The sweetest time of year
Westin, 3, and Eloise Vonderrecke, 5, of Alvinston, try their hand at drilling for the coveted sap that lives within the sugar maple trees. (Melissa Schilz/Postmedia Network)
This year’s Maple Syrup Festival drew larger than usual crowds to the A.W Conservation area, seeing over 750 people come see the displays on Saturday alone. In 2017, the two-day event saw around 1000 people total, and Conservation Education Coordinator Sharon Nethercott credited the beautiful weather for the past weekend’s success.
“It’s been a lot busier than other years,” she said. “We’ve really had perfect weather.”
Nethercott said maple syrup season tends to last anywhere between two to eight weeks, beginning in late February, and is very weather dependent. This year, spring has been approaching slowly, with cold frosty nights and sunshiny days offering ideal conditions to produce the sweet treat.
“That creates the pressure for the sap to flow,” she said. “If we get too many nights where the temperature doesn’t go below freezing, eventually that pressure is not going to be there.”
Both Saturday and Sunday had mild temperatures and blue skies, allowing the sap to flow quickly from the tapped trees.
Tours of the sugar bush showed several methods of maple syrup production, from traditional methods of the First Nations people, to the pioneer methods and those modern-day contraptions that see tubing connected to trees throughout the forest collecting sap.
“Before we can put a hole in the tree, it needs to be about 25 centimeters in diameter,” Nethercott said. “And it takes close to 40 years before a sugar maple has grown that much.”
The clear sap that drips from the tree is only three per cent sugar, which means it takes around 40 pails of collected sap to produce just one pail of maple syrup.
“Nothing is added to the syrup to turn it into that liquid gold syrup to turn it into that liquid gold colour,” Nethercott said during the tour. “All we do is cook it, the water evaporates and the sugar stays behind…it’s the sugar that turns to that colour.”
Guests had a chance to taste the sap dripping from the trees, and were treated to maple taffy following the tour. Nethercott said the amount of sap that comes out of a tree in one day in unpredictable, with some trees flowing faster than others.
“Sometimes it’s dripping so quickly you can’t even count the drips, then other days it could be ten seconds per drip,” she said.
The Maple Syrup Festival has been held annually at the A.W Campbell Conservation Area near Alvinston since the 1970s. The demonstration site offers an educational look into the world of maple syrup production, Canada’s most famous natural candy.