a hot plate to create the syrup.
The tapping of trees takes place in the late stages of winter and early stages of spring. The trees are getting ready to make their leaves. Their buds will break and make leaves. They need energy to fuel this process so they use carbohydrates from their roots. The starch is broken down into sugar, it’s put into the flowing sap which runs up the tree so the environmental club is simply intercepting this process by drilling a small hole and inserting this piece that is allowing them to retrieve a small amount of sap from each tree. The hole drilled into each maple tree is accompanied by a spiel that is then inserted using a specifically designed hammer to secure the piece. Connected to the spiel is a bucket and a cover to collect and protect the sap.
After extracting the sap, students then take the collected liquid to the “Sugar Shack” where they use an industrial evaporator that boils all of the sap. Once the sap is boiled it is brought into the lab and put onto the hot plate to form the syrup.
“We began with just a few spiels and a few buckets and a few trees and the first year we really only boiled up maybe five gallons of sap on a turkey cooker. So we’ve really progressed since then, it really took off from there. And then thanks to the Coleman grant a couple years ago we had the opportunity to expand by investing in the Sugar Shack, evaporator, and all the materials we are using now,” Joe Coehlo, science professor, said.
After only boiling approximately five gallons in its first year, ten years later they are now boiling 75 gallons. What once produced only 12-14 bottles in the early years has now grown to provide 24 bottles available for purchase.
The environmental organization has also worked to keep the maple syrup legacy alive in order to raise money for future projects.
“It grew and improved in earlier years, we went from a turkey cooker to a big drum on a fire, to our entire apparatus we use now. It’s been really nice and controlled having this commercial evaporator. We only do it every other year when I get to teach this class because it’s hard to marshall enough volunteers to run everything,” Coehlo said.
The president of the environmental club along with its members and Coelho have been working to expand the project they are involved in on campus.
“We’re looking to do some like fundraisers for some projects around campus. So we’ve got projects involving putting a refillable water container on the fountains and hope to put in a butterfly garden on campus. This is one of the fundraisers we are doing to go towards that. That’s kinda how we got started. We know people like maple syrup and we always have buyers,” Lauren Coy said.
Not only does the maple syrup project meet class requirements for the students but they also get to run as a team and experience things together.
“It’s honestly a fun sorta team bonding activity. It is definitely something new to try ’cause it’s worth the experience,” Coy said.
If you are interested in purchasing a bottle from the environmental organization contact professor Joe Coehlo at email@example.com.